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Social Change Photography

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Dearest Readers,

We’ve made the quantum leap to Facebook. Please do check us out, as this is by far our most convincing virtual reality experience to date.

*****Just click the pic!

-Fifty Crows

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March 19, 2010 at 5:56 pm

Photo Fund Winner Update: Stephaine Sinclair is selected for the Whitney Biennial 2010

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In 2004, FiftyCrows awarded Stephanie Sinclair one of her first photography grants. Last week, Stephanie was selected as one of four photographers for the 2010 Whitney Biennial. Next year’s biennial reflects the selected artists’ response to the hardships and joys of the past two years.

Known for her depiction of women’s issues and her ability to expose horrific situations, Sinclair’s 2004 International Fund for Documentary Photography photo essay was no exception. “Self-Immolation: Afghan Women Cry Out For Help” showed the women in the burn unit of the Herat Public Hospital. In the five subsequent years since winning the IFDP award, Sinclair’s work has continued to examine topics of women and war, establishing her as one of the most prominent photojournalists today.

Sinclair is currently working on a project that examines child brides in Afghanistan, South Asia, Ethiopia, Latin America and the United States. This work will be exhibited at the FiftyCrows Gallery in San Francisco in July of 2010. Sinclair’s deep interest in exposing women’s issues around the world led her to start Photobetty, a photography group that supports female photojournalist and female centered photo essays.

Sinclair worked for Corbis in Iraq and Lebanon and as a staff photographer for the Chicago Tribune. She has been published in The New York Times Magazine, US News and World Report, TIME, DoubleTake and Stern. Sinclair’s numerous honors include: CARE International Award for Humanitarian Reportage, a $15,000 Alexia Foundation grant and one of the W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography fellowships. Most recently in March 2009 Sinclair was asked to be full member of VIIphoto agency.

Other links to Stephanie Sinclair’s work:
PDN (video interview)

Written by Zara Katz

December 16, 2009 at 10:52 am

Photo Fund Update Part 2: What Andre Cypriano has to say about working in “no-go-zones”

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“I look people in the eyes. I don’t go in there as a photographer. The experience is more important than the photographs.”

FiftyCrows: What project are you currently working on?

Andre Cypriano: I am deeply involved in the documentation of slums all over the world, or “favelas” as we call it in Brazil. This long-term project is called “Informal Culture.” By now I photographed over 100 favelas, mostly in Rio de Janeiro, Caracas, Buenos Aires, La Paz and Lima. Soon I hope to be able to document the townships of Africa, India and Mexico. Slum remains vastly misunderstood and under-studied. Still too little is known about the origins, demographics, physical and social structures, traditions, cultural production, internal economies, politics, modes of everyday life, and multiple identities of the place that over 1 billion people call home.

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

27_1AC: My unusual passport into the “no-go zones” of Rio’s favelas originated in the series, The Devil’s Caldron, documenting the notorious island penitentiary Cândido Mendes. I gained the trust of an inmate, Paulinho, one of the leaders of the infamous criminal organization Comando Vermelho – the CV. Paulinho invited me to photograph the place where he grew up, Rocinha, Rio’s meta-favela, with 250,000 inhabitants. The idea was to show that vibrancy and happiness also exists in the favela. That initial adventure led me to other favelas, in Rio and beyond. They are all different. The more I see, the more I want to see.

FC: Can you talk about the project that you focused on for the IFDP grant?

AC: The ROCINHA portfolio was the one born because of IFDP. This community is a place with extreme emotions. It is a Brazil that you will never find in the Copacabana or Ipanema Beach. The slum spreads from the top to the bottom of a mountain. Ironically, it is surrounded by wealth. Living in tightly-packed claustrophobic, collapsing brick and wood shacks, these people have made a choice. They have decided to survive, using whatever resources are available to them.

Because the residents of this neighborhoods, or developing city really, have been neglected by the government, they have set up their own survival system, one ruled by the C.V. drug-traffickers. What makes it so captivating is how clearly this criminal system both terrorizes and supports the people of the “favela”. This is vividly illustrated by the nefarious role of the police who, on a daily basis, violently extort huge sums of money from these members.

