TIME portfolio

Chronicling the Struggles of LGBT People Around the World

Robin Hammond shot the portraits of 65 survivors of discrimination

By many measures, the world is a safer and more welcoming place for gay people than it was ten years ago.

A growing number of national and regional governments have passed laws legalizing gay marriage and unions between people of the same sex. Other countries have tightened legislation that prohibits anti-gay discrimination and hate speech targeted at people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). “There’s been enormous progress globally and locally,” wrote Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch earlier this year. “It’s important to note that the fight for LGBT rights is not a Western phenomenon; many of the governments at the forefront of the defence of LGBT rights are from the developing world.”

But while LGBT rights may be generally improving around the world, many more people live in countries where homosexual acts or identifying as gay can lead to state-ordered physical punishment.

Human rights groups say that in some of these countries — including Russia, Nigeria and Uganda — governments have targeted LGBT people as a way to redirect peoples’ anger from the governments to a vulnerable minority. All three countries have introduced anti-gay legislation in the past three years and in all three countries human rights groups have reported simultaneous increases in attacks on LGBT people.

Photographer Robin Hammond, who is from New Zealand, first started documenting these issues when he was on assignment in Lagos, Nigeria, and read about five people who had been arrested for being gay. He then decided to expand his work to seven countries, photographing LGBT people of 15 different nationalities.

Hammond says he wants to improve peoples’ lives rather than simply chronicling their suffering and is today launching a non-governmental organization named Witness Change, which aims to kickstart social media campaigns and put on traveling exhibitions to help raise funds for grassroots organizations that are dealing with the highlighted human rights issues, including LGBT rights.

He described the process he has developed for taking his portraits — and for asking his subjects to write down their personal stories:

While I predominantly use photography to talk about the issues that are important to me, the medium has shortcomings — it can connect, but rarely does it explain. So I wanted the survivors of discrimination to talk for themselves about what they’ve been through. With each of the 65 subjects I asked that they write down their story of discrimination and survival. They chose what to say and how to say it. This resulted in extremely powerful testimonies, some five pages long, some a single sentence.

For many it was the first time they’ve told their story. The point is to have their voices heard. Many have lived lives of silence.

After they wrote their testimony I would ask more questions.

We would then take a photograph. The photographs are all posed portraits. The way the photograph is posed is a collaboration between myself and the subject. I would ask them how we could illustrate their story. The results were sometimes interesting. Some told me to come back another day and I would return to find them in full drag. Others said. “They tied me like this — show it”. Kasha, the Ugandan lesbian activist, wanted to be shown as a strong leader. I asked her if she had a symbol of strength — she rose her fist. Joseph, a transgender woman from Uganda, spoke about his mum and how grateful he is that she accepts him for who he is, so I photographed them together.

Of course some did not really know how to stand or pose. I would offer them ideas on what I thought might look interesting. Some took on those ideas, some were rejected.

Many of the photographs were unexpected. Many are not posed as I would have visualized before meeting the subjects. The poses were informed by their stories and very much by how they wished to be photographed. The point is that it was really important the subjects had as much control as possible. It is their story, and their image.

I photographed these portraits on a large format 5×4 (5-inch by 4-inch) field camera using Polaroid-type film. The reason is aesthetic but also so I could show the subject the photograph. I always gave them the veto over the image. Some subjects were obviously concerned about their safety, so it was important they felt safe if they had requested to have their identity hidden.

I would do, on average, one portrait per day. A lot of time was spent with each subject getting to know them, discussing their lives, and talking about the project.

The photographs and testimonies personalize and make real an issue often spoken about in abstract ways, in discussions about laws and sanctions and politicians.

Some people may find some of the images uncomfortable. I know many people will be saddened by the testimonies. This is the reality of life for many LGBTQI people in our world.

Robin Hammond is a freelance photojournalist based in Paris, France.

Alice Gabriner, who edited this photo essay, is TIME’s International Photo Editor.

TIME Davos

Kerry and Hollande Call for Intensified Fight Against Terrorism

Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a speech about violent extremism to the audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 23, 2015.
Demotix/Corbis Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a speech about violent extremism to the audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 23, 2015.

"This fight will not be decided on the battlefield, but in the classrooms," Kerry says

Talk at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos turned to the fight against terrorism Friday, with French President François Hollande and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry encouraging the influential world figures gathered here to step up efforts to fight Islamist extremists.

