Category: Text

Exhibitions in Indianapolis, Chicago, and Milwaukee

The beginning of 2019 has been full of photographic and film events, but I’d like to pause and share details from my three exhibitions in Milwaukee, Indianapolis, and Chicago.

The first is my exhibition “Three Communities” at the Tube Factory Artspace in Indianapolis, Indiana. The show explores the relationship between community and place by featuring a new project in Indianapolis alongside my work from Hauts-de-France Mining Basin and The Area. The in-process Indianapolis project explores the south side Bean Creek neighborhood’s longstanding connection to its namesake creek and the way it divides and connects the community.

The second is “Growing Place: A Visual Study of Urban Farming,” my collaboration with Michael Carriere at the Grohmann Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Through new photographs and archival materials, the exhibition explores the development of urban gardening as a practice essential to the city’s growth and identity, and foregrounds the current work of activists like Growing Power’s Will Allen.

The third is my dual show at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, “Chicago Stories: Recent Work by Carlos Javier Ortiz and David Schalliol.” The exhibition pairs my Isolated Building Studies and The Area with Carlos Javier Ortiz‘s outstanding Chicago-based work as a response to Birmingham, Alabama, 1963: Dawoud Bey/Black Star.

We designed some powerful events for each exhibition, including talks with Will Allen, screenings with Deborah Payne, and panel discussions about Chicago’s ongoing experience with segregation.

Installation and event photographs are below.

Three Communities
Tube Factory Artspace in Indianapolis, Indiana

Three Communities at the Tube Factory Artspace

Gallery Talk at the Tube Factory Artspace
Photograph by Molly Hanse

Q&A at the Tube Factory Artspace
Photograph by Brian Ashby

Growing Place: A Visual Study of Urban Farming
The Grohmann Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Gallery Talk at the Grohmann Museum
Photograph by Esther Carriere

Growing Place

Will Allen at the Grohmann Museum

Chicago Stories: Recent Work by Carlos Javier Ortiz and David Schalliol
Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, Illinois

Chicago Stories at the Museum of Contemporary Photography

Chicago Stories Opening

MoCP Panel-Edit
Still by Scrappers Film Group

Old Projects, New Phases

After years of steadily developing several long-term projects, 2018 was the year many of them dramatically changed. The Area is out in the world; my Hauts-de-France work is exhibiting; so many other projects are evolving. With those big changes in mind, here’s a recap of my work on major projects in 2018, a few highlights from smaller projects, and a little looking ahead to 2019.

The Area Film

After six years of work, The Area is screening. Since premiering at the Full Frame Film Festival in April and making its Chicago premiere at the Black Harvest Film Festival in August, we’ve been busy screening the film with an amazing set of partners, including the Metropolitan Planning Council, the Museum of Contemporary Photography, the National Public Housing Museum, universities, community organizing groups, and the Gene Siskel Film Center. To learn more about screenings, news, and requesting a screening, visit The Area’s website.

At the Black Harvest Film Festival

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Full Frame Film Festival Black Harvest Film Festival

Hauts-de-France Mining Basin and the Resilient Images Residency

Following a preview at Expo Chicago and multiple exhibitions in France in 2017, my Resilient Images work had its full exhibition at the Hyde Park Art Center in 2018. In June, a subset of the project returned to France for exhibition during the national urban planning conference RDV avec la Ville. I made some new work during the June visit, so I’m not quite ready to call the project complete, but I’m pleased with it and where it’s going.

Installation of Hauts-de-France Mining Basin

Cité Werth à Denain

Bean Creek in Indianapolis, Indiana

Over the last few years, I’ve been steadily developing a project in Indianapolis with support from Big Car. I tightened the work in 2018 by emphasizing how the south side neighborhood has evolved with small creek that winds through the community. The first exhibition from that residency will appear at the Tube Factory Art Space next year. The show focuses on the relationship between people and place, and puts the Bean Creek work in dialogue with my projects in The Area and Hauts-de-France. More information about the exhibition is on facebook.