Rocinha reputation is so bad that it is very difficult to convince teachers to work in the community. This is partly due to the pervasive culture of violence and apathy in which community behavior repels even such basic assistance. The resultant violence is so extreme that these days, when a shoot-out erupts between C.V., the police or different criminal factions, children continue to play, refusing shelter, inured by the frequency of such activities. Despite all this, nothing is being done to change life in the favelas. As a result, the violence has grown to a point where it is defining Rio de Janeiro globally.12_1

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

AC: It was my first major award. And besides the great finance support at the time, it was very important for my self-esteem. Because of the IFDP’s world recognition many doors have been opened. Still today, 10 years later, I continue to gain benefits from the award.

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

AC: Don’t leave your portfolio(s) hidden inside the drawers. And never believe that just because you didn’t win one competition, it means that your work is not important or good. I did apply for the IFDP 4 times before I won. It is very important to understand that, maybe because of personal reasons, whoever is judging can be attracted to a different work than yours. Maybe it is just not the right time for that subjected at that institution. Or maybe your photo style was not interesting to just that group of judges. Keep trying. Keep on a strait body of work, with a solid style, clean and good quality presentation.

11_1FC: Please comment on your connection to your subject matter and the importance of working in your own country/region?

AC: I look people in the eyes. I don’t go in there as a photographer. When I’m inside, I eat with the locals, I play sports with them, and I participate. That is very important for me. The experience is more important than the photographs. I love Rocinha and lived there for 30 days. My work happens to help to make changes, but it is not really my intention. The social change comes as it is supposed to come.

After living in the USA for over 20 years, I feel like an outsider in Brazil. That helps to see things that Brazilians are not seen on their daily lives, things that is right there, in front of every one. Things that only happens in Brazil. As a Brazilian and American citizen, living in both countries, I am able to express my feelings to the subject in a global and natural way. Many Brazilians think that my Rio’s Favela portfolio, as another example, is an apology to the C.V. criminal organization, but instead, it is history that I am documenting, like the Italian mafia of NY.


Written by Zara Katz

October 15, 2009 at 9:34 am

Photo Fund Winner Update: Andre Cypriano

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Brazilian photographer, Andre Cypriano prefers to photograph the unique and unusual aspects of distinct cultural enclaves. Within his own country he has made a point of looking at the livelihood of the largest favela (slum) in Rio de Janeiro and the brutal prison, Candido Mendes. It was his work photographing the people of the drug-run favela called Rocinha- An Orphan Town that won him the IFDP in 1999.


Cypriano won the National Geographic “All Roads” photography award in 2005, the New Works award from En Foco N.Y. in 2002, and the World Image Award from PDN in 1992. He has also participated in the Bolsa Vitae de Artes in Sao Paulo and the Caracas Think Tank. Cypriano has published several books of his work, conducted educational workshops and exhibited in Brazil, Europe and the US.

Now located in New York City, Cypriano works as a freelance photographer doing both social documentaries and editorial/fashion photography.

Written by Zara Katz

October 14, 2009 at 9:59 am

And the list goes on….. FREE Event at the Annenberg Space for Photography with 30 international photojournalists

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An amazing photography event is happening in two days (Thursday, September 17th) at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles. Some of the best international photojournalist, including several FiftyCrows IFDP winners and important friends of FiftyCrows will be featured among 30 photographers. This event is free and open to the public so don’t miss it if you are in the area.

Slide Show Night

Following the great success of the Slide Show Night hosted by the Annenberg Space for Photography, during the L8S ANG3LES exhibit last April, the Photo Space is pleased offer an evening dedicated to the talents of international photojournalists. On September 17, 2009 the screens of the Photo Space will display a new array of exciting images which both compliment the mission of Annenberg Foundation, as well as the current exhibition.

This Slide Show night is inspired by Pictures Of Year, International (POYi), which focuses on photojournalism and documentary photography. The images gathered for this presentation have been culled from the work of 30 photographers, covering current subjects as varied as addiction, Native American socio-economic issues, International Affairs, Migrant Fishing in the Bering Sea, the fervor of Michael Jackson Fans, the cultures of Chinese Turkistan and Ethiopian Jews.

