Photojournalism Now: Friday Round Up – 29 November 2019

This week on Photojournalism Now: Friday Round Up – the book reviews continue with Rocco Rorandelli’s Bitter Leaves, a story about the tentacle-like reach of the tobacco industry and its unstoppable progress; and Alys Tomlinson’s award-winning Ex-Voto.

Book Reviews:

Rocco Rorandelli – Bitter Leaves

low Periyapatna, India A farmer’s child sitting on a tobacco bale
Periyapatna, India A farmer’s child sitting on a tobacco bale on the floor of a tobacco auction house. According to the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO), about 1.3 million children work in tobacco fields, with the number increasing in certain countries like India and Zimbabwe. A recent study estimates more than 1.7 million children work in India’s bidi rolling industry. The UN’s Sustainable Developmental Goals (SDGs) aims to reduce the number of children engaged in tobacco farming by providing alternative livelihoods. (C) Rocco Rorandelli

Italian photographer Rocco Rorandelli spent ten years documenting the tobacco industry in India, China, Indonesia, USA, Germany, Bulgaria, Nigeria, Slovenia and Italy, discovering its impact on health, wealth and the environment.  

Rorandelli says, “I have witnessed how tobacco promotes the stripping of farmlands, threatens workers with dangerous chemicals, exploits child labor and undocumented workers, utilizes aggressive marketing campaigns aimed at identifying new customers (mostly underage), and conducts heavy lobbying to promote its expansion to novel markets and social strata.”

Bitter Leaves is an unequivocal indictment on the tobacco industry, as well as testimony of the short-sightedness of governments who are driven by greed rather than the wellbeing of their people and the planet.

In Bitter Leaves Rorandelli’s photographs are paired with words by Dr. Judith McKay, a scientist, to create a complex narrative that shows the reach of the industry and its toxic impact on communities, the landscape and individuals.  As McKay suggests, the tobacco industry has created “a seemingly endless cycle of poverty, destruction and death,” that reaches around the globe.

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Jakarta, Indonesia A salesperson promoting Djarum Black Menthol cigarettes during a music parade, organised by Djarum, inside a waterpark. Salespeople are typically female students who must sign an exclusivity contract stating they will not work for any other tobacco company. Tobacco companies in Indonesia have a high-profile presence in music, sport and cultural events, from local to international-level. Indonesia has been labeled the ‘tobacco industry’s Disneyland’ by organisations involved in tobacco control, that claim these sponsorships are clearly aimed at new, young potential tobacco consumers. (C) Rocco Rorandelli
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Milan, Italy A Computerized Axial Tomography (CAT) scanning machine at the European Institute of Oncology, used to detect cancer. This type of expensive equipment is not available to most cancer patients in the world. The global economic cost of smoking is 1,852 billion USD—equivalent in magnitude to 1.8% of the world’s annual gross domestic product. (C) Rocco Rorandelli
low Yuxi, China Inside the Hongta Group factory
Yuxi, China Inside the Hongta Group factory. The company claims it has the world’s most advanced cigarette production line, with fully-automated robots. In the Yuxi factory, more than 135 billion sticks are produced per year, covering 12% of China’s total production. China is the largest producer of cigarettes in the world and sells about 2.5 trillion a year. State-owned change China National Tobacco Corporation (CNTC) controls 97% of the Chinese cigarette market. (C) Rocco Rorandelli

Bitter Leaves published by GOST, 144 pages, 62 colour images, 5 infographics
Hardback, cloth covered, tipped in image.

Alys Tomlinson – Ex-Voto

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(C) Alys Tomlinson

In Ex-Voto award-winning photographer Alys Tomlinson documents sites of Catholic pilgrimage, in black and white pictures of landscapes, portraits of pilgrims and still-life images of the offerings to saints and other deities the pilgrims leave behind, items known as ex-voto.

Today ex-votos can be notes written on scraps of paper and wedged between rocks, a simple handmade wooden cross or candles left in the woods, but they used to be jewels and other precious items left at holy sites in the hope of a wish being granted, in giving thanks or seeking solace.

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(C) Alys Tomlinson
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(C) Alys Tomlinson

The portraits in Tomlinson’s Ex-Voto are somewhat otherworldly. They are so quiet that they make you slow down…really…slow…down.

Tomlinson spent five years documenting Catholic pilgrimage sites and pilgrims in Ballyvourney, Ireland, Mount Grabarka, Poland, and Lourdes, France.

At these sites gather the modern-day pilgrim who clearly has strong ties to those of the past. These pilgrims appear to cloak themselves in the garb of ancient times to walk paths that were carved, in some instances, back in the 6th century.

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(C) Alys Tomlinson
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(C) Alys Tomlinson
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(C) Alys Tomlinson
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(C) Alys Tomlinson

As Professor John Eade’s writes in the book, the notion of pilgrims is very much located in studies of the Middle Ages, and it is somewhat surprising to learn that there are many today who are compelled to undertake these journeys to give thanks or seek peace. As Eades notes, “pilgrimage extends far beyond religion and we need an open gaze if we are to adequately understand this world-wide, very alive and powerful phenomenon.”

It is with this “open gaze” that Tomlinson has approached her photography. The result is a compelling, and at times confronting meditation on modern-day belief and the search for meaning.

Ex-Voto published by GOST, 98 pp, 47 duotone illustrations, hardback, cloth covered with gold embossing. Texts by Sean O’Hagan, Dr Rowan Cerys Tomlinson and Professor John Eade.

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