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.
In the case you aren’t in France today then these tearsheets below may be your only chance to see my work from a recent assignments for Le Monde.I was tasked with shooting the very familiar streets of Surry Hills. While living in and around Surry Hills for the past 2 years I had barely taken a picture on the streets so the assignment gave me a good excuse to do so.
In the case you are in France today Saturday November 1st, be sure to pick up a copy to send my way!
Pictures of mine from an assignment in Surry Hills for Le Monde.
As the annual Durga Puja festival comes to a close in Kolkata and across the Hindu world, my work on the amazing event is timely featured in the current edition of The Big Issue. For those of you who don’t know anything about this annual Hindu celebration, its worth knowing about and observing at least once in your lifetime. Here is my full body of work from the 2013 celebrations in the wonderful city of Kolkata.
For those of you who don’t know The Big Issue magazine, you should! I have regularly published with them over the past 4 years and I love the ethos behind their publication. The magazine came to Australia in 1993 when a group of prominent Australians came together to explore solutions to help address Australia’s increasing homeless population. They proposed a model based on the UK’s successful Big Issue street magazine model. The first magazine was launched in Australia on the steps of Melbourne’s Flinders Street Station on June 16, 1996. When you buy an edition of the magazine a large portion of the selling price goes directly to the seller.
As per an earlier blog post, my time working in Kolkata is always spent with a dear friend and fellow ‘chobi wallah’ photographer is Siddhartha Hajra. I’d recommend you all to check out his work, his website is still under construction but in the meantime here is his instagram account. Sid’s photographs like himself are deeply considered and filled with strong emotion. Sid is also currently working on a PHD about family photo albums, I can’t wait to see more as it develops.
I am currently editing a short film from the Durga Puja festival. Once it is complete I will be sure to make it public.
Recently I was exporting some photographs from an assignment in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, when I had a number of exported web res files being corrupted. It is the first this has happened, and only did happen during the web res export and not when exported at high resolution. I have no idea why this happened, but in a weird way I actually really like what has happened.
Last week while on an assignment for the New York Times I had the privilege of making a portrait of Lt. Col. Cate McGregor from the Australian Defence Force. Cate is a delightful woman and incredible advocate for the transgender community world over and I had a wonderful time taking her portrait.
It was a rainy Wednesday and I wandered Sydney’s CBD and caught Cate as she wrapped up an official meeting at the Lowy Institute. I walked with her downtown to where she had another press engagement. Cate was deeply apologetic for having another arrangement and asked if I would wait. ‘Of course I will wait’ I replied. I went and found somewhere to hang out and decided to do some reading on the woman I was sent to make a portrait of. Cate is well known for her role in the Australian military in addition to being an author and a cricket commentator. In 2012 Cate decided to undergo gender reassignment and at the time offered to resign to her boss who now head the Australian Military. Brilliant journalist Julia Baird goes on more eloquently than I ever can, so I encourage you to read the full piece here on the New York Times website.
Once Cate finished her interview we met up and she apologised profusely for keeping me. I told Cate it would be good to find some kind of military context for a portrait, she reminded me of the memorial that commemorates the campaigns of the Royal Australia Regiment, to which she happened to belong. I told her it sounded great and asked if she didn’t mind navigating the wet streets, Cate was totally nonplussed about the heavy rain that beat down around us and we made our way out into the streets heading for Martin Place. Despite the heavy rain Cate obliged my photos and questions, she showed me the memorial and we shared stories of working in Timor-Leste a neighbouring country dear to both of us.
After some time Cate realised that she was about to miss her flight home to Canberra, totally at peace with the idea we stepped out of the rain for a final coffee. The lighting inside was great so I was able to take a few more portraits as Cate brushed her hair which had become drenched from our time in the rain. As we approached the counter to pay for the coffee, the owner a middle aged Italian man told Cate he recognised her from a recent article in an Australian magazine. He said it was an honour to meet her and they hugged farewell. I walked with Cate until she found a taxi for the airport and then we also said farewell before I made my own way home to file.
I felt humbled and reassured to know that someone like Lt. Col. Cate McGregor is a senior figure in the Australian army. I can only hope that we hear more from her in the future.
Last night I watched Which Way is the Front Line From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington.
This documentary was a powerful dedication to the life of photographer and filmmaker Tim Hetherington. I didn’t know Tim. I never had the chance to cross parts with him. I still remember being introduced to his work, it was Christmas 2009 when I got my hands on his book Liberia Long Story Bit by Bit I pored over that work and often return to it. One of the best books I have found when trying to consider how one goes about sharing a long term project. Here Time.com has a dedication to his book and commitment to his work in Liberia. It is written eloquently by Peter Van Agtmael, worth a read if you have got this far with my waffle.