Bean Creek

With a Stray Dog Strike Fear or Get Struck

Urban Farming in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The national placemaking project Michael Carriere and I started back in 2009 is shifting from research to public engagement, with a second exhibition prepared and the book moving towards publication. In January, our exhibition Growing Place: A Visual Study of Urban Farming is opening at the Grohmann Art Museum, which situates Milwaukee’s contemporary urban farming movement in its history, drawing from archival photographs, documents, and contemporary artifacts. I’m especially excited about the programing we’re scheduling, including events with the Walnut Way Conservation Corps, Will Allen, and others. More details forthcoming!

Urban Farm Aerial

Hmong Farmer at Fondy Market

Belfast, Northern Ireland

As I wrote earlier in the year, I made my fourth visit to Belfast, Northern Ireland in July to continue documenting the changing experience of Eleventh Night and The Twelfth. Among the new work I made this year was an aerial sub-project about the aftermath of the bonfires, which helps orient the work away from the specific moment of the events.

Burning the Children's Bonfire

Bonfire Aftermath from Above

Rebuilding in Tōhoku, Japan

Last week I returned from Tōhoku, Japan, where I continued my work on the rebuilding process after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster. I’ll be sharing more photographs in the next few weeks, but here are two favorite rephotography sequences and a building happily back in use in Ishinomaki. The rebuilding process is somehow overwhelmingly fast and slow.

2014, 2016, 2018

2014, 2016, 2018

Two Buildings

SKETCHES FROM ELSEWHERE

Camden, New Jersey

In Camden, New Jersey

Camden, New Jersey to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Chicago, Illinois Region

Valentines in Whiting, Indiana

Iced Tree on Lake Michigan

Dublin, Ireland

The Gasworks

Ely, Minnesota

Ely

New Orleans, Louisiana

Ashton Theater

Paris, France Region

Les Espaces d'Abraxas

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Pool at the Row House

Reykjavik, Iceland Region

Icelandic Geothermal Pool

Hallgrimskirkja

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Camera Shop

San Diego, California Region

Solana Beach Transit Center

San Diego County Fair

Seattle, Washington

Oxbow Park

Olive Tower

St. Louis, Missouri

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Stockholm, Sweden

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Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo from Above

Isolated Tokyo

To 2019!

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The American Sociological Association held its annual meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania this year, and I was excited to return. I spent a lot of time in Philadelphia in the 1990s and early 2000s and was surprised to figure out that the last time I’d been in the city was 2009. Back then, I was just starting to work on The City Creative, so in between presentations I wanted to follow up with the communities surrounding several of the Mural Arts Philadelphia installations. The following photographs are favorites from that group, from a Philadelphia Gas Works gasometer to the view of the skyline from Camden, New Jersey.


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The 2017 Triangle

The shuttered Hornaing, France coal-fired power plant.

After a string of years bouncing around the map, in 2017 I mainly traced the triangle between Minneapolis, Chicago, and France.

I spent most of my time teaching at St. Olaf and wrapping up The Area in Chicago, but I dedicated nearly two months to two different French projects. In January, I continued my “Resilient Images” residency in Hauts-de-France interpreting the character and identity of France’s former mining region. In August, I worked on a cultural heritage project in Paris, Hauts-de-France, and Normandy with Atout France. The next month, I returned to Hauts-de-France for talks, photography, and to open the residency show at the Centre régional de la photographie Hauts-de-France.

Back in the States, I showed a preview of my Resilient Images project at EXPO Chicago with the Hyde Park Art Center and then exhibited photographs from the Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation at the Chicago Architecture Biennial and the National Public Housing Museum.

I did make time for a little other travel. I visited New York City twice with The Area to participate in the IFP Filmmaker Labs and briefly visited to southern California and central Indiana. At the end of the year I hopped back to Europe to hail the new year in Scandinavia. A good year.

I’m starting 2018 with the American debut of Hauts-de-France Mining Basin at the Hyde Park Art Center and “Urban Art and the Block: Film Screening of Selections from The Area.” In other projects, my book with Michael Carriere is closing in on a complete draft, and The Area should also be premiering soon — more about that shortly. Check the website or follow me on Twitter or Facebook for updates.

