Then and Now- a Story of Loss in Afghanistan

“After Afghanistan” published this month in Marie Claire , is a story I have been thinking about and working on for a while.  (My working title is Then and Now). I came up with the idea of recreating family snapshots after conflict bereavement during a trip to Libya, in July 2012. I was wrestling with the idea of how to tell stories of Loss in the aftermath of War (a theme I have explored in several countries). In the picture below we see the recreation off a snap after the child (later a rebel) on the right was killed in action in Tripoli, Libya . libya45 In Libya the culture of the the family snapshot is not so great; and this made it a difficult approach there but I knew it would be well suited to a similar story in the UK.  Its great Marie Claire have given the space to these stories. I really believe its important to consider the sacrifice the families of service personnel make alongside that of the  soldiers. The interviews by Katy Regan are really powerful, there is no online gallery but here’s a sample from Caroline Munday’s  interview ( pictured below) that really struck me:

“I was just leaving work, at Parcel Force, when I saw my sister had rung, leaving an odd message saying I had to call mum.  Mum was very insistent I immediately go home to her and Dad’s.  I just felt this blackness come over me. I said, “Oh God, tell me it isn’t James”.
I was on my knees, alone in the car park, screaming. I felt like my heart had been wrenched out.  Then, this bubble just emerged around me. I walked back to the building and said, calmly to the security guard, “I’ve just found out my son’s been killed in Afghanistan. I need to go back into the building

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A big thank you to all who took part, once more, for the emotional strength and commitment to the story.

You may be able to help?

I am planning to apply for Arts Council funding to make this a much bigger project, with many more stories told which would tour as an exhibition – hopefully as part of our remembrance celebrations. In order to have a chance of getting this, however, I need to find ‘match funding’ that is, a partner to supply sponsorship.

You could help by sharing this story with your contacts and colleagues. My hope is, that it would then reach organisations who might be interested in giving back to our troops’ efforts and their sacrifice by backing such a project.

Each case study who takes part gets to support their chosen charity, so by even just tweeting or Facebooking the story, you would be giving back in a small way.

Seamus Heaney 1939-2013

Seamus Heaney, in his kitchen , photographed , at home, shortly before the launch of “District and Circle “for the Telegraph.

Afterwards Seamus took us ( me and the journalist whose name evades me) to Dublin for a memorable pint of Guinness, where I remember a very animated conversation about poetry. What a privilege to spend this time with a fabulous poet and fabulous man.

Many pictures of Seamus online are quite serious such is the fashion for photographic portraiture; but I’m pleased I took this which reflects the warmth of spirit he emanated, – like a radiator. RIP Seamus.

09

Renaissance Photography Prize 2013

What a lovely summer we are having here in the UK. I have to say all those barbecues and iced drinks can be very distracting ,  but think I ought to put my work head on for one moment and point you all towards the Renaissance 2013 Exhibition which takes place at the  Wapping Project Bankside gallery from 3-7 September. The gallery is located a short walk from Tate Modern on London’s Southbank.

I am a finalist; out of a submission of almost 5000; and with a prestigious selection of judges (including “Monica Allende, Sunday Times; Bret Rodgers, Director of the Photographers Gallery;  Simon Bainbridge, BJP; Mirander Gavin, Hotshoe; Chris Littlewood,  Nadav kander and so on)  I was  needless to say, very pleased. Apparently the standard was very high, but  you may want to  pop down and decide for yourself.

Right now I’m off to pack for France, how smug!

Director Licensing Department,Department of Tourism and Marketing.Dubai, UAE.

Story Telling in Azerbaijan.

Baku, Azerbaijan.  It was 4am and dark on the streets outside the Landmark Hotel (this works better if read in the style of an American Private detective, circa 1930s!)

The city was quiet at that hour, the shiny baroque facades obscured by the dark. Baku was a brand new city, a signal to the world that Azerbaijan was a place to do business like any other town in Europe – Paris, London  - At least that’s what we were supposed to think.

A man gets out of a black Sedan. He is wearing the standard Baku uniform: black leather jacket, jeans and boots, no sunglasses at this hour though. He mumbles something in a thick accent: ‘British Embassy?’ I nod and get in.

It’s only then I start to question – who is this person? He could be taking me anywhere! This is Baku not London. I should have checked his I.D.  It’s too late…..dun dun deeerrr!!

It’s ok, relax, fortunately he was my designated driver dropping me off at the airport after all – phew! – Only my active imagination was cause for suspicion.

I had been running a workshop in storytelling in Photojournalism, aimed at the emerging photojournalists of Azerbaijan. I think sometimes we can learn as much from writers about storytelling as from photographers. Each needs a beginning, middle and end; photographers look for the opening shot, writers consider their prologue and so forth.  (By the way, you can drop the American accent as you read this now and excuse my indulgence in writing. I guess there’s a novel in all of us eh?)

I have to say I really enjoyed teaching out here. The students were passionate and actually not exposed so much to outside influences and because of it keen, soaking up information like sponges. This made our role there seem very worthwhile. The OSCE (Operation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) were funding this. They believe a free and professional press is a vital building block of a functioning state. Unfortunately, Azerbaijan scores very poorly on the freedom of the press ranking 140th out of 200; so in a way one could say myself and my fellow tutor Guy Martin were on a bit of a mission.

