Articles and Interviews

James Morgan – stories of universality from the margins

I came across the work of James Morgan via the photographs he shot on child trafficking in Nepal and India. Going through his website I was further drawn to his work partly because of the focus on Asia, but also because of his emphasis on compassion and respect for those whose stories he told. Suitably impressed I decided to track him down (at least by email – the guy travels a lot) in order to get an insight into his working methods. A big thanks to James for taking the time and effort to respond to my questions despite his busy schedule. *** REP: You emphasize in your approach to photography ‘compassion, respect and understanding’ for the people and issues you photograph. Practically, how do you implement such an approach and what do you feel the outcome is for those you picture? James: I think it all comes down to story telling, being conscious of whose story it is you’re telling and, just as importantly, who you’re telling it to. On the face of it, it’s simply a question of telling your subject’s story in as close to their own voice as possible – but, in reality, it’s a lot more complicated than that. I believe that story telling is as much about creating atmosphere as it is about progressing through a logical series of events. It’s a case of representation through translation. Counter intuitive as it may sound for documentary photography, I find my work hugely subjective and, for me, the space that arises out of that is what constitutes the artistic element. I use photography in the same way as I’d use a paintbrush and I’d like to think that this approach allows me to get closer to the ‘truth’ than a more linear narrative might. zed for different reasons, I can begin to understand how best to translate people’s stories in a way that more and more people can understand. One aspect I really want to start working on now is creating feedback loops for the people I photograph. Just sending them a newspaper article with their picture and some text in a language they can’t understand isn’t enough, I’d like to come up with a way in which they can directly witness the impact their story is having – although of course it’s difficult, I couldn’t tell you where half the people I photographed this year are now. It’s definitely an area I’d like to see NGOs focusing on more – traditionally the audience of NGO funded photo essays are potential donors but I’d like to start being more creative and enabling the people I work with to be both participants and observers in the stories. REP: How does your work with NGOs differ from other assignments? At what stage are you brought in, and how much input do your have in the way images are used in the NGOs communications? James: My work with NGOs doesn’t differ dramatically from other assignments, my style fits well with the needs of NGOs so...
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Awaiting Justice? Time to re-think the picturing of conflict survivors in Nepal

I was at the British Embassy in Kathmandu a couple of weeks back to attend a gathering on enforced disappearances. The event marked the 6th anniversary of the killing a 15-year-old girl, Maina Sunuwar, in 2004 by the Nepal Army. The main draw was the première of a short film entitled, ‘Awaiting Justice‘ (presented as ‘Nyay Kahile?’ in Nepali, which literally translates as ‘Justice When?’). The film documents a visit in December 2009 by nine top diplomats to Bardiya District where a high number of people were ‘disappeared’ during Nepal’s decade long conflict (1996-2006). I was looking forward to seeing the film, but  the title had already begun to raise questions in my mind. I tend not to be a pedant when it comes to language, but I have seen such passive terminology far too often when referring to rights holders in Nepal. ‘Waiting’ is a term that is unfortunately reflected in the way many of the individuals are represented, not least by the human rights movement. https://youtu.be/vhlBnO2cTak Since the end of the conflict there has been a concerted push by human rights organisations, both national and international, as well as some embassies and the UN (particularly OHCHR – Nepal), for investigations and prosecutions into past abuses. This has mainly focussed on case documentation and political lobbying via legal argumentation. Despite this there are those of the opinion that survivors and the families of those ‘disappeared’ or unlawfully killed have been, up until recently, marginal voices in this campaign, with their priorities given less prominence in the face of the more powerful international ‘human rights project‘. Some would even say that the families agenda has been deliberately distorted to fit that of the international community. A cynical analysis would be that this agenda centres on furthering international human rights law through work in politically weak and conflict damaged countries, with an emphasis on ‘putting people in prison‘ rather than delivering to the wishes of those who suffered most (which tends to centre on material and emotional relief).  Not that justice isn’t a good thing, it just raises the question of who all this effort is actually for? If in reality things are far more complex than the cynics may have you believe, this is not to say there is not an element of truth here. There are certainly legitimate questions to be asked about the independence of some CBOs in Nepal, and whether undue influence is exerted on them to be ‘on message’ with the bigger agencies controlling the agenda and funding. What interests me most though is how this plays out strategically and representationally? Few resources and time appear to have gone into growing the public profile of the CBOs and winning arguments amongst the public to mobilise support. The ‘legal-first’ strategy that is pushed so hard by the various human rights agencies is making slow progress exactly because it is not duel tracked with a wider communication strategy that seeks to garner support beyond a narrow constituency of human rights activists and lawyers. Documentation of cases and legal arguments saturate the landscape, with a war of words occupying...
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‘Real lives are like novels not legal documents’ – How NGOs should be using photos and video in social activism.