Kerry told the audience that the fight against terrorism would include a military component but also needed to address the economic and educational conditions that can provide fertile ground for extremists. “This fight will not be decided on the battlefield, but in the classrooms, workplaces, places of worship of the world,” he said. Kerry said he would be traveling shortly to Nigeria, whose government is waging a war against the increasingly emboldened Islamist group Boko Haram.

Hollande, who led more than one million people in a unity rally in Paris following terrorist attacks in the city this month that left 17 people dead, called on business leaders and governments to cooperate against extremists. “France has reacted and taken measures, but there also needs to be a global, international response,” he said. “It needs to be international and shared, shared between the states who have to bear responsibility on the front line, but also by businesses, particularly the largest ones, who can also take action.”

Hollande also signaled that France’s military involvement in Africa could grow. “In Africa, France is on the ground and it will continue to be so more than ever before,” he said. “It will be present to bring help to those countries who are having to deal with the scourge of terrorism. I’m thinking of the Sahel, in particular, but also the situation in Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, and Chad, who are under attack from Boko Haram. Now France cannot do everything, France cannot act alone. But whenever it can, it will, to lead by example.”

Speaking after Hollande and before Kerry on the main stage of the Davos conference center, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi asked for more help in his country’s fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

“The cost of action will be high but the cost of inaction will be much, much higher,” said al-Abadi, who has been Prime Minister since September.

Al-Abadi said that in recent weeks there had been improved coordination between the U.S.-led air campaign against ISIS and Iraqi ground troops who he said are currently fighting to control territory that would create a route for Iraqi government forces to try to take back the ISIS-controlled city of Mosul. But he said Iraq was struggling under the burden of fighting a war while providing regular government services. “We need help,” he said.

In a sign of how longstanding enemies are finding themselves fighting on the same side in parts of an increasingly complex Middle East, the Iraqi Prime leader acknowledged to interviewer Charlie Rose that Iran is also providing Iraq with military aid. “They’ve helped us in the first stage,” he said. “They have been very prompt in sending arms, in sending munitions.”

TIME Davos

Thought Leaders at Davos See Opportunities in 2015

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang attends a session of the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting on Jan. 21, 2015 in Davos, Switzerland.
Farice Coffrini—AFP/Getty Images Chinese Premier Li Keqiang attends a session of the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting on Jan. 21, 2015 in Davos, Switzerland.

Amid global crises thought leaders find reasons to be hopeful

A number of pressing crises loom over this year’s World Economic Forum annual meeting currently taking place in Davos—including the tumbling price of oil, an upcoming election in Greece that could deliver a blow to a still fragile European Union and the recent terrorist attacks in Paris—but the event also provides the world’s thought leaders with an opportunity to discuss reasons to be hopeful in the coming year.

That was the focus of a lunch discussion hosted by TIME on Wednesday, during which participants identified global bright spots in the fields of science and technology. The event, moderated by TIME Editor Nancy Gibbs, featured portrait photographer Platon; Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn; Jennifer Doudna, professor of chemistry and of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley; and France Cordova, Director of the National Science Foundation.

Gibbs opened the event by noting that journalists at TIME cover the challenges and crises the world faces, “but if we don’t also look at progress, at the quiet or noisy explosions of creativity, of innovation, of invention, then we’re going to miss the story.”

Cordova, an astrophysicist who was previously President of Purdue University in Indiana, spoke about the importance of the National Science Foundation’s role in funding what she called “basic” research. “All innovation is based on discovery,” she told the gathering, adding that she expected “breakthroughs to be made in our understanding of the 95% of the universe that we don’t know about.”

Hoffman’s hope for the coming year centered on the digital currency, Bitcoin, which he said could open up the advantages of banking to regions of the world that do not yet benefit from the banking system. He envisaged Bitcoin’s potential impact on the developed world also; for example, the currency might make easier all financial transactions related to driving, including paying tolls and paying for parking. “Bitcoin will either be a total failure or it’ll be a success and I think we want it to be a success,” he said.

Doudna, a celebrated biologist and biotech entrepreneur who, along with her colleagues, made major progress in something called CRISPR/Cas9—a technique for editing genes that his widely recognized as a game-changer in medicine, said that she hoped to see artists and scientists work together more, in part to help scientists explain their work better.

