South Sudan is the world’s youngest country, founded in 2011 in the wake of decades of war. I visited with Oxfam to photograph their programme ‘Within and Without the State’, that supports people in holding their rulers to account without confrontation. NGOs use a lot of buzzwords to describe relationships between people and their governments. But how do you point a camera at buzzwords?
With thanks to Mwende, Beth, Lydia, Jadida & The Donkey Sanctuary
Aid policy and interventions can raise very complex issues but in drought ridden Mwingi in NE Kenya the role of donkeys is really very simple. Without donkeys, people and their livestock cannot survive.
Donkeys form the vital final link in the distribution of water, food, firewood, fertiliser, grain and market goods.
This is Mwende holding the skull of Mutawr one of the nine cattle and ten goats she lost in the drought of 2009.
One of 14 HIV+ve participants, Anthony rendered his life story in a series of paper cut-out shadow photographs. Working until four in the morning over many nights and using just paper and a torch he has taken photography right back to its origins by fixing a shadow cast upon a sheet of paper. His images have the directness of photograms and produce a compellingly parred down narrative of survival.
Visiting her one room home I was particularly taken by the screen around her shrine. She told me it was there to avoid offending passing Muslim neighbours in the busy alley outside. This sparked a whole discussion about how she navigates her multiple identities as a man, a woman and as a Hindu and a Muslim while remaining within society and her community.
She acts these out for us in a documentary performance which is intimate and confident but without histrionics or vanity.
‘Allied to the bottom of the river rather than the surface, by reason of the slime and ooze with which it was covered, and its sodden state, this boat and the two figures in it obviously were doing something that they often did, and were seeking what they often sought.
But, it happened now, that a slant of light from the setting sun glanced into the bottom of the boat, and, touching a rotten stain there which bore some resemblance to the outline of a muffled human form, coloured it as though with diluted blood.’ Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend
In 2006 this exhibition of 2.5 metre wide panoramic images was exhibited at the Museum of London in Docklands with a soundtrack by Susi Arnott. While making the work I was thinking as much about Dickens, Melville and Poe as about climate change but as rising sea levels have become a more urgent concern the images have gathered a renewed interest. Panos Pictures are currently running the work as one of their stories: http://www.panos.co.uk/stories/2-13-1494-1988/Crispin-Hughes/Unquiet-Thames/
I’ve just returned from helping to run the latest round of this international project in which HIV+ve participants photograph their lives.
Around the world—in half a dozen countries, on five continents—HIV-positive people open their lives and share their stories. Through their own photographs, in their own voices, they teach the importance of compassion and the power of living a positive life. I run the photo-workshops on this project which is directed by photographer Gideon Mendel and Professor David Gere with a team from UCLA.
‘Resilience’ is the latest buzzword in social, environmental and international development circles. Donkeys are known for their physical resilience in the face of drought and abuse by humans but they can also help women’s resilience in poor communities.
Tumme Konton, her husband Sisay and their children live in a tiny settlement called Adankonsole, near the small market town of Soguba, not far from the Kenyan border in Ethiopia.
Although she has no running water, sanitation or electricity, she would not think of herself as poor – in fact she has some status in her community. She has a good stock of animals, including a donkey, which enables her to provide for her family. The Donkey Sanctuary are using this simple story to illustrate the importance of their work in Ethiopia to the lives of people as well as animals.
‘A woman without a donkey – is a donkey’ Ethiopian saying
There are 6.2 million working donkeys in Ethiopia. When they are fit and healthy they carry water to villages and goods to market. In both rural and urban areas they form the backbone of the local transport and haulage system and provide an income for the poorest families. If they become sick or injured then the work of carrying water and heavy loads to market will usually fall to women. The welfare of donkeys can be a matter of life and death.
Collaboration with film-maker Susi Arnott has included commissions for NGOs and participatory projects, as well as gallery work. ‘Comma’ is a film Susi made inspired by her work with Professor Andrea Sella of University College London, with whom I’m also working later this year. We hope to bring all three minds to bear on a joint project soon.
Commission for the Gurkha Welfare Scheme to photograph their work supporting retired Ghurkha soldiers and their widows.
Now in their 80s and 90s, many of this fading generation fought in World War II and were demobbed without a regular pension. From its charitable funds, the GWS grants a discretionary pension to veterans who fall on hard times in their old age, and this pension passes in full to their widows. Four times a year an ageing cohort of ex-Gurkha soldiers, and widows of soldiers, make their way along Himalayan paths and tracks from their home villages to GWS welfare bases to collect their pension.
Realising the narrowing window of opportunity, I improvised studios at three bases and photographed around 200 of this unique group of men and women.
Over the last year I’ve photographed patients and staff at Guy’s & St Thomas’, Charing Cross, Whipps Cross and Imperial College hospitals. Because of consent issues I can only reproduce photos of staff and not patients here. Continue reading →
A group ranging from experienced artists to complete beginners was drawn together in the winter of 2010-11 by Kingston Museum to produce a response to the Muybridge Revolutions exhibition at the Museum.
Working alongside myself, filmmaker Susi Arnott and the Museum’s Learning and Access Officer Caroline Burt, the group studied photography and time lapse techniques. Using inexpensive compact stills cameras, each member produced work on the cusp between still and moving images. Their work uses Muybridge’s techniques and themes of time and movement to explore their lives in Kingston, London.
Around the world—in half a dozen countries, on five continents—HIV-positive people open their lives and share their stories. Through their own photographs, in their own voices, they teach the importance of compassion and the power of living a positive life. I am the photo-educator on this project, working with photographer Gideon Mendel and a team from UCLA led by Professor David Gere.