Arresting. Exquisite. Gripping. Chilling. Disgraceful. Unacceptable. These are all words people have used to describe portraits made by Jono Rotman. Created over the last decade, his project Mongrelism presents an intimate look at members of the Mongrel Mob – New Zealand’s largest, most notorious gang. Though he is looking at a subculture as an outsider – a domain regularly mined by photojournalists – Rotman eschews a traditional documentarian approach to his subject matter. In so doing, the project’s scope extends beyond the Mob itself to touch upon issues related to New Zealand’s charged colonial past and self-professed biculturalism, the politics and ethics of portraiture, and the intersections of seemingly disparate human experience.
The New Zealand-born photographer explains that since childhood, “I always felt certain violent and uneasy forces within my country”. In Lockups (1999-2005), Rotman photographed the interiors of prisons and psychiatric hospitals throughout New Zealand, exploring the medium’s ability to convey the fraught “psychic climate” embedded in these state-controlled institutions. The works are eerily devoid of people, a deliberate decision made, says Rotman, “because I wanted to encourage a direct, personal interaction with the spaces. With prisons, for example, as soon as you introduce people into the picture, it becomes easy to think, ‘Here’s the storyline: this place is for those sorts of people. And I can fit it all into my established worldview’.”
“It all came together very organically,” says Cheryl Newman, appropriately enough for a project about small-scale, low-impact farming. Initially signed up to work on We Feed The World for 12 months, she’s ended up spending three years on the project, commissioning nearly 50 world-class photographers to shoot agriculture around the globe, including renowned image-makers such as Stefan Ruiz, Susan Meiselas, and Graciela Iturbide.
The aim of the project is simple – to shift the public perception of small-scale farming, which is often considered synonymous with subsistence farming but which in fact produces around 70% of the world’s food, according to a report by the United Nations.
“Photography is the language of our age and it has the ability to shift consciousness and effect change on a scale beyond any other form of communication,” says Newman, who was photography director of the Telegraph Magazine for more than 15 years.
Merkenbrechts is a small, rural village in Waldviertel, Austria, with a population of 200. It has a fire station, a church, and a large stretch of water where the village’s 35 children spend their summers swimming, climbing trees and playing hide and seek.
Carla Kogelman originally visited the area in 2012 while working on a documentary about the region for a commission. During her stay she met Sonja and Roman Liebhart, who invited her to come and photograph their children on their farm in Merkenbreacht.
Visiting the village, Kogelman found its residents were very conscious of how they produced and consumed resources. They powered their homes using solar panels, resisted using chemicals on their crops, and had community gardens in which children could learn to grow their own vegetables and herbs. “People over there, they just care about the soil, about the earth, about each other and the animals,” she says.
Between 1930 and 1964, Liberty Theater was the name of a non-whites only cinema owned by Rosalind Fox Solomon’s family in Chattanooga, Tennessee. “There was an irony in the name. I chose Liberty Theater as the title of this book because of its multiple meanings,” she says. “In a broader context, the title relates to performance and pretence in the theatre of life.”
The photographs Liberty Theater collects together were taken through the 1970s to 90s in the southern United States, and have never before been published as a group. From Georgia to South California, through Mississippi, Tennessee and Louisiana, Solomon captured the complexity of race, class, and gender divisions.
“I had no idea that photography would change my life,” says Solomon, who began photographing when she was 48, after graduating from college, getting married and raising two children. In 1977 she moved to Washington DC, where her husband worked for the General Services Administration, and visited New York City to study privately with Lisette Model.
Born in the Eastern Bloc, Adrian Samson has lived in the US and Canada but is now based in London, where his appealing, contemporary work has won him commissions from clients such as Hermes, Miu Miu, COS, Vogue Hommes International, Numero Berlin, Wallpaper*, The Plant, The Gourmand, and The New York Times. His latest project is a shoot for the Frieze Art Fair, which opens in London from 04-07 October, and which saw him handling ancient and modern artefacts taken from the Frieze Masters section. His images will be presented in Frieze’s newspaper for its well-respected event, which includes a talk by Nan Goldin on 06 October and a presentation of work by emerging Polish photographer Joanna Piotrowska.
“I’m always picking things up and taking them home with me,” says Matthew Craven. “Just general knick knacks.” His finds include succulents, unusual rocks, and little bits of pottery that he displays in his home inTopanga Canyon, Los Angeles. But out of all of the things he collects, which also includes records and vintage NBA t-shirts, perhaps his strangest and largest collection is of school textbooks. The books usually date back to the 1950s or 60s, but “the older the better” says Craven. After finding a copy he likes in a second-hand book store, he’ll trawl through the internet, contacting sellers that may have many more in storage – usually schools or libraries. “Personally, it satisfies me to be able to find these old materials and preserve them in some little way possible,” he says. He then uses these books as source material for intricate collages, in which every element – from the images themselves to the paper they’re stuck on – are made out of found materials. Part of what satisfies him about this work …
As sales for retro products like vinyl records, brick mobiles and analogue film cameras grow, so too has interest in traditional printing techniques
“You’re always looking for that time where everybody forgets you’re there and becomes themselves. Surprisingly, they do, sometimes to the detriment of what you knew about them,” says Eugene Richards, who has devoted his career to documenting social injustice in America, and injecting himself into intensely personal situations.
Richards’ style is up-close and unflinching, “ironically it’s the process of becoming as not there as you possibly can, if you hang around long enough people don’t care”, he says. Though his photography has been described as poetic and lyrical, he has never thought of himself as an artist. “I went in with some knowledge of photography, but mostly with the idea of providing information,” he says.
“South Africa is a deeply religious country,” says Giya Makondo-Wills, whose work-in-progress, They Came From the Water While the World Watched, maps out the interplay between Christianity and ancestral religion in the region. With four trips to the country under her belt so far, the 23-year old has travelled as much into the past as in the present, tracing the indelible repercussions of 19th-century European migration as they resonate through South African culture today.
Makondo-Wills, who is British-South African, became interested in her African grandmother’s faith while shooting another project. “She’s very Orthodox Christian but she also still practises ancestral religion, and that’s a core part of who she is. She prays to a God and the gods,” the photographer explains.
This duality got her thinking about the intersections of belief systems and how they were brought into contact. How did Christianity become so influential? How does it co-exist with indigenous religions? Building on her interests in race and identity, these questions soon elicited many others, spawning a long-term project that has carried her from a BA to an MA at the University of South Wales.
Before becoming a photographer, Sean Hillen was a tinkerer. As a young teenager, one of his favourite pastimes was to take apart his grandfather’s old cameras and then piece them back together again. It wasn’t long before he discovered that with a bit of tweaking he could fix a brand new 120 roll of film into an outmoded 620 camera. “I did that, I got them developed, and I was immediately addicted to photography”.
Hillen grew up through the Troubles in Newry, Northern Ireland, close to the border with the Republic of Ireland. “It was utter chaos,” he says. “I knew people who got killed, and I knew people who killed other people”. Hillen and his four siblings would lie awake in bed at night listening to gun battles, which were so frequent that they were able to distinguish between the sounds of different weapons.