Image © Sebastian Liste.
Sebastian Liste was unknown in June 2010, days before he won the Ian Parry Scholarship for a gritty, yet traditional black-and-white reportage. Two years on, he has won numerous awards, is on show at Visa pour l'Image, has joined the Reportage by Getty Images agency, and has received a $20,000 grant. Olivier Laurent speaks with him and Aidan Sullivan
"He's a standout winner," said Don McCullin, two years ago when he announced Sebastian Liste as the recipient of the 2010 Ian Parry Scholarship. "He has a real ability as a photographer, but is also able to bring the images together to create an informative story."
Liste's story, Urban Quilombo, focuses on 60 families who, since 2003, have lived in Galpao da Araujo Barreto, an abandoned chocolate factory in Salvador de Bahia. "I discovered this place with a friend," Liste tells BJP. "It was in early 2009. We stayed just a couple of hours, but I immediately connected with the place and the people. I was really excited to learn more about how these families came together. The first day, I spent more time playing football with them than taking pictures." Yet, around 10 of the images he shot that day in 2009 still form part of his final edit. "My connection to this place and these people was strong. I felt I had to come back. And every time I did, it felt even stronger."
Winning the Ian Parry Scholarship – a £3000 grant – allowed Liste to continue his work. "I used to spend only days or weeks there, but thanks to the scholarship, I was able to stay until March 2011. I didn't think I would be spending almost three years on the same project, mainly because I knew that, at some point, the Brazilian government was going to move these people. I always suspected it would happen."
The relocation happened earlier this year, and while it could have formed the end of Liste's work with these families, he feels he has to continue documenting their lives. "Now that they are living in a fancy building, I want to see how they are doing. They are in a completely different environment, but are still the same people."
When I spoke with Liste in July, he had just learned that he was to join Reportage by Getty Images as a represented photographer – Liste first joined Reportage in 2009 in the agency's Emerging Talent division – and Aidan Sullivan, a vice president at Getty Images, was urging him to publish a book about his work. Yet Liste didn't feel he was ready. "Of course, I want to do a book, mainly because my background in photography has come from photobooks, but I've just started the second chapter and I want to finish that chapter before I decide whether it's worthy of a book."
This reticence hasn't prevented other people from promoting Liste's work. At Visa pour l'Image last year, Jean-François Leroy introduced Liste to journalists, photographers and agency directors, presenting him as one of his "coups de coeur" of the year, alongside Robin Hammond and Toni Greaves. And this year, he's won the City of Perpignan Rémi Ochlik Award, formerly known as the Young Reporter Award. The recognition comes with an exhibition at the festival and a €8000 cash prize.
Image © Sebastian Liste
Liste has also won one of the four Getty Images Editorial Grants, worth $20,000. With this award, the photographer plans to work on a larger project in Brazil. "In the country, the abolition of slavery was a slow and gradual process that resulted in a huge class of free workers," Liste writes in his proposal. "However, they did not have access to means of production – particularly land. Faced with the possibility that the abolition of slavery may result in the collapse of major rural producers, which depended on this workforce, the Brazilian government ensured that the access to the means of production continued to be limited to a small number of individuals. Currently four per cent of landowners in Brazil control 80 per cent of the arable land, meaning five million farmers remain landless. The goal of this project is to create a multimedia map of the origin of inequality and violence in Brazil through photography, video and interviews, therefore raising awareness of the current situation, which sees thousands of peasants fighting for a piece of land."
For Sullivan, who was not involved in the judging of his company's Editorial Grants, it's no surprised that Liste was able to impress the judges with his work, which he first discovered in 2010 with the Ian Parry Scholarship. "The great thing about the Ian Parry is that you see photographers at a very early stage," he tells BJP. "It's quite raw. We're not really looking for achievements, but potential. You're looking at a photographer that is already shooting in a style that shows they are very confident with the way they work, that there's a kind of flow to the work: it's kind of like a conversation rather than little sentences that don't mean anything. He is telling a story. I think in an age and era when so many young photographers are trying to find something new, or trying to find a voice and a new way of doing things, everything about Sebastian was traditional. It was traditionally well composed, shot in black-and-white, and of incredible quality. It was a joy to see it. We thought this kid really had something, so we were delighted to give him the Ian Parry so he would continue his work in Brazil."
After he received the award, Sullivan wasn't sure whether Liste would continue to produce great work. "Sometimes, when you give an award like that, you can't really tell how it's going to go. Are they a one-shot wonder? But he just kept going. He is so dedicated to what he does."
It then made sense for Liste to join the Emerging Talent group of photographers at Reportage, says Sullivan. "Emerging Talent was set up so that we would be able to give photographers we liked – we being the editors – some exposure. We would give them a year so they can use the site to promote their work. It's a spotlight on somebody we think has a good approach and needs the exposure." Liste joined the group last year, but he has since been promoted to the Represented Photographers group, equivalent to full membership at the agency. "Liste's rise at Reportage is based solely on his talent as a photographer," says Sullivan. "It's a wonderfully strong body of work. His approach and ability to create this project is amazing."
Yet the work has barely been published. "It has been recognised with many awards, but it has only been published in Photo in France and The Sunday Times Magazine in the UK," Liste explains. "It hasn't been published in the US, or even in Latin America or Spain."
Maybe with his exhibition at Visa pour l'Image, his Getty Images representation and now his Editorial Grant, the young photographer will be able to find a publisher. But, says Sullivan, the industry is still promoting the work. "In the past, it would be with 12-page features in magazines. I guess today it's different – with Perpignan, for example."
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