Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio traveled the world documenting that most basic of human behaviors — what we eat. Their project, “Hungry Planet,” depicts everything that an average family consumes in a given week–and what it costs — laid out in thought-provoking detail. Their results will be exhibited by The Nobel Peace Center to give viewers a peek into kitchens from Norway to Kuwait, and to raise awareness about how environments and cultures influence the cost and calories of the world’s dinners.
Chinese photographer Liu Jie photographed more than 20 villages in the Chinese countryside, documenting the separation of rural families due to urban migration.
In 2011, Liu Jie, a Chinese photographer based in Beijing, visited and photographed more than 20 villages in the Chinese countryside, documenting one of the more silent but equally poignant externalities of the Chinese economic miracle: the separation of rural families due to urban migration.
In 1949, city dwellers represented 10.6% of China’s population. In 2012, that number swelled to 51.27%, making China, for the first time in its civilization, a predominantly urban country. The human costs of such a rapid transformation — within a single generation — are increasingly evident.
“Many children meet their parents once a year or even years, therefore some of them have both physical and psychological problems,” says the photographer.
Liu, who spent the summer at NYU as a 2012 Magnum Foundation Human Rights Fellow, was raised in a rural village in Shan Dong Province and is currently based in Beijing, having personally migrated to a city along with his family years prior. Beijing Railway Station, which serves as a gateway for millions of migrants to the capital, is in close proximity to his apartment, giving the photographer a unique view of the daily flood of fresh-faced migrants entering the city.
In Liu’s photographs of rural China, each empty chair signifies the absence of a family member — a mother, father, son or daughter — uprooted from their humble homes. There is an overwhelming sense of isolation in these images, of lonely gazes and empty chairs punctuated by the expanse of a rolling landscape that stretches off into the horizon.
In contrast to many images that seek to show the massive scale of China’s modernization — and in so doing seek to overwhelm the viewer — Liu’s images are quiet and humble. The effect is subtle, intimate, and incredibly heartfelt.
After photographing family members left behind in the countryside, the photographer returned to Beijing and photographed rural migrants in their workspace. In a conceptual twist, Liu reunites family members photographically. Parents, at a construction site or sausage factory, stand beside towering portraits of their children back home, creating a visual contrast—a collision of rural and urban—and a bridging of that chasm of familial separation within a single frame.
Liu Jie is a photographer based in Beijing. In 2012 he was a Magnum Foundation Human Rights Scholar.
Joseph Rodriguez photographed Jesse De La Cruz, a former gang member turned author and activist in California. LightBox presents an extension of Rodriguez's decades-long project on Latino gangs and the struggles of readjusting after incarceration.
Over a career spanning more than 25 years, photographer Joseph Rodriguez has been photographing the “other” America: Latino and African American communities on the margins of mainstream society. Rodriguez, who is of Latino descent, is an unlikely photographer – the camera became a personal salvation much later in his life after having spent time in and out of jail in Rikers Island, New York. He went, in his words, from shooting dope to shooting photos. This background colors his work with a profound sense of urgency: Rodriguez connects with his subjects in a way few photographers can.
This is poignantly clear in his most recent body of work, an extension of East Side Stories and Reentry, his decades long project on Latino gangs and the struggle to readjust in society after incarceration. This spring, with funding from the Dart Society, Rodriguez photographed Jesse De La Cruz, a former gang member turned author and activist in Stockton and Woodlake, Calif.
The similarities between subject and photographer are striking: while Rodriguez found salvation through a camera, De La Cruz found salvation through writing. He is the author of Detoured: My Journey From Darkness to Light, a memoir chronicling a life of poverty, crime, drugs, imprisonment, and ultimately, redemption.
Rodriguez and De La Cruz both say gang life fills a gaping hole for young men in need of male role models, respect, authority and love: things that are painfully absent from home and the classroom but are abundant on the street. The lack of resources for ex-offenders to ease into the transition, in addition to an overwhelming sense of isolation and alienation from mainstream society, further exacerbates the cycle of imprisonment.
Like Rodriguez, De La Cruz seeks to break this cycle of violence and poverty that has institutionalized an entire generation of young men by sharing his story with others. Speaking to young men in juvenile hall on the visceral realities of incarceration, he challenges them to question their glorification of gang life. And he seeks to replicate, in Stockton, an anti-gang program created in Chicago called the Interrupters, which stops crime at the source by deploying former gang members to intervene in the lives of at risk youth. “In our world these kids have a lot of respect for us because of what we went through and how hard it is to change,” says Rodriguez.
