Out of a 1200km-stretch of grassland in northern Kazakhstan, glistening skyscrapers shoot up into the landscape. Among the impressive buildings rising out of the otherwise sparse terrain are two identical golden towers, a fantastical presidential palace, and a looming centrepiece that blossoms into a large golden sphere. It packs quite a visual punch, but what’s most impressive is that it’s all been built in just 15 years.
Astana became the capital of Kazakhstan in 1997, and has since developed into one of the most modern cities in Central Asia. It’s futuristic buildings are designed by world-famous architects such as Norman Foster and Zaha Hadid, their work paid for via the country’s recently-discovered oil reserves.
It’s little more than a decade since Ricardo Cases took his first tentative steps into the world with his personal work, exhibiting as part of New Spanish Photography at Lodz Fotofestiwal in 2007, a group show that travelled on to China and Slovakia. More than a dozen solo shows followed across Spain over the next three years before his international breakthrough with the book Paloma al aire [Pigeons in flight], published by Dewi Lewis in 2011. Ostensibly, the book follows pigeon-fanciers in Valencia and Murcia going about a local racing ritual, painting male birds for a competition in which the winner is the cock that attracts the hen. But with its distinctive spiral-bound, notebook appearance, and Cases’ tight framing, emphasising the surreality of the chase, it acquired a cult following, marking the arrival of a singular talent. The unconventional traits to this and his subsequent works are clearly evident in his first major survey exhibition, on show in Madrid from 13 June to 22 July at the spectacular Sala Canal Isabel II, as part of this year’s Photo España.
For the past five years, Ulla Deventer has been working on a project about women and prostitution in Europe – specifically in Brussels, Athens and Paris – but also, more recently, in Ghana. Several of the women she met in the project’s early days were from West Africa, and Deventer developed close friendships with some of her subjects, who inspired her to travel to their home countries to experience first-hand what life is like for women living there.
In May 2017, Deventer, who was born in Henstedt-Ulzburg in north Germany and is now based in Hamburg, spent six weeks in Accra, the capital of Ghana, where she focused her attention on the living conditions of the city’s youth, particularly its female sex workers. She recently returned to the country to continue to work on Butterflies Are a Sign of a Good Thing – an extension of her original project.
The “fictive hellhole” of Soham Gupta’s Angst makes for challenging viewing. Since 2013, with the night as his backdrop, the 29-year-old has been creating a haunting constellation of portraits of those living on the margins of Calcutta society. Drawing on a troubled youth spent struggling with societal expectations, Angst is a despairing, personal reckoning with a world in which the weakest and most vulnerable are neglected. The project started following a workshop with Antoine d’Agata and Sohrab Hura (a Ones To Watch in 2011) in Cambodia, where Gupta was encouraged to move away from his background in photojournalism and build on his innate interest in loneliness and vulnerability. Setting out on his own nocturnal journey through the streets of his hometown, Gupta began photographing and writing short fictional texts about the people he encountered. After instigating conversation, he would then collaborate with them to create a portrait.
José David Valiente’s graphic flash-lit images render his native Spain in an uncanny light. Drawn to the peculiar and mysterious, his projects steer towards the oddities of everyday human behaviour. From documenting the surreal atmosphere and prized pigs of the Semana Porcina – an annual food-farming fair held in his hometown, Lorca – to capturing the dark energy of the underground punk scene, the 31-year-old’s offbeat vision sheds light on diverse aspects of Spanish society.
Between 1960 and 1997, the idyllic Italian island of Sardinia witnessed a series of kidnappings at the hands of the anonima sequestri sarda – a group of vigilantes meting out justice according to a traditional, local code of honour known as the codice barbaricino. Over 37 years, 162 people were kidnapped for ransom, with some of them killed. The kidnapping of seven-year-old Farouk Kassam in 1992 is particularly vivid for Sardinian-born-and-raised Valeria Cherchi, who was the same age at the time. The case instilled in her a profound fear. “I clearly remember the news, during his fifth month of imprisonment, that the upper part of his ear was found by a priest on a mountainous road in Barbagia, central Sardinia,” she recalls.
Roland Barthes’ tear-jerking account of his confrontation with his mother’s photograph captures the emotions that a picture of a loved one can evoke, and the significance of a family photograph. From early formal portraits of upper-class families shot in studios to contemporary snaps, images have welded families together under the premise of memory. But with private pictures now becoming more public, family photographs are evolving in the way we document our histories. Rie Yamada’s family photographs take it a step further: instead of documenting her nearest and dearest, in her series Familie werden (which translates as Become a family), the photographer plays every relative herself, highlighting gender stereotypes and social archetypes with a good dose of hilarity and absurdity.
Phoebe Kiely was 14 years old when she first picked up a camera. It was terrible, though: a four megapixel digital device from Aldi. But despite the poor quality, Kiely became obsessed with taking pictures. One of the earliest photographs she remembers was of her best friend, Amanda, captured in the garden of Kiely’s family home in Ingoldsby, Lincolnshire. “It’s a picture of her on a small trampoline,” she says. “I’m above her and she’s curled up, looking up at me.” The Aldi camera was replaced with a film camera when Kiely hit her late teens and the “buzz” of shooting, developing and seeing the final results of her pictures became stronger. It was what helped her get through three years of working in retail after finishing her A-levels in 2009. “I remember running into town during my 15-minute morning break to drop my film off,” she says. “I would walk back during my lunch hour to pick up the pictures. It was the most exciting part of the day.” Kiely graduated in 2015 with …
Famously described by Susan Sontag in her 1964 essay Notes on ‘Camp’ as “a sensibility (as distinct from an idea)”, the appreciation of camp was born out of artifice and opulence, a vulgar fascination with theatrical exaggeration. And while it has long been tied up with LGBTQI culture, it has become a compelling way to convey messages without limits. “To me, camp is a very powerful thing,” says Phillip Prokopiou. “It’s a form of satire – a way to exaggerate and ridicule things that are very serious.” Prokopiou, a South Africa-born, London-based photographer behind an eponymous studio, which he co-founded with his partner-in-life-and-art Panagiotis Poimenidis, has long been fascinated with the power of kitsch to communicate our deepest hopes, fears and fantasies – whether they manifest in the form of a moustachioed Virgin Mary (stage name: Virgin Xtravaganzah) sitting chastely in the glow of ‘Gawd’’s glory, or an otherworldly extraterrestrial gazing into the distance.
Travelling to Kiev in the wake of protest, revolution and civil war, Belgian photographer David Denil set about documenting the aftermath of conflict in the minds of ordinary people still coming to terms with the country’s sharp divisions. The resulting series, Let Us Not Fall Asleep While Walking, departs from journalistic record, instead attempting to depict “the psychological state of this Ukraine looking at its future while haunted by its past and memory,” he says. “The images are metaphorical representations from the everyday life encountered where time seems frozen but dreams of hope still linger.”