The program is a non-seated event. Complimentary food and beverage will be provided to registered guests.

Date: September 17th, 2009
This event is fully booked.
Time: 7:00-9:00pm
Location: 2000 Ave of the Stars #10
Los Angeles, CA. 90067
Free Event

Parking:  $1.00 with validation in visitors parking lot
For more parking information visit this page.

Participating Photographers:

NIG04020_1771Cory Arnold
Nina Berman
Larry Brownstein
David Butow
Philippe Engelhorn
Deanne Fitzmaurice
Yves Gellie
Masaru Goto
Katja Heinemann
Ryan Heffernan
Lisa Hogben
Aaron Huey
Kenneth JareckeThe Julie Project
Ann Johansson
Irene Fertik
Catherine Karnow
Ed Kashi
Brenda Ann Kenneally
Rita Leister
Gary Dwight Miller
Mike O’Meally
Darcy Padilla
Ryan Pyle
Benjamin Rasmussen
Espen Rasmussenrodriguez
David Rochkind
Joseph Rodriguez
Marissa Roth
Q. Sakamaki
Lourdes Segade

Also, friend of FiftyCrows, Colin Finlay will be leading a workshop at the Annenberg space on:


Description: Colin Finlay’s workshop is committed to exploring the photograph and the written word. To finding that sacred place within your soul, your other voice. To creating your new language, not constricted, taught or created by anyone but yourself. The day will seek to open wide a new level of self examination and explore the uncharted levels of your potential, a sharpening of the knife you hold within. During the course of this hands-on workshop, Colin will explore his process and photographs along with his own storytelling narratives and how they both inform and expand the visual language of the photograph.

Students should bring a digital portfolio/presentation of 20 images of their work and written journals if you have them.

Time: 10 am to 5 pm with a break for lunch

Fee: $250 per person and includes a signed copy of either TESTIFY or ANTARCTICA/SUDAN

Registration: Please register here.

Class Limit: 16 students

Written by Zara Katz

September 15, 2009 at 11:46 am

Painted Photos – IFDP winner Florencia Blanco creates new histories with old histories

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In 2002, Florencia Blanco won the FiftyCrows IFDP for her images of the people and place that she grew up in – Salta, Argentina. The essay, Salteños, titled after the name used for residents of the area, documented the daily life in the city, which holds a peculiar diversity and strangeness. A thick tension exists between those with native heritage and those with European heritage. Blanco depicted the class difference in Salta by photographing the elaborate parties and costumes of the rich and the rural simplicity of the poor lower class. She also captured this separation by highlighting the interiors of people’s homes from barren, religious icon adorned walls to plush, colorful, oil-painting and family photography rich living rooms, bedrooms and bathrooms. Seven years after winning the IFDP, Blanco is having a book published on the Salteños project.

13 Habitación de la Coco-Coco´s bedroom 200010 Vestíbulo-Vestibule 200002 Quinceañera-Girl on her fifteenth birthday 2000
Blanco’s new work seems to extend from her Salta images of oil paintings and family photography in people’s homes. With Painted Photos, Blanco’s fascination with vintage hand painted photographs leads her to create new venues for viewing the images. The setting that she photographs the painted photo in creates a different history for the image that might have lost its roots. With others, she tries to connect the image back to their family through the environment that she places the photo in.

Blanco gives a short history of painted photographs in Argentina and explains how her new images strive to establish a connection between past and present.

Oil painted photographs were a very popular type of portraiture in Argentina during the mid 20th century. Although the companies that produced these photographs were often located in the bigger cities they were rare within the city limits. Traveling salesmen would venture to rural areas to sell these images door to door. Painted photographs offered families access to visual representation of themselves in the way that rich city dwellers commissioned oil-painted family portraits.