Both photographer and subject seek to interrogate the role of men in Latino culture. For both, it was a struggle to find positive men who, in Rodriguez’s words, “looked and understood where I was coming from.” The fact that they currently play this role is not lost on photographer and subject, and with that comes a responsibility to faithfully own the stories of their community.
“What I’m trying to get at here—the word is masculinity; I’m trying to investigate what that means in terms of our Latino culture. Because it clouds everything,” says Rodriguez. “When you grew up you couldn’t cry. You couldn’t show weakness on the street—they’ll eat you up, so you have to be tougher, you have to show them that you can stand or you didn’t get respect.”
Joseph Rodriguez is a Brooklyn-based documentary photographer. See more of his work here.
As the country celebrates LGBT Pride month throughout June, photographer Samantha Box aims to remind us that, in spite of tremendous progress, vulnerable LGBT youth still suffer in the shadows.
While enrolled as a student at the International Center of Photography in the fall of 2005, Samantha Box was given an assignment to photograph a community space in New York. In the Hell’s Kitchen district of Manhattan, she found Sylvia’s Place, the city’s only emergency shelter for homeless LGBT youth. More than six years later, she has yet to leave.
On any given night in New York City, an estimated 4,000 LGBT youth roam the city without a home. As the country celebrates LGBT Pride month throughout June, Box aims to remind us that, in spite of tremendous progress, vulnerable LGBT youth still suffer in the shadows. According to a recent study by the Empire State Coalition of Youth and Family Services, an estimated 25-40% of homeless youth in New York City identify as gay, bisexual, and/or transgender. These young adults must navigate a social and cultural landscape punctuated by multiple layers of stigma in regards to race, gender, class and sexuality. Many suffer from a history of trauma. Most, if not all, have fled broken homes.
Box believes in slowing down, that to accurately tell a story involving a cacophony of societal and personal layers one must wait patiently for the expression to flicker on someone’s face. Only after three to four years of patiently returning to Sylvia’s Place — after producing a series of images focused on the issue of homeless LGBT youth designed to, in her words, “hit people in the head to say these people need your attention,” — did she fully understand the nuances of her story.
Although one senses heartbreak in the images — the pained expression of a young woman visiting the grave of her deceased mother, the “Happy Mother’s Day” note bequeathed on a bed of flowers — there is an overwhelming feeling of life and youth radiating from Box’s photos. As opposed to relying on expected visual tropes of homelessness and LGBT youth, Box paints a more refined and heartfelt portrait: these are young adults coming of age and coming together in search of family.
“The young people that I photograph are some of the most resilient people that I have ever met: despite facing the societal animosity of homo- and transphobia, and the burden of a broken system that conspires to keep them homeless,” she says, “they continuously work for a future where their talents and intellect can be used, where they have a home, a family and a life of stability.”
Samantha Box is a documentary photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. You can see more of her work here.
Binh Danh appropriates iconic images of the Vietnam War, which ended 37 years ago today, and prints them on organic material such as leaves and grass.
When Binh Danh was a child he noticed the impression of objects left on a grass lawn over time. This observation, combined with an early fascination with science and a personal legacy of war—Danh immigrated to the States as a child refugee from Vietnam—would later coalesce into the series of images for which he is most widely known. Danh appropriates iconic images of the Vietnam War and prints them on organic material such as leaves and grass, using a unique printing process he calls Chlorophyll printing. The images—ethereal and fragile, endowed with a sense of heart-wrenching loss—speak poetically of memory, impermanence and the remnants and aftermath of war.
April 30th marks the 37th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, the official end of the Vietnam War. For Danh, a Vietnamese American, the legacy of that conflict is complex and profoundly personal: photography is his means to connect with the painful shadows of that legacy by empowering a narrative that grounds him in his own identity. “It’s something that my parents I think want to talk about, but it’s difficult for them to communicate because they have such a direct relationship to what happened,” he says.
The artist uses two different processes to create his images. The first resembles traditional black and white printing where a negative is placed on a living patch of grass or leaf. Like the imprint of a hose on a green lawn, light-blocking material removes the green chlorophyll pigment from organic matter. The image transfers when the dark portions of the negative block light, removing the pigment, while the transparent sections keep the underlying portion of the grass or leaf alive. In the second method, fake grass is cut and layered on a board to form a canvas onto which the artist projects a positive. The clear part of the transparency that lets sunlight through gets washed out, forming an image.
