What a year 2016 has been.

On a personal level 2016 has easily been my busiest year of work. I’ve been privileged to undertake some really interesting projects including one large commission which next year will launch as a book ,exhibition and an online interactive website. I’ve also been making more video documentary work than ever before and finding it really stimulating and creatively challenging. Hope to show some soon.

Photos of 2016.

Here are some of my more memorable pictures of 2016.

 

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Canadian Marist Brothers look at from the viewing tower on the equator outside Quito, Ecuador. Photo: Conor Ashleigh © 2016.

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Children talk outside a small home high up in San José barrio above Medellin, Colombia.

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Ahmad rides the bus home in Glasgow, Scotland. Ahmad is originally from Syria and has been living in Scotland for the past two years. Before the civil war in Syria, Ahmad was studying fine art, specifically painting at university.

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As the cab drove over the parched red hills surrounding Malawi’s capital Lilongwe I noticed two bounding colourful creatures along the edge of the scrub. They were Gule Wamkulu’s and I was transfixed. Gule Wamkulu is both a secret could and ritual dance practiced among the Chewa people in Malawi, Zambia, and Mozambique. It is performed by members of the Nyau brotherhood, which is a sort of a secret society of initiated Chewa men. I was Lucky to stumble across is fascinating characters three times during my trip to Malawi.

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A young Marist Brothers Novice from South Africa works out on the weekend. Young Marist Brothers from around Africa come to Nairobi to complete an undergraduate degree from Marist International Centre (MIC) before returning home and continuing their life as a religious brother.

 

Marist Brothers of Mexico.

At dusk on October 11th an indigenous Catholic group starts the long trip in to Guadalajara to join 2 million others in the early hours of the of October 12 as part of the Procession of Zapopan.

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Carlos Fuegos & Felipe Torres practice their lassos as they wait for other cowboys to catch up and join them and the two million other Mexicans that formed the annual procession of the Virgin of Zapopan in Guadalajara, Mexico.

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Young dances at home in the hallway before heading out with her family to the beach. The Hodges family of 6 are living in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea, while parents Brett and Emma work on a community development project supporting the local canarium nut industry.

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High up on the plateau of Santo Island of Vanuatu a young cowboy swiftly weaves through the bushes as he rounds up cattle to be weighed in a mobile crush.

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Under the cover of darkness a young girl runs through the streets of Sargodha, Pakistan.

A young boy walks home after Joma (Friday) Prayer in Jagiwala village, Punjab Province, Pakistan. Photo:Conor Ashleigh © 2016.

A young boy walks home after Joma (Friday) Prayer in Jagiwala village, Punjab Province, Pakistan. Photo:Conor Ashleigh © 2016.

 

Assignment: Kingsley the world’s weirdest football mascot

Kingsley the world’s weirdest football mascot

On one of my final nights in Glasgow I shot an assignment from the German football magazine 11 Freunde. I was visiting Patrick Thistle and their unique mascot Kingsley. Patrick lost 2-1 against Aberdeen. Here is the spread they ran in the magazine.

11 Freunde feature on Kingsley the mascot for Partick Thistle FC in Glasgow, Scotland.

11 Freunde feature on Kingsley the mascot for Partick Thistle FC in Glasgow, Scotland.

 

 

11 Freunde feature on Kingsley the mascot for Partick Thistle FC in Glasgow, Scotland.

11 Freunde feature on Kingsley the mascot for Partick Thistle FC in Glasgow, Scotland.

While below are a few of my favourite pictures from the evening.

A young Partick Thistle FC fan watches the game against Aberdeen eagerly from the stands on Friday 4th November 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland.

A young Partick Thistle FC fan watches the game against Aberdeen eagerly from the stands on Friday 4th November 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland.

During half time Kingsley the mascot for Partick Thistle FC moves around the stadium to entertain the crowd.

During half time Kingsley the mascot for Partick Thistle FC moves around the stadium to entertain the crowd.

Partick Thistle FC fans watch on eagerly in their game against Aberdeen on Friday 4th November 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland.

Partick Thistle FC fans watch on eagerly in their game against Aberdeen on Friday 4th November 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland.

Young Partick Thistle FC  fans watch the game against Aberdeen eagerly from the stands on Friday 4th November 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland.

Young Partick Thistle FC fans watch the game against Aberdeen eagerly from the stands on Friday 4th November 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland.

As the game begins Craig Bunn is a Glaswegian Architect and father of four children takes off the Kingsley suit and watches the game from the stands. Artist David Shrigley created Kingsley and he was officially made the new mascot in June 2015.