As I watched the film about Tim’s life made by his close friend and long-time colleague Sebastian Junger I was filled with a huge sense of sadness. The sadness wasn’t necessarily concerned with the fate that awaited him at the films end but more a sense of loss that such an important visual craftsman is no longer with us. Tim’s contribution to the world is unrivalled by entire careers of many other image makers, what a benchmark he set. The themes of boys becoming men and masculinity in war, reminds the viewer how personal war is for a combatant. If the themes explored in Tim’s work influenced conversations about wars I wonder if the conflicts and massive foreign troop deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan would have been any different? Maybe I am naive to think the outcome would have been any different.
Tim and Sebastian’s film Restrepo was nominated for an Oscar in 2011. Tim is undoubtedly best known for this work however I believe his film Diary is his best work. This highly personal video piece is haunting but also surprisingly comforting. The viewer slides between a firefight in Liberia with child soldiers and replaying voice messages from a lover. As someone regularly traveling internationally for my work as a photographer I find the film equally comforting to have my own broad sense of displacement aptly depicted by another.
Tim’s commitment and equal strength in either medium, photo or video is deeply inspiring. When I receive an email from someone starting out in photography I regularly feel unequipped to provide them with sage advice. From now on when I write back I will encourage them to watch the this film about Tim’s life and also pore over his work in both formats. I hope that in years to come Tim Hetherington is studied in schools and universities across the world.
From Nairobi it took me three flights and what felt like an eternity before I touched down in Bangui the capital of the Central African Republic.
As I moved through the airport with the other strange assortment of passangers I was greeted with the familiar sense of official chaos I know well. Despite my time spent poring over as much writing as I could find about the country I realised very quickly how little I knew as I looked around the airport. I stood in line for my visa actively perspiring as I looked on perplexed at the soldiers in a vast assortment of army uniforms all whom were unarmed. What I didn’t initially realise is that these soldiers were members of the FOMAC force working alongside the French forces to protect key sites around the capital including the airport and French embassy.
A short intro for those who don’t know much about the place commonly known as C.A.R. The Central African Republic is a landlocked country bordering Chad in the north, Sudan in the northeast, South Sudan in the east, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of Congo in the south and Cameroon in the west. Colonised by the French in the 1880s, C.A.R. became independent in 1960 but after a number of leaders and coups it wasn’t until 1993 when multi-party democratic elections were held for the first time. Earlier this year on March 24 a coup led by the Seleka leader Michel Djotodia took the capital and seized power from President Bozize who fled the country. According to the International Crisis Group it is estimated that there are about 400,000 internally displaced people, 64,000 refugees.
Eventually after close to two sweaty hours of waiting, Sylvester from the SOS Children’s Village national office successfully managed to arrange permission for me to leave the airport without a visa. For the record, the visa was something I literally had stamped in my passport hours before I left the country a week later, first time for everything. As we left the airport I was surprised to look around and see the heavily armed French soldiers stationed at the entrance. Bumping along a road with minimal paving that led us into downtown Bangui I tried to suck in as much as I could from the darkness but all I could catch was the whir of street sellers standing over their glowing coals that slowly cooked corn and meat. Inside the taxi, Sylvester apologised repeatedly for the mode of transport. He told me how the Children’s Village cars were stolen a few months pripr when the Seleka rebels took over the village and demanded money, computers, vehicles and anything else of value which they said they had earnt as unpaid fighters in Seleka force.
The Seleka who seized power earlier in 2013 is a rebel force made up of fighters from the north of the country as well as large contingents from neighbouring Chad and Darfur. While the conflict wasn’t waged along sectarian lines, in recent months it has become evident that animosity is growing between the largely Christian population and the Muslims from the north.
We stopped outside a rather nice hotel and was told that it was is too dangerous to reach the children’s village at night time. Sylvester told me that since the Seleka rebels came to power it is very rare to drive at night unless part of a French convoy or moving with the Seleka rebels. I checked into the hotel and unsurprisingly was the only guest.In the morning we continued on to the SOS children’s village where I was based from my week in the country. Unfortunately due to security issues we weren’t able to leave the capital and at all times I was accompanied by the writer and a member of the country office.
Visiting the local area surrounding the Childrens Village it was evident that many people were still living in an active state of fear since the invasion by the rebels in March. Bangui is only divided from the Democratic Republic of Congo by the wide and fast running Congo River. As word grew of the impending invasion of the capital thousands of young men fled into neighbouring Congo as they feared being attacked by the rebels. A number of people we interviewed had lost a family members, most males, at the hands of the rebels. In addition to murdering the Seleka also looted from countless homes Non Government Organisations and government offices.
