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Archive for the ‘photography’ Category

Rania Matar: The Forgotten People

In photography on December 1, 2009 at 7:46 pm

“Girl in the Light,” Rania Matar, 2005

By Grace Aneiza Ali

“This is not a political project,” says Beirut-born photographer Rania Matar (www.raniamatar.com) about her work to document the aftermath of Lebanon’s civil war and the conditions in the country’s Palestinian refugee camps. “It does not try to promote any solution to a complicated and sensitive issue, but is a photographic portrait of a forgotten people in search of a home.” Matar’s work, captured in her stunning debut monograph, Ordinary Lives, (Quantuck Lane Press, 2009) may not be intended as a political project, but at its core, it is a compassion project.

Fatima (pictured) aptly named the “Girl in the Light,” lives in the Bourj El Shamali camp for Palestinian refugees, one of the poorest in Lebanon. Matar was immediately drawn to Fatima because of her “dream-filled eyes.” Fatima lives in a barren corrugated metal house. There is one window. On the ground are futons that serve as beds. You know a family lives here because of the laundry hanging from the walls. Matar’s lens capture a girl living in her own world. Her face and body are unscathed against the harsh concrete wall she leans on. She is unmoved by the rubble, undeniable markers of war and violence, outside those walls.

Matar, who grew up in Lebanon during the civil war, is drawn to the Palestinian refugee camps around Lebanon because she sees a universal message of resilience and hope there. “I find inspiration in people struggling to keep their roots, spirit, and culture alive,” she says. “And in their incredible capacity to adapt and make the best of their circumstances so they can preserve their dignity, their hope, and their humanity.”

Her point of view, one in which the physical circumstances, at times dire, are treated as secondary, is a running thread through Matar’s work. Her lens instead gravitate towards symbolic points of light—like that of a mother’s joy as she watches her toddler at play. In “Barbie Girl, (Haret Hreik Beirut 2006), one does not miss that the backdrop of the toddler’s playground is outlined by hollowed-out bombed buildings to the left and right. But the remnants of war and the presence of mass destruction are supporting characters in a narrative where, for Matar, mother and child are the leading actors.

Despite the title of Matar’s monograph, there is nothing ordinary about the lives she captures on film. Instead, Matar’s images poignantly remind us that we are not our circumstances—a feat that speaks to the extraordinary spirit of her subjects and to her values as a photographer.

Rania Matar’s series “The Forgotten People” was featured in the Spring 2009 edition of Nueva Luz Photographic Journal, published by En Foco, a non-profit organization that nurtures and supports photographers of diverse cultures.


Chester Higgins: Girl From Tamale

In photography on July 3, 2009 at 10:51 pm
Girl from Tamale, GhanaTamale, Ghana. 1973

of note continues its FOCUS series with photographer Chester Higgins, Jr

of note: Can you take us through this image? What was the story behind capturing it?

Chester Higgins: It was early one morning in the northern town of Tamale in Ghana. I took a walk to the local bus station. I lingered, leaning against the wall and watching the rush as people jumped into and off open busses. Using the camera lens, I scanned and waited, and then among the throng, this little young girl appeared. Using body language, I asked her to stop so that I could photograph her. She complied. Because of her age and spirit, she reminded me of my young daughter, Nataki, left behind in Brooklyn. When I noticed her plucked eyebrows, I suddenly imagined her at the center of a big loving family.

of note: Your work reveals that Africa has served as a catalyst for you—both personally and professionally. What first led you there?

Chester Higgins: Because of my relationship in the 1960s with African students at Tuskegee University and my involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, the idea of the need to travel to Africa became a reality. Taking that journey to travel so far from the shores of the United States and risk living among strangers seemed less frightening to a 25 year-old than remaining here. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew that I was not traveling to Africa to see the animals. The change in physical setting gave me distance from the issues of race and allowed me the space to appreciate the fullness of African humanity.

Being from a small town, I realized I didn’t fit in urban settings and set out to travel alone into small villages. Instincts honed from my southern background came in handy when deciding which strangers to bring close to me and which ones to stay away from. My style of working was simply being a wandering student, making friends and living with people. All I wanted was to be a witness to daily routines, much like a fly on the wall.

of note: You believe that “a photograph never lies about the photographer.”  What truths do your images tell?

Chester Higgins: Behind every thing is an energy, a spirit, an essence that gives it existence. Photography is a means to appreciate the many manifestations of my collective self. The camera is my vehicle of exploration. In capturing images that make my heart smile, I’m collecting external mirrors of myself. 

This portrait, for me, highlights what is visually pleasing. Yet, I’m interested in more than what meets the eye. What I find most interesting is the spirit within. It is this spirit that I try to recognize and render. I seek to produce a photograph that presents the obvious, sometimes the ordinary, but goes further to reveal what’s hidden and makes the subject extraordinary. 

– Chester Higgins, Jr.


Terrence Jennings: Invincible Cuba

In photography on May 22, 2009 at 8:38 pm
Supa Boy, Terrence Jennings Havanna, Cuba. 2000.

 of note interviews photographer Terrence Jennings, as part of its FOCUS series. 

of note: Take us through this image. What’s the story behind capturing it? 

Terrence Jennings: The young boy in this photograph is Bernardo, Jr. He’s standing in front of a house that was being rebuilt. Stacked around its frame were bricks and other building materials. Bernardo ran to the top of the bricks. He wanted to show me that he could bend the piece of metal in his hand. I remember him saying, “Look what I can do.”

of note: You say this photograph is one of your personal favorites. Why does it resonate with you?

Terrence Jennings: For me it represents the mindset of the Cuban people. It shows the strength and resilience of youth. When you’re young, you think you’re invincible. Bending the metal—as Bernardo is doing—is a euphemism for fighting against the hands that betray you. This image is a testimony of Cuba’s youth rebuilding their nation. It’s the younger generation that will have to take up the torch.  

of note: Is there a universal message here? 

Terrence Jennings: Forward ever. Backward never—that’s the motto of resilience I think of when I see this. Let’s build on what’s happened in the past and learn our lessons and move forward.

– Terrence Jennings


authors of our own image

In documentary, photography on January 3, 2009 at 4:10 pm


THROUGH A LENS DARKLY: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People documents black photographers and black subjects who use the camera as a tool for social change.

The film honors the work of pioneering black men and women photographers whose images helped reclaim the collective self-worth and humanity of African-Americans for over 160 years. In their struggle to be the authors & editors of their own image, the upcoming documentary depicts how African American communities have used the medium of photography to construct political, aesthetic, and cultural representations of themselves and their world.

Produced by Thomas Allen Harris and Deb Willis.

* The video presented above is a fundraising trailer to raise funds to complete the two hour film and multimedia project.

Donations can be made directly at http://throughalensdarkly.tv


In photography, profiles in color on January 1, 2009 at 6:39 pm


Hank Willis Thomas is often scathing, and unapologetically so, in his critique of the racialized images and language pervasive in advertising. His B(r)anded series centers on the appropriation of the black male body – specifically, the ways in which that body has been commercialized.  

Of his work Branded Head (pictured above), Thomas “reflects on how 18th and 19th century slaves were branded as a sign of ownership, and in the 21st century their descendants perpetuate a state of branded consciousness.”  

Essentially, Thomas shows the body of color as product, selling yet another product.

– Grace A. Ali