Platon, a British photographer who has shot numerous cover images for TIME and other magazines, told of how he met with former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden in a Moscow hotel room—where Platon shot Snowden’s portrait—and how Snowden resisted labels when Platon asked him if he was a patriot or a traitor. “Don’t get bogged down with labels. Don’t get bogged down with picking teams,” Platon said Snowden told him.

The photographer then offered his wish for the year ahead: “Perhaps what I hope will happen in this year is that people will come together, that people will be less frightened of each other. We need to celebrate the shared experience of enhancing different ideas and perhaps we might learn from someone who thinks differently.”

TIME Nobel Peace Prize

Malala Will Use Nobel Prize to Further Her Cause

malala nobel peace prize
TIME Malala Yousafzai was on the cover of TIME Magazine's 100 Most Influential People list in 2013.

During a TIME photo shoot it became immediately clear to TIME's Matt McAllester that Malala Yousafzai is no ordinary teenage girl

Malala was late. She had finished school for the day and was in a car on the way to a photographer’s studio in the center of the English city of Birmingham, and the clock was ticking. The driver wasn’t answering his phone. The several people in the studio—technicians, make-up artists and photographer Mark Seliger—were hushed and increasingly anxious.

Eventually the car pulled up and out stepped Ziauddin Yousafzai, his son Kushal and Kushal’s older sister, a teenage girl famous not for singing or acting or being a social media star but for campaigning to enable girls in her native country and around the world to go to school and college and get the education their brothers often enjoyed. And who had, about six months earlier, been shot in the head by a Taliban gunman as she sat in her school bus. The Taliban were threatened by this fearless, teenage girl.

“I think of it often and imagine the scene clearly,” Malala had said before the assassination attempt. “Even if they come to kill me I will tell them what they are trying to do is wrong, that education is our basic right.”

In truth, before I met her, I had wondered whether Malala was entirely for real, whether such a young person could really be setting her own path in this way, or whether she was somewhat doing the bidding of her father, a charismatic school principal who also campaigned for the rights of girls to go to school. Was she much more than a symbol? She is still only 17, after all.

I accompanied Malala and her family into the building and up the elevator. And instantly I realized that Malala was different from other teenagers. She was about to sit for a TIME magazine cover shoot, for a photographer who has taken portraits of pretty much every famous person in the world. I expected her to be just a little bit excited. She had not sat for a portrait like this since she had been shot. But if she was excited she didn’t show it. It wasn’t that she was playing it cool; she was fine with it. But by that stage in her life she had been courted by thousands of media outlets and had received letters and visits and messages from some of the most important and celebrated people in the world. I quickly got the impression that she wisely saw all of that attention, including this photo shoot, as a tool to be used in the service of her cause and nothing else. She seemed preternaturally calm and focused.

As the makeup and wardrobe assistants prepared her—I had worried that she would scorn makeup and clothes that weren’t her own; she giggled a little and was fine with it—I asked her father about her cool. “She has always been like that,” he said, matter-of-factly and with a tinge of wonder. I also realized how wrong I had been to wonder whether Ziauddin was anything but a loving father. He was as protective as any father; one of his ways of showing his love was to let his daughter be herself and follow her passion, which he happened to share. More than any teenager I’ve ever met, Malala was simply her own person. Her father demonstrably respected and loved her for it.

Seliger began taking her picture, making her laugh and relax by telling her a funny story about how he had teased President Obama a little when taking his portrait, and I watched a computer screen as the images came through. She was so small that when she sat on a regular chair, an assistant had to put a green plastic crate and two planks of wood under her feet to raise her up.

Malala’s father talked to me about the injuries his daughter had suffered (she kept her hair brushed over the area on the side of her head where the gunman’s bullet had passed, miraculously not piercing her skull), how her school was going and how he did not see the family returning to Pakistan because of the danger they faced. They may have been rightly concerned for their safety, but neither Ziauddin nor his daughter showed any inclination to let the Taliban, or any people who would rather girls did not receive the same educational opportunities as boys, win. Malala was not going to thank her blessings, justifiably feeling that she had done what she could and settle into a quiet life in Birmingham. And so it has been. She has juggled school and celebrity and has tirelessly continued her campaign.

