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Social Change Photography

Archive for July 2009

Tony Deifell: Seeing Beyond Sight – Photographs by Blind Teenagers

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Taken by Katy, age 13

With its ambitious, seemingly paradoxical premise,
Seeing Beyond Sight challenges our definitions of art,
vision, and perception and what it really means “to see.”

Visual artist and social entrepreneur, Tony Deifell works with blind teenagers to teach them photography. While it may seem important to have sight in order to photograph, Deifell’s book Seeing Beyond Sight proves that photography is about a vision. In December, Deifell spoke at Google about his book and described how the project opened his consciousness to perceiving the possibilities in the world.


Tony Deifell writes about the book:

Seeing Beyond Sight is about seeing in the broadest sense. I use the physical behavior of light as a metaphor for the book’s five chapters: Distortion, Refraction, Reflection, Transparence & Illuminance. Light is what makes it possible for the eye to see – and to make photographs – but we don’t usually see light itself.

I thought of these five chapters as a journey towards light – towards an illuminance that is beyond everyone’s eyesight – although the source of light is not fully known. The road is already dark enough as we wade through distortions and refractions to explore ourselves and our relationship with the world.

Ultimately, we may catch only a glimmer of a picture larger than us – an image of the world that is just beyond our full grasp.

Here is a video of Tony speaking at Google about teaching photography to blind teenagers and in return what they taught him about seeing the world. (Note: don’t shy away from watching because of the length, it is work every second especially the video clip of his student Cassie talking about her love of Italian):

Written by Zara Katz

July 29, 2009 at 3:56 pm

Posted in Blind Photography, Youth

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The Burden of Memory: John Trotter and Donna DeCesare

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“The camera relieves us of the burden of memory. It surveys us like god.”

-John Berger

Donna DeCesare, winner of the 1999 International Fund for Documentary Photography, has focused her work on and the effects of violence, gang culture, war, and trauma on youth. Her IFDP winning photo essay, titled: Shadow Dreams and New Youth Visions, explored the intersecting worlds of gangs in Los Angeles and El Salvador where young adults experience the some of the highest rates of homicide. Some of her other projects include, Sharing Secrets: Children’s Portraits Exposing Stigma, Crimes of War and Edgar’s Story.

As the Dart Media Curator and the Latin America Coordinator for the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, DeCesare recently produced a multimedia piece with photographer John Trotter about his personal experience with violence. While photographing for the Sacramento Bee, Trotter was attacked and suffered a severe brain injury that took months to recover from. As a way to process his trauma, Trotter took images of other patients at the rehab center, which DeCesare combined with her interview of Trotter speaking about his emotions. The effect: compassion into Trotters trauma and admiration for his exceptionally sad and haunting images.

burden_of_memory Please click here to watch the video interview:

The video was made by the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, John Trotter, Donna DeCesare and Joey Castillo. The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, a project of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, is dedicated to informed, innovative and ethical news reporting on violence, conflict and tragedy. The John Trotter piece is part of Dart Media, a gallery of visual storytelling, highlighting exemplary work that advances the conversation about how to witness, interpret and represent violence and suffering.

Written by Zara Katz

July 23, 2009 at 3:32 pm

Photo Fund Winner Update: Ahikam Seri -Part 2

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“I always think it is good to look at our own back yards.”

2003 Photo Fund winner, Ahikam Seri spoke with FiftyCrows about his dedication to photographing in Israel, where issues of identity cause constant unrest especially in the less recognized societies. His advice to other photographers is to work as hard as they can; this is an obvious reflection of his own work ethic, which is apparent in his musings of his current and past projects.

FiftyCrows: What project are you currently working on?

Ahikam Seri: These are times in Israel when there’s a lot going on. Within the last two years there were two full-scale wars, not to mention other ‘regular’ unrest, as well as the many social and religious issues that such a place generates. As much as I find it harder and harder to concentrate on one theme as time goes by, I did invest a good proportion of time, although might not be enough, during the last couple of years, to follow on the issue of Africans who are smuggled over by local Bedouin across the armed southern border with Egypt, to seek asylum in Israel.

I realize this issue is a global one, not necessary unique to Israel, but then, as an Israeli native, who always thought this was a bit unstable place, it struck me why and how Africans choose to arrive here in search of better life. With that, I understand that the atrocities they flee from in Africa might be way more harsh than the Israeli experience, so in a sense, working on this story also provides me with a wider proportion when looking at reality here.

This ongoing project is one out of three I’m trying to put together, at times when there are less reportage assignments and more hard news, along with the global downturn that implicates on photographers’ ability to focus on long-term projects.


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

AS: I became interested in the African asylum-seekers’ matter in 2007, when the stream of such flowing into the country has risen dramatically. Back in 2006, there were some few hundreds of asylum seekers here, especially from Darfur. In recent years, it is estimated that more than 10,000 have already arrived here through the Egyptian border.