Painted photos were usually used for families to make homage to their most beloved family members. Being quite expensive with elaborate frames, they held prestige for the buyer who often had to pay in installments or with a group of people. Most of the portraits were made from photographs of deceased relatives who they wanted to make look distinguished. Immigrants that came to Argentina in the first half of 20th century used these painted portraits to remember their family members that they left behind. Often the clothing depicted in the portrait was completely invented and painted on in accord with different religious celebrations, weddings, or mourning periods.
I find painted photographs in people’s homes or at flea markets. I photograph them in a new settings which is some way related to the image, making a whole new scene and connection for the image that has been in a box or gathering dust on a shelf for decades. I explore the relationship of these images with new spaces in a way that links the lives of the portrayed people with the relatives that bought the photo.

Sometimes they collide. Sometimes they work together.

I am dealing with their power as images themselves, as icons that can deliver certain mood, give a precise atmosphere. And it’s a deeply mysterious one. At the same time, I’m writing the history about these photos in Argentina.

Written by Zara Katz

September 10, 2009 at 2:42 pm

Posted in Family, History, Photo Fund Winners

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Photo Fund Winner Update: Victor Sira

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As an immigrant himself from Venezuela, IFDP winner Victor Sira focuses his work on other immigrants in the United States, Latin American and Europe. His winning photo essay for FiftyCrows, Uprooted, showed the fragmented existence of Latin American immigrants who travel and establish a livelihood in the US. Sira states that: receiving the IFDP grant in 2002 from the FiftyCrows Foundation was a tremendous help during financially difficult time. In a more fundamental way, though, the IFDP grant gave me the confidence to experiment, to take risks, to take my ideas and run with them. For that I’m most grateful.


Sira goes on to discuss his most recent work and how it has evolved from the time that he was in school until the present. He continues to look at the state of immigration in a series about border crossing in Europe and the United States. Using both film and video, his interest in film-making has grown out of fifteen years of work.

01_© Victor Sira_Calais 200302_© Victor Sira_ Spain2005

At the age of twenty-two, while studying at the International Center of Photography in New York City in 1992, I began my first documentary project. I photographed different immigrant experiences in New York City. I continued to photograph extensively for several years, in the United States, Latin America and Europe.

A close examination of my works produced during the pass years led me to re-evaluate my entire photographic approach. In considering my work—all still images—I came to realize that I wanted to capture movement and sound building upon and improving on my previous photography efforts. I began to envision a new project that would record fragments of reality containing a range of human emotions such as pain and isolation to examine the social, political, and historical burdens of the people and landscapes that I had photographed years before.

I realized that video as the ideal medium for this new project. During the summer of 2006, with the support of a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation, I began the initial research for the project and wrote the first draft of the treatment for the film that would be based on my own experiences photographing immigrants along the border in the United States and Europe.

03_© Victor Sira_ MOLDOVA 2000504_© Victor Sira_ Arizona 2007

Three short films from a serie about the border will be showing at “THE ELECTRONIC ART AND VIDEO FESTIVAL, TRANSITIO_MX 03” in Mexico City at the beginning of October.

Written by Zara Katz

September 2, 2009 at 5:36 pm

Photo Fund Winner Update: Jack Picone

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PiconeIn 2003 Jack Picone won the FiftyCrows IFDP award for his photo essay that looked at the AIDS epidemic in Thailand. The intention of his images was to give a voice to the courage and compassion of HIV-infected people who face social ostracism and stigmatization. For over a decade, Picone has been involved with photographing people and communities with AIDS as part of a London-based project called “Positive Lives.”


Picone has covered eight wars and photographed extensively in Yugoslavia, Somalia, Rwanda, Palestine, Liberia, Sudan, Central Asia, Europe, Australia and Thailand. His list of publications and awards rivals the countries he has traveled to and include World Press Photo, Amsterdam, Photographer of the Year, America and most recently UNESCO Documentary Award.

Picone resides in Bangkok and conducts photojournalism workshops throughout Asia. This year the workshop will take place in Australia from October 8th -13th in Sydney and between November 7th – 12th in Melbourne.


Jack Picone is currently working on a book titled “Blood and Love,” which overviews the past 25 years of his work.

Written by Zara Katz

August 5, 2009 at 12:10 pm

Posted in Health, Photo Fund Winners, Workshops

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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