As the game begins Craig Bunn is a Glaswegian Architect and father of four children takes off the Kingsley suit and watches the game from the stands. Artist David Shrigley created Kingsley and he was officially made the new mascot in June 2015.

Partick Thistle FC and Kingsley their mascot line up on the field before their match against Aberdeen on Friday 4th November 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland.

Partick Thistle FC and Kingsley their mascot line up on the field before their match against Aberdeen on Friday 4th November 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland.

Kingsley the official mascot for Scottish Premiership football team Partick Thistle has photos with Partick FC fans before the game on Friday 4th November 2016 between Partick and Aberdeen. Artist David Shrigley created Kingsley and he was officially made the new mascot in June 2015.

Kingsley the official mascot for Scottish Premiership football team Partick Thistle has photos with Partick FC fans before the game on Friday 4th November 2016 between Partick and Aberdeen. Artist David Shrigley created Kingsley and he was officially made the new mascot in June 2015.

Kingsley the official mascot for Scottish Premiership football team Partick Thistle walks around the back of the stadium on Friday 4th November 2016 between Partick and Aberdeen. Artist David Shrigley created Kingsley and he was officially made the new mascot in June 2015.

Kingsley the official mascot for Scottish Premiership football team Partick Thistle walks around the back of the stadium on Friday 4th November 2016 between Partick and Aberdeen. Artist David Shrigley created Kingsley and he was officially made the new mascot in June 2015.

 

Virgen de Zapopan procession in Guadalajara, Mexico.

On October 11th I was visiting a disadvantaged neighborhood on the outskirts of Guadalajara when I heard a peculiarly harsh sound. As we drove along the street we stopped to watch at a crossroads to take in a procession of colourfully dressed Indigenous Mexicans who walked along to the beat of a drum past onlookers. The Marist Brother I was with told me they were beginning their Virgen de Zapopan procession. The unusual loud sound was from the banging and scraping of metal on bitumen which was from the group  wearing sheets of metal strapped to their feet creating  an incredible audio backdrop to their parade.

The Virgin of Zapopan is also known as Our Lady of Expectation. The history of Zapopan goes back to 1734 when she was proclaimed Patroness against storms and lightning. Every year on October 12th the small 10″ statue of Zapopan is returned to her home church the Basilica of Zapopan. You can read all about the history here on wikipedia.

I was in Mexico continue my work on an exciting project I’ve been commissioned to work on for the Marist Institute in Rome. Staying with a community of Marist Brothers in Guadalajara we had planned to wake at 5am to join the procession but  at approximately 3am I was awoken by large cracks which I initially assumed was gunshots. The other strong sound flooding into my ears was the same scraping and clanging metal I had heard the evening before. At 3am the processions had begun and thousands of Indigenous Mexicans were walking through the streets heading towards to the Basilica.

Colourful costumes during the procession.

Walking amongst the stream of groups was amazing. The sights and the sounds were overwhelming and swiftly dealt with my early morning poorly caffeinated haze. We walked along with the crowds, moving in and out of the procession groups and others who had stopped for a break.

As sunrise started to break the groups of onlookers also begun to grow. Thousands lined the streets, most bundled up in jumpers, with their own chairs, food and beverages. I enjoyed catching moments of the crowds as we moved along, below are some of my favourite moments.

 

Crowds awaiting the procession of the Zapopan statue.

Crowds awaiting the procession of the Zapopan statue.

Crowds awaiting the procession of the Zapopan statue.

Crowds awaiting the procession of the Zapopan statue.

Crowds awaiting the procession of the Zapopan statue.

Crowds awaiting the procession of the Zapopan statue.

 

Carlos Fuegos & Felipe Torres practice their lassos as they wait for other cowboys to catch up and join them and the two million other Mexicans that formed the annual procession of the Virgin of Zapopan in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Carlos Fuegos & Felipe Torres practice their lassos as they wait for other cowboys to catch up and join them and the two million other Mexicans that formed the annual procession of the Virgin of Zapopan in Guadalajara, Mexico.

As we walked towards the Basilica the crowds started to thicken and eventually we came to a total standstill. Taking a traditional Mexican drink (can’t remember the name) we found some shade and waited for the final procession. Quickly our little spot of solace was quickly filled with the crowds and before we knew it the Statue of Zapopan was passing us. The crowd was so thick that we had to bounce on our feet to keep above the crowd and watch the tiny 10 inch statue as it passed.

This final picture is one of my favourite from the day. A little boy sleeping with his Dad after a long morning waiting for the Zapopan statue.

One of my favourite moments of a little guy sleeping with his Dad after a long morning waiting for the Zapopan statue.