She will likely be touched that she’s won the Nobel Peace Prize, but I suspect she’ll see it in the same way she sees all of the accolades that come her way—as just another opportunity to encourage the mothers and fathers of the world to send their daughters to school.


TIME Ukraine

TIME, VICE Journalists Detained by Separatists in Eastern Ukraine

A pro-Russia activist hangs a flag of the so-called "People's Republic of Donetsk" on the regional administration building seized by separatists as armed men in military fatigues guard the premises in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on April 21, 2014.
Genya Savilov—AFP/Getty Images A pro-Russia activist hangs a flag of the so-called "People's Republic of Donetsk" on the regional administration building seized by separatists as armed men in military fatigues guard the premises in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on April 21, 2014.

TIME's Berlin Correspondent and three other journalists were freed an hour after being detained at a checkpoint in the separatist-held town of Slavyansk on Monday but a VICE News correspondent is still being held, highlighting the threat to media in the region

Pro-Russian separatist militia members in eastern Ukraine detained TIME’s Berlin Correspondent and four other journalists on Monday evening in an incident that highlighted the increasing number of threats to journalists working in the region. Four of the journalists, including the TIME correspondent, Simon Shuster, were released after about an hour but an American reporter for New York-based VICE News, Simon Ostrovsky, remains in custody.

The journalists were traveling in a car in the separatist-held town of Slavyansk when they were stopped at a checkpoint by armed separatists, said Shuster, who is now in the city of Donetsk. Shuster, a Ukrainian photographer and a British photojournalist for VICE left Slavyansk the morning after their detention. A Russian photographer who was part of the group chose to stay in Slavyansk.

In a statement released on Tuesday, VICE News said it was “in contact with the U.S. State Department and other appropriate government authorities to secure the safety and security of our friend and colleague, Simon Ostrovsky.”

A State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said in a statement today: “We are deeply concerned about the reports of a kidnapping of a U.S. citizen journalist in Slovyansk [sic], Ukraine, reportedly at the hands of pro-Russian separatists. We condemn any such actions, and all recent hostage takings in eastern Ukraine, which directly violate commitments made in the Geneva joint statement. We call on Russia to use its influence with these groups to secure the immediate and safe release of all hostages in eastern Ukraine. We have also raised our concerns with Ukrainian officials as they work with local authorities to try to de-escalate the security situation in and around Slovyansk.”

Stella Khorosheva, a spokeswoman for the separatists in Slavyansk, told the Associated Press that Ostrovsky is “with us. He’s fine.” She said that the journalist was “suspected of bad activities” and is under investigation.

In recent days at least three other foreign journalists – two Italians and one Belarusian – have been detained by armed separatists, whose political goal appears to be either to secure independence in eastern Ukraine or to persuade Russia to annex that part of Ukraine. Insurgents in Slavyansk are also holding a Ukrainian journalist and activist named Irma Krat.

“We’re doing absolutely everything we can to win Simon’s release,” said Shuster. “The people who are holding him assure us that he has not been harmed, but refuse to say when they would release him.”


TIME The Moving Image

Mexico’s Narco Cultura: Glorifying Drug War Death and Destruction

Shaul Schwarz's new feature-length documentary captures the discomforting co-existence in Mexican and Mexican-American life of the horrifying violence of the drug wars and its celebration in pop and movies.

There’s something bothering Edgar Quintero, lead singer of the Mexican-American band Buknas de Culiacan, which specializes in songs that glorify Mexican drug kingpins. Quintero lives in Los Angeles with his family and he’s a star in his increasingly popular musical genre, which is a little like the gangster rap of Mexico. But, as filmmaker and photographer Shaul Schwarz shows in his feature-length documentary Narco Cultura, Quintero can’t shake the feeling that he’s faking it. He sings about people and events he knows – and in slang he learns – mainly from the Internet. He yearns to cross the border and see the real Mexico. For Quintero, the real Mexico is the state of Sinaloa, home to the world’s deadliest drug cartel, and perhaps the last corner of the country most tourists would choose to visit. Quintero decides to scratch his itch; he and another member of his band hit the road.

