Monthly Archives: November 2011

Video: Ed Kashi

Ed Kashi is a VII photojournalist, or long-term storyteller as he calls himself. Kashi’s work ranges from social to environmental issues, and his projects reflect his passion for the subject matter he is documenting.

This video is from a lecture at the Chautauqua Institute, and it covers some of his most recent material. Kashi has been published in publications such as National Geographic and Time. He is especially interesting to me not just for his amazing photographic vision, but also because of his experiments with multimedia and short films.

His offshoot media company, Talking Eyes, is a great example of a posible future for documentary media.

Ed Kashi at the Chautauqua Institute

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Hand Drawn

The sight of the elderly pulling garbage carts around the street is nothing new, but I never really understood where they go with their loads. To answer this question I decided to follow a tiny woman who looked to be about 70.

She led me to a small community dump, walled in corrugated iron, but otherwise completely non-descript. If the gate had been shut I likely would not have known anything was there. It was neighboured by a large apartment building on one side, and a real estate agency on the other. Korea is a place of surreal juxtapositions.

Once I started photographing the mechanical vehicle loader I was approached by one of the workers. He seemed suspicious and uncomfortable with me, but after breaking the ice with my sub-par Korean he warmed up. He wouldn’t let me come fully inside the ‘facility’, but he didn’t chase me away either. Over the next while I plan to go back a few times and see if I can eventually get a more in depth look at this hand-drawn life.

As far as I know the garbage carts are a way for the unemployed or financially unstable elderly to make a little money (how little I can’t imagine). It has also been suggested to me that some of them do it simply to have a reason to leave the house every day, but as of now its all uncertain to me.

A work in progress.

An elderly woman heads to the collection facility, a few block away. She looked to be around 70.


the same woman arrives at the dump


the front gates. If closed, the yard would go unnoticed.


the mechanical loader packs garbage and cardboard into a truck bed.


a worker breaks from the offloading process


seen through the empty carts, a woman waits for her load to be emptied.


workers push a cart through the gates


a woman with a recently empty hand cart checking a gas station for cardboard

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Video: The Future of Documentary Photography

The Future of Documentary Photography – Luceo Images from PhotoShelter.com on Vimeo.

This is an interesting watch for anyone interested in documentary photography or photojournalism. I know that I don’t personally expect to make a money from this for many years (if at all), but it is nice to hear some working pros talk somewhat optimistically.

A Google search of “the future of photojournalism” will return innumerable pages and quotes professing the death of the industry, and that anyone who would plans to follow photography as a dream or an art form is naive and misguided. Listening to these four, however, gives some hope.

Documentary photographers have never made much money, and I am prepared for that. But it is reassuring to hear that the future is not bleak, but rather exciting and full of possibility.

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Portraits of the Himba

Himba women are red. That was my first impression driving into the small village outside of Uis, a small community in central Namibia. Their hair, their bodies, even the earth they built their villages on – all red.

A Himba woman looks at me impassively. Click on the image to see the full gallery.

During the first few weeks in Namibia, I had noticed these red women sporadically. In the gas station; walking through the aisles of the supermarkets; sitting at the side of the road. It seemed completely bizarre to see a woman of Amazonian presence, red from head to toe (including lengthy red dreadlocks), casually buying a tin of snuff from the local grocer. And while I eventually stopped gaping every time I saw them, the curiosity always remained.

So when a man stopped Brad, my traveling companion, and I on the side of a dusty road in Uis to ask us if we would like to drive out to visit one of the remaining Himba settlements in the area, we jumped at the chance. Well, in truth we initially feared a scam, but once we were told that the only payment required were some sacks of corn meal and a few kilos of sugar (no cash) we decided to take him up on his offer.

The village was an hour away, down a bumpy access road. Among the dung and thatch huts sat a large circle of women and children, all of them red. After giving them our ‘gifts’ we were given free range of the village, and spent the day trying to communicate with them through music, photos, and sign language.

