I had to begin thinking about how I could represent the issues I wanted to highlight but simply within my home space. Living in a one bedroom flat with little space I knew this was going to be quite difficult, but many photographers have also had to improvise with their practise and have taken the breathing space as positive chance to be creative, such as Stanislaw Boniecki:
"I think it’s a great period to be creative! We have time to just be and think rather than looking at new new new new stuff on the Instagram all the time. We didn’t have time to really be creative for awhile. There was stuff always going on before our eyes and we were just trying to catch up with it. All the crappy social media that was exploding with thew same content minute after minute. And now it has stopped for a second. So we have time to just do whatever we want to. And that’s where creativity is. No, it’s not an obligation. That’s the whole point. You can just do nothing for two days and wait for it to come. No rush. That’s how it works." (Kennedy Magazine, 2020).
My starting point came from my local food bank's website, (https://chesterfield.foodbank.org.uk) when I was looking at ways to help to them. One of the sections explained how to donate food and what kind of food they are urgently in need of and what they have plenty of and therefore don't need. At the time this was the list:
This list gave me my subject matter to work with at home. I wanted to be able to show these items in urgent need and what that would feel like, knowing that could be your last bit of food. I also didn't want to ignore the fact that the food bank actually had plenty of cereal, and what it may be like for some people to only have cereal left to eat after running out of other foods. What would it be like to only have cereal for all three meals?
Free From Hunger Exhibition, London 2019
Three photographers, Chris de Bode, Abbie Trayler-Smith and Nora Lorek worked alongside the Irish charity 'Concern Worldwide' to produce images highlighting malnutrition in Liberia, Central African Republic and South Sudan. Photographs vary between styles of portraiture, documentary and still-life.
Chris de Bode
Marie's Amaranth leaves, pot full of ‘termite’ wood (used as a traditional cure for stomach ache), a book of religious hymns and a hoe, by Chris de Bode.
Marie Mbendu with 15-month-old twins Dorcas, in her arms, and Moise, on her back, by Chris de Bode.
"40-year-old Marie has 15-month-old twins, Moise and Dorcas. Dorcas has now recovered from severe acute malnutrition after she was admitted to the Concern clinic when she was six months old, weighing just 4.2kgs. Now, Moise is being treated for malnutrition and diarrhoea. After undergoing an emergency caesarean, Marie is unable to help her husband on their small plot of land. She said: 'If Concern was not here, things would have been much worse. I wouldn’t have been able to afford medicine for my children – so they would not have been treated.'" (Concern Worldwide, 2019).
De Bode's work provides a good insight of the subject's personal life. Without the text, the photographs would still be powerful, however the small amount of information provided allows the viewer to interact more with the series and feel a sense of the lifestyle the subjects live and what tough situations they face daily.
The Dutch painting style of still-life creates a beautiful photograph with rich green colours and dark shadows. The contrast between the style and content is controversial, or perhaps was done intentionally. 17th-century Dutch paintings were in high demand at the time because the Dutch enjoyed spending their disposable income on furnishing their homes, the paintings became easily accessible to buy and reasonably cheap with so many artists creating artwork in the Netherlands. Overtime the paintings have increased in value, especially those with historical content. With this in mind, de Bode's still-life could be historically valuable in time to come, hopefully in a time when poverty can no longer exist, and the photograph will represent a devastating time when there were so many cases of malnutrition and ill-health. However, the controversy lies within the association of wealth and the Dutch culture, which is in complete opposition to the situation being represented by the photographer.
Nasil lives with his brother Gatlit in one room with their nine children, by Abbie Trayler-Smith.
They have to beg at the butchers for animal skin. They then scrape the remnants of meat off to eat. By Abbie Trayler-Smith-Smith.
Smith's documentation of South Sudan shows the famine caused by many years of conflict in the country. Most of the portraits use a red material backdrop as a background which shows continuity and formation through the project, however some show the environment in the background. The stronger portraits are the ones with the backdrop as there is less distraction and more focus on the subjects' eyes, which allows the viewer to feel empathy more easily. The colour red connotes danger, implying that the famine situation is threatening to the lives of the people represented.
The photographs showing the food bowls of the subjects are compelling and demonstrate the extremity of the food poverty in South Sudan. However, the issue again with the photographer's practise is the lack of continuity as some photographs show the bowl from a side view like the one above, or others are taken from a head on angle as though the photographer was facing the subject. The project would make a stronger statement with a uniformed method of practise, with clean compositions.
A grandmother of ten, Esther is Chairwoman of the Concern-supported Mothers’ Group in the village of Pay Chea, by Nora Lorek.
Naomi Kpehyou and her son, John, who have benefitted from Concern, by Nora Lorek.
Lorek's documentary portraits represent women in Liberia that are part of a mother's group set up by the NGO. After the civil war and Ebola outbreak, Liberia has a large amount of poverty.
The use of material backdrops adds to the cultural identity of the women, and reveals more about their personalities by looking at the patterns and colours of interest. The vibrant colours give more of a positive feel to the photographs, rather than making the mood reflect the poverty, there is a sense of hope and happiness as these women have been supported by the charity. The composition could perhaps be better as the crop is a little harsh and cuts off the subjects too much.
The morality of all of these photographs being taken could be questioned. The nature of NGO photography can take advantage of vulnerable people, and subjects may feel obliged to be in photographs because the charity has supported them. As Rosler would say, 'victims of the camera', (1981), which this work could quite easily fall into the category of. The end result of these works was an exhibition in London, which was more than likely unaccessible to the the subjects. The money made from the exhibition was being donated directly back to the charity's Free From Hunger appeal which put the subjects in a position of use, to help gain money for the charity.
This exhibition work got me thinking about how still-life, portraits and documentary photographs can be displayed together. It's a possibility that both sides of my project can still work to be presented as one. More importantly these works have made me to realise the significance of continuity in a project, especially in terms of composition.
Read my next post to see how I put this knowledge to the test in my own practise!