In an ode to the impermanence and fragility of memory, it is impossible to chemically fix the photograph like a silver gelatin print. The artist recommends pressing the material in a book to retain color, and displaying and storing them away from direct sunlight. However, Danh takes this a step further and casts his work in resin, which, for him, becomes a way to preserve the leaf to hold onto that memory. “I feel that when we forget about the memory of war, war can happen again,” he says. “And of course in this country we forget very quickly.”
Binh Danh is an artist presented by Haines Gallery in San Francisco and Lisa Sette Gallery in Scottsdale, Ariz. See more of his work here.
Over the course of the last year, Pete Pin has engaged in a series of conversations about what it means to be Cambodian, while photographing Cambodian-Americans in Philadelphia, Pa.; Lowell, Mass. and the Bronx, N.Y.
As a son of the Killing Fields born in 1982 in the refugee camp to which my family had fled following the Cambodian genocide, I have struggled for most of my life to understand the legacy of my people. Over the last year, I engaged in a series of conversations with Cambodian-Americans about our history and the complexity of their experience while photographing community members in Philadelphia, Pa.; Lowell, Mass. and the Bronx, N.Y.
The Cambodian people are among the most heavily traumatized people in modern memory. They are the human aftermath of a cultural, political, and economic revolution by the Khmer Rouge that killed an estimated two million, nearly a third of the entire population, within a span of four years from 1975-1979. The entire backbone of society—educated professionals, artists, musicians and monks—were systematically executed in a brutal attempt to transform the entirety of Cambodian society to a classless rural collective of peasants. That tragedy casts a long shadow on the lives of Cambodians. It bleeds generationally, manifesting itself subtly within my own family in ways that I am only starting to fully comprehend as an adult. It is ingrained in the sorrow of my grandmother’s eyes; it is sown in the furrows of my parents’ faces. This is my inheritance; this is what it means to be Cambodian.
After surviving the Killing Fields, my family, along with hundreds of thousands of survivors, risked their lives trekking through the Khmer-Rouge-controlled jungle to reach a refugee camp in Thailand. There, my mother had what she believes to be a prophetic dream. In a field, an entire city’s worth of women were clawing with their bare hands in bloodstained dirt searching for an elusive diamond. To the disbelief of everyone in the dream, she serendipitously stumbled upon it wrapped in a blanket of dirt. The following day she discovered she was pregnant with me. The significance of this didn’t dawn on me until I started photographing this project. It was a vision of hope and renewal, that we as Cambodians are endowed with an incredible resilience and strength in human spirit. I have seen this in the faces of Cambodians I have photographed and have been incredibly humbled. In the words of my mother, it is a miracle to simply exist.
As a result of the unique demographic circumstances of the genocide, there has been a paucity of reflection within the Cambodian community. Many second-generation Cambodians I have interviewed learned about the Killing Fields through secondary sources, from the Internet and documentary films. Such conversations were non-existent at home. Exacerbating the silence is an inter-generational language barrier; most young Cambodian Americans cannot speak Khmer, the Cambodian language, while their parents and grandparents are incapable of speaking English. As a result, we are the literal manifestation of Pol Pot’s attempt to erase Cambodia’s history and culture. However, in spite of this void, there exists a growing movement of young and empowered Cambodians—academics, artists, musicians, and activists—who are trying to bridge this generational chasm.
For months, the senior surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge have been tried for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide in Cambodia by a United-Nations-backed international tribunal that was established in 2006. Over half a decade later, and at a cost of an estimated $200 million, the court has prosecuted only one individual, Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, who presided over the execution of more than 16,000 in Cambodia’s most infamous prison. On Feb. 3, the tribunal extended his sentencing to life in prison. In spite of this ruling, the court is on the verge of collapse because of corruption and a lack of political will by the government to proceed beyond the trials of only the highest ranking surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge. This is heartbreaking. I asked my mother how she felt about this: she responded, almost tearfully, that this in and of itself could never take back her suffering. Many Cambodians I have spoken with in the course of photographing this project have echoed this sentiment. But I am convinced that justice and healing must emerge from the collective will of my people.
Pete Pin is a Cambodian-American documentary photographer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. He was a Fellow at the Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund, which supported the Bronx portion of his long-term project on the Cambodian diaspora. More of his work can be seen here.