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This series, Forbidden City, shot by photographer David Oates, is not a fashion story. But it might as well be. Photographed on ‘International Children’s Day’, a day when young people are granted free access to Beijing’s Forbidden City, Oates captured these stylish kids as they explore the ancient environment. Normal children on a relatively normal day, yet the photos beg the question, who dresses these kids? Are their parents picking out their clothes or are these kids naturally this awesome?
Are there any street/fashion photography blogs covering the children of Beijing? If not, there should be.
Poonam, 8, is refreshing under the late monsoon rain in the impoverished Oriya Basti colony in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India, near the former Union Carbide (now DOW Chemicals) industrial complex. When the heavy monsoon rain falls every year, it seeps through the buried waste of UC, before proceeding to fill up and pollute the area’s underground reservoirs.
Alex Masi is an Italian documentary photographer and multimedia journalist based in London. His first-ever book “Bhopal Second Distaster” is a witness to the aftermath of the 1984 gas leak, widely thought to be one of the word’s most severe chemical disasters. The book is the stunning and heartbreaking product of the 2012 FotoEvidence Book Award, with an introduction by writer Indra Sinh, full-page color images, and an interview in the back by Svetlana Bachevanova, photographer and publisher at FotoEvidence. The images show the complex reality of lives affected by acute tragedy. “In Bhopal, once I began visiting disabled children, to see the way they and their families lived, it led to looking at how others were coping. I also wanted to show that there was life behind disaster.
Apesha, 4, is taking part to a physiotherapy session with her mother, a 1984 gas survivor, at Chingari Trust, in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. The trust offers assistance, education, physiotherapy and advice to hundreds of children born from gas-affected parents or being fed highly contaminated water since a very early age, when the body is more likely to be affected and to suffer irreparable damage.
Two children are walking inside one of the large pools once used by Union Carbide (now DOW Chemical) to contain their chemical wastewater, near their now-abandoned industrial complex in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India.
Masi first went to Bhopal in 2009, where toxic waste from abandoned Union Carbide (now DOW chemical) industrial complex is still leaking into soil and water reservoirs. In India to document children’s rights issues, began to photograph the children of Bhopal, many of whom have horrifying physical and neurological disabilities, Masi met six-year old Poonam. He photographed Poonam with her face tilted up to taste the monsoon rain; this photograph won ‘The Photographers Giving Back Award’, which benefits her family and community. Masi has created a Facebook page for those interested in Poonam’s journey.
One of the first images of the book is a monsoon cloud looming over the abandoned and derelict chemical plant. It underscores the widespread doom caused by that location. He describes what it took the get the picture:
“It took three days. It was monsoon, with dark clouds hanging over the factory that gave me the idea for the picture, but I had never been in the right place at the right time. The only location to shoot from was a small railway cabin near one of the contaminated colonies. I went each morning and afternoon for about three days. The clouds would melt away, we’d leave, and then I’d see the clouds thickening again, so I’d run back. I knew this would be one of my leading pictures, if I could get it right. I took probably more than 200 pictures from the cabin, experimenting with different zooms, changing angles, waiting and hoping. At some point, everything came together, the clouds were in the best position they could be. Luck comes when all the elements are already in place and you’re waiting prepared.”
Zubin, 3, is laying in the arms of her mother, a gas victim of the 1984 pesticide disaster, in their home in an impoverished area of Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, near the former Union Carbide (now DOW Chemical) industrial complex. Zubin has recently deceased.
Since the nearly 30 years since the chemical leak, Bhopal residents have seen many different members of the media. Masi said he worked with two local fixers and that most of those he met understood why he was there to document their community. “I don’t go into someone’s home to get the shot I want, but to work with what’s actually happening there,” he said. “I don’t ask people to do anything they wouldn’t normally do. You can almost post that sort of fakery in the pictures… I want to make images that will touch the emotions of people who see them. To do this I have to allow my own emotions to be touched, and sometimes affected. When I have my camera to my eye, I think only of the picture I’m taking, but technique is useless if I do not feel what these children and families are experiencing. I cannot describe a feeling, just feel it and try to find a visual style that will evoke that feeling when people see my pictures.”
Zubin, 3, is portrayed in her usual semi-conscious state on the floor of her home in an impoverished area of Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India, near the abandoned Union Carbide (now DOW Chemical) industrial complex. Zubin has recently deceased.
