An Other Europe is a collection of photo stories that expose the increasing number of hate crimes.
This summer, I was invistigating the increasing number of hate crimes among the refugee communities in Greece. This experience has touched me deeply and has led me to began a long term project based on a series of photo documentaries that is capturing the lives of those that have sought refuge in Europe and have become victims of hate crimes.
I am very pleased that my initiative is supported by Per i Diritti Umani, an Italian organization working for human rights advocacy, http://www.peridirittiumani.com/ which will be publishing and hosting a regular newsletter about this ongoing photo project on their pages.
Pleased that a selection of photographs from ‘The Other Half’ series is part of PhotoMonth this October 2015. The photographs will be showing at the Old Truman Brewery in London part of PhotoMasters – PhotoBlock 2015.
Three photographs from my Transitional project is showing at the Photo Fringe 2014 / Collectives’ Hub. Our exhibition is called Where We Stand / v.2. We are a group of colleagues who recently graduated from LCC’s MA in Photojournalism and Documentary photography. The photographs that I choose to exhibit belong to my series on people living in temporary accommodations: B&B, hostels and emergency shelters.
Photograph at 7th Floor, Vantage Point, New England Road, Brighton, BN1 4GW. Where We Stand / v.2 has the work by Monica Alcazar Duarte, Jamie Clark, HannaKatrina Jedrosz, Jenny B Mulder, Phil Le Gal, Rob Stothard, Ross Paxton, Omur Black.
Some of you may have followed the story of a Boston homeless man. Glen James that finds a backpack with money and travellers cheques worth nearly $42,000 and hands it over to the policehttp://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-boston-homeless-man-reward-20130919,0,4947392.story. The gesture prompted the police of Boston to honour the man and to hail his honesty. This remarkable event made a great impression on a marketing accounts manager, Ethan Whittington of Virginia. He wanted to do something for Glen James and set up a campaign to raise fundings for him http://www.gofundme.com/4by2as. The campaign has had a widespread support. The story is remarkable. But what I find even more remarkable and touching are these words which Glen James has written on the go fund pages.:
“On a serious note; I don’t think there is a real cure for the multiple of homeless people, because their problems go far beyond a simple lack of housing, but the problems of the homeless could be managed far better.
There really isn’t much difference between homeless and non-homeless people as we would like to think, but you would only find that out if you couldn’t make next months rent and truly have no where to go, but the streets… ”
In my view these two phrases touch various and important aspects on the issue of homelessness. On one level the argument is directed to policy makers and so there is the suggestions that the issue needs to be tackle in a better way. I am not a policy maker and I don’t have at hand all the knowledge and the complexity of this issue, but as a photographer working on a project on people living in transitional state and marginal living as homeless, I have learned that there is definitely a need to reach out to those in housing difficulty in a more tangible way. The other level that Glen is mentioning is directed to us. There is a need to look at our stereotyped ideas that we have on homeless people. And it goes even deeper, because today the gap between homeless and non homeless are not great. These words remind us that first and foremost a homeless person is just as everyone else.
Amina, her husband and three children live in an overcrowded flat. The age gap of their children is making things even more difficult as their son, 15 is not able to share a room with his two girl sisters of 6 and 8. The parents are for a very long time having to share with their children, the mother with the daughters and the father with the son. The flat has severe mould which has worsened the asthma conditions of the mother and one of the daughters. To worsen the situation is Amina’s husband clinical depression caused by a sudden joblessness and the housing conditions have made things a lot more difficult to handle for him and the entire family. At the moment, his frequent stays at the hospital have become more permanent stays. Amina and her family have been fighting for years to be moved in a larger home. She is certain that her husband conditions would improve.
“We have nobody to speak to. My husband is depressed. His psychologist has not done anything to help, for instance he has not even written to the council. We went to see the MP. We told him everything, but nothing has been done, not even changing the bid band (housing priority list according to housing status). My husband lost work, and this situation is not helping. It is not the reason for having lost the job but the situation at home is making things worse. Nothing has being done around this problem and the situation has worsened his condition. Now he is clinically depressed and in and out of hospital.The problem has become deeper from losing the work with the housing as it is. We wanted to move and we worked hard for it. We went to see the MP and when my husband did not find any help then he lost hope and everything and his health became worse. It is very difficult. One day he woke up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet and he fainted and nobody knew because I wasn’t with him. If we would be able to sleep in the same room I would known when he is away from the bed. When my husband woke up and found himself on the floor of the bathroom, he did not know when and what happened to me and how long he had been there. He hurt his tongue, but it could have been a lot worse. In the morning he told me. If he dies no one will know.” Amina, June 2013
The simplicity and yet the poignancy of the words written by John Berger’s (John Berger, LS Lowry 1966) to accompany the Lowry’s exhibition at the Tate Britain (http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/lowry-and-painting-modern-life), resonate with great effect, nevertheless because of its depth of description and prediction of today’s times. It touches a striking note of empathy; words describing what Lowry was touching with his paintings, i.e. a British economy in its turmoils, of a profound economy crisis that needed intervention. Then and now. I share the thoughts cited by Berger on the consequences if a shifting power from industrial capitalism to international finance capital was not averted. It was not averted then and the process as we are witnessing it is still undergoing with no less implications. I was at loss with a deep recognition in what I saw in Lowry’s paintings and what I am experiencing in my work today by getting to know the depth of poverty and isolation that many people are facing. The industrial scenes of our cities have gone, but desolation is present albeit less openly. With my ongoing project ‘Transitional’ I have found that ill health, poverty, homelessness is enveloping our cities and these human layers are hidden within the skeleton of our cities.