One of my favourite moments of a little boy sleeping with his Dad after a long morning waiting for the Zapopan statue.

Finding Gule Wankulu in Malawi

Some sets of pictures from my time in Malawi.

Some sets of pictures from my time in Malawi.

This past August I was on assignment in Malawi as part of a long term commissioned book project I am doing for the Marist Brothers Bicentenary in 2017. The Marist Brothers are a Catholic order of Brothers who have communities in more than 80 countries around the world.

As my taxi drove through the scorched red-earth hills between the airport and Lilongwe I noticed these two colourfully dressed characters bounding between the bushes. I asked my cab driver to stop and when they were moving past the car my driver asked them where they were going and I managed to take this portrait of the Gule Wankulu.

As the cab drove over the parched red hills surrounding Malawi's capital Lilongwe I noticed two bounding colourful creatures along the edge of the scrub. They were Gule Wamkulu's and I was transfixed. Gule Wamkulu is both a secret could and ritual dance practiced among the Chewa people in Malawi, Zambia, and Mozambique. It is performed by members of the Nyau brotherhood, which is a sort of a secret society of initiated Chewa men. I was Lucky to stumble across is fascinating characters three times during my trip to Malawi.

As the cab drove over the parched red hills surrounding Malawi’s capital Lilongwe I noticed two bounding colourful creatures along the edge of the scrub. They were Gule Wamkulu’s and I was transfixed. Gule Wamkulu is both a secret could and ritual dance practiced among the Chewa people in Malawi, Zambia, and Mozambique. It is performed by members of the Nyau brotherhood, which is a sort of a secret society of initiated Chewa men. I was Lucky to stumble across is fascinating characters three times during my trip to Malawi.

I was totally amazed by what I had seen and as we drove off I asked the driver to tell me all about the Gule Wankulu. It wasn’t until I could get and read up on the Gule Wankulu cult of Malawi. Twice more on my trip I stumbled upon the Gule Wankulu. They were both on dirt roads in central Malawi, an area dominated by the Chewa ethnic group who the Gule Wankulu cult belongs to.

 

Gule Wamkulu's we stumbled upon at night time in rural Malawi.

Gule Wamkulu’s we stumbled upon at night time in rural Malawi.

 

Of my two other interactions, the above nighttime gulewankulu picture was the most fascinating. Driving home around 8pm we slowed down as these two straw made creatures lurched down the road towards us. My driver a Marist Brother from the Chewa group told me they were transporting the Gule’s to the neighbouring village’s cemetery to be used the following day during a funeral ceremony.

 

Two kids in rural Malawi dressed up as Gule Wankulu trying to earn some money. I was told this is a common practice during school holidays as families try to find extra ways to raise money for school costs.

Two kids in rural Malawi dressed up as Gule Wankulu trying to earn some money. I was told this is a common practice during school holidays as families try to find extra ways to raise money for school costs.

 

When not spotting Gule Wankulu’s I was I was rather busy working in this commissioned bicentenary book project. Unfortunately more info about it will remain under wraps for the coming 6 months at least. In the mean time here are a few more pictures from my time in Malawi. You can see a few pics below.

 

Some sets of pictures from my time in Malawi.

Some sets of pictures from my time in Malawi.

From little things, big things flow.

More than 12 years ago I met a young South Sudanese refugee called Apa Manyang. We grew up in the suburbs of Newcastle and it was in his backyard in 2010 when I took the first photo for my project Stories of the South. You can see a full edit of the work here on my website.

Apa, Deng and Laat kick a football in the backyard, Newcastle, Australia.

Apa, Deng and Laat kick a football in the backyard, Newcastle, Australia.

Since finishing school Apa has focused pretty intensely on his music. Spending time with creative mentors as well as studying at some of Australia’s industry leading institutes and now he is out there producing some exciting stuff. Below are some examples and I suggest you follow him on soundcloud  to keep connected with what he does next. I am sure it will be exciting!

The modern visual freelancer is more like a juggler in the dark

The modern visual freelancer is more like a juggler in the dark

I’ve wanted to write this blog piece for quite some time. Yet slightly ironically it seems I never have enough of just that, time. So now that I am halfway through a 14-hour flight from Sydney to Dubai and in desperate need of a break from captioning, this is the perfect time to write.