His goal, Masi said, is for his images to be a catalyst of change for the people of Bhopal. “I sincerely believe that publishing my collection of images from Bhopal in a book will allow me to reach, inform, and engage a larger public than ever before, in postive and proactive ways.”
Salman, 13, a child presenting a severe neurological disorder and blindness, is portrayed in his home in the impoverished Arif Nagar colony, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India, near the former Union Carbide (now DOW Chemicals) industrial complex.
French photographer and creative director Malo has had hours of fun dressing up his baby boy in all kinds of possible future career outfit options. Think Baby is happiest in the cardinal’s mitre although I love him best as the surfer dude complete with dodgy tatt.
Silent Dialog is an ongoing project that I started in 2011, which deals with complex and psychologically charged mother and son relationships, depicting several families from various generations. This project lives between documentary and fiction, where the subjects are real people in real relationships, but the scenes are moderately orchestrated in order to bring out the essence of their particular bond. This work is based upon personal observations and my previous projects on familial bonds, as well as on the works of psychoanalysts and philosophers such as Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, Carl Jung, Julia Kristeva, and Micheal Gurian.—Viktoria Sorochinski
Viktoria Sorochinski is a Ukrainian-born artist who has lived and studied in Russia, Israel, and Canada prior to settling in New York City.
Japanese photographer Mayumi Hosokura was born in Kyoto in 1979. Since graduating from Nihon University of Art in 2005, her work has been shown in many group exhibitions in Japan. Most recently she had a solo show of this work, Kazan, at G/P gallery in Tokyo.
When asked by Foam Magazine what inspires her she replied, ‘I am inspired by common things. I especially love the moment when some common things show a queer side’.
This ongoing series by English photographer Julian Germain, entitled Classroom Portraits, began in schools in North East England in 2004. Since then, Germain has taken large-scale portraits of classrooms from North and South America, Europe, Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East and has amassed an impressive 450+ portraits of schoolchildren in over 20 countries.
Considering the importance of school, it seemed strange to me that the subject was so rarely dealt with as a theme in visual art. Accordingly, I began making these large format portraits of classes of schoolchildren in their classrooms. The aim was to make a straightforward record of the space and the pupils (of all ages, in all lessons) in the finest possible detail.
I never tell the students how they should look but ensuring that everybody has a clear view of the camera requires concentration and patience. Each pupil has to be aware of their place in the picture.
In order to achieve sharp focus in both fore-and background, the exposure time is usually a quarter or half a second so the pupils have to be ready for the moment the shutter is released. I am waiting for them and they are waiting for me. The process itself generates an atmosphere and the time captured in the portrait seems significant.—Julian Germain
Classroom Portraits has recently been published by Prestel and includes over 80 portraits of schoolchildren.
What draws you to the subjects you photograph? Are your photographs primarily spontaneous happenings in your day-to-day life or more planned out and intimate?
‘My most successful photographs are almost always found and spontaneous. I don’t have much talent for setting up an image. Sometimes I’ll move someone into better light, maybe give some minor direction. But the real world unfolding around me is way more exciting and fascinating than anything I can engineer.
‘It’s not always my day-to-day life I’m capturing. Normally I’m pretty shy, but when photographing I seek out situations and gatherings where I think I’ll find people interacting, where I think there’s the most potential for seeing the visual expression of relationships.
‘Usually I’m drawn to a particular person by a face, a body, a way of moving – a certain vulnerability, awkwardness or strangeness. I can’t always put it into words. Often there’s this sort of uncomfortable magnetism, kind of an attraction and repulsion working together.
‘I’m obsessed with gestures and looking at what the body does, what people do when they’re together, how our interactions with each other can be kind of melancholy and weird. Dancing, embracing, making out, dressing and undressing, wrestling – any activity that involves a lot of arms and hands and touching – these are always good bets.’
How does writing and the book format play into your practice?
‘I’ve actually been writing longer than I’ve been photographing. Books are my first and most enduring love; since childhood I’ve been an insanely voracious reader, and for a long time I thought I wanted to be a writer.
‘Recently, writing has helped guide and clarify the subject matter of my photography, especially in times of frustration. In the process of trying to understand what was drawing me to the situations I photographed, I wrote these short stories that added a particular dark emotional tone to what I was photographing.
