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Social Change Photography

Archive for June 2009

Photo Fund Winner Update: Joseph Rodriguez

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rodriguez_screenJoseph Rodriguez believes that photography gave him a second chance to be a productive member of society after a personal experience with the prison system in his younger years. This first hand knowledge compelled him to embark on a series of documentary projects in the juvenile justice system, examine street life in Harlem, look at the effects of homelessness, and become deeply involved with the gangs of East Los Angeles. After a year of photographing the family life of the gangs of East L.A., Rodriguez won the FiftyCrows International Fund for Documentary Photography in 1993. The project focused on the origin of gang life, which was often rooted in three generations of gang members.


Rodriguez’s international work includes projects in Mexico, Cuba, Kurdistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Romania, Zambia, and Mauritius. Post Hurricane Katrina, Rodriguez has had several exhibitions of his work in the south called “Engulfed by Katrina: Photographs Before and After the Storm” and a book in 2008 titled, “Still Here: Stories After Katrina.”

Now Rodriguez is back to focusing on the United States Criminal Justice System by exploring the process of reentry into society after time in prison. The “Reentry Project” in Los Angeles comes from a recent Pew Center on the States study, which reported that between prison, jail, and parole, 1 in every 31 adults is under some form of correctional control.

Rodriguez states, “As a photojournalist I felt compelled to humanize these statistics. At Walden House, a local drug and alcohol treatment center operating for 38 years in the state of California, I took it upon myself to photograph and interview residents, many of whom have been repeat offenders. Its program has evolved into a national leader in developing strategies to help addicts recover and maintain their lives. Today it helps treat more than 3,400 men, women, and children daily.”

Written by Zara Katz

June 23, 2009 at 11:17 am

REZA: A rare photo exhibition by Reza in the Valley of Panjshir, Afghanistan

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overviewAt the end of May, friend of FiftyCrows, Reza held a powerfully unique photography exhibition of images of the legendary Afghan leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud. The exhibition was titled, Visions of Massoud, and took place in the open air of the Valley of Panjshir next to remains of Russian tanks and heavy artillery.

The opening ceremony of this great installation attracted hundreds of visitors, among whom Massoud’s brother, Ahmad Wali and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Abdullah. Those who attended the exhibition believe Reza’s photos, and especially Massoud’s portraits, have played an important role in the worldwide acknowledgment of the fate of the Afghan people.


More information on Reza and links to his books and photo essays can be found at:

Regular contributor on the liveBooks RESOLVE blog, Reza wrote a post about his non-profit foundation in Afghanistan that helps train journalist to document pressing issues, promote democracy and produce change and healing.

Take a look at:


Written by Zara Katz

June 18, 2009 at 11:28 am

Posted in Human Rights

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Mimi Chakarova: The Price of Sex

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chakarovascreenFor over six years, investigative reporter and photographer Mimi Chakarova has carried out painstaking, often dangerous, on-the-ground reporting into all aspects of the sex trafficking trade from Eastern Europe, including investigations into the countries of origin, the process of transit, and the initial allure and stark realities these women face in the receiving countries. She has slowly built trust and developed relationships with young women in Eastern Europe who have been trafficked abroad. Over the years she has traveled through Eastern Europe, Southern Europe/Mediterranean regions and the Middle East for this project. Her work has won a 2008 Emmy Nomination and a 2008 Webby Award, and has appeared on PBS Frontline/World and CBS 60 Minutes. This long-term project was also awarded the Inge Morath Magnum Photo Grant for outstanding documentary work.


After the fall of the Soviet Union, millions of young women in Eastern Europe came of age amid economic misery. Their childhood fantasies of a better life in the West became a human trafficker’s golden opportunity. Through agents and brokers who arrange the travel and job placements, young women are escorted to their destinations and delivered to their employers. Upon reaching the foreign land, some women learn that they have been deceived about the nature of the work they will do. Most have been lied to about the financial arrangements and conditions of their employment, and most find themselves in coercive and abusive situations from which escape is both difficult and dangerous.

