The work here is from an ongoing piece about Delhi and it’s people – where some 100000 people just happen to be homeless. I’m always cautious these days about doing another story about the homeless – you know the nameless victims staring up at the camera but the sheer scale of Delhi’s problem is so significant, so enormous it became inevitable. The work was an assignment from ActionAid (thanks to Laurence who believed in my proposal) and was made through the invaluable assistance of Aashray Adhikar Abhiyan from whom I must thank the wonderful Paramjeet Kaur and Prakash, my invaluable guide and I hope now, friend. I tried very hard to make work that showed people as individuals coping in very difficult circumstances but one that is surprisingly easy to fall into. Normal, ordinary people in difficult situations. These are just three of my current favourite images – you can see a larger set via my archive or the Panos site.
I am woken every morning at dawn by the sounds of men breaking down buildings by hand. New Delhi, because of its absurd land prices is constantly being broken and rebuilt again by thousands of unskilled labourers working for a pittance. All day, every day.
This is the view of the house opposite. A view into other lives, other rooms.
I’m delighted to be the subject of a post at the rather excellent Verve Photo that features my work on capoeira in Brazil.
I must admit I was a little surprised to be included in such a blog that prides itself on showcasing ‘the new breed of documentary photographers’ as I seem (or feel) like I have already been around the block more than once, but no matter. Geoffrey Hiller was utterly charming and I was very pleased that he chose an image from a series that showcases work that isn’t necessarily dark and serious.
Many thanks to Geoffrey and I reproduce the short interview below.
“The story was on Capoeira, the martial art/dance once the (banned) preserve of African slaves, now a national symbol of Brazil. It was shot on assignment for a car magazine – Lexus – with whom I’ve photographed and written travel pieces on and off for nearly a decade. My fixer had arranged for five models – all expert Capoeiristas, and the idea was that in addition to photographing some Capoeira classes in the city, we’d make the main images on Copacabana and Leblon beaches. I remember it rained for a couple of days so I had to shoot the beach twice before I was happy. Initially I shot with two portable strobes but that felt too ‘fashioney’ so I went back to a much simpler set-up – shooting at dusk with available light and couple of fixed lenses: a much more traditional reportage feel. I’d worked in Brazil only once before in 1999 as part of a five country reportage about the Politics of Hunger. I’d shot a piece with the Landless Peasant’s Union (the MST) on squatted land in the far north: the Capoeira story was far removed from that and some of the images have formed the basis of a lifestyle folio that sees me work on ‘lighter’ stories away from pieces in Africa and Asia that I am perhaps more known for. A good balance, I think.”
I’m currently going through a rather time consuming process with a really excellent editor, to upgrade my website and portfolios (more about this another time). The project involved going back over many of my stories and looking beyond the initial edit to images that were discarded or forgotten. Unfortunately, many of my originals have been lost or damaged over the years but I seem to have made some interesting discoveries: pictures that I’d forgotten about or simply overlooked. During the next weeks, I thought I might post some significant finds. I start with an image from a story in Mauritania about the wind and the desert.
I remember photographing this woman in a house and her looking terribly forlorn, distant and sad. I never could find out why. My notebook tells me that I was with her and her husband for only ten minutes. Sometimes, perhaps its better not to know…
It’s rare these days that a jaded old photographer like me finds something positive about the industry but that is exactly what has happened in the last week in Chittagong in Bangladesh.
As you may remember, I was asked to lead a workshop for aspiring photojournalism students from Norway and Bangladesh on behalf of the Pathshala Institute
headed by the prolific Shahidul Alam. It was a rather daunting challenge. The only workshop that I’d ever attended was as a young photographer myself at the World Press Masterclass in 1998. I’ve had no formal photographic education and, despite giving a dozen or so lectures and talks over the years, I wasn’t confident that I could add much to these students education. I need not have worried. Ably assisted by the extraordinary Abir Abdullah, an exceptional educator in his own right, I think – I hope – that I managed to pass on something of the little I know to the students.
I must say that the Norwegians were for their age, exceptional visual journalists and it was a lesson for me to see them produce their assignments with an energy and proficiency that would put many established UK professionals to shame. I think to a person their level of visual literacy was far higher than I was expecting. The Bangladeshi’s, some a product of the Pathshala Institute and some having just completed a basic photography course struggled a little with the idea of storytelling – the theme of the workshop. That said, their determination and enthusiasm was a pleasure to witness. I felt by the end that the concept of a photo-essay was firmly entrenched. As a matter of fact, despite some rather cliched ideas of what a documentary project could look like, it was a two Bangladeshi students – both women I should add – that produced ideas for their course projects that impressed me most. Both decided to work on the personal sphere. In an industry dominated by men and seemingly endless stories of poverty and darkness it was a welcome change.
It was also my first visit to Bangladesh – a pleasant journey from the cold English winter and Chittagong and it’s people in particular I have to thank for being so welcoming and open. I’m now due to come back in the summer to shoot a story. I’m looking forward to it already.
Delhi waits for me now – a flight from Dhaka and then almost a month in India. I have a corporate assignment there and then two stories that I need to work on.
As usual I shall be on:
It just remains for me to say thank you in particular to Abir, Shoeb and his wife (what a lovely meal), Joseph Rozario (a marvel), Ashraf (for all his patience with me), Shadab (for his kindness) and to the students – firstly for their beautiful and unexpected gifts (you know who you are…) and secondly for their patience and unwavering attention even when I’m sure I was talking rubbish… you all touched me deeply. I hope we stay in touch. Thank you.
For now I leave you with some images from the workshop and one of a couple of frames that I had time to make myself in Chittagong.
As I was late in posting a Christmas message (I feel like the Queen…) I thought I’d better put something up as late as possible on the last day of 2009.
I seem to have lots of pictures of people dancing and partying across the world but when I thought about it, one image of hope and joy seemed to stick in my mind. The image below show a mother reunited with her son who had been kidnapped and forced to fight for Joseph Kony’s Lords Resistance Army in Northern Uganda. He’d been in the bush for a couple of years as I remember and I was present in an airless, dusty hut when he was delivered home by the Ugandan Army. His mother, completely surprised by her son’s miraculous appearance (she thought him dead) was overcome with joy and started to pray just after I took this image. I’ve often wondered what happened to him.
As I slowly melt into the armchair under the weight and fug of too much food, alcohol and bad television I wondered what I could post that had some flavour of Christmas, image-wise… Seeing as I’ve never shot a Christmas story or stock at this time of year, I’m struggling a bit. I have come up with an old story I made in Northern Lebanon in 1998 about the work of Khalil Gibran, author of the Prophet. I travelled to B’sharre, then under the de facto control of the Syrian army of occupation and worked on a piece that illustrated the themes of Gibran’s poetry. Here are some pictures.