‘I try to explore the ways in which relationships are perplexing. Ultimately people are unknowable, but there is a world of longing in language. Writing stories presents another way of trying to get close to my subject, while also referencing that elusiveness.
‘Over this past year, I began thinking about how I could bring my writing and my photographs together as part of the same piece, and that led naturally to the book. It’s a new world for me. I’m still figuring out the best form for the work, whether it should be in books, or audio tracks with a slideshow, or something else entirely.
‘I want to work in a hybrid form of storytelling that goes beyond medium-specificity, and create these multiple, parallel, fragmented narratives where the two media need each other to become something new and different. It’s kind of like film, but I think there’s something poignant and important about that frozen, subjective sliver of time in a picture, not knowing for sure what came before or what comes after.’
There are a lot of instances of situations where people go to “party” or relax in your work, and the portraits that come out of these are simultaneously intimate and public. Can you talk a little bit about this and how it relates to the various other concepts in your work?
‘On the most basic level, I tend to photograph in places of leisure because it’s where I find people moving and interacting in ways that are the most visually interesting to me. There’s not as much self-consciousness, especially when there’s some kind of intoxicant involved – people’s gestures are more outrageous, bodies are in flux. It’s always amazing to capture a moment of clarity in the midst of chaos.
‘But my motivations are more complex than that. To be honest, I have a complicated relationship with parties and partying. For me, that world is full of strangeness and anxiety. I’m most drawn to situations where you should be having fun – like a party, or the beach, or a parade – but there can be a lot of tension and discomfort in those situations, sometimes even a subtle violence.
‘Increasingly, I have to think about what my role is in the situations I’m photographing. It’s not enough to point at the strange and outrageous – I have to consider my own relationship with what’s going on, and how I’m implicated in the interaction.’
The vast majority of your subjects seem to be youthful, either in appearance, gesture, or situation. Is there something about youth culture that is important to and informs your work?
‘In my experience, young people are more open with their bodies, less self-conscious and less formal, and often more active in their gestures. They’re just more visually interesting to me.
‘I also think it’s a case of the old adage to write what you know, make work about what you know. I don’t know what it’s like to be eighty, but I know what it’s like to be eight.
‘At this point I think my work has a lot to do with people’s relationship with their childhood, and the unique anxieties of being young, making bad decisions, not having a lot of wisdom or autonomy. There’s also an inherent longing to hold on to something fleeting, and the terror of growing up and aging.
‘In many ways, it’s the work of a young person. I’m sure my subject matter will undergo many developments and transformations as I get older.’
Summer and inner city life is celebrated through Giovanni Savino’s photos of kids and adults from the Bronx playing in water from open fire hydrants. He shot these images of “hydrant battles” with his iPhone which allowed him to shoot candidly and get closer to the action. Savino is based between New York City and the Caribbean and is represented by Wonderful Machine.
Photo by Ana Casas Broda
Susan Bright is a photography curator currently based in New York. She has become a prominent figurehead in her contribution to photography by showcasing artists who are pushing the boundaries of the medium. In doing so she highlights exciting movements within photography and keeps the bar high for the next generation of artists.
You may have some of her books on your bookshelf, they include Art Photography Now, Auto Focus, Face of Fashionand How we are: Photographing Britain, the show she co-curated with Val Williams, which was the first major photography exhibition ever held at Tate Britain.
She is currently researching representations of motherhood for a practice led PhD in curating.
Photo by Julie Blackmon
Photo by Ana Casas Broda
Why did you first become interested in how motherhood is represented in art and the media?
‘My daughter was born in 2008. At this time I had an established career as a photography curator and writer and knew little of childbirth and childrearing. Like many of my female contemporaries I had established my identity through my career (not my family) and as such had little experience around children.
‘I reached for books, photographs, magazines and journals to help me through a tumultuous shift in my personal identity and was surprised by what I read and saw. It is important to note here that I gave birth in New York, where I continue to live and work. It was here that the other two main factors that drove me to this investigation became apparent.
‘Firstly, I began to notice the increased imaging of mothers in celebrity culture and with this what seemed like a subliminal messages that becoming a mother was the ‘right thing to do’ as apposed to having a career. The irony seemed to be lost that the only reason these women were of interest to the public was because of their careers.