Currently the main destinations for sex trafficking of Eastern European women are Russia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Israel. Most women are proposed work as seasonal and factory workers, waitresses, domestic servants and au pairs. After arriving in the country of destination, their passports, documents, money, and personal belongings are taken away. They become today’s sex slaves, sold and resold like cattle. Those who manage to escape their traffickers are deported. Back home, they rarely tell their loved ones the truth. The stigmatization of prostitution is every family’s deepest shame.

For more stories, videos, and images go to:

On the website there are two very important links which provide information on ways to help:



Written by Zara Katz

June 10, 2009 at 2:52 pm

Photo Fund Winner Update: Rena Effendi -Part 2

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effendi3 “Discover a smaller corner and show a bigger picture.”

Here is a look at what Rena Effendi is working on presently, her thoughts on photographing in her own country as well as foreign locations, and insight on recognizing that small stories have a big meaning.

FiftyCrows: What project are you currently working on?

effendi1Rena Effendi: I am currently working on putting together a final book publication of the six years of work that I did following a 1700 km oil pipeline from Baku, Azerbaijan, via Tbilisi, Georgia to the port of Ceyhan in Turkey. By following this pipeline as a symbolic route, I was hoping to trace the changes in the lives of people who live along it. What I saw was that this multi-billion dollar pipeline project had a human cost: the cost was people who did not receive the share of oil wealth running under their feet; people whose rights were violated, who have lost their farmlands and livelihoods at the cost of the pipeline that carries energy, but not for them. From slum dwellers who lost their homes to a real-estate bubble bloated by oil to victims of unresolved conflicts in the region and female sex workers attracted by the oil bonanza. These people’s lives have been hidden by the glossy corporate PR campaigns, which praise the pipeline project: “It is for the country’s greater good!” No doubt the states’ budgets have increased, but at what cost to the people who live their silent lives along this pipeline?

FC: How did you become involved/interested in your current work?

effendi2RE: I began photographing in 2002 focusing on the changes in the urban landscape of Baku (my home city) where traditional neighborhoods were replaced by the oil-fueled construction boom. I was following the story of my own neighborhood, people being pushed out of their own small homes that were erased to accommodate luxury high-rise apartments. At that time, I had no idea that the transforming streets of my city would lead to the major story of oil and its impact on life not only in Azerbaijan, but the neighboring countries of Georgia and Turkey. In 2006, I decided to follow the route of the oil pipeline from Baku, Azerbaijan, via Tbilisi, Georgia to the port of Ceyhan in Turkey.

FC: What was the significance of winning the IFDP in your career?

RE: Winning the IFDP grant gave me my first push. I was not a full time photographer then. I had an office job with a steady pay to support my passion in photography. Winning the grant gave me faith that what I was doing had some potential. It gave me confidence to follow my dream of becoming a full time professional. I left my office job the same year I got the IFDP grant and haven’t looked back ever since.

FC: Can you give a piece of advice to others doing important work with social change photography?

RE: It’s important to think of stories that are of universal significance. But stories themselves don’t have to be big. Anything can serve as an example. Every small story from every small corner of the world can have global significance. Discover a smaller corner and show a bigger picture.

FC: Can you comment on your connection to your subject matter and the importance of working in your own country/reigon?

effendi4RE: Local photographers can tell the stories of their own countries from a very intimate angle, simply by being immersed in the environment for a longer period of time, in other words, having it all under their skin. But it does not mean that outsiders’ stories are less compelling. They could be very fresh, they could be intimate too, they could be simply different. Everyone has his/her own unique vision that is being formed not only by the influences of cultures that we come from, but also from the more universal influences of the humanity we all share. Just like a Western photographer can come to Azerbaijan or Georgia and put together a powerful photographic portrait of the country, an Azerbaijani or Georgian photographer can go to any other place in the world and tell the story through his/her own eyes. We are all photographers and we try to make sense of the things that surround us. Our cultural fabric makes an impact on how we express ourselves, but it does not limit us geographically.

Written by Zara Katz

June 4, 2009 at 9:38 am