The Himba are descendants of the Herero, sheep herders who were displaced from their traditional lands by an intertribal conflict. The Himba are nomadic, moving their cattle from place to place in search of grazing lands. The ‘village’ we saw was actually just a temporary camp that they would inhabit until their cows had eaten all the grass in the area. The men mind the herds during the day while the women stay in the camp to do domestic chores and prepare food.

Their striking redness is a product of ochre and fat, which the women rub on themselves and in their hair to protect themselves from the sun as they churn milk into sour yoghurt. It gives them their distinctive colour (and unforgettable smell!). From what I could see, the men were not similarly dyed, but I never found out why this was a specifically female habit.

I took a series of portraits of some of the Himba, which you can see HERE.

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Streets and Nuns

While walking around the sidestreets of Nam Guro with some friends, I met a nun named Hong Seun-Hwa. Korean religious types, particularly of the Catholic and Jehova’s Witness persuasion, always seem eager to talk with foreigners – and more often than not have a decent command of English. Seun-Hwa curiously approached me as I was sitting on a ledge taking photos of a small blue door. Apparently she lived behind said blue door along with 35 of her sisters. For the next 25 minutes she gave me some historical background of the area (as well as encouraging me to see the wisdom of God).

Apparently the name Guro comes from a legend that once nine (“gu” in Korean) old men enjoyed “a miraculously long life in the area”, and so the neighbourhood was renamed in celebration of their longevity. Having lived in the area for many years, Seun-Hwa had witnessed the dramatic changes in the area as the municipal government rezoned Guro into a modern digital business area.

I wasn’t allowed to follow her into the convent, though I’m not sure if thats because I’m a man, or because I told her I wasn’t Catholic. But the fact that there were 35 Korean nuns living behind a non-descript concrete wall confirms that in Seoul there is a story behind every door, even if it can’t be seen from the street.

Seun-Hwa, a nun, in front of her convent

Seun-Hwa returning to her convent

a courtyard facing a public parking lot, full of the sounds of a mid-afternoon domestic argument

 

an elderly woman pulls her groceries behind her

a worker repairs a tangled cluster of electric wires

a market vendor blurs into the gloom of her stall

 

steel wool sits on a bathroom window ledge

a relic of a coffee vending machine

a taste of Europe in Seoul?

 

 

a telephone pole being reclaimed by vines

 

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Barbed Wire Schools

While walking around to the West of Guro Digital station, I stumbled on this strange school zone, ringed in barbed wire. In Seoul nothing is particularly surprising, but finding children surrounded by factories and military grade barbed wire is a little surreal.

Particularly amazing to me was the fire escape, completely wrapped in wire. While I suppose this is likely an effective deterrent against thieves, in the event of a serious fire I can’t help but think this decision will be regretted…Seoul is never short of visuals.

 

barbed wire surrounds the school (background)

what is presumably a fire escape is covered in thick vines of barbed wire

an umbrella gives shade to a girls bike
a slide and a plastic play set seen through the wire.
a rusty playground in the courtyard of an apartment block
directly across from a schoolyard, paint flakes off the BYC smoke stack

 

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The Dual Reality of Seoul

I recently had a Korean friend point out to me that a lot of my photos portray Seoul in a negative light. And she’s right. As a result I feel like I should explain that Seoul is by no means a horrible place. There are many areas that are photogenic, and in some cases even beautiful. But Seoul is a huge city in a country that went through incredible development in a very short period of time. Such rapid change means that many parts of the city were left behind to crumble – and these are the parts that are most visually interesting to me.

It is a city with a dual identity, where the shiny veneer of 21st Century wealth meets the bleakness of Korea’s past. If you’re interested in seeing the best of the city, a simple Google search will net you all the images you need; but they aren’t going to be found here. Sorry to my Korean friends if you think I’m misrepresenting your city (I wouldn’t have moved here if I thought it was a terrible place), but it is a reality of development that doesn’t go away just by ignoring it.

These photos were taken close to the Guro Digital Complex Station, in an older neighbourhood next to the subway overpass.

