Image © Stanley Greene / Noor Images, courtesy of Getty Images.
Stanley Norman Greene, one of this year's winners of the Getty Images Grants for Editorial Photography and a celebrated photojournalist, speaks with BJP about his "E-Waste Trail" project and how film remains an important medium for him.
"The E-Waste Trail is a photographic documentary that tracks the afterlife of our electronic trash, as corporations and governments make irresponsible, yet lucrative, deals, at enormous injury to the world's most vulnerable citizens," reads the introduction of Stanley Greene's proposal for the Getty Images Grants for Editorial Photography.
He adds: "The sad reality for me personally, is that the more civilized we have become, the more barbaric we act towards our fellow humans. Because of our disregard of the Earth and the people in it, we managed to poison the air, the land, the water and human beings."
The E-Waste Trail was selected as one of this year's winners of a $20,000 grant, which will allow Greene to his project a reality.
"It's still a bit of a shock," he tells BJP. "I was standing in an exhibition in Arles - The Mexican Suitcase - and it was a kind of strange moment. Jean-François [Leroy] called me - and that was even nicer. He's always been very supportive of my work. The whole thing was quite surreal. Then, I saw the list of who had been selected and I felt humble to be in such a group."
Greene has been working on this project for two and a half year. "It's all been research, so far," he says. "But the whole idea came about when we, at Noor, were doing the Climate Change project. I had found this story in Ghana about how they are dumping electronic waste over there. I thought it was a great story for the Consequences project, but according to the guidelines for Consequences, this was not considered a problem relating to climate change. I understood the argument, because Greenpeace had given us a list of issues of what they wanted us to look at."
But Greene kept this idea in the back of his mind. "All that time, I was thinking that it's interesting how we've become so civilised and yet we behave so barbarically," he tells BJP. "I had also done a story in Greenland, and there was a picture I've taken of them dumping electronic waste on the ice. At that time, it didn't register the significance of it. I found out later that former Eastern block countries were dumping on melting icebergs. The more I investigated, the more I understood that these computers are never going to be fixed and given to other people in third-world countries to use. They are just dumping it all."
It soon became an obsession, "like everything," he says. "On again, off again." Geo in Germany soon signed up to help finance the work. "There were some restrictions - one of them was that we could only spend a week or 10 days maximum," says Greene. But now, with the Getty Grant, he explains that he will be able to do it the way he wants to. "For example, it's going to allow me to shoot it in film instead of digital," he says. "This is great. I didn't want to shoot on an electronic camera for a story about E-Waste. It was an important element that I wanted to include in this project."
Greene will first be going to Nigeria, and he's also thinking about Pakistan or India. "I was going to go to Pakistan, but the problem is that the United States and Pakistan are not getting along anymore," he explains. "I did some homework and discovered that in Mumbai there is also a big problem with E-Waste. I'm going to try to get a visa to Pakistan, and if that doesn't work I will go to Mumbai and China."
But, he won't be going to Ghana, because, he tells BJP, he's seen a lot of good work done there already. "Alvaro Ybarra Zavala, for example, has shot in Ghana. Pieter Hugo as well. I didn't want to do the same thing. "
In fact, Greene will not be shooting in colour. Instead, he will be using black-and-white film. "I'm a film shooter. I've been shooting Leica over 30 years. I just love film. It's something that you can trust, while digital is so impersonal," he says. "You can't touch it. Also, when you hear stories that you have to back up your files 15 times using 15 different hard drives, you get a little nervous. I've already lost three hard drives full of material, so I know from experience. But that being said, I also shoot with the Leica M9 and the Nikon D3s. The D3s is one of the most rugged cameras I've ever got. What I would love see us get back to is allowing photographers to play with what they want to play with. If I came to them with ‘I want to do this project with a pinhole camera, is that a problem for you?'"
Greene even goes further. "I have a rule from now on," he tells BJP. "Everything that I shoot in black-and-white will be film. If anybody wants to take my colour digital files and convert them to black-and-white, well... they can't. If they do, it will be a problem."
But, Greene is quick to point out that he won't abandon digital photography. "I will shoot colour with a digital camera," he says. "It's fine. I understand deadlines. I understand all of that. But, if he has time - like two weeks - I think that the photographer should be allowed to shoot film, and magazines should trust them to shoot in black-and-white without having to shoot in colour and convert it to black-and-white."
Asked how important it is for him to receive a Getty Images Grant, Greene says that it gives photojournalists the freedom they need. "To do this kind of stories, it takes a lot of research. A lot of magazines don't allow you that time or luxury. For me, this grant is giving me hope. I can now really focus on doing the story."
He adds: "I think that what's great with the Getty Images Grants is that they really try to give it to different people from different background. It's not an in-house award." Greene also likes the idea that photographers have to do the work to get all of the money. "I like the fact that you get only half of the $20,000 upfront," he tells BJP. "I've seen a lot of grants where you get the money upfront and you can go buy an expensive sport car, for example. I'd encourage more grants to be work grants."
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