And now a few of my favorite photographs from 2017. Thanks for your interest, and Happy New Year!

Hauts-de-France Mining Basin and the Resilient Images Residency

With Terril

Flipping in the Former Coal Mine

Coal Car

See more from Hauts-de-France Mining Basin in my photography section of the website.

The Area Film

Review Screening of The Area at IFP in New York

Screening scenes from The Area at IFP’s Made in NY Media Center.

In the Area

Visit The Area‘s website for more information about the film.

Roubaix, France

Centre social Pile Sainte Elisabeth

Le Havre, France

Auguste Perret's St. Joseph's Church

Read more about Le Havre and Auguste Perret’s St. Joseph’s Church elsewhere on the blog.

Chicago, Illinois

On the South Side

Princeton, Minnesota

Teen Center

New York City, New York

On the Street

Solana Beach, California

And, Finally, By Moonlight

Jolietville, Indiana

A-Frame in Winter

Oslo, Norway

Frogner Apartments

Norefjell, Norway

Noresund Church

On Norefjell Mountain

Copenhagen, Denmark

Grundtvig's Church by Peder Vilhelm Jensen Klint

Grundtvig's Church by Peder Vilhelm Jensen Klint Grundtvig's Church by Peder Vilhelm Jensen Klint

New Years in Copenhagen

2016 in Review: Nearly As Much There As Here

2016 was another year of travel, but unlike previous years, my explorations were more international than domestic: for more than two months I made work in Belgium, Ethiopia, France, Ireland, Japan, Northern Ireland, and the United Arab Emirates.

One month of that period was for a residency in the North of France and Belgium. The residency, “Resilient Images,” is a joint program launched by the Hyde Park Art Center and the Centre régional de la photographie Nord—Pas-de-Calais and supported by the MacArthur Foundation, the French Embassy, and Institut Français. I will be writing more about my project in a few months, but if you’re interested in learning a little more about what I’m doing in the North, you can read a little more about it in this short interview. The rest of the summer, I continued my project about Eleventh Night and the Twelfth in Belfast, photographed in Tōhoku and showed photographs at Gallery Tanto Tempo in Japan, toured Ethiopia with friends, and visited with guest workers in Dubai.

But I also did some domestic travel, including for a show in Buffalo, New York at Dennis Maher’s incomparable Fargo House and a screening of scenes from The Area at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee’s Mobile Design Box in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I also made brief visits to the area around Louisville, Kentucky and New Orleans, Louisiana. Of course, I spent plenty of time in Chicago, Illinois and Minneapolis, Minnesota, which finally feels like home.

The other big project news is that after nearly five years, The Area is swiftly moving towards completion with Scrappers Film Group after a party and fundraiser in December. “Thank you,” everyone who attended and contributed!

I can’t possibly do justice to the places I visited in this short post, but I’ve included links to locations for which I made blog posts, and posted a few photographs from each site. If I authored a blog post about a particular visit, the section title is a link to the post.

To 2017! It’s going to be a busy one, isn’t it?

Resilient Images Residency in Hauts-de-France, France

Watching, Power Plant
Residents calling for their dog from their street.

Gathering to Depart
ATV riders gather to move from one part of a slag heap to another.


Coal cars displayed in former mining towns.

Belgium

Playing Soccer in Molenbeek
Young immigrants play soccer in Brussels’ Molenbeek neighborhood.

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Igniting the Children's Bonfire
Shankill neighborhood residents ignite their children’s bonfire.

Tōhoku, Japan

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Post-tsunami and radiation contamination remediation in downtown Tomioka.

The “Jungle,” Calais, France

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The formal and informal Calais “Jungle” camps before demolition.

Ethiopia

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Two boys look down to their village in rural Tigray.

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A minibus stop and an outdoor pool hall in Addis Ababa.

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The Church of St. George in Lalibela.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

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Scrappers remove kitchen counters from a partially demolished house.

Trucks
A small sample of the variety of modified truck designs in sand parking lots.

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Two Pakistani guest workers and the largest Tim Horton’s advertisement I’ve ever seen.

Buffalo, New York

Buffalo Telescope Houses
Six new telescope house photographs I made while visiting for my exhibition.

Chicago, Illinois

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The beginning of the Scrappers Film Group party and fundraiser for The Area at Lost Arts.

Leaning
A leaning, isolated building near the former United States Steel South Works site.

Louisville, Kentucky

Overlooking the Ohio River
Overlooking the Ohio River and Louisville, Kentucky from Jeffersonville, Indiana.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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A major clean-up effort in a North Side neighborhood.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

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The Minnehaha Free Space before it was displaced by a new landlord.

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A former entry area of the Minneapolis Scottish Rite Temple.

New Orleans, Louisiana

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Four teenagers posing outside a corner store in the Lower Ninth Ward.

Rural Minnesota

National Farmer's Bank of Owatonna
Louis Sullivan’s National Farmer's Bank of Owatonna.

Rural Wisconsin

Woodside Place
A former church in St. Croix.

Rebuilding from the 2011 Tohoku, Japan Disaster


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The distinctive rebuilding of the Sendai coast

When Yohei Morita and I visited Tōhoku, Japan in 2014, I was most affected by the areas decimated by the tsunami — but it wasn’t for the reasons one might imagine. With the exception of the cities still in the radiation exclusion zone, most of the quarters destroyed by the tsunami had already been cleared by the Japanese government. In these places, there were few overturned cars, thrashed buildings, derelict streets, or even memorials. With few exceptions, they were remarkably sterile places, with scant clues that the areas had ever been inhabited, not to mention inhabited and then obliterated.

The occasional signs of mayhem, like the gleaming new headstones that filled nearby cemeteries, were amplified by this context, but my main reaction was still to what wasn’t there. I was affected because I couldn’t comprehend what we were witnessing. I wasn’t prepared for this kind of devastation and response.

So when Tanto Tempo Gallery invited me to return to Japan this summer, I set aside half of the trip to revisit Tōhoku to see what had changed and to experience how my understanding of it might change too. My approach would be twofold: to match photographs I made in 2014 and to seek out new areas, particularly revitalization projects.

I will keep the text relatively short, but I should make a few notes before I get into the first set of images. An enormous amount of effort put into the region: nearly all of the towns are cleared, harbors have been reconstructed, flood walls are everywhere, new housing has been built, and people have initiated creative community building up and down the coast. Even so, my main reaction to the place remains: I can’t help but be awed by the openness of coves, the emptiness of places I know were once inhabited, and those shining cemeteries.

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A gate above Ishinomaki

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Demolition and construction preparations along the city’s coast

In 2014, Yohei and I spent time with the community activists behind Space for Community, a local advocacy organization and meeting place in Ishinomaki city. After that experience, I knew I’d want to make Ishinomaki a focal point of this trip. I wasn’t able to meet with Space for Community this time around, but I visited with a number of Ishinomaki groups, including Ishinomaki Laboratory, a community-based woodworking shop. There I met with Warafuji, Takahiro Chiba, and David Wang, with whom I discussed the group’s founding, products, and future.

The organization is an hybrid community organization, essentially local but with inspiration and assistance from Tokyo-based designers. Founded in response to the disaster, the group creates and builds furniture with a straightforward, DIY design language. It is also currently strengthening a partnership with a local women’s weaving group to expand their small line of textiles. Their products are not yet available in North America but are available in Asia and Europe.


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Warafuji and Takahiro Chiba in the Ishinomaki Lab workshop, some of their small wooden and textile products

After leaving Ishinomaki Lab, I took David Wang’s recommendation and headed to Hashidori Common for a meal. The food truck-like establishment was launched to provide opportunities for small restauranteurs to build their businesses while simultaneously creating an informal town square. Even on a rainy night, a dozen people were eating in the semi-covered dining areas.


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A customer places her order in Hashidori Common

Other than this time in Ishinomaki, most of my visit wasn’t in the town centers but retracing Yohei’s and my previous route through the costal towns and coves. I did make some new compositions during this part of the trip, but I focused on rephotographing the scenes, matching images from 2014. In these areas progress is both monumental and surprisingly slow.


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Minor construction work continues along the Ogatsucho Mizuhama port

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New housing is under construction in the hills above Ogatsucho Mizuhama

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The temporary memorial outside Okawa Elementary School has expanded

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Tsunami damaged railroad tracks in Higashimatsushima have been removed

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Activity continues in some places along the Kitakami River, if with reduced intensity

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In other locations, construction — particularly flood protection — is as active as ever

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Elsewhere, infrastructure development (and hill removal) along the Kitakami River is nearly finished

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I was surprised by the construction of a new (elevated) home in Higashimatsushima

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The Christmas tree and memorial in Ogatsucho Kamiogatsu were long gone

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Some infrastructure had an otherworldly feel

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New context had sprouted around some cemeteries, like this skatepark in Sendai

While the emergent theme of the first half of the Tōhoku trip was rebuilding, driving south to the radiation affected area changed the tone. With each mile, the landscape appeared increasingly like my 2014 visit, although with warnings about radiation (and that nagging feeling about whether or not I should really travel into the former exclusion zone).

I was driving to Tomioka, a radiation-blanketed town Yohei and I visited with Deputy Mayor Hirofumi Sanpei. This time I would do the visit alone. While Yohei and I needed to be officially cleared and accompanied to visit in 2014, much had changed in the two and a half years, including that the town’s radiation levels have been partially remediated. As a result, the town is open for some redevelopment. Construction workers move relatively easily, and residents may return to some areas on a limited basis. I wouldn’t need to pass through security checkpoints before entering an exclusion zone, although I was stopped and questioned by the police during the visit.

The newfound opening of the city did not affect much of National Route 6, which — while open — was flanked by temporary gates preventing access to houses and businesses along the road and radiation monitors. Each provided tangible reminders of the area’s invisible contamination.


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Temporary gates and a radiation monitor along National Route 6, the Rikuzenhama Highway

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Bags of contaminated soil along National Route 6

Because I wasn’t with Deputy Mayor Sanpei, I was unable to revisit a portion of the town we visited in 2014, but I was able to see the majority of the town center. Arriving near the old train station, I freely moved among cleanup crews along streets once surrounded by buildings. The area had been cleared of structures, leaving only the streets, a few utility poles, and the hills to remind visitors of what was once there. An occasional dignitary would arrive accompanied by staffers only to take a few photographs with a cellphone and then duck into a waiting car. I was surprised by how the area was both empty and busy.


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The most visible signs of tsunami damage have been removed from downtown Tomioka

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… including the downtown Tomioka storefront with the clock stopped at the time the earthquake struck

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Workers cleared soil while visitors snapped photographs of the obscured coastline

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The site of the former Tomioka train station is being reworked

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A few buildings were visible away from downtown

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Trucks drove where buildings once stood

The concentrated nature of the cleanup effort was clear in the city’s residential neighborhoods, where the streets were near motionless. Along these streets, dereliction is rampant and there are few visible workers. The occasional building has even collapsed in on itself. Here, I regularly stopped my car in the middle of the street to stand on the sills and get a slightly elevated view of the blocks.

After 30 minutes of driving through these neighborhoods I hit the edge of the former exclusion zone and began my long return trip to Tokyo.


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Four quiet Tomioka streets

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Derelict buildings in Tomioka

I expected that this visit would be just the second of many trips to Tōhoku, but I was surprised by how much had — and hadn’t — changed in two and a half years. Some of the modifications are masked by the tension between tangible and intangible changes, but the continued need for infrastructure development and residential cleanup makes me especially curious about the region’s future. I left Tōhoku more energized than haunted, and I can’t wait to return.

The Battle Between Ethiopian Boys and Monkeys


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The cliffs and plateaus of the Agame massif.

One of the unexpected experiences of my trip to Ethiopia’s Tigray region was witnessing the daily conflict between local boys and gelada monkeys.

Endemic to Ethiopia, gelada monkeys are especially plentiful in the country’s central northern mountains. While some of these areas are protected “natural” lands, a significant portion of the habitat is primarily agricultural. I visited one such area with Brian Ashby and Susannah Ribstein: the Erar community of Tigray’s Agame mountains. In the massif, plateaus are cultivated for barley, chickpeas, lentils, linseed, wheat, and other crops. Because geladas are scavengers, the monkeys often take advantage of these fields and their easy nutrition.

As one might expect, the farmers aren’t thrilled by the monkeys eating their crops. The solution is hiring local boys to protect the fields. From dawn to dusk, the boys scan the plateau for gelada harems who might raid the crops and then scare the monkeys away. In exchange, the boys will be paid 5kg of the crops raised by each farmer in their territory. For example, one of the three boys with a domain on the small plateau we visited took home 5kgs of linseed, lentils, barley, and wheat last year.

The following photographs are a glimpse of the back and forth between the monkeys and boys.

Special thanks to Kiros Zeray for the background and translation.


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Geladas climb the cliff to access one of the fields on the plateau.

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Once up top, the geladas eat the crops — in this case, small sprouts and seeds.

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One boy surveys his territory from a self-built stone pedestal.

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The boys also patrol with slingshots and scan the cliff edges.

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When the boys see the geladas, they yell and hurl rocks at the monkeys, chasing them to the cliff edges.

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The monkeys retreat below the plateau.

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Some of the monkeys continue to taunt the boys from the ledge. The valley floor may be as much as 500 meters below.

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Because the geladas don’t venture into the fields in the dark, the boys relax once the monkeys settle into their cliffside caves for the evening.

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Two of the boys look down to their village before returning for the night. They and the monkeys will return in the morning.

Bonfires and Brigades in Belfast

The Shankill Bonfire
The main Shankill bonfire a few minutes after lighting.

Six years ago, I started a project about two annual events in Belfast, Northern Ireland: the Loyalist bonfires of Eleventh Night and the Orange Order parades of The Twelfth. As I’ve described elsewhere, the related bonfires and parades are often discussed as cultural phenomena, but they are also political affairs intended to reinforce the United Kingdom’s claim over Northern Ireland.

This political character is obvious in the Loyalists’ burning of the Irish tricolor, Sinn Féin election posters, and even Irish soccer team jerseys, but the partisan nature of the bonfires was even clearer this year. Support for the Brexit and disparagement of the European Union abounded, and local political developments related to the bonfires were also referenced. The most direct local example was the burning of election posters for SDLP Councillor Claire Hanna, who champions reigning in the bonfires.

But counterbalancing also occurred: the “beacon” program I referenced in 2012 continued to operate as an environmentally friendly alternative to bonfire construction, and the bonfire and parade events appeared to be changing. Many bonfires were more subdued than before, numerous participants seemed more interested in spectacle than politics, and the city felt less tense than in recent years. The Police Service Northern Ireland was certainly out in full force, but they weren’t needed in the typical way. This was even true for the Twelfth parade routes where riots have occurred during my previous visits.

More detailed background about the situation and selected photographs from my Belfast series are available in main website gallery, which I’ll be updating soon. In the meantime, favorite photographs from this year’s trip are below.


Brexit
Britain’s recent vote to leave the European Union was celebrated on the Tigers Bay bonfire. The Ulster Defense Association‘s shield is displayed above the “Brexit” sign.

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A boy sports a Union Jack haircut, while another poses for a picture before helping ignite a bonfire.

Culture Threatens
While the Union Jack and Ulster Banner will be removed before the bonfire is lit, the Sinn Féin election posters will not.

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Installing Tricolors At Night
Four bonfires.

Igniting the Children's Bonfire
Belfast’s extended twilight makes for some spectacular scenes. This children’s bonfire is dressed with two Irish tricolors, the European Union flag, the Isis flag, and a jersey from the Celtic Football Club.

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Socializing at the bonfires.

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A shower of embers from the Shankill bonfire.

Row House Burning
Despite boarding up windows and doors to protect houses from the Shankill bonfire’s spectacular embers, the roof of a nearby row house ignited, destroying multiple units. This is the moment the first roof collapsed.

At the Smoldering Pile
Young band members visit the smoldering remains of the Shankill bonfire before parading through the city. The damaged row houses are in the background.

Marching Past the Clifton Street Orange Hall
Marching past the Clifton Street Orange Hall.

Watching the Parade Marching
In a Cage During the Parades
Some watch the parade, others participate.

Resolution is Possible
Residents protest a parade route that skirts a Catholic neighborhood.

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Cleaning up the after the bonfires requires multiple work crews operating over several days. This team is taking a first pass at a site near the city center.

The “Jungle,” Border Conflict, and the Brexit

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While the British were voting to leave the European Union I was across the Channel in the refugee camp known as the “Jungle.” Located in Calais, France, the informal camp is the last stop for immigrants hoping to enter England undetected via the Channel Tunnel.

The camp and its 6,000+ residents have become a symbol of for Britain’s changing relationship with Europe and its former colonies, not to mention the demographic changes and refugee crises that seem to be so important for those who support Britain leaving the E.U.

During the time the “Jungle’s” representation has been central to such political conflicts, the camp itself has taken a number of forms. It continues to increase in size, but its most dramatic changes have been relatively recent, particularly the demolition of a 100-meter wide section of the camp that abutted an elevated highway and the construction of a new formal aid center inside the informal camp. Other changes include the establishment of a nearby site that offers additional security for women and children apart from the male dominated main camp.


One short note before I continue to the main text: I include photographs in the post, but I only photographed for a small portion of the time I was at the camp. When I did photograph, I always asked for permission first and intentionally avoided close-up photographs in most cases. Additionally, I’ve only included the names of a couple of residents and volunteers who are publicly known. This is to protect the privacy of the refugees, many of whom are understandably concerned about broadcasting their temporary association with the camp, particularly given their desire to enter England as undocumented immigrants. This also goes for volunteers, who have their own concerns about attacks from nationalist groups and persecution (and prosecution) by the police for their activities, which are not always appreciated by authorities.


I was able to visit the camp with the refugee relief organization L’Auberge des Migrants, which distributes clothing and other essentials to residents. The organization coordinates its activities in a warehouse that is a short drive from the camp. Their grounds house a donation sorting center, the food relief organization Refugee Community Kitchen, and “Caravanarnia,” a camp for volunteers who wish to stay at the warehouse.


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L’Auberge des Migrants volunteers sorting clothing.

Refugee Community Kitchen
Refugee Community Kitchen volunteers preparing the day’s salad.

My visit to the “Jungle” started with an introduction from Maya Konforti, one of the leaders of the organization. Konforti has been working in the camp since its infancy, and walking through its streets yields a near constant stream of greetings, hugs, and calls of “Mama!” as she passes.

Among those Konforti and I visited was an Afghan immigrant named Sikander, who founded Jungle Books Kids’ Restaurant with his English partner Mary Jones. Sikander gradually created the first restaurant in the camp while selling food to people who stayed with him. After running a couple of small restaurants in the first portion of the Jungle that was demolished by authorities, the pair was distressed by the conditions endured by the camp’s 700 minors, of which nearly 80% are unaccompanied in Calais. In response, they created a place where the camp’s young residents can hang out, eat, learn, and keep out of trouble in a camp teeming with drugs and other threats.


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Teenagers playing billiards at Jungle Books.

Sikander and Maya Konforti

Sikander and Maya Konforti talking in the center.

After Konforti and I parted for the afternoon, I wandered the camp, meeting refugees from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Somalia, and Sudan, and spending time in restaurants, shops, and the occasional home. When people learned I was American, they always asked about American politics, particularly about Donald Trump’s candidacy and his public support. Invariably, conversation drifted to immigration policy in the U.S. and then to the Brexit. What would it all mean for the refugees?


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The friend of a shop owner watches his store, and a baker prepares naan.