I know, I know, its a bit of a headline title but as this article rounds of one year dedicated to looking at the use of photography, video and all that other visual stuff used in social activism I thought it appropriate to end with a grand claim. But to be honest with you I can’t answer the question of ‘How NGOs should be using photos and video in social activism‘. Not that you needed telling that because, as regular readers will know this just takes us back to all that ‘does dieting work‘ absurdity. The other reason is, despite having looked at hundreds of examples of visuals put into the service of social activism, I feel that the answer will always be evolving. This is particularly the case at present with the explosion of possibilities offered by the digital revolution and Web 2.0. We are like frontiers men in new territory (minus the genocide of indigenous people that is, unless that is photographic film…hmmm probabaly wise to leave this metaphor alone). I started The Rights Exposure Project blog in February 2009 in an attempt to answer two questions. One of them is; ‘How can I use visual media better in my work as a human rights campaigner?’ Eight years working at Amnesty International in London is enough for me to say with some authority that both personally and as an organisation we are not using visual media as well as we could. I do not mean that we are not using enough photos and video (though sometimes we do not), or that they are not of an adequate quality (though sometimes they are not), but that we have failed to recognise the true power of these media as a tool to increase the impact of our work. We are effectively tying one arm behind our backs. Our one good arm (the most widely staffed and funded) remains the tried and tested research that Amnesty International is known for. Presented as written reports, the organisation must bang out around one hundred of these every year (a quick search on the Amnesty library turns up 119 written reports verses 13 audio-visual products in 2009), year after year, sending them off to governments, business leaders, academics, NGOs and the media. These are accompanied by numerous press releases and briefing papers. All good stuff, a veritable production line of evidence documenting human rights abuses across the globe delivered directly to those with the power to make the required changes, assuming there is the necessary political will. The problem is this is a bit like launching a new soap powder on the market, packaged in a white box, without an advertising campaign and hidden on the bottom shelf of the supermarket aisle. OK, Amnesty International has moved on in the last couple of years from its traditional un-illustrated ‘white cover’ reports, but a couple of colour photos does not constitute a strategic use of visual media. Nor do the glossy pamphlets or other action related materials that have been developed in recent years. And that is what concerns me – why are we spending such...
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Participatory photography – Jack of all trades, master of none?

‘Proxy wars’, do diets work ? and the 2009 Ashes series OK, I am going to be a bit flippant and suggest first-up that the debate about whether participatory photography (PP) represents the greatest thing since sliced bread or is an ineffective use of resources that perpetuates neo-colonial attitudes in development is; 1) a stupid debate on a par with ‘Does dieting work?’ 2) a ‘proxy war’ about participatory approaches and visual representation in development, and as such, best tackled head on. Now, there is a temptation to take that as a cue to stop writing right here, crack open a cold-one and get back to the serious task of watching England and Australia battle it out in the Ashes (for the uninitiated, this is THE most important cricket series in the world!). After all, there are serious questions to be discussed, such as should England play Harmisson at Headingley instead of Broad, and will Flintoff be fit (and if he isn’t then don’t we need Broad)? But unfortunately before we can get to such matters I feel an obligation to explain my flippancy. So, here goes. Over the last decade there has been a marked increase in the use of PP in development, education and human rights work. Yet, in contrast to this surge in popularity, it has drawn significant criticism. This article will analyse why something seemingly straightforward has been hailed both as an antidote to the ‘picturing of poverty’ and condemned as ineffective, or even damaging. Through this analysis I will try to show that much of the criticism has been too generalised to be very useful, with ‘over claiming’ by PP practioners contributed towards this. I will suggest that the crux of the debate currently centres on the broader issue of representational power relations and ‘authentic’ viewpoint that require practical solutions based on a better understanding of subjects and audiences. I conclude by suggesting that it will only be through the use of mixed visual media practices, presenting a variety of diverse viewpoints, connected as a ‘conversation’ that we can not only create a more accurate representation of the issues, but also facilitate a more dynamic activism across communities. Before going any further I would like to thank the following people for their insight and materials that made this article possible; DJ Clark (multi-media journalist), Shahidul Alam (Drik), Rebecca Burton (Kids With Cameras), Ross Kaufman (Director of ‘Born Into Brothels’), Sara Parker (Liverpool John Moores University), Tiffany Fairey (co-founder, PhotoVoice), Yasmine Eid-Sabbagh (photographer), Sara Sehnaoui and Ramzi Haidar (Zakhira). The Right Questions to Ask? t could be said that any analysis of participatory photography (PP) needs to look at two issues; 1) Does this tool offer an antidote to how people living in difficult circumstances (usually marginalised groups facing economic hardship or social discrimination) are generally represented through photojournalism and NGOs? 2) Can it really deliver on all the multiple claims made in its name? Although the issues these questions raise are interesting, and I will touch on these, I give primacy to another question; ‘Did the PP project you ran do what it set out...
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“We have no right to walk into another’s suffering” – Raghu Rai on Bhopal, the demise of the ‘Truth’, and the future of the photojournalistic aesthetic in campaigning.