‘Parallel to that much of the literature I read seemed to place impossible demands on a mother in pursuit of perfection. Becoming a ‘perfect mother’ seemed to me, like a national American obsession, bolstered by images of happy mothers smiling from the front covers of the ‘Red Top’s’ in print media. I found this retrograde and far from my reality. But photographically I was fascinated by the sheer quantity of magazines and websites dedicated to celebrity mothers. I kept seeing the same poses repeated again and again. I immediately wanted to investigate why there seemed to be such a thirst for mothering in the media.’
Photo by Trish Morissey
Photo by Julie Blackmon
Photo by Ana Casas Broda
What have been your discoveries?
‘Well first and foremost that in the early Twenty First century the presence of the mother figure has moved from the margins to the mainstream – be that in literature (with the advent of ‘chick lit’ and indeed more serious literature); pornography (with the ever expanding MILF genre) or in mainstream television.
‘In American politics the status of the mother in both the campaigns of Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton were highly visible and central to their political identity. In Britain the anxiety over Kate Middleton’s fecundity consumes tabloid space illustrating both poles of culpability.
‘Journalistic and popular books on the subject are on the increase and the online versions of celebrity magazines are dedicating whole sections to the cycles of mothering – from conception to an intense focus on the children of the famous. Hollywood has naturally followed (or lead) the trend with an increasing number of films with Motherhood (and parenting) as the central plotline.
‘Apart from the ideological messages mentioned briefly above in much of the media I also noticed how little pregnancy is imaged in fine art and how it has become increasingly sexualized in the media. I am enjoying delving into 19th Century photographs of pregnancy and seeing how complicated they are. There is too much to go into here (I dedicate a chapter to it in my thesis). The historiography is important and somewhat hidden. Breast feeding is still pretty much hidden in the media although the recent TIME cover which shows a three year old being breast fed may have visual repercussions. I am not so sure though… it may actually set the imaging of this aspect of mothering backwards as everything will be compared to that.
‘I also discovered a genuine anxiety about aging and am curious to find out how representations of mothers fits into this.’
Photo by Toni Wilkinson
Photo by Geraldine Kang
What is the main assertion of your research and exhibition?
‘In terms of my thesis research what I have found lacking, in regard to analyzing the making and reception of images of mothers, is a coherent critical approach or stance to fully understand the implications of this phenomenon and its historical precedents which is not reliant upon psychoanalysis. Personally I feel that much of the art making and theory surrounding the Mother figure has been hijacked by psychoanalysis and this is not of interest to me and my investigations.
‘I have turned to body of work commonly understood as ‘Postfeminism’ to help me to articulate my ideas. The term is contested, provocative, troubling, perplexing, contradictory and disconnected. There is no unified origin and it has often come to be understood as a buzzword in mainstream media. It often identifies itself with youth and an anxiety of aging and can be superficial.
‘For me there is nothing superficial about mothering and nothing ‘post’ about feminism (if we are taking ‘post’ to mean that which has gone before to be redundant). The term, its knotted definition and the impact in therms of the Mother figure can only work up to a point and then there is an estrangement, or disjuncture, between theory and practice. I am attempting to lay the foundations for a new way of considering contemporary photographic images of mothering within a postfeminst discourse (however contested that term is) and in turn aim to contribute a radical corrective to the lack of critical examinations in early Twenty First Century postfeminist critical writing.
‘The exhibition has a slightly different emphasis than the bulk of the thesis. I turn to fine art photography in order to articulate my ideas. It takes as its inspiration and genesis Mary Kelly’s lesser-known photographic piecePrimapara (1974) which together with Post Partum Document (1973-1979) demonstrated in a powerful and groundbreaking way, that the mother-child motif could be addressed in a completely new way. As an important touchstone in the second wave of Feminism of the 1970s, the work, and the concurrent critical debates around the subject, came from a highly psychoanalytic point of view.
‘This exhibition, however, comes at a time when contemporary photography is no longer marginalized, but is at the center of visual culture, and theoretical and feminist debates have moved on. With this in mind the work featured here is highly personal, often documentary and is subject driven rather than theoretically motivated.