In a time of economic crisis, the concept of ‘marginal living’ is one that is becoming a reality for many people, individuals and families in the UK. What is frighteningly becoming a reality is the inclusion of realities of marginality as an acceptable way of life. Realities of crowding, reliance on the State for housing, prolonged temporary stay in sheltered accommodations testimony of the existence of these human layers in our cities. In this economic reality of a divide between those in housing or not, the concept of marginality is also enacted by the process of marginalization and in this case of transitional, fragmented existences. Being in a home but with a continuous apprehension of becoming homeless, being in a shelter and yet the days are going by and there is no solution to your status, living in unhealthy homes with walls covered with mould or in severe overcrowding that are slowly killing you with depression, asthma and tuberculosis these belong to the reality of life of over 5 millions people in the UK.
“Transitional Lives, Marginal Homes” is a collection of stories of those lives that belong to the human layers trapped in the UK housing crisis. These human layers, skeleton of our cities are put aside and forgotten to what looks like a contemporary urban vision which sees the ghettoisation of the poor or their displacement.
My rethink project is surely becoming a rethink on the Rethink. The last months have been a rollercoaster within my practice and still don’t see the end of it.Being exploring multimedia approaches by re-working the story on overcrowding by adding text, interviews and going back to shoot more. Yet, I am not satisfied that this will be the approach that I will take the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates photo story forward. In some aspects, although I am looking at a community that will disperse and will lose their homes under an unjust regeneration programme, my strategies in telling their story needs a rethink. Generally, my way of working on a photo story would have been getting close to a particular individual, family, community and then through their lives tell of their plight. I don’t know a particular family well enough to create a story through them, neither there is a visible connection within the residents of the estates.My approach and my methodology needs changing in that with the limited time at hand, the lack of an in-depth relationship with a particular family or person living in the estates, I am now having to re-shape my thinking and strategically come up with something that would render their stories, thus is my rethinking my rethink project. (i.e. perhaps multimedia might not be an answer but the storytelling needs to change itself).In one of the tutorials at the MA in Photojournalism course, I was suggested to look at the story in a philosophical view. A conceptual approach is totally a new territory for me and it is a challenge.West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates is a complex of low-rise and high-rise buildings, neatly lined out. There is a doctor’s surgery, a school, playgrounds, tenants halls…in short what we see is a complex array of buildings. These are homes and within these homes, there is laughter, sadness, and a history of those that inhibit those walls. Some people moved in recently, some bought their homes, some lived there for many years and so forth. These individual lives will be interrupted and displaced. For some this might be the beginning but for most it means the rapture of their lives as it is known to them. For the elderly, it is a catastrophe, for those that have a terminal illness might mean many other awful things… I have been thinking a lot about this. A home is the space where lives have imbued its walls, retains personality through its arrangements and contains the history of those that inhabit. Thus, the idea that in focusing on the objects, the arrangements, and the aesthetics of interiors, I might be able to tell the story of the residents’ lives and what is going to happen to these lives.
“I think of a photograph as a receiver of sensation. Sensations are tangible and I try to organize them through the act of photography” Tom Woods.
I saw the exhibition of Tom Woods at the Photographers gallery in London and I was simply taken by the spirit that encompasses his photographs. There is a clear fascination and involvement with the medium of photography itself; channelling the emotions of a given moment. I find it refreshing and beautiful. Tom Woods’ words accompanying the exhibition in which he describes photography as a transmitter of a sensation have stayed with me, even more so as I have encountered them when I was to embark on a small project, part of our MA programme and experimentation, set out by Peter Fraser. The project asked that I was to close my eyes for 20 minutes in preferably unfamiliar place, and once the 20 minutes were over, I was to start taking pictures immediately.
The results have been wonderful for most of us, comparing this way of taking pictures as an ascetic and transcendental experience. The experience for me has been interesting; I have felt driven, transported in my picture taking. I would say that the resulting pictures look different, as the subject and the way I photographed it has been looser, less technically conscious, but more spirited somehow. Thus, the words of Tom Woods feel so appropriate in this discourse in that the photograph is a receiver of sensations.
What I have learned from this experience? I have enjoyed the freedom of taking pictures, without preconceived ideas on the subject, technicalities, or aesthetic concerns. The exercise reinforced sensations andspontaneity in taking pictures, and it has been a valuable experience as it reinforces and makes you explore elements of beauty, feelings and transcendental in photography.
Here are some of the pictures that I took, one early morning in London after having my eyes closed for 20 minutes: