The Why and Long Term Personal Projects
We're going to talk about now is in terms of the why is this idea of personal projects, long term projects? So I'd first like to share with you this one that I'm working on now it's called abandoned moments and it it's going to be my next book, and it represents thirty five pretty much thirty five years of photography. I mean, the very first image within the book oh are the first picture I made that will be in this project was made in in london in nineteen seventy seven when I when I was a photo student and I don't know what the hell I was doing either, and but I did something with a flash and a slow shutter speed, and it was like, wow, that's really cool and to this day it's become a part of one aspect of my approach to the craft of photography. And so these are the kinds of projects that keep me inspired and keep me alive. You know, the kurds and aging that's, sort of the journalistic reportorial documentary documentarian in may, but this's, thie artist or the just the person who wan...
ts to indulge in the craft of it? And and it, as I say, it's, a love letter to photography, so there's for me the abandoned moment in in in in in, in essence is this idea that it's sort of you know card a hundred cartier bresson talked about the decisive moment we're almost in the geometrical you know, a pris precision level not only does the content and the moment come together, but the composition comes together in these absolutely incredible ways that he perfected and he he showed us all how to do really so what? I'm talking about this thing different where I am out of control in the moment I flipped the shutter I am physically, emotionally psychologically out of control, but what comes out of those moments those abandoned moments ism is magical and sometimes is perfect and sometimes is not but still to me says something so run you're going to talk now about a couple of projects that encompass the same sort of quality and same spirit I won't hand it over to you thanks it's kind of hard to imagine you like out of control and I feel like that's possible but it is interesting about personal projects because it's not something that I really spent a lot of time thinking about the course of my career. I've been often very much concerned with what's happening in the world and documenting things right in front of me and trying to get messages out, but in the last few years I've been sort of slowing down a little bit on the news side and looking a little bit more into these a little bit longer projects and also kind of understanding kind of the different rules or no rules do apply they don't apply our what happens with personal projects so for me that this project, which is called untraceable it actually started where I was sent, where I was asked to go to the amazon to the peruvian amazon with a writer that I had covered a number of conflicts with to document to document the effects of illegal gold mining on the environment. So they were saying to war journalists to cover a different kind of war, and that was became a project called amazon gold, which will show you in a minute. And then just recently over the course of the summer, I was in indonesia and I started working with the effects of palm oil and deforestation and what that means, how palm oil is becoming such a huge elemental ingredient in so many things, from toothpaste to clothing to all sorts of different things and there's a really impact both on the positive side on the negative side in places like indonesia and malaysia and I start to think about the palm oil started to think about the gold from the amazon and then also had worked, which we'll talk about a little bit later worked a lot in the democratic republic of congo, also with mineral mining there, and I start to understand that there was actually an intersection with these very sort of different places about thiss these products that were coming out gold, cole, tan, and palm oil, they were going out into the world, they were literally untraceable, and they were having all these sort of different effects environmental infects, even toll effects. And so all of a sudden, it's, like something clicked in conversation with a friend and somebody that was working with animal rescue in indonesia, like this would be a great project to kind of do together. And so that's what I'm working on now, so that this image is somebody working for palm oil that he's working on this is an effect of when they need to clear the area, the forest to plant palm oil, they basically just like, ah, fire, and often the fires in indonesia, for sure, go out of control, it can burn for months, and towns and cities are engulfed in smoke and, more importantly, the natural habitat. So especially like a ranga tanks get pushed out because their forests or being burned, and then they wind up being abused, or they wanted being basically taken and shipped overseas t zoos, and basically, going along the same line of untraceable, like you have all these animals that are being sent off to zoos that are not being traced it all s o that kind of became like this this project all stemming from from amazon gold and this is also from this is work from the congo this is a displacement camp that people were pushed out of their homes were different militia groups were fighting over the rights for minerals and of course like in the congo which is one of the richest places in the world for minerals they have gold these guys were looking for gold but they're also like the minerals that are used in your cell phones and your computers come from come from the congo as well so there's a big push now you guys all remember blood diamond and now they're trying to do the same thing with the minerals to say like they're sourcing their sourcing this thes minerals from legitimate places the same thing with the palm oil companies are now saying like this palm oil is coming from a plantation that didn't displace a rang a tang is that didn't burn planned and so on so this project is kind of encompassing all those different things uh this is from doctors without borders hospital also from fighting from from the militias fighting over over these different things in the same the same with this so sometimes the personal project lee you don't actually think about it directly and it also kind of take a step back like oh wait I can come in do these different things, or this makes me think about that and all of sudden, like, I need to kind of push forward. I need to find the reasons why this is happening and all sudden come out with a conclusion that may be many people hadn't thought of before, and so I'm going to show you this is a piece I did for pbs from my first trip to the amazon to discover illegal gold mining in peru. I went to peru to the amazon about a year ago, and the whole premise of the story was to send a writer and a photographer into the zone where illegal gold mining was occurring and to document the effects of the gold mining on the environment. The area itself is just incredibly beautiful and amazing place to be able to photograph there's gold mining going on throughout the amazon, some of it's legal but most of it's illegal and they estimate probably certainly in the peruvian part of the amazon ninety two, ninety eight percent of the gold mining there is illegal. So what does it mean when it's illegal is that there are no regulations? There are no environmental concerns. There are no concerns about safety it's pretty much like the wild west, every man out from themselves. And everybody trying to gather up it's much gold is possible in this quick in time as possible on one of the photographs that that is so beautiful yet so horrific when you understand what it is is a photograph of basically taking at sunset with the entire foreground of of emptiness. And these beautiful, beautiful sky fills with clouds when you actually understand that this was all rainforest just a little while ago turns from a beautiful photograph toe one of absolute harm. As the market price of gold goes higher and higher profit margins for the miners on the ground become larger and larger. So obviously mohr and more people are heading to the amazon to mine for gold, miners were able to make, probably in one day. What if they were doing a normal job that would take them maybe a month and a half to two months to make? Here is the legal mind. I saw people taking these large hoses like fire hoses and breaking apart the earth, and then the earth would be sifted and the gold will be eventually separated through a variety of different processes. Eventually they would, and mercury where the gold would attach itself, they wouldn't be able to them, burn off the mercury and wind up with the gold. But along all the lines of those processes, there are a lot of dangers. That exist at the legal minds. The mercury is really used without any regard for safety whatsoever, for the miners or from land. There was a very dramatic scene where after the night of getting the dirt and making it into sort of small piles of mud than they need to really get the flecks of gold out, they put the mud into a barrel. They added water in the added mercury and the man got into the barrel barefooted wearing shorts with his feet started to need mud together, mixing the mercury with the dirt and the gold. So this man was completely exposing himself to mercury once it's in that water in the barrel, they didn't dump that barrel into the water supply, eventually poisoning where they are and as the water travels, exposing more and more people to danger. None of this is going to stop without more public pressure on proving government to crack down on the whole process of illegal gold money. There were areas where there was entirely mining communities living one of the places was a place called the mall, which means in the mud in spanish, and it was very difficult to get there. It was very difficult to get access as an outsider, and we went there probably around poor am I saw this. Huge hole, maybe the size of four to six football fields he could sort of see in the darkness some quarter five men moving around. And as my eyes adjusted to what I was looking at, it was like witnessing an amazing scene of the earth having been ripped apart with the color adding this depth of the insides of the earth, very red, very violent, and around the sides of the whole ins and inside the whole were felled trees, trees that are hundreds of years old. So it was very apparent that it was like, here was another battle scene, and it was just this amazing correlation to war war photography that I've been doing for last twenty years. It became so apparent in documenting just this part of the destruction, the rainforest. So as I walked away from the giant hole that they were mining in, and I walked into the pristine rainforest to see what it was like, the sounds of the chain saws and the sounds of the julie equipment became quieter and quieter, and the sounds of the forest became louder and louder. It's really very hard to reconcile that idea in your mind that the miners air moving forward, and everything that you see that's green ahead of you could all be gone, so another another project kind of similar to what ed was talking about with abandon moments kind of finding something that you hadn't actually realizing like wow, this is like totally amazing so while I'm a little ashamed, reluctant or embarrassed to talk about but basically over the course of the last twenty five years when I was shooting film I wouldn't always process all the film or maybe I shoot if you roll a few frames on a roll and then I toss it aside and when I had money I would go on process it and kind of film was all over a different city different parts of my studio and all son I realized that I had over two hundred rolls of hum process film hence the title the lost roles so this is my new book that's coming out in november partnering with blurred the self publishing company and some to show you a little trailer from this and just talk a little bit about what it means after after that wait wait so that this project has been fascinating because it's it's about memory it's about the end of the analog error in the beginning the digital era it's about the universality of so many people maybe some of you have a a roll of film that you never took to the lab just sitting there and it's your member there's a memory locked