‘Are you joking?’ Raghu Rai’s initial response when asked by Greenpeace to go back to the city of Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, India, and photograph the lives of those affected by the disastrous Union Carbide factory gas leak 18 years’ on is not entirely surprising. Social activism, despite the parallel challenge of Web 2.0 platforms, remains heavily dependent on the main stream corporate media as a communication tool. Where was the story? Had it not been covered numerous times before? Was this not like returning to Chernobyl to survey the human fallout? And just as importantly, had these people’s lives not been intruded upon and photographed enough already? Big name photographers like Rai are brought in by International Non-Government Organisations (INGOs) like Greenpeace to ensure widespread publicity for their campaign through the publishing of the images in prominent high circulation media. There will often be an accompanying exhibition and book– again, providing a media hook and further dissemination of images. In some cases the high profile photographer’s involvement itself is the lead story, particularly when they are better known for their work in, say, fashion or advertising (like the work celebrity photographer Rankin did for Oxfam UK last year). That does not mean the photographer is commissioned as a gimmick – they are there to produce quality images – but the big name tag is a guaranteed interest multiplier to the media and public. Greenpeace’s response to Rai’s question was that people were actually still dying from gas related health problems, their drinking water was still contaminated, and compensation was still being withheld. They suggested he go see for himself. So he did. The result was this set of photos Getting Rai on-board must have been seen as a big plus by Greenpeace. He is not only the most acclaimed photographer from India, but photographed Bhopal in 1984 when the disaster happened. He would bring local context, continuity, as well as a wealth of photographic experience. The aim of the Greenpeace project, in partnership with the International Campaign for Justice for Bhopal, was to remind relevant decision makers of the continued suffering experienced by those who breathed in the gas on the morning of 3 December 1984, and their commitments and responsibility to address their needs. The photos commissioned from Rai were to be used in the common formats of a photo book and international touring exhibition leading up to the 20th anniversary of the disaster. In addition they appear in slide shows on the Greenpeace website. They were to highlight the lives of some of the individuals and families who still suffered, representing them through a classic ‘witnessing’ approach – the presenting of evidence through black and white images using a documentary style aesthetic. The images are unsurprisingly not as shocking as those Rai took in 1984, instead focussing on prolonged suffering and injustice, and the community’s response. They are designed to evoke our sympathy and indignation around specific individuals and a specific event. In addition Greenpeace and the International Campaign for Justice for Bhopal produce five cinema ads. Rai’s photos and the Greenpeace campaign are now over five years old. Looking back...
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Making the past present – the use of photographs in Amnesty International’s campaign on justice for former ‘Comfort Women.’