Shaul Schwarz
Shaul Schwarz

So starts the most illuminating, if by no means the most shocking, sequence in Narco Cultura. Here’s Quintero firing a handgun into the Sinaloa sky, trying to look like a real narco, making sure someone is filming him for posterity on a smartphone. Here he is singing to a crowd of fans who can mouth his lyrics—and, unlike him, also happen to know from experience what it’s like to live a world controlled by drug lords. Here he is hanging out with an older man who sits at a table on which there is $100,000-worth of crystal meth in transparent bags and a couple of handguns. (Quintero is soon stuffing some of that meth up his nose.) And here he is being informed that a real-life Sinaloa narco wants Quintero to come to his home to sing—now.

The look on Quintero’s suddenly terrified face lasts a few seconds and encapsulates the theme of Schwarz’s movie: the discomforting co-existence in Mexican and Mexican-American life of the horrifying violence of the drug wars and its celebration in pop and movies. Quintero goes to the narco’s house but you know what he’s suddenly thinking: perhaps this isn’t so glamorous – can I go back to Los Angeles now please? He may sing lyrics like this: “We’re bloodythirsty, crazy and we like to kill. We are the best at kidnapping. Our gang always travels in a caravan, with bullet-proof vests, ready to execute.” But he’s no narco: he can’t hit a single empty bottle on a post from a few yards away when shooting a handgun in another scene from his Sinaloa road trip. There’s a very fine line between real narco life and narcocultura and you can almost see Quintero shuddering as he edges too close to that line.

At one point in the film the narcos are referred to as Robin Hood-like figures. A teenage girl explains how much she wishes she could be the girlfriend of a narco. “I think we can be the next hip-hop,” says one figure in the music industry.

The narcocorridos – the name given to the traditional-sounding foot-stompers that chronicle the lives of the drug lords and their murderous henchmen – have a surprisingly broad audience. In another jarring sequence the film’s other major character, an astonishingly brave Mexican crime scene investigator named Richi Soto, whose colleagues are regularly murdered, is hosting a party at the home he rarely leaves other than to go to work. The singer of the band his family has hired sings a cheery song from the perspective of a narco, just the sort who would love to see sweet-natured Richi shot on his doorstep.

If narcocultura appears to be seeping so far into Mexican and Mexican-American culture that cops dance to it at home then its omnipresence reflects the real-life violence of the drug wars. And Schwarz’s film makes it clear how unrelenting and awful that violence is. He’s helped by the remarkable access he gains to those on both sides of the drug war. Schwarz follows Soto to the morgue, to crime scenes so numerous you lose count, and, incredibly touchingly, to the bedroom in his parents’ house that he’s slept in since boyhood. When Soto crosses the border and walks around a mall – his colleagues keep getting killed and he’s considering abandoning Mexico with his girlfriend – Schwarz follows him. Soto looks lost and a little in a place that seems beatifically calm to him – but isn’t his home.

Schwarz’s access is a result of his courageous years of working the drug wars beat as a photojournalist, a diligence that has for many years made him the leading visual chronicler in still images of the violence. And he brings his photographer’s eye and techniques to his film making. Often he keeps his camera perfectly still and lets it roll for a long time to create what are essentially still lives in moving pictures – often of bodies or blood-spattered cars. That stillness allows you time to gaze at the detail of the gore on the inside of the windshield, taking it in and perhaps thinking about the person whose life has just been blasted away. Stills allow for that contemplation. Films about violence often do not.

For all the horror, these are remarkably beautiful images, and that makes Narco Cultura stand out from a lot of documentaries filmed in conflict zones. Most conflict films are exhausting and upsetting enough; jittery, hand-held camerawork and quick edits can leave the audience feeling even more drained. Schwarz lets you breathe. When Soto describes his city – the battlefield that is Juarez – as “beautiful” you can see that beauty with your own eyes. You can see why Soto doesn’t really want to move to the land of the safe, sanitized mall even if it would save his life. Ciudad Juarez has become a city most outsiders would assume every sane resident wants to abandon. Schwarz’s bravery and patience allows Soto to show us why he’s risking his life to try to make Juarez safe again.

Shaul Schwarz is an Israeli documentary film director, cinematographer and award-winning photographer, currently based in Brooklyn. His film, Narco Cultura, premieres in New York and Miami on Nov. 22nd.

Matt McAllester is the Europe Editor at TIME.

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