I want to share a few thoughts of what it is like to be a young freelance visual storyteller and at the same time dispel the easily romanticized idea of the freelance photojournalist. The later part is important as I too have fallen victim of seeing photojournalism or international photography more broadly through rose tinted glasses. I know how easy this is, there is a feast of solid work everywhere you turn on the internet. A perfect example is Russian photographer Yuri Kozyrev, his work has blown me away year after year. This portfolio on Time’s Lightbox highlights his 14 years of work in Iraq, just amazing. I am regularly left feeling so inspired and invigorated after looking at such solid stories online but the difficulty is what I can practically take away. Too often I feel frustrated that I don’t have the time, emotional/intellectual patience  or financial foundation to undertake the substantial long-term work I want to make.

I find myself in an interesting position where I am able to undertake a range of assignments and commissioned projects that challenge me intellectually and creatively while also ethically/morally resonate with me. These gigs theoretically provide me with a meager financial base to work on personal projects which in time might develop into significant bodies of work. The greater challenge however is committing the  time for these projects. Being able to allocate a day a week, or a month a year is much easier said than done, especially when wanting to be available as a freelancer.  I can’t speak for others but personally this feels like a juggling act in the dark. It is part trusting in the unknown and part becoming familiar with juggling many projects at the same time.

This morning/evening depending on your timezone,  I am heading home to Glasgow. I will be with my beloved for a few hours before flying out for an assignment in France for another 5 days. After those final 5 days in France I will  be back home in Glasgow for some much needed downtime and in honesty I can’t wait. I have just counted that over the past two months I have had 24 flights (sorry planet earth I am definitely a carbon criminal), to quote a colleague yesterday “dude, you live in airports”. I think he is right, I almost do.

Exploring Uzbekistan’s silk road cities by Soviet train

The Big Issue feature of my photos and writing.

A year ago in April 2015 I embarked on a wonderful journey through Uzbekistan. Visiting the old Silk Road cities by Soviet train was one of the most enjoyable journeys I have made in some time. I am also really pleased to see the work was featured in a recent edition of The Big Issue. Here are the tearsheets from the spread if you didn’t pick up a copy.

The Big Issue feature of my photos and writing.

 

The Big Issue feature of my photos and writing.

Launching a long-term project

Launching a long-term project (part 1)

As 2016 starts to move into full swing I wanted to share my experience from the past half year of launching my long term project Stories of the South. After more than five years of working on this story about Australia’s South Sudanese community I decided to finally pitch it to editors when I attended the Visa Pour’limage festival in 2015. In mid 2015 I relocated to Glasgow with my partner while she pursues a post-doctorate from a university in Scotland, so home is currently in Europe, a nice change to Sydney.

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  • Huck tearsheet 2

In August 2015 I had been back in Glasgow just a week after a stint back in Australia and Asia when on a whim I decided to book flights to Perpignan. It was a bonus to hear fellow Australian, the stellar photographer Ben Bohane would be attending the festival to present his work and sign his new book The Black Islands—Spirit and War in Melanesia. For a number of years I had planned on attending Visa Pour’limage but being based in Australia half a world away made this a difficult task. In hindsight I am glad I waited until 2015 to attend because when I go I had serious bodies of work ready to show to editors.

For me the first time I understand what it meant to wait until work is ready was in 2009. In January 2009 I remember sitting in a bar in New Delhi’s Defence Colony, an upmarket neighbourhood popular with journalists, NGO workers and diplomats where I caught up with fellow Australian photographer Adam Ferguson. Adam is an  exceptional photographer who has produced significant work in the past decade, he has always been someone I’ve looked up to with myy own work. I remember how many questions I had for Adam, so much I wanted to ask. The one thing I remember well was his advice in regards to approaching editors with my  work, “you will know when your work is ready”.

  • NYT Lens Blog 1
  • NYT Lens Blog 2

Fast-forward six years to September 2015, arriving at the Visa festival I felt confident that my work was ready yet how wrong I was. While the series of work was good, it was during my meetings with editors that the edit truly came alive. After a number of crucial meetings with great editors I remember scuttling off to readjust the sequence and edit. The work really matured over that week and it took on a much needed international context. By international context I mean I was able to expand the visual narrative to ensure it had wider application beyond Australia.

The numerous edits throughout the week  paid off. One of my final meetings was with James Estrin from The New York Times Lens blog . James had hordes of eager photographers wanting their 10 minutes to show him their work. I have deep respect for the energy and commitment Jim gave each person that sat down to show him their work. From observing him while I wait in line he listened and talked honestly yet encouragingly to everyone, in equal measure. The Lens blog is where I wanted my series to launch and I was lucky enough that Jim thought it was worthy. The series launched here on October 5th 2015.

I understand that uprooting and starting again is never easy. As an Australian living in Europe I’ve found this experience more valuable that I could ever have imagined. Coming from somewhere as isolated as Australia, the benefits far outweighing the challenges of starting gain. One aspect of this move that can’t be measured is the broadening of perspective when it comes to considering my Australia work in a global context.