in there and for myself I always thought that I would be able to, like, go through my life explain like what happened here and there by looking at my photography. But as I started to look at these these images, I realized that I don't know where I wass I know what year was taken. I don't know what the people were. There was a picture in that little trailer of ah, elderly elderly couple. I have no idea who it could be my cousins or I have no idea where they are. And so it's. Just this really amazing idea about about photography and memory and what it means. Aside from these events that I saw, you saw the president thes air gang members being arrested, el salvador all sort of kind of different things that there's also this is one of the founders of south seven, alexandra beulah, who passed away a few years ago. And so you have these pictures of people that are no longer part of our lives, but still part of our memory and how important that is rudy giuliani and also you have these this stuff's not photoshopped. This is like what nature and degradation has done. So light leaks and fading and x rays and mistakes I made like the blue picture with the red roses that's what happens when you use tungsten film outside? I mean just you know things like that that I don't want the client I made a mistake don't show it to the client now like it's art no idea who these people are if you're watching please let me know if anybody's related to these people please tell me uh and so it's just it's just really, really interesting. You know, the the requisite your ex girlfriend pictures all all of that stuff kind of coming across so I think her I do remember yeah, hard to forget her for sure, but you know it'll be refugees from kosovo the new york city policemen in this crazy picture this is the prime minister of israel yitzhak rabin's funeral. I have no idea what's going on here I know it is a double exposure or just like degradation of time or light leaks or mould coming in it's like totally totally fascinating stuff. So I think it's going to be a really interesting project of of sort of exploring all these different ideas and what eventually I want to do is I want you the audience also to go and develop your film and we're gonna have a website the loss rolls dot com and like start to make this into into it's, much bigger than me is not I'm just like the tip of the spear, so I think it's going to be very, very interesting project so it's, just sometimes a personal project is just sitting there on the floor were buried in a drawer somewhere and sometimes you have to kind of really think about it and kind of put it, put it all together with that I give this back to you. That is so cool. I am so o c d I never have not probably so there's. There we go. Chances exactly have to worry about that. So wow, that's really cool is really girls, so I want to share with you now two bodies of work that again reflect this sort of purpose and passion for me and why and why I do this and and what's interesting and thought about it until just now is that this first set of pictures is from northern ireland, and it was literally the first personal project that I did when I was in my late twenties. It was it was the project that propelled my career when I made that proposal on the kurds to national geographic, that they listened because of the previous eight years when I went to nancy's, eh gravis they never listened, but this is the importance of, of diving into something and and really exploring a project, I spent three years working on this. And and so this work really encompasses and set the not the standard, but sort of set the, you know, it's, sort of awkward the future of how I would work, which is to look at groups of people or a theme go in depth over a period of years. And then, in the end, come up with a body of work, that in the end I self published a book on this. And also another aspect of it is that I this is on the protestant community in northern ireland, because back in nineteen, eighty nine, when I began this project, when you heard of northern ireland, it was about, you know, the rightfully the beleaguered catholics minority absolutely correct british involvement or of course, the I r a and you never really heard about the president community. So for me pre balkans war in the nineties, it was to me I called them. Then, like the last white tribe of europe, these million people on this corner of the island of ireland who are holding on there were more british than the british. And so it was, again fascinating to me forget the judgment about, are they right or wrong? Politically, morally, all that, but so I went on to do a personal project, looking at jewish settlers in the west bank, same sort of thing, the kind of the pariahs or the bad guys in the media narrative of these stories. And now I didn't realize that's what I realized one of my most recent essay. So we're jumping twenty some odd years, twenty three years syrian refugees, and a couple of years ago, I decided to do a project I mainly worked on a film about this called syria's lost generation, and I was compelled to look att what was very clear to me and is even more tragically so. Now that you've got literally two million syrian refugees that are under the age of eighteen, and I've been to syria many times in syria is ah well educated population, for the most part, you know, there's a there was a strong middle class, you know, so many of these people, they're not poor, you know, maybe they might be from rural villages, but many of them were urban, middle class, well educated people that are now thrust in this situation, so but yet again, you know, I was compelled to do this, nobody told me to do these two yes, ice read something, and I said, I want to do this. And I figured out how to do it. Whether I, in the case of northern ireland, I invested tens of thousands of dollars in my own money to make that happen. But then look what it did for my my personal growth, my career and all that. Or in this case, I was fortunate to get the international medical corps and amazing american ngo, too commission and support me to go to northern iraq and to jordan for two weeks to work, to create this body of work.