Not a secret mission however, but one where we discussed the vital ingredients of story telling in photojournalism:  For example: the building blocks of a good picture story, ethics and legislation in photojournalism, the Golden Proportion and aesthetics in image-making to name a few of the lecture’s themes.

The students were up for the challenge. Everyday we sent them out and by the end there was a real sense they were developing and working with enthusiasm and commitment. I am posting some of the pictures here (assuming permission from the talented photographers of Baku) mainly from the last day’s exercise:  “The Environmental Portrait”, hope you agree they make an interesting set.

Exhibition at Streetlevel Photoworks

Pleased to be taking part in a group show at  Scotland’s Street Level Photoworks Gallery in Glasgow. The work was selected from the Desk Job series shown at Format Festival.  Also showing is Ken Grant, Kajal Nisha Patel and Moira Lovell.  It’s nice to be part of a smaller show with such an interesting collection of work.  Desk Job - Workers at their Desks Around the World

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My bowl of Rice Crispies has  just enough snap crackle and pop to get me to wordpress,  this week to update my blog.

It was smashing to be invited on to the Guardian Master Class to talk about photographic story telling with Sebastian Myer.  The class seemed to work (we  got nice feedback at least)– perhaps because of  a combination of our different approaches to story telling: Seb is a classic photojournalists use to working on the front line, I tend to approach story telling from a completely different perspective.  Seb talked about techniques in traditional photojournalism, while I looked at how I use portraiture to tell national even global stories- Looking at work done in Libya , Kosovo, Afghanistan and also my  recent story, Desk Job.

This  links me nicely to its selection for Format Festival in Derby which was another highpoint this month. It was  a treat to visit Derby, not just to catch up with old friends , make some new ones perhaps , but also to look at new work like Brian Griffins excellent commission at the Museum or  to enjoy work by friends like Oliver Woods.

Other exciting news includes the publication of the same work in Wired blog , Raw File ( last week, apparently stats are good and it should get  a quarter of a million hits)  and also on the 20/3 in Fotoredactie Vrij Nederlandand.

Also ,  I’m off to  teach a workshop to 17 Azerbaijani photojournalists  In Baku on the  02/04  (The theme, once more, is Story telling  in photojournalism)  with Guy Martin . 

Finally, while i’m here , just time to mention the  fascinating commission for Marie Claire magazine that started this week. Looking  forward to updating the blog with news on these fronts soon, Thank you for reading,

Libya, Remembered – Bhenghazi, 17/02/2012.

In June last year, I went to Libya to discover for myself Gadaffi’s legacy and its impact on post revolutionary Libya.The anniversary approaches on 17/02/2012 for the beginning of the revolution in Benghazi; and   it seems like a good time to shown the work again – to remember the courage and loss of the Libyan people.

Here  are the pictures , a link to the full body of work, and an explanation of the motivation behind the work:

http://www.louisquail.com/PDF/Talking_About_a_Revolution_final.pdf

Out of all the countries in the Arab spring Libya for me seemed the most interesting.  There was something inspiring and clean cut about the way the people removed such a brutal dictator whilst  introducing democracy and keeping control of the revolution ; side stepping the drift into insurgency ( as has happened in Syria).

In Libya the whole country it seems is behind the process of democracy. After the recent, and highly regrettable, killing of the American ambassador , 30 000 people came on to the streets to remove the militias allied to Islamic extremism deemed responsible. This truly is a popular Revolution.

However, although we have heard much about the Islamic extremists how many people know  about this huge  popular response to extremism  days later.

The nature of the news machine is to report the most dramatic, the most inflammatory stories if you like. My personal response to this is, and has always been to think  ‘there has to be a more complex and honest way to report on and understand a situation’.

I reported in my introduction:

“Our perceptions of Libya are constricted by a news industry that focuses on the most dramatic events – the fighting and global strategy. However, it’s only by talking to the individuals intimately involved with the revolution, that we can truly see the big picture and understand the legacy of Muammar Gaddafi.

So driven partly by my fascination with Libya and partly by the urge to tell stories in a less sensational manner I felt compelled to visit Libya.

I was first inspired to work like this in Kosovo and have since been to Afghanistan and Haiti, (www.louisquail.com) working in a similar way.

Of course there are many difficulties still in Libya as it recovers not just from revolution but 42 years of a brutal dictatorship.  While I was in Libya there was a gun battle outside my hotel, and the airport hijacked by a disgruntled militia (more of this on my earlier blogs).  Shocking as this is, it was in no way indicative of my lasting impression of Libya.

I met some truly amazing people, such as the lawyer, turned soldier, turned lawyer Ghelaio who fought to protect his family and is now fighting for a truly free Libya or the 15 female revolutionaries in Tajoura who risked their, lives fighting for freedom.

When every house hold has a gun, and easy access to grenades its not surprising that trouble happens, but what I was always amazed by was how little trouble there was. This is a country with problems but also of moderation.  For the most part the Libyans were friendly, and optimistic that there would be a better life for them and their country men.

I shot on film, taking my time, and interviewed people, sometimes at length. I felt it was also important to document and pay tribute to the ordinary people involved in extraordinary events and to report on their tragedy, courage and stoicism not to mention other unexpected qualities such as  moderation and tolerance.

Often for the most part people seemed grateful that they could at last speak openly, and people were always friendly.

My one regret was I didn’t get to see the fabulous Roman city outside Tripoli. I’m betting if I return to Libya in a few years or so it will be along with thousands of tourists enjoying a peaceful country with an amazing history.