On a few occasions, a passing resident would see my camera and say some variant of “We need a solution,” which meant that they were tired of the media attention with no change to immigration policy or conditions in the camp. I agreed with them, and we’d have a discussion about the entire situation, but it was just another conversation…


London Bread Khan'Shop
Khans Sunshine Ethiopian Restaurant
A few of the restaurants and shops on the main street.

It stormed the night before, so there was standing water everywhere, and people were drying out the belongings of their tents. Many streets and paths were flooded; some were being cleared.


Clearing Water Clearing Water

Since I’d read about the large Ethiopian church spared from demolition a few months earlier, I decided to leave the main camp area and walk down the pathway to the church. I waited until the residents in the church were done praying, then took off my shoes and entered the church.


The Church

The Church The Church

Within a few minutes of being inside, I heard the dull sound of projectiles firing in the distance and then bustling around the church. I put on my shoes and walked out of the church courtyard to see tear gas lingering by the entrance to the camp and residents fleeing the area. One of the Pakistani residents with whom I’d recently spoken pointed out the problem areas.

Minutes before, a number of refugees tried to climb on top of stopped semi-trailer trucks on the highway in hopes of riding them into the trains that traverse the tunnel. The police fired tear gas in an attempt to get the refugees off the highway and then keep them out of the 100 meter zone. While some residents retreated, the commotion enlarged the crowd, which was in the hundreds by the time I made it down to the area.


Refugees Atop a Truck Fleeing Tear Gas
Residents on top of a semi-trailer truck and fleeing the tear gas on the highway.

Firing Tear Gas
The police firing tear gas into the 100 meter exclusion zone.

Camp Residents Overlooking the Zone
Camp residents standing on the embankment overlooking the highway and exclusion zone.

After standing on the embankment for a few minutes watching the tear gas get launched elsewhere and the police corralling some demonstrators, one young resident in his late teens picked up a rock from the area behind the ridge on which most residents were standing. A few people looked back at him and urged him “No, no, no!” After pausing for a few moments, he hurled the rock over the crowd. The rock didn’t land near the police but they quickly turned, directed their tear gas at the ridge and fired their canisters.


Police Guarding the Highway Police Threatening Refugees
Police guarding the highway and threatening refugees getting too close to the tear gas canisters.

Everyone on the mound scrambled down to the walls of the small buildings that define the edge of the camp, seeking a way to squeeze between structures and make their way deeper into the camp.

Fleeing the Tear Gas

I found a way through a couple of makeshift buildings and ended up on the main street. The gas tumbled through the main entrance and down the thoroughfare. Two young men and I rushed back into their rooms adjacent to an Eritrean restaurant and paused. The room had a dirt floor, rolled up blankets for sleeping, and some personal effects. We caught our breath. But the gas seeped in through the semi-open walls and then hung in the room. We headed out between the rear of the building and the scrub, where the wind would at least eventually clear out the air. We waited it out.

Waiting Out the Tear Gas

Once the tear gas thinned, I left the area behind the houses and walked across the street to Jungle Books Kids’ Restaurant. The blinds had been drawn, and the young residents were sitting around and talking. Some were eating, others washing out their eyes. A volunteer was waiting to start an English lesson at 4pm.

After another 20 minutes, the wind had blown the tear gas to the south. Residents had already begun to return to daily life in the camp, re-opening blinds, then stores, then returning to the streets. Even as the situation calmed, the police presence maintained a tense posture along the border of the camp, standing with their weapons drawn and scanning the “Jungle.” The last major tear gassing had been three days before. Residents were already thinking about another attempt to get to Britain.

In a way, it was a normal day in the camp, but the Brexit vote has created a new layer of complications. The treaty and practices that facilitated the creation of the camp are relatively unpopular in France, and politicians, including the mayor of Calais, are already intensifying calls for changing how France and the U.K. police the Channel and its transportation links. Any alterations will surely affect the refugees and their likelihood of reaching a new home in Britain — or anywhere else.


This piece is an extension of a residency organized by the Centre Régional de la Photographie Nord — Pas-de-Calais and the Hyde Park Art Center and funded by the MacArthur Foundation.