During these recent years, we witness here a build-up of small African communities, especially in the neglected southern part of Tel Aviv, Israel’s main metropolis. We see them more and more in the streets, and it was important for me to follow up on this, since there were many examples already of immigration waves into the country, which due to wrong handling by the authorities, were caught in turbulence and hardship. I wanted to follow up on the absorption of the Africans and see how they are accepted in the country. Since they are illegal immigrants, some of them Muslim from enemy countries such as Sudan, it intensifies the relationship with Israel.


FC: Can you talk about the project that you focused on for the Internation Fund for Documentary Photography grant?

AS: For the IFDP grant, I focused on the circumstances in which Bedouins live across some 45 villages in Israel’s southern Negev desert. Those villages are unrecognized by state authorities, and lack basic infrastructure. This, along with a growing land dispute between the Bedouin and the state, and on background of what was then a storming Palestinian uprising against Israel, was a fruitful ground for a new hatred expressed by Arab citizens towards their state.

For years, I followed Bedouins during their daily life, struggling to live in what they consider their ancestral land under harsh conditions. I tried to illustrate their daily hardship and how their culture, tradition and tribal framework was affected by western values. I wanted to raise awareness to a growing conflict, which at times was on the verge of a violent eruption.


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

AS: Winning the IFDP grant was probably the most significant step of my career. The generous support I received back then was proof to me that reporting in-depth on a story that the mainstream media tends to ignore, is the right and crucial thing to do as a journalist. Along the years since winning IFDP, I received additional valuable support from the foundation, as well as a personal and uncompromising will to assist me through my career. As a freelance photographer, working with many changing clients, I always treasured the feeling that my work has a home in FiftyCrows. I will always be grateful for this.

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

AS: The only advise I can give to others doing important work with social change photography, is to keep working very hard, sometimes under Sisyphean terms, in order to bring their stories to light; go out to the field to do the job first, and only after that, think what is the best way to distribute the story.


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

AS: I always think it is good to look at our own back yards. As photojournalists, we often aim or dream to go to remote places to cover different issues, but we should also remember that we might have a greater impact if we recruit our ability to tell a story, to work in a place we already have a good, if not excellent, knowledge and acquaintance of. Sometimes, especially in conflicted places such as Israel, it can also be an obstacle, when usually you are identified with one side to start with, but then, it is another challenge to overcome, and can benefit a photojournalist even on the personal level as a resident of his country.

Written by Zara Katz

July 9, 2009 at 2:52 pm

What Matters: Documentary Photography and Social Change

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What Matters:
Documentary Photography and
Social Change

David Elliot Cohen, Michael Watts, and Ed Kashi with Mark Gonnerman

Thursday, July 9, 2009
7:30 – 9:00pm
Annenberg Auditorium in the Nathan Cummings Art Building
Free and Open to All

Photo essays have proven their ability to not only document but actually change the course of human events. If that is the case, shouldn’t we be searching for the essential photo-essays of our time, the pictures that will spark public discourse and instigate the type of real-world reforms that engaged citizens in the past? What Matters, a new book edited by David Elliot Cohen, attempts to answer this question with eighteen important photo-essays by this generation’s preeminent photojournalists. These essays poignantly address the big issues of our time: climate change, oil addiction, the inequitable distribution of global wealth and other current problems. The book ends with “What You Can Do,” an appendix that offers hundreds of ways to be part of the solution to the compelling challenges we now face.

David Elliot Cohen, Author and Editor

Michael Watts, Chancellor’s Professor of Geography and Development Studies
and Director of the Center for African Studies at the University of California, Berkeley

Ed Kashi, Photographer

Written by Zara Katz

July 2, 2009 at 3:53 pm

Posted in Event Announcement

Photo Fund Winner Update: Ahikam Seri

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Israeli photographer, Ahikam Seri concentrates his work in his motherland where he is conscious to depict the many different societies that live there. He is very interested in the sub-cultures of Israel such as Jews living in the West Bank, African immigrants to Palestine, and the unrecognized Bedouin population. The Bedouins have chosen to side with the Palestinians for religious and socio-economic reasons, which Seri documented as a way to illuminate the Israeli-Arab conflict. In 2003, this particular photographic study of the Bedouin struggle won Seri the FiftyCrows IFDP and the National Geographic “All Roads” award in 2004.


Recently in 2008, Seri won the PDN Photo Annual. His work has been exhibited in Israel, Europe and the US and published in Time, Politiken, L’Express, Paris Match, Ei8ht, loDonna and La Republica.

Written by Zara Katz

July 1, 2009 at 3:41 pm

Posted in Human Rights, Photo Fund Winners

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