This week on Photojournalism Now: Friday Round Up – the 2018 FotoEvidence Book Award with World Press Photo winner Josué Rivas, the Lost Rolls America Archive feature article and KAUNAS PHOTO Festival calls for submissions.
Josué Rivas wins 2018 FotoEvidence Book Award with World Press Photo for Standing Strong
Josué Rivas has won the 2018 FotoEvidence Book Award with World Press Photo for Standing Strong, his very personal and moving documentation of the #nodapl movement at Standing Rock (USA). This is his story. “The gathering at Standing Rock was a dance between the modern and the ancestral. It was the epicenter of the awakening of humanity. For over seven months, I lived at the Oceti Sakowin Camp near the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota, documenting the opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline. Thousands of tribal nations and allies gathered in peaceful prayer and created a worldwide movement. They called themselves Water Protectors.
I was told by a Lakota elder at the camp that traditionally women are the guardians of Mni Wiconi (water of life) because they carry the sacred liquid when pregnant. Men are the guardians of the fire, energy that destroys and renews. With that conversation my perspective shifted and I started to understand that what was happening was something beyond opposition to another big oil extraction project. For the first time in current history, people from all four directions stood together as one and I was privileged to document it all from an indigenous perspective.
My intention for this body of work is that the next seven generations can learn from it. Indigenous peoples across the planet have been enduring displacement from their land, ceremonies, and languages for hundreds of years. Yet we all carry a collective genetic memory that tells us we are all indigenous to the Earth. Standing Rock was also a turning point in my development as a storyteller. I found that the camera was my tool and the images were my medicine.”
Standing Strong, the book and exhibition, will be launched at the World Press Photo festival in Amsterdam and its US debut will be in June at the Bronx Documentary Center, New York.
Josué Rivas (Mexica/Otomi) is an award-winning visual storyteller. He is a 2017 Magnum Foundation Photography and Social Justice Fellow and founder of the Standing Strong Project.
The Lost Rolls America
In November last year I caught up with award-winning photojournalist Ron Haviv and Dr Lauren Walsh in New York to talk about their project, the Lost Rolls America Archive. Here’s my feature interview which was published originally on Witness, World Press Photo.
Lost Rolls America – A National Archive of Public Memory
When photojournalist Ron Haviv found 200 rolls of undeveloped film, he began a journey of discovery that culminated in the 2015 publication of his book The Lost Rolls.
As he revisited his own images, a number of which he had forgotten he’d taken and a few which he couldn’t recall at all, he began to think about all the rolls of undeveloped film that must be sitting in people’s attics, basements and junk drawers. He canvassed those who attended his book launches and was “blown away” by the response.
“Almost always, more than half the audience said they had unprocessed rolls,” he reveals. “Some would complain there wasn’t anywhere to get the film developed anymore, or that nobody would care what’s on it. But there were also those who were curious about what they might find, or those who found film their parents had left behind.”
As the number of stories grew, Haviv determined there was an opportunity to take his concept and broaden it. The Lost Rolls America — A National Archive of Public Memory was launched in 2017 with a call to action “to rescue these lost memories that are locked away in these little canisters”.
Turning to the original Lost Rolls team, Haviv enlisted the help of editor Robert Peacock and designer Roger Gorman. Educator and scholar Dr. Lauren Walsh, who wrote the essay for Haviv’s book, came on as a partner in the Archive.
Sponsors saw the value of the project also with Fujifilm North America providing scanning and developing services, PhotoShelter creating private galleries for contributors, and photo advocacy group Photo Wings also championing the concept.
“We feel like we’re doing something very different,” says Haviv acknowledging the various projects that deal with found film.
“Lost Rolls America is really not about the best picture or about some film found in a garage sale. This is about pieces of people’s lives and, most importantly, the memory attached to that. It is the written memories and the image combined which can be incredibly poignant.”
The project has already unearthed some extraordinary tales. Dr. Walsh recalls the story of two post-WWII photographs of Valentina Zavarin (above). These are currently the oldest images in the archive.
“These photographs were taken in Germany as Valentina, then a young woman, was about to emigrate to the United States. The photograph shows a group of people with luggage standing beside a vehicle. They are smiling, but as we learn from the caption, the smiles mask the shock felt by those in the picture who are being left behind.”
Walsh says the full story behind these pictures was only revealed after she approached Zavarin’s daughter Nina, who helped with the submission of the roll of film, for more details. As the family sought to find answers to Walsh’s questions, they uncovered pieces of their own history, a story buried in the fog of memories long dormant.
