Before They were Fallen – the Blog

The intention was to write and blog about this project on a more regular basis – say, every month, but this is the first time I have pressed the keyboards since our project #BeforeTheyWereFallen received Arts Council funding back in August.

I’m beginning to realize that the sensitivities around the project make it very difficult to blog in the usual manner. I have started several times but how do you write without sounding trivial when you’re talking about a mother who has lost her son? A wife widowed; a child orphaned, siblings and friends bereaved and 453 British casualties? The blog as a format itself seems trivial.

What we can do is to say a huge thank you to the case studies who have participated. I/we want to thank all of you personally for your strength, your emotional commitment and also for ‘getting it’: for understanding what we are trying to do with this project.

In Before We Were Fallen we are attempting to bridge the gap between personal memory and our national tradition of ‘Remembrance’; to give a voice to the families and loved ones of our fallen soldiers. Nationally, remembrance tends to be a formal affair, led by the military where the whole country from the Queen and Prime Minister down to the citizen pays tribute to the bravery of our soldiers.

By its very nature there is distance created between the national act of remembering and the reality of the suffering for the loved ones left behind to cope with their very personal devastation. This distance has entrenched itself in our traditions: ‘we don’t intrude on personal grief’.

In this project we have a very intimate experience of remembrance; we have the privilege of understanding the soldiers as individuals through the raw and personal memories of surviving friends and families and are able to see the sacrifice of the soldiers more fully by understanding the impact on those left behind.

Many people will ask, why intrude on the grief of these people? Leave them alone. Many will be left alone and will want to be left alone, but there is a fine line between respectful distance and simply being ignored. We have discovered that for many, publicly sharing their memories, however personal, is a vital and important act of paying tribute and they do it for a variety of reasons.

Anne Linley, Birmingham,  is doing this for her son Brett: “I want the world to remember my son Brett and his ultimate sacrifice for all time as I won’t always be here to make sure he is remembered. Every thing I do today, tomorrow and always, is for Brett and his memory”

Of course I understand those who would consider the project intrusive, and it is a social and ethical minefield which many would rather step back from, but I also remember back in Kosovo in 2000, when I interviewed and photographed survivors of the conflict for my first project on aftermath, how thankful people were that I had come to hear their stories that had never been told to an outsider before. I realised then, that for many, much worse than intrusion when a loved one is lost, is to be ignored.

So here we are: We have ten case studies completed and ideally we would like ten more. We would still particularly like to hear from soldiers, comrades and friends as well as families, so please feel free to share this.

We’d also like to take the opportunity here to thank Graham Bound, author of At the Going Down of the Sun – a hugely moving and important collection of stories about our fallen soldiers, plus interviews with their friends and families. Graham has helped put us in touch with families which has been very generous of him – thank you Graham!

We would also like to extend our thanks to all those we haven’t thanked before: the folks at Hanbury Hall and Ashridge Arms in Cwmbran, Wales for example for allowing us to photograph on their premises.

Before I sign off, I/we’d like to reveal the confirmed dates of the first show in London at Four Corners Gallery, 121 Roman road as Monday 14th to Saturday 26th of September .

Who’s In Liverpool for Open 1

Very happy to be involved in Look 15, Liverpool’s International Photography Festival this year starting with inclusion in Open 1, at the Open Eye Gallery on the opening night of the festival, Friday May 15th. You can see the Series Desk Job there; the curatorial team have selected six artists whose work is thematically grouped around ideas of social portraiture. Watch out for news on the limited edition book on the project published by Square Magazine. On the following Monday I’m participating in two events : Building the perfect photographic project with Redeye and The Ethics of Portrait Photography, a transatlantic view , at Victoria Gallery and Museum (6.30 pm and free`) .

Desk Job - Workers at their Desks Around the World

 

Be lovely to see you !

Big Cats, New Shoes and Police Corruption: Three Weeks in Kenya.

Today’s Guardian’s Global Development site  is publishing  a story I produced ( with Journalist Zoe Flood ) looking at the extraordinary conditions for the mothers and children  of Eldoret in Kenya forced to scrape a living from the municipal dumps.

Kenya , Eldoret Dump – Living and Working  in Poverty

FlorenceKhalumbia (46) With daughter Alice (7 ) lives just 50 metres from the “California” dumpsite in a one-bedroom hut with her five children. None of the children go to school – she feels that it’s better that they stay home and help their family to earn a living. Eldoret’s main Dump nick named by the locals, ironically, as ‘California’ is home toa community of Kenyans who make their living here recycling plastic, metal charcoal and even scavenging for food either for themselves or for their pigs. The average adult here earns about 150 -200 Kenyan shillings (£1-1.30) The consequences for those who work here on a regular basis including woman and children as young as 7 is tough; with disease, injury, substance abuse and even the threat of violence an everyday reality. 

 

For  Guardian readers interested to discover more, please click/scroll as appropriate:

My Website, Louisquail.com

My Instagram #louisquail

 The Blog:

Phrases I’m unused to hearing include, ‘Louis get in the car there is a Hyena behind you!” Or “Close the windows or the monkeys will get in”( they did) . I am not used to this level of wildlife.  This is the first time I have been to Kenya. I am here on assignment but am squeezing in a family Safari. Highlight of the trip to the world famous Masai Mara game reserve includes having tea with a lion ( well almost). We got as close as the jackal and vulture waiting nearby, anyway, as you can see here…

A Lion With its kill, sleeping off its meal, in the Masai Mara

A Lion With its kill; Check  more on Instagram #louisquail

 

The Work With charity Mary’s Meals

Africa is an amazing country with some amazing places to visit and wonderful people but also complex problems. One of the reasons for my visit is to document the work of Mary’s Meals.

