It’s a typical Thursday night in New York when, on the corner of 10th Avenue and 13th Street, a white Cadillac and a blue Mini Cooper pull over. Five photographers emerge from the cars, carrying paint rollers and pots of wheat-based glue. As three of them quickly and expertly apply glue to a four-by-three-foot section of virgin brick wall across from the Standard Hotel, the other two carefully roll out and paste large sections of a black-and-white photograph.
Five minutes later, under the gaze of bouncers from nearby bars, the image on the wall becomes clear. Shot by French photographer Edouard Elias on Aug. 24, it portrays two French Foreign Legion soldiers resting against an abandoned house in the town of Bria in Central African Republic.
This picture, one of 30 pasted on the walls across New York’s boroughs, is part of Dysturb’s latest campaign.
Founded by French photojournalists Pierre Terdjman and Benjamin Girette, Dysturb is a collective of photographers who, frustrated at not seeing their work published in newspapers and magazines, decided to bring their photographs to the world’s longest-lived and largest social network: the streets.
Once a month, the group contacts some of the world’s best photojournalists to request images that will end up in public places across the world.
After campaigns in Paris, Lyon and Perpignan in France and Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the group boarded a plane for New York City last week. “We had been in touch with [photographer] Ashley Gilbertson, who wanted us to paste images in New York, and when the Magnum Foundation invited us to come talk about Dysturb at their Photography, Expanded symposium, we seized the opportunity,” Terdjman says.
“For us, it’s important to be here in New York because it’s in a foreign country and we haven’t pasted images in a lot of countries outside of France,” Girette says. “And when it comes to journalism and photography, New York is always ahead of the pack, so it was very interesting for us to come here and present Dysturb to this crowd.”
“It’s also the embodiment of the American dream for us,” he adds. “We never imagined six months ago, when we started Dysturb, that we’d end up in New York.”
In the last five days, the group of friends and colleagues pasted more than 20 pictures across Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx. “There are images from Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine and Central African Republic,” Terdjman says. “So far, it’s going well, and we’re actually surprised: people are reacting positively to what we’ve done.”
In fact, Girette adds, “the public’s reaction here in New York is similar to what we’ve encountered in France. People want to know what we’re doing and they want to know about these images. Photography is a universal language and this is proof of it. It’s also further proof that people are interested in photojournalism.”
And while a few of their posters have been removed—some by the police in the Bronx—the Dysturb collective considers their latest “happening”, as they call it, successful.
“Our goal is never to vandalize, and that’s why we make sure to use a sort of glue that can be washed off with water,” says Girette. “We also make sure to show images that are not violent. They can be aesthetic, they can be emotional, but they are never violent because we want to protect kids who will see these images, as well.”
The next step, the group tells TIME, will be to find funds to further develop their activities. Already, Dysturb has been working with high schools in France to showcase images in schools. “Education is very important to us,” says Terdjman. “That’s why we’re doing this. We want to help people understand how to read images and how important great photojournalism is. But to do that on a larger scale, we need funding. Right now, we’ve financed the last six months with our own credit cards. We’re broke.”
Terdjman and Girette also hope to develop a strong network of photographers that will allow them to let go of their management duties. “Above everything else, we’re photographers,” says Terdjman, “and we’re dying to pack our bags and get back in the field.”
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