Although Amnesty International is not renowned for its use of photography their campaign supporting the former sexual slaves of the Japanese Imperial army during World War II is worth looking at. In particular, it is interesting to see how the images were an integral part of a well thought through lobbying strategy, which aimed to mobilize a policy response as much by a moral/emotive argument as a legalistic one. I would like to thank Katie Barraclough (East Asia Campaigner) and Wayne Minter (Audio-Visual Resource Manager) at the International Secretariat of Amnesty International, and the documentary photographer Paula Allen for their generous and insightful contributions to this article. Credit is also due to Suki Nagra and Iris Cheng (former East Asia Campaigners) and the Amnesty staff and volunteers worldwide who worked tirelessly on this project). Gaining competitive advantage in an attention deficit worldMany campaigns for social justice focus on recent or on-going abuses and inequalities. The playing field is not equal, with some issues gaining greater publicity and support based on geo-political priorities, current trends and the organizational resources behind the campaign. It is as competitive as any market place, with photo and video playing key roles in gaining media advantage. For those working on long standing issues the problem of remaining in the minds of both the public and policy makers is all the more difficult – where it is perceived that one more image of poverty or conflict has diminishing returns in regard to mobilizing outrage and activism. Often it is only footage that provides new evidence of abuses that will gain prominence. However, for those campaigning on a crime that happened over six decades ago the challenge of demonstrating its relevance today is daunting. Archival photographs tend to communicate ‘history’, which may be informative but in a highway of fast changing information is a turning easily passed-by for more contemporary matters. Malaya Lolas (Grandmothers) of Mapanique (178 women were raped over a three-day period), The Philippines, March 2005 - copyright Paula Allen / Amnesty International This is the situation that faced the now old women across the Asia-Pacific forced into sexual slavery to serve the Japanese Imperial army before and during World War II. Hak-soon Kim from South Korea was the first so-called ‘Comfort Woman’ to publicly break silence in 1991. Women all over Asia – including from China, East Timor, Indonesia, Philippines, and Taiwan – followed her lead and told their heartbreaking stories. Many in successive Japanese governments and right-wing interest groups would rather the issue, and the women, go away, and together form a strong international lobby group. In some respects they may get their wish, as each year that passes more of the women succumb to old age. But before all are gone there is a determination amongst them to raise their collective voice to bear witness to the crime committed against them and demand the apology and reparations they rightly deserve. As the Japanese government try to sit out growing international condemnation, campaigners try to internationalise the issue and record the testimony and demands of the women for a fight that may need to be continued by another generation when they...
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Drik – challenging social inequalities through photo activism

Pilgrimage?My journey to the head office of Drik in Dhaka at times felt like a secular pilgrimage. In part this was due to the convoluted and protracted overland route I opted to take from Kathmandu using train, bus and ferry lasting three days. At one point resembling a rite of passage when as the sun set through the smog of the rural brick kilns a puncture brought us to a stand still an hour from our final destination. I should note however, that on reaching Dhaka my journey paled significantly in comparison to the photographer who drove overland from Norway to attend the recent Chobi Mela photographic festival, clocking up 54 days travel – and that was only on the way there. Yet it was not the journey but the reverence and admiration with which people talk about the Bangladeshi photo agency that really set the mood. Before I had even left the UK in January it became a ‘must see’ for my project. Despite remaining a relatively small organization in the increasingly monopolistic world of mega photo agencies, in its twenty years of existence Drik has grown, diversified and made significant gains towards its core objectives. It has identified problems and developed innovative and workable solutions, often breaking new ground, and never biting off more than it can chew. However, it is their reason for being rather than their size or location that is significant in placing them a part from other agencies. And the way they go about their business that distinguishes them from NGOs with similar mandates. Framing your landscapeThe ‘central driving force’ of Drik – as outlined in their corporate brochure – is ‘challenging social inequality’ and prejudice, a mission statement seemingly far more at home with an NGO addressing human rights or development issues than a photo agency. But then Drik is no ordinary photo agency, and I was struck on visiting both their Dhaka and Kolkata offices by how much they had the feel of both a small media design enterprise and an NGO. Before looking at the nuts and bolts of Drik’s work it is worth giving some space to examining the fundamental issues that have shaped it – particularly those of representation and ownership – in short, who takes the photos and decides which stories are told. Not only because this informs much of Drik’s initiatives, but is a wider question that those using images for social campaigning need to consider. In one sense Drik is not just about photos (or video, internet etc.), but the dynamics of economic development, aid, trade and addressing the existing inequalities that retard the eradication of poverty in so many countries. Not losing sight of its fundamental reason for being is undoubtedly one of the major strengths of Drik. And in a rapidly realigning and changing world it is important that Drik is able to continue to revisit these reasons and revise them where necessary. Twenty years ago when Shahidul Alam, the director of Drik, was...
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‘People War’ – Photographs of War to Promote Peace in Nepal