Their charity’s mission is simple: to feed children in schools. In places where there is extreme poverty like Eldoret, this means children who would otherwise be forced by their parents to work, instead of attending school, have the advantage of being fed and educated at the same time. Buying food accounts for the majority of the weekly wage for poor families so for them it’s a no-brainer. The children get fed and educated and very often, respite from some tough conditions at home.

A teacher working in one of the supported schools offered an explanation as to why Monday was the favorite day of the week for one child: “For this seven year old, Monday lunch was probably his first meal since the last day he attended school on the Friday.” In chaotic households, with parents often using drink and drugs, the children often have to fend for themselves.

Me and the journalist were won over pretty quickly by two of the girls who would go to school during the week and work the dumps over the weekend .

Lucy Wambui (13 ) photographed in one of the classrooms at Attnas Kandie School.

They are included in the feature. Bright, cheeky and ambitious, ( ‘ I am going to be a journalist like you when I grow up”) Lucy even had the nerve to ask for a pair of shoes. One has to be very careful to avoid such obvious requests for handouts because of unforeseen ramifications; and it can be frowned upon.  So of course we said yes.

Shoes for Lucy  and Sarah

Shoes for Lucy and Sarah

It was worth it and then some, to see the look of pleasure on Sarah and Lucy’s faces.

In our report we concentrated on the mothers forced to work the dumps of Eldoret to make a living. We worked largely on the main dump. It never occurred to me there would be a problem covering an important story with an established charity; until of course we were picked up by the police.

This ended the photography at the dump, something to do with the right papers, blah blah, permission, etc etc. Ultimately, someone somewhere was looking for a handout . I suspect money exchanged hands simply so the charity could continue its work, or face the possibility of  being kicked out of the country. NGOs and their reputation for fair play are not always welcome in a country famous for corruption.

Don’t take my word for it Here is a link to an article to a friend of mine about Police corruption. Apparently the police kill more people than even the armed robbers .

What I did discover was that Kenyans do not get the best deal from their government and the work of charities like Mary’s Meals is still vital. What I also learned, is that despite many risks there are many Kenyans campaigning against injustice in Kenya.I was fortunate enough to meet and photograph several brave and tenacious activists. Boniface Mwangi , well known for his anti corruption activism, is one of the most well known. He is pictured here at the offices of his company http://pawa254.org/ . Forced into some kind of retirement for his own safety, he is directing his energy into art as an instrument for social change.

Boniface Mwangi poses on the roof terrace of the office at PWA254.

Boniface Mwangi poses on the roof terrace of the office at PWA254.

Like I said Kenya is an amazing if complex country. My time here was mixed: uplifting, shocking and inspiring in equal measure. But perhaps the best memories are those of the Masai Mara. As this is ( predominantly) a British audience, maybe it is fitting to  end ( in practice with internet tradition) with a picture of a cat.

 

Thank you Arts Council

How many times have we heard someone say, ‘if I had known how hard it was going to be, I would never have started in the first place”?  It felt a bit like that filling in the Arts Council proposal. It is no slight undertaking. Especially when one is hugely form-phobic; but Phew we, ( myself and co-producer Alison Brisby) have got the go ahead and I believe it’s a testament to the value of the project. It’s a huge boost to have some one believe in something as much as you believe in it yourself, so thank you Arts Council.

Print

The Fallen, Then and Now ( #ThenandNow)   is the project we have now been officially funded for: it’s a work which I have discussed in previous blogs exploring the aftermath of the conflict in Afghanistan, recreating existing family photographs of service personnel killed in the conflict and running the pictures alongside the testimony of the family members left behind trying to make sense of the devastation.

The work explores memory, and remembrance from a very personal perspective.

Then and Now series Loss in Afghanistan

The proposal for the Arts Council was to expand the scale of the project to 20 case studies and to turn the work in to a touring exhibition. I am hoping the size of the project will make it valuable as an archive and a tribute to the loss and sacrifice not just of the soldiers, but their families too.

I will be reporting on the progress of the project here, but please feel free to share this with anybody who you feel may be interested in getting involved –  especially service personnel and charities working in this sector.

 

Thanks: 

Thankyou very much to Alison Brisby for helping me steer this proposal along without which I suspect I would not have managed to navigate the hoops and hurdles required to get funding. Thank you also to Four Corners Gallery and Oriel Colwyn the first galleries able to confirm space for the shows in September and November 2015.Thanks also to all of the guys who checked and rechecked the proposal to make sure it was strong and appropriate, have expressed interest in showing the exhibition  or simply for having the decency to share their worldly wisdom and own experiences for Arts Council funding: including Open Eye gallery,  Dave and Carla at Four Corners,  Emma Smith at Look 15 Liverpool International Photography Festival, Colin Cavers, Fotospace gallery , Fife ; Kate Peters; Ania Dabrowska; Ed Thomson; Adrian, Katy Regan and Sophie Gerrard  .

Ok now the hard bit: Do the project!

 

For more information on completed work click here for the previous blog.

 

 

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

Scan 4

Scan 21

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.