‘My curatatorial standpoint is to present bodies of work by different artists and articulate viewpoints work compliments and complicates in order to avoid a didactic and monolithic view of mothering. All the work challenges and agitates traditional passive views of Motherhood.
‘The work tends to be intensely personal or autobiographical in focus, which doesn’t mean it can’t connect to wider universal themes, articulate metaphorical messages and be intellectually rigorous. It presents an interpretation of the subject that highlights the complexity of the subject and does not shy away from emotional or emotive subjects.
‘The photographers I have selected tend to work on large uncompromising bodies of work over many years and as such some are still on-going. I hope this exhibition is a rare opportunity to explore new interpretations and insights on an ancient theme in a thorough and contemporary manner.
‘The central argument of the exhibition will be the investigation of the complex and demanding experience of motherhood through the transitions that occur to a woman’s identity by becoming or being a mother. These transitions and the way they affect identity is explored by not only concentrating on the mother figure herself but by focusing on how it effects those around her. It shows mothers to be both blessed and bound with a simultaneous need to escape and connect. It investigates what it means to have a personal identity become one that is associated with another person. It focuses on the transitions and the importance of those shifts in identity and the effect this has on partners, friends and children.
‘It will be shown at The Photographers’ Gallery at the end of 2013 and will tour through Europe and the USA.’
Photo by Toni Wilkinson
Photo by Geraldine Kang
Photo by Trish Morissey
How have other art forms and their theories influenced your research?
‘I am concentrating on photography in fine art and the media. I have found that I have had to look very closely at the history of the Madonna and of course this means painting, but over all my concentration is photography. This has turned out to be both a stumbling block and a liberation in terms of turning to photo theory. I have always found photo theory to be limiting, self referential and restrictive to the endless ways of understanding photography. Plus it can be dull and badly written.
‘Within my investigations there are two pertinent factors that are directly relevant to my relationship to photo theory worth mentioning here. Firstly, is the significant lack of research and sophisticated analysis of commercial and advertising photography within the literature. The lack of critical writing regarding the representation of commercial photography beyond seeing it as an ‘ideological text’ is a serious lack in the wealth of literature on photography, but also a liberation as it allows room for me to use more interdisciplinary approaches.
‘And secondly, it can be argued, what really drives the main focus of photo theory (and indeed much of its histories) is an ‘ontological desire’ to understand the essence of photography. This ontological desire at the very core of photo theory is not of interest to me. It is not what drives my investigations into the medium and certainly not the thesis. It is for these reasons I want to claim some relative autonomy from my predecessors and precedents and engage in other disciplines.
‘Finally, I have always found photo theory to be intrinsically hostile to a ‘simple’ historical (I use that term with full knowledge that history is never simple) or subject lead readings of images and has feared it may be associated with revisionism of Modernism. I, however, believe looking at a relatively new medium such as photography, especially when it is concerned with a very ancient subject matter, charting the changing representations and entomology is vital. This doesn’t mean to say I reject photo theory entirely. I use it up to a point and then turn to other ideas when it can no longer be useful for me.’
Photo by Trish Morissey
Photo by Julie Blackmon
What are your hopes for the future representation of mothers within photography and the vernacular?
‘My thesis is not an examination into Maternal Practices in fine art making. There is a distinct, and important, difference between Maternal Practices and my interest in representation of Mothers in the media.
‘By Maternal Practices I am referring to feminist artists dealing with Motherhood and who represent the range and complexity of the mothering experience – one far removed from an idea of clichéd selflessness. Artists like Mary Kelly, Sally Mann, Susan Hiller, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Renne Cox, Catherine Opie and more recently Tierney Gearon who are conceptually rigorous and crucial to this history.
‘My exhibition aims to expand what the term ‘Mother’ can mean and its effects on an artist’s identity. I see the work I have chosen sitting slightly outside of this trajectory.
‘In terms of vernacular photography I am seeing more and more how celebrity images are being copied and fed into a familiar lexicon. The most obvious and striking example of this is the famous pose which Demi Moore adopted on the front cover of Vanity Fair in 1991 with a photograph by Annie Leibovitz. Go to flickr, or any other similar photo sharing site and you will see what I mean. Pregnancy was long hidden both privately and publicly in photo history. This image changed that.’
Photo by Justine Kurland
Photo by Trish Morissey