Photographic exhibitions of conflict, human rights abuses or poverty can be compelling and powerful tools to educate us on issues we know little about in places we may never set foot. All too often the awareness and empathy these exhibitions produce is left to dissipate, with no outlet or next step for the audience to take. In my opinion, advocacy campaigns need to channel this energy to be effective. However, when the images are closer to home and connect with our own lives then the outlet for action becomes how we live our own lives and the future choices we make. This is the case with the ‘People War’ exhibition that documents the so-called ‘Peoples War’ in Nepal between 1996-2006. Originated and produced by Kunda Dixit, Editor of the Nepali Times, the collection of 179 photographs focuses on the impact of the conflict on individuals rather than documenting the wars progression and battles. With the death toll reaching nearly 15,000, mainly civilians caught between the warring sides, it highlights the individual grief and loss, as well as the triumph of a people longing for peace. Originating from a photo feature in the Nepali Times, the exhibition is a selection from 3,000 photographs submitted by journalists and photographers, both professional and amateur. The final edit, made by a panel consisting of Kunda, Shahidul Alam (Director of Drik photo agency) and Shyam Tekwani (war photographer), represents the work of 80 photographers. The exhibition toured Nepal, pulling in over 350,000 people from all sectors of society, before being developed into both high quality hardback and paperback picture books. The success of the exhibition is unprecedented in Nepal, attracting more visitors than ever before, and evoked an emotional outpouring against such violence engulfing the country again – recorded in nearly 40 visitor books. Progressing from the success of the exhibition and book, Kunda Dixit and nepa-laya, publishers of the book, have produced the film ‘Yuddha Chitra – Frames of War’. Now touring Nepal the film focuses on the victims of the conflict in the same way the photo project did. Entry to the film is free and the hope is that it will expand the reach of the project to a wider audience with the aim of promoting peace and non-violence. In early March I talked to Kunda about the photo exhibition and his work as director of Panos South Asia (1997-2000). Rob – ‘You returned to Nepal in 1996 after serving as Asia-Pacific Director of the Inter Press Service (1990-1996) to establish Panos South Asia. In your years working at Panos what in your opinion were the key developments in the use of photography as a tool to raise awareness on social issues?’ Kunda – ‘Panos South Asia worked on raising awareness in the media (not necessarily the general public) about issues like trans-boundary water, TB, HIV/AIDS, etc. We involved photojournalists in the field trips and workshops, and used their work in the books and briefing documents we prepared. We also did a workshop and a simulated newsroom on newspaper and magazine design...
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Inside Kroo Bay with Save the Children

Ever since I came across the website ‘This is Kroo Bay’ last year wanted to learn more about how such a comprehensive and innovative approach came about. Well, thanks to Rachel Palmer, Photography & Film Manager at Save the Children UK I got what I wanted. ‘This is Kroo Bay’ needs to be seen – it is full of photos, stories, video and marvellous interactive 360 degree panoramas to explore. There are in fact two Kroo Bay sites, as Rachel explains below. Both are worth your time and raise the bar in regard to the use of multimedia / interactive websites by NGOs. Many thanks to Rachel for responding so well to my inquiries and providing an insight into the use of visual media by an INGO. *** Hi, I’m Rachel Palmer and I’m the Photography and Film manager at Save the Children UK. I manage the film and photo team who deliver all the film and photo assignments at Save the Children. This includes covering our development work, work responding to disasters, our campaigns or fundraising work. I developed the concept for ‘Kroo Bay’ and produced the site working with Anna Kari and Guilhem Alandry, who has produced a great deal of panorama work in the past. With the ‘Kroo Bay’ site we wanted to push the boundaries of how an interactive experience could  place our programme work in the homes of our supporters, to give them a  ’ real life ’  experience  of a community in Africa  through cutting edge multimedia technology. The idea was to allow them to explore the world and lives of the people they are supporting with Save the Children,  to really connect them with the issues and dilemmas they face . We chose Kroo Bay, a slum in Freetown, for this project because it ’ s one of the worst places in Sierra Leone ,  a country that ’ s officially recognised as the toughest place in the world to be born. 1 in 4 children die before their fifth birthday. They die from diseases we know how to treat and prevent ,  diseases like malaria, cholera and pneumonia. We chose to work with Anna Kari and Guilhem Alandry on this project. Anna has worked for Save the Children on a number of assignments previously and always produced high quality, emotive images that have been very effective in our campaigns. I saw Guilhem’s 360 images in an exhibition he held and was very impressed. We got talking about a multi media project he and Anna had worked on in Glasgow using these 360 degree images, sound and photography. Concurrently at Save the Children we were exploring ways of bringing our supporters closer to our work without actually taking them on visits and I thought there must be something creative we could do with the concept Anna and Guilhem had developed. We met up and discussed possibilities and I pitched the idea to the Head of Communications at Save the Children. It all went from there! The project has enabled people to connect with our work in a new and more meaningful way, helping us create deeper relationships with  our supporters.  I...
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Bahini – Life of my sisters