  • The Guardian 1
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  • The Guardian 3
  • The Guardian 4
  • The Guardian 5

Above is a gallery of the work when it ran in The Guardian online launching on October 16th.

The second part of this blog piece will launch in a week.

My first snow in Scotland with a Syrian family.

It started floating down from the sky at dusk, around 4pm at the moment in Glasgow. 8 year old Yamat was the first to notice and pointed to it through the window as we all sat talking on the couches. Coming from Syria, snow is a familiar thing for the Nasrallah family. So it was me the Australian photographer who found the snow/slush fall most exciting.To be fair, it was less snow and more slush by all accounts and not even enough to cover the ground. When Mohammad opened the large window in the lounge room of the apartment, it felt like we had our own private viewing of the world outside.

Springburn, Glasgow.

Inside the apartment I sat with Mohammad father of seven catching up on the news of the family. I initially met Mohammad when I was commissioned by the British Red Cross last year to document the lives of reunited refugee families living in Scotland. This commissioned project culminated in a very successful exhibition in the Mitchell Library and Kibble Palace green house in the Botanical Gardens of Glasgow. Links to the project are here on BBC and here on Third force news.

The Nasrallah family from Syria have now been reunited in Glasgow for a year this month, January 2016. Among the 7 children the third youngest child is 8 year old Yamat. When rockets damaged the home in Syria it was Yamat who lost her full hearing in one ear and became partially deaf in the other. Soon after the attach the family fled to Egypt. In 2014 Mohamed left his wife and seven children behind to seek asylum in the United Kingdom. Mohamed was then reunited with his family in January 2015 when they joined him in Scotland.

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Mohammad sits helping Yamat with some English homework while a friend and his sons play FIFA behind.

 

Last week Yamat received a hearing aid. Now she can hear again in her right ear, Mohammad said he has noticed a very big difference, she can hear everything and can talk more normally again.

Over the coming year I am based in Scotland and I will continue to document the new lives of Syrian refugees who now calling Scotland home.

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Yamat practices writing her Fathers name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Returning home from school, 8 year old Yamat waits for her parents.

Some favourite pictures from 2015

Sitting in Glasgow airport as I wait to fly off for Ireland on my final adventure of 2015, I thought I’d put together a few of my favourite pictures from the year.

 

A popular activity in Bagan for tourists is the hot air sunrise balloon ride over Bagan. Bagan is one the most popular tourist sites in Myanmar, its made up of thousands of individual temples spread out over a large distance in central Myanmar.

A popular activity in Bagan for tourists is the hot air sunrise balloon ride over Bagan. Bagan is one the most popular tourist sites in Myanmar, its made up of thousands of individual temples spread out over a large distance in central Myanmar.

An intoxicated man attempts to perform a yoga head stand aboard a moving train in Uzbekistan.

An intoxicated man attempts to perform a yoga head stand aboard a moving train in Uzbekistan.

A group of young men and elders sit together talking as they pack small bags of sweets to be given out during Iftar meal at the Blacktown Mosque. The Blacktown Mosque is Sunni with most of the community from the Pashtun and Tajik communities in Afghanistan.

A group of young men and elders sit together talking as they pack small bags of sweets to be given out during Iftar meal at the Blacktown Mosque. The Blacktown Mosque is Sunni with most of the community from the Pashtun and Tajik communities in Afghanistan.

Twins Jury and Joury stand next to their mother Kamaar Nasrallah

Twins Jury and Joury stand next to their mother Kamaar Nasrallah

Last week Amira Jos Akech gives a powerful speech at a candlelight vigil in Mount Druit. Members of the South Sudanese community gathered at the site where Teddy Gak was found brutally murdered by another young man from the community. Amira fought back tears as she asked 'how many more of our brothers have to die?'

Last week Amira Jos Akech gives a powerful speech at a candlelight vigil in Mount Druit. Members of the South Sudanese community gathered at the site where Teddy Gak was found brutally murdered by another young man from the community. Amira fought back tears as she asked ‘how many more of our brothers have to die?’

Novices and Sisters from the Missionaries of Charity Catholic religious order walk during a public Catholic procession in Calcutta last Sunday. The Missionaries of Charity order was founded in 1950 by Mother Teresa.

Novices and Sisters from the Missionaries of Charity Catholic religious order walk during a public Catholic procession in Calcutta last Sunday. The Missionaries of Charity order was founded in 1950 by Mother Teresa.

I hope 2016 is as productive as the year I’ve just had.