“They had a little Robert Capa Mexican Suitcase moment with this film too,” says Haviv, revealing that this roll made its way to America in a little green suitcase, along with the family’s most important personal documents. The suitcase was put in a basement and when the occupant of that house died, it was moved to another dwelling, surviving the ravages of time and even a flood. When the suitcase was eventually opened, the film canister was tossed into a drawer where it sat for years. It was only when Nina Zavarin heard about Lost Rolls America on a radio program that she remembered the film and submitted it. “The family even sent us a photograph of the green suitcase,” laughs Haviv. “It’s not Capa, but…”
Zavarin’s story talks to the immigrant experience and, in the unearthing of a rich personal narrative, the picture also resonates more broadly. This is true for many pictures in the Archive, which evoke ideas of the American experience.
Walsh says looking at the Archive it is easy to see the similarities across gender, race and class and to identify the things that bring a society together. “I think it is incredibly important to remind people, especially in this country given the political climate at the moment, that we share a lot of common experiences.”
In the Archive there is a wide range of subject matter, but interestingly none echo the food shots, which populate social media feeds. There are photographs of children, pets, family holidays, lovers, travel, nature, social events and more. Walsh says contributors choose one or two images—the selection fascinating in itself, as it reveals how people want to be represented, what they choose to remember and what they are prepared to share.
Walsh says selection is based on what connects with the individual the most and what they want to talk about. “This archive is completely publicly curated. As such, it is a democratic archive. We are not controlling what they’re writing, nor are we controlling what they’re putting up. We’re just giving them the platform.”
“I think it’s a point worth underscoring because, historically, archives are top down and usually those with financial or educational power decide what goes in and what doesn’t. It is really important that the public curates this Archive. There are no curators other than the participants themselves,” emphasizes Walsh. “Interestingly, the Archive has become a site where someone else’s personal memory becomes a portal to your own memories, or a way of connecting to very disparate people through the images.”
One photograph that stands out for Haviv is the picture of a young couple with a baby.
The photograph (above) is at least 10 years old. The woman who has chosen the picture writes in the caption: ‘I’m sad for my younger self. I was so happy and hopeful and in love in this photo. In love with my kids, my family and my husband. I had so much hope for the future.’
“First of all, it’s sad that she feels this way, but she’s also choosing this photograph and uploading it to a public archive and writing something so incredibly personal and disappointing,” Haviv muses.
Walsh points to another photograph, which depicts a little piece of pussy willow branch lying on some floorboards (below).
“When I saw this image I was really curious, and when I read the caption I was stunned.”
The caption reads:
‘I can so easily touch the grief and disbelief of that day. I wish I could go back to that 14-year-old girl and listen to her thoughts, to hold a space for her to grieve in. The day I found out Judy was killed in a plane crash, I walked to catch the bus to school and picked a bit of pussy willow from a neighbor’s bush. I remember how soft it felt on my fingers and how hard I studied the structure of the branch and the soft little toes of the pussy willow. I remember wondering how there could still be something so soft when something so terrible had happened.’
Of course not all the stories in the Archive are melancholy. There are many joyful memories, like the photograph of a young couple with the caption ‘I’m one of the miraculous few that loves his wife as much now as in 1969. I’m a very lucky guy.’
At Photoville 2017 in New York, Lost Rolls America held its first exhibition.“We were a little bit overwhelmed by the response from the public,” says Haviv.
With an Americana theme, the installation was housed in a 1950s-style trailer complete with white picket fence, Astroturf lawn, pink flamingos, rocking chairs and a kiddie pool.
Photographs were presented with captions on the actual print. “We also created photo albums and photo journals using the text that people wrote. We used old envelopes with old stamps. Inside were pictures and quotes. It was an interactive experience where people came and sat inside the vehicle and read stories and flipped through the photo albums that spanned 60 years.”
In giving life to analog pictures in the digital media space, Lost Rolls America is taking the pictures from a perishable form and immortalizing them. “They are little time machines,” says Haviv.
Walsh believes one of the things that is unique to film-based photography “is that incredible revelatory moment. These are images that people have never seen before. We wanted to capture what comes back to your mind when you see it now. It is like looking into your past as if through some magical telescope.”
In closing, Walsh says Lost Rolls America is like a visual tapestry.“It is big and it is elaborate, and when I look at the images what comes to mind is that this is like an American visual fabric and everybody gets to weave one or two little threads of it. And when you zoom out and you see black, white and different colors…it really has that tapestry feel.”
KAUNAS PHOTO Festival – Open Call – until 4 April