There may not be any great photography galleries in Kathmandu, or Nepal for that matter, but every so often a set of images surfaces that take you by surprise. ‘Bahini: Life of my sisters’ is one such project. ‘Bahini’ – which means ‘little sister’ in Nepali, is a project shot by two Singaporean photographers, Edwin Koo and Debby Ng, for the Little Sisters Fund (LSF). The fund places girls from disadvantaged backgrounds into private schools where they can get a good education. The photo project included an exhibition (in both Singapore and Kathmandu) as well as a book. I caught up with Edwin and Debby at the opening ceremony of the exhibition to learn more about the project. REP: Where did the idea of documenting the work of the Little Sister Fund come from? What is your ideal outcome from the project? Debby: It wasn’t really planned, it evolved. I came to Nepal in 2008 and heard about the Little Sisters Fund (LSF) and how they have provide about 900 scholarships to girls from disadvantaged backgrounds. I met Usha Acharya, the co-founder of LSF, and we talked about taking some photos. To start with we were thinking of portraits. I knew I needed help, so got Edwin on board. We took about a month and a half to shoot the project. Edwin: We ended up shooting a ‘day in the life’ of six of the girls, both at home and school. The first exhibition was in Singapore, then came the book, and now the exhibition here in Kathmandu. It was Usha who pushed us to do more with the photos. REP: What has the working relationship been like between the photographers and the fund? Did you get free reign as photographers or did Usha come with a fixed idea of what she wanted? Edwin: Usha was absolutely respectful of our roles as documentarians, although Trevor (the other co-founder) had initial reservations, and rightly so, since ‘exploitation’ and ‘media’ have been close cousins in many instances. But they never dictated what we needed to produce. We agreed on a non-intrusive and natural approach to documenting, making sure the girls knew their rights to a dignified story-making process. REP: How did you address issues of representation? How have the girls pictured been involved? Edwin: I think we did what we could in a limited time frame, without intruding too much into their lives. We tried to represent an ‘average day’ in their lives of these girls, although having a photographer in their homes was already, in itself, a ‘special occasion’, not an average day. We can’t claim to be objective – journalism never was. We tried our best to explain to them, the process of the documentary, and most of the girls cooperated very well with us in the story-making process, being as natural as they could. Debby: We only had a short time to shoot, on average one day per child. REP: What is the plan to ensure the images get to be seen by a wider audience? Edwin: More exhibitions, more book sales, and perhaps,...
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‘Even Though I Am Free I Am Not’ – photographic activism for Burmese political prisoners