A mailbox in the stairwell of an apartment building

used water boilers stacked on top of each other in front of a scrapyard

 

A pile of garbage, a meter deep, wedged between a decrepit fence and a building.

 

an above ground section of the Seoul Outer Circle subway line

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Same World Same Chance

This is an article I wrote for a Korean magazine about Same World Same Chance. This is a writing component to what was mainly a photographic project. Click HERE to see the image gallery.

 

In 2006, two young Canadian university graduates, Kim Hurley and Marissa Izma, landed in Africa with vague notions of making a difference in the world. They had no clear idea of how they would do this, but after several months they found themselves in the small community of Kibombomene, Zambia.

“We just wanted to be rural because the media portrayed such a negative image of Africa and we just needed to see it for ourselves,” Says Izma. From this, Same World Same Chance was born – a completely independent, education based, community development organization.

Four years later, Izma still lives in Zambia while Mrs. Hurley has returned to Canada to raise funds. On the project site, a two-room schoolhouse, a library, staff housing, and an organic farm now stand where before there was only a diamond shaped plot of wild brush land.

In a time when people are becoming increasingly mistrustful of how NGOs spend their funding, Same World Same Chance is a prime example of how compassion and drive can still be an effective force for social change.

“I have personally seen some NGOs running in Zambia that are misusing funds, [and] it makes me angry because S.W.S.C. strives on making our priority that every cent gets spend in the best way possible,” Izma states, though she makes it clear that she has also seen a lot of money being spend in the right way.

Relocating permanently to a small village in South-Central Africa has not been easy, however. According to Izma, “The biggest challenge has been integrating into a rural community and into a culture that is so different from my own. It has been important though, because we knew that we had to immerse ourselves within the community to discover who the notable members were. We needed to know who could trust us, and who we could trust so that we could work together. Without the community of Kibombomene, the project is nothing.”

Education in Zambia, especially in rural areas, is sub-standard to say the least. While there was an existing primary school in the village before S.W.S.C.’s arrival, whether or not the teachers would show up was a daily question. When and if they did, their effectiveness (and often their sobriety) was dubious. Local children would attend this school for years under the impression that they were receiving an education that would help them further their lives. But when it came time to write the national exams, many would find that they were unable to read the questions.

Izma and Hurley hope that SWSC’s free secondary education program can be part of a solution. “We want people to graduate from here and movie into the world and create more positive change.”

 

But they also believe in helping Kibombomene help itself: “It’s not about graduating and leaving the community to find a better job in the city.” Besides paying the salaries of two local teachers and funding an organic farming project, SWSC has established a local manufacturing industry which now makes and sells tailored bags and blankets internationally. All proceeds from this venture are put back into the project, and therefore the community.

A health committee has been created to give free medical services to the village residents. Led by Candance Ngungu (a Canadian nurse who came to the project as a volunteer and ended up marrying a local man), the fledgling clinic will be invaluable for Kibombomene’s people, who have no real access to a hospital. In a country where AIDSand malaria are ongoing threats, having free professional medical assistance could mean the difference between life and death.

Potentially the most exciting aspect of SWSC is how ambitious it is in the scope of its long-term vision. When it reaches maturity, the project site will be home to six classrooms, a nursery, a trade school for continuing education, a boarding house for up to 200 students, a full health center, a community assembly hall, and eventually even roadside restaurants and shops so that the operation can be truly self sustaining. Staff numbers are steadily increasing, with volunteers expected from Canada, the U.S., Germany, and Japan.

Though the future looks bright for SWSC, this project remains an intense labour of love, and would not exist without the persistence and dedication of its leaders. “This isn’t easy, and it certainly isn’t perfect,” says Izma, “but I never have to force myself out of bed in order to do it. That makes it all worthwhile.”

SWSC cannot exist without independent support. To donate, buy locally produced goods, or explore volunteering opportunities, visit www.sameworldsamechance.org.

Luc Forsyth is a photojournalist who spent time at the SWSC site in April 2011. To see more of his work, visit www.lucforsyth.com.

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