The health clinic at the Childrens Village is headed up by the charismatic Dr Placide Bassenge. Dr Placide leads a team of overworked health carers who have struggled to respond to the growing need and minimal resources available since the Seleka invasion. Medical supply routes from neighbouring Cameroon have been closed since March. This means acquiring medical supplies such as sterilising equipment, pain relief and antiretroviral drugs has become almost impossible. For Julian Valida a lab assistant who functions as the centre’s pharmacist, work has become incredibly stressful with the growing power cuts which means he must now keep drugs cold with only a few hours of power each day.
Dr Placide Bassenge spoke of the rising number of health issues since the rebels came to power in March. One of Dr Placide Bassenge’s greatest frustrations is his clinics limited resources, this means all serious cases must be referred to a hospital in Bangui. The problem with referring patients onwards is twofold. Firstly most patients coming to the clinic cant afford health care and secondly since the crisis many government departments including hospitals have been unable to pay their employees.
The road ahead for the Central African Republic will not be easy. The rise of self-defense militias and clashes between Christian and Muslim communities are now said to be part of daily life in parts of the mineral-rich country. In the last few days there has been serious calls for United Nations peacekeepers to be dispatched urgently to intervene with Christian-Muslim fighting which is at risk of spiralling into genocide.
I have worked on assignment for SOS Children’s Village throughout the world and during these trips have been warmly welcomed into communities in places as diverse as Haiti and Bangladesh. In the Central African Republic my experience was no exception and the hospitality I experienced first hand was deeply humbling. On my final night at the Children’s Village in Bangui, I sat with Jennifer the journalist I was working with and a number of the SOS Mothers lit only by a full moon. We talked for hours and covered a range of topics from the nightmarish days when the Seleka arrived and looted the Children’s Village to a collection of funny memories since living inside the village. I flew out early the next morning after saying goodbye to the national office staff and the community development workers. Aboard my flight to Cameroon as we banked over a wide river that snaked through the landscape I bid farewell to the troubled country. While the nations future is uncertain, I was confident that the children who call the village home will always know the same love and care that exists during peace or turmoil.
To finish off a busy month shooting on the Indian sub-continent, I slotted in a week in Calcutta to observe the Durga Puja Festival. The Durga Puja is something I have heard much about (you can read more about the festival here). While it is celebrated in a number of eastern states across India, the celebrations found in Calcutta are unrivalled in size and budgets. My Bengali friends have shared many stories of the annual Durga Puja celebration. Finally, 2013 was the year I would be there too.
Ever since I first spent three months in Calcutta at the age of 18, I have held a deep affection for the city. Throughout my number of visits to Calcutta, I have been blessed to walk the streets most days with my friend and fellow ‘chobi wallah’, Siddhartha Hajra. I would strongly urge people to check out Sid’s work here. When I was 18 and just starting to dabble with photography, Sid was the first person I met who showed a serious interest in the craft. I still vividly remember Sid and I talking about photography as we walked along the banks of the Hooghly River. I owe a great deal to Sid for what he taught me in those first few years and every meeting thereafter.
To best describe Sid’s eye for photographic moments, the words classic, considered and poetic pop to mind instantly. In recent years, Sid has started to use a digital system for his photography. Sid still shoots is as if he has two rolls over the whole day. Of this, I am truly envious!
During the festival period, I got excited more than a kid in a candy store and dragged Sid through the city to absorb the festive buzz everywhere we went. To many of these moments Sid would sigh ‘cliche‘. A month later as I edited these picture, I understand why. Sid has spent his entire life calling Calcutta home and the hum of the city even during Durga Puja is too familiar. Reflecting on this, I realised that I would similarly struggle to muster much excitement at the prospect of photographing a family Christmas in Australia. In closing, this summer as I spend the warm months in Australia I am going to ask of myself to find pictures in the most ordinary and familiar.
I am happy to announce that in the coming months I will be working on a short film from my time spent documenting the Durga Puja Festival. For now here are some pictures from my time in Calcutta.
As I wrap up a two week long assignment I feel the need to share how much I love what I do. I have thoroughly enjoyed these two weeks between India and Nepal focusing on a range of themes and issues affecting South Asian countries. This last week I was able to see a vast array of the countryside but still with ample time in the capital Kathmandu. Kathmandu is one of my favourite cities in the world hands down.
Chasing the light here in Nepal has brought me great satisfaction and below are some that stand out pictures so far. I write quickly as I prepare to head off for another week long assignment to the remote Khumbu region of Nepal where I am sure there will be no shortage of light to find.