U Win Tin, Burma's most prominent former political prisoner. The veteran journalist and founding member of the NLD spent more than 19 years in Insein prison. COPYRIGHT (C) James Mackay ENIGMA IMAGES/www.enigmaimages.net Today is Daw Aung San Suu Kyi‘s birthday, her fifteenth under house arrest in the past twenty years. Preparations for elections in Myanmar (Burma) later in the year have already drawn widespread criticism regarding highly restrictive elections laws, particularly those that bar the jailed political opposition (including Suu Kyi) from participating. Past experience has lead many to fear that as the elections approach restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly will be tightened. James Mackay’s documentary photography project – ‘Even Though I’m Free I Am Not’ – started in 2009, is very timely. The project took second place in the political photojournalism category at the prestigious Prix de la Photographie Paris 2010 awards last month and focusses on Burma’s political prisoners – both those now free and those still imprisoned. James (not his real name – he prefers to remain anonymous) has travelled to South East Asia, Australia, Japan, Europe, USA, Canada as well as into Burma itself to capture images for the project. Using a simple hand gesture duplicated by over 160 former political prisoners the project has a powerful presence. I caught up with James via email to put a few questions to him about the project. My thanks to James for providing such detailed and passionate answers to my questions, truly an activist photographer. [All images are taken from "Even Though I'm Free I Am Not" and used by kind permission of Enigma Images. Image Copyright (C) ENIGMA IMAGES/enigmaimages.net]. U Kyaw Myint was jailed for 3 years in Insein prison. Image Copyright (C) ENIGMA IMAGES/enigmaimages.net REP – How did ‘Even Though I’m Free I Am Not’ come about? JM – I’ve had a focus on Burma for some time and the idea for a project on political prisoners came when I was working undercover in Burma a few months after the ‘Saffron Revolution’. I was documenting places in Rangoon where people had been shot and killed, monasteries that had been raided and closed down, and sites where hundreds of innocent people had been beaten and arrested. These were just ordinary places but with an extraordinary hidden meaning. It was at these places that so many people had become political prisoners so it was a natural progression to create a piece about the political prisoners themselves. Throughout 2008 I worked on the idea, trying to find a way to visually represent political prisoner without being too direct and obvious. I like to work with hidden meanings and so didn’t want to show ‘prisoners’ or ‘jail’. I certainly didn’t want a link to ‘crime’, after all these people are not criminals. But most of all I wanted to create something that would raise awareness about the issue and be emotionally powerful enough to express the horrendous situation political prisoners face in Burma. There is a very strong bond that unites all the political prisoners – both former and current – it’s as though none of them will...
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Articles and Interviews

Sophia Spring on ‘Sweet Salone’

I recently completed a photographic project entitled ‘Sweet Salone: Portraits of Contemporary Sierra Leone’ – kindly featured on this website by Rob. What did I hope to achieve with this project? Simply to provide an insight into the lives of a few Sierra Leoneans in the hope that it might produce a more nuanced representation of the country than previously shown in the media. JOHN MACCAULEY, 20. John was 10 years old when he made the staggering decision to leave his family and join ‘The House of Jesus for the Disabled’ – a community of around 50 disabled men and women that life on a small plot of land in the middle of Freetown. As a child he would play with the children in this community, and as a result of the friendships he forged he decided that he would like to dedicate his life to helping them. He was the first ‘healthy’ to join the ‘The House of Jesus’, and is now an invaluable member of it. He spends his days there repairing wheelchairs and making new ones out of old prams. John is also an adept tailor, and teaches many in the community this skill. The ethos of ‘The House of Jesus’ is to move away from a culture of dependency, and to move towards a level of self-sufficiency. By learning certain skills, such as tailoring, they can earn an income to support themselves and their families, instead of being completely reliant on aid and the generosity of others. Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world, with terrible rates of infant mortality and one of the lowest life expectancies in Africa.  But these stark statistics should not define the region, or its people. I could have so easily turned my lens to the inhabitants of Kroo Bay (one of the worst slums in the world), but that would have been too easy, and too reductive a view of Sierra Leone. ‘This is the first time in over 20 years that I have studied. I work very hard, but I don’t mind because I love what we learn here…….one day I would like to set up my own salon’. HALIMATU KADIA CONTEH, 34. Ultimately I feel very ambivalent about the kind of ‘shoot and run’ tactics employed by some photographers that sees them profit from someone else’s hardship. I also question how helpful these snapshot images are in promoting the cause of LEDCs. I feel that we are so often bombarded with media images of poverty that we have become almost desensitised to such sights.  I think it’s now time we start to represent those in the third world as individuals, not as victims.  Perhaps this change of tact could have a profound effect on the way we view the developing world, and the lives of the people that live there. “Political tolerance, further education and civil liberties – without these things our country cannot move forward." Andrew Koromah brought the concept of independent journalism to Sierra...
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Articles and Interviews

How to prick the conscience of a dictator & why the ‘poster child’ works.

These two topics may at first seem unrelated so bare with me. The answers to both questions are rooted in how our brains work. They are, in some respects, intuitive. They are also fundamental to how we approach campaigning for social change, and in particular how we use visual media. Lets start with what may be a familiar economics experiment called ‘The Ultimatum Game.’ For those unfamiliar with the game it goes like this; two people are paired and one is given $10. This person (the proposer) gets to decide how the money is split between the two of them. The second person (the responder) gets to accept or reject the offer. If the offer is accepted each gets to keep their respective amounts. If rejected no one gets anything. What tends to happen is that the proposer, rather than offer a small amount (say $1) and pocket the rest, usually offers close to 50%. What they understand is that if they offer a low amount the responder, rather than cut their losses and take what ever is offered (after all, anything better than $0 is a win for them), they punish the proposer by rejecting ‘unfair’ amounts. In some ways this appears illogical – the responder should take what ever is on offer. But that inner sense of what is ‘right’ is vital to social interactions. The game taps into a whole load of sympathetic human instincts based on us being a social animal. It is also worth noting at this point that this experiment gets the same results where ever it is conducted, but it Germany, Japan or Indonesia. A variation on ‘The Ultimatum Game’ is ‘The Dictator Game.’ Here the set up is the same except the proposer dictates how much the responder will get. Yet even here the proposer ‘dictator’ tends to give away around 30% of the $10. Even when they don’t need to be generous they are. That is unless the game is changed slightly. In the first two versions of the game both proposer and responder have sat opposite each other. The third variation is set up like ‘The Dictator Game’ but with the proposer ‘dictator’ in a separate room to the responder. In this set up the dictator offers far smaller amounts to the responder. It is all in the distance. The lack of interaction with the person you are screwing, the isolation from those who suffer from your greed, makes us insensitive (which may do some way to explaning the move of the Burmese captial to Naypyidaw). Here is another experiment. People in this experiment are asked a simple question – ‘How much would you be willing to donate to a charitable cause?’ It was found that when shown a photo of a malnourished Malawian child the average donation was $2.50. However, when given a wealth of statistics on the scale of malnutrition in Malawi, its impact on millions of children and the mortality rate (rather than the photo), people gave 50%...
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Articles and Interviews

Nayantara Gurung Kakshapati – “I was just interested in telling stories.”

I first met Nayantara Gurung Kakshapati when I was exploring participatory photography in Nepal in 2009. Since then we have worked together on the issue of human rights abuses committed during the conflict in Nepal (1996-2006) on a number of occasions. I chose to work with Nayantara because she is a good photographer, plain and simple. I saw some photos she had taken of vulnerable women in the entertainment industry in Nepal. It was evident from these images, as well as her manner, that she was able to gain people’s trust. And in doing so could bring intimate stories to her audience. I also came to experience her deep understanding of her country and her ability to notice cultural nuances that were lost on me despite living in Nepal for a couple of years. I doubt most foreign photographers would have brought that depth. When I made a trip to Nepal last December Nayantara gave me a copy of ‘The Constant Change‘ – photo.circle‘s latest book. It contained the type of images of Nepal that I had been searching for – no sadhus, no temples, no Himalayas. Just real people, real lives, taken by young local photographers. Oh, and its great! It was then that I wondered why I had never interviewed Nayantara for the Rights Exposure Project? A bit of an oversight on my part, so eventually I got round to mailing her some questions. She kindly sent me back the responses below. *** REP: “Documentary photography is an emerging field in Nepal. The profession is very male dominated, so how did you get into it?” NGK: “I actually got into it while I was in college in the US – it was an all women’s college. I was just interested in telling stories. In Nepal, I can count the number of working female photographers on my right hand – there are less than 5 of us here.”REP: “You and your partner started photo.circle in 2007, what’s it all about?” NGK: “We started photo.circle because we felt Nepali photographers needed to be stronger as a community in order to become better photographers. Although not a photographer himself, Bhushan had worked as a designer and web master for a leading Nepali media house for many years. He had worked with a lot of Nepali photographers and realized their limitations and needs. I was just starting out with photography. Since 2007, we have definitely seen many developments – we are seeing the emergence of more engaged photography and photographers. But there is still a lot to do. Once interesting work is produced, we need strong channels of distribution, we need to develop and access markets to keep photography going as a profession. These are things we are trying to figure out now.” REP: “Photo.circle has promoted and supported local photographers. Where do you personally stand on the debate of local vs. foreign photographers covering issues in the developing world? With such a huge UN and INGO presence in Nepal many European photographers come there looking for work. How does...
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