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05.03.2014
 

JOURS BLANCS - François Schaer


My work is far from condemning the degradation of the mountains. Jours Blancs also looks behind the scenes at the now familiar cast of actors who ensure the maintenance of the transformation of the mountains: ratrak drivers, lift attendants, patrols, snow scientists, ski instructors, etc. I set out to meet these workers and to take unadorned portraits of them which have revealed unexpected insights related to mountain occupations in winter. As for the skiers themselves, they are not shown as individuals but as part of a play on scale which suggests that, even when domesticated, mountains still clearly dominate us.

Choosing to photograph only on days of white-out allows us to move into another dimension, theatrical, a bit like at the end of a performance after the curtain has fallen. The presence of objects on the ski runs seems immutable, set against a decor where a uniform white glow envelopes the skiers and lightens them; ski-ing becomes a surrealistic tale.
Jours Blancs can be seen as my shadow brochure of winter sports.

The photographs were taken in the Swiss Alps between 2011 and 2013.

02.02.2012
 

THE GIRLS OF KABUL - Reto Albertalli

If war, intended as an expression of social fight, has been a feature of male gender, rape and violence on women have always represented the simplest and most immediate way of degradation and coercion during conflicts. Undoubtedly, the female body has been the main battlefield on which warring men have been clashing for ages: from Bosnia to Iraq, from Afghanistan to Chechnya, this practice has been tragically corroborated. A constant pattern which has allowed during the years the execrable and twofold result of tearing the physical and psychical integrity of women and children – with obvious individual and social consequences – as well as of undermining the role of husbands, fathers and partners, propelled in an escalation of vengeance and retaliation.


In this context, the status reserved to Afghan women during the last decades has considerably worsened. In its 2012 paper on the Asian Country, Amnesty International reports that “Afghan women and girls continued to suffer discrimination, domestic violence, forced marriages, trafficking and being traded to settle disputes” (1). The Afghan Constitution of 2004 ensures equality to all citizens (article 22) and provides the setup for education and health protection programs directed at women. Nevertheless, the gap between “formal Constitution” and “common practice” remains broad and manifest: forced marriages, 57% of which involve little girls and teenagers,
still represent the majority of weddings, both for economic reasons – poor families get rid of an economic burden – and for the customary practices of bad (a woman becomes the bride as a compensation for a crime perpetrated by a member of her family) and of badal (the Exchange of women in order to avoid the payment of maher, the price for the bride). The wedding is just the beginning: inside the household, married women, especially the youngest, are continuously facing sexual, psychological, religious and economic abuses.
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The problem of widows and of women left alone due to the war, helpless and marginalized, sharpens the occurrence of prostitution, perceived as the only way to economic sustenance. The poor quality in sanitation, tough in recent years some improvements in the development of sanitary facilities have been made, worsens the picture, especially in rural and poor regions. It is estimated that the risk of death for the mother during delivery is 200 times higher for an Afghan woman compared to a European woman.
Only 25% of births takes place under professional supervision and within minimal sanitary standards. Nonetheless, all relevant information on this subject must be read taking into consideration all prohibitions and regulations imposed by Islamic law and by broadly accepted custom contributing to enmesh Afghan women – subsequently their children – in a tragic and hopeless situation. Thus, it is not striking that suicide – especially among girls – is a constantly increasing pattern:

governmental sources estimate in thousands the number of young Afghan women committing suicide each year. The awareness of a desperate future, void of opportunities, conquers the minds of coerced beings, evolving in a society ruled by violent and corrupt men, and strictly related to cultural and social dynamics depending on global political and economic strategies.
Out of the broad-based dissolution of women’s rights generated by the Afghan conflict during the last three decades, these faces emerge almost miraculously. Girls we don’t know nothing about and who we hope are unrelated to what discussed above. Putting at risk their own safety, driven by a natural curiosity, or perhaps by an understandable affectation, these young women asked Reto Albertalli to be photographed. “At that time I was teaching children photography at the Afghan Mini Mobile Circus for Children, a circus and multimedia school in Kabul. A nice alternative playfully serious to reality

I spent most of the time with boys because even the slightest eye contact was forbidden with girls. Speak with them was just unthinkable… But then you are just there, day after day, you become part of something, even if you remain a stranger disconnected from their reality, from their society. They start perceiving you as a nice person and not a threat. That’s how some bits and pieces of interaction, some special moments. Then the most confident – maybe the bravest – girl asked me why I spent time with boys only and if it was possible for her to attend the photography class.
After her, several girls joined the class, and time spent together became increasingly worthwhile. At the beginning I deceived myself. I thought that in a short run I would have been able to become acquainted with their private lives, and I was therefore living in an alternating condition of hope and deception. Then I understood that the most powerful topic was namely the privileged relationship I could set up with them. We started talking about their country, the war, the condition of women.

Until I dared to create a very simple set, a sort of atelier with natural light composed by a window, a radiant object reflecting light, a neutral background, where I asked them to pose. They agreed to, but I had the feeling crossing a threshold and tension was in the air. Obviously the Hasselblad does not help. It is a cumbersome camera and it may instill fear, but I opted for this equipment because I felt frustrated by the idea of carrying out a standard reportage, telling more about the grit of the photographer and his trip in a definite place than about people he meets.
I needed a different angle, enabling me to see the other because it is the only way to get to know him, in an attempt to release him from his anonymity, to give him voice. I decided to alternate to this series of portraits some pictures in black and white, where male figures and withheld women prevail. In this way a contrast arises between the external world – guided and regulated – and the proximity and the need of freedom issuing from the portraits.”
In these faces of girls on the verge of becoming women in a country where there is no worst condition to live, several attitudes and postures can be seen. On everyone of them, a clear glare of melancholy is vivid. We would like perhaps to be able to scrub away that glare, by giving an answer we are unable to phrase. To lift them from the tragic condition of hostages in a country-prison ruled by warring men, in their turn unaware playthings in an immense game with nuanced boundaries. In order to contribute in freeing the potential hidden in these minds and in these glances. And because it is detestable to think about these girls only as mechanisms. (text by Fabio Martini)

12.04.2012
 

NORTH KOREA - Adrien Golinelli

09.04.2012
 

ALGERIA - Sabrina Teggar

She had known Algeria as a child when visiting her grandparents in El Asnam, a city destroyed by earthquakes in 1950 and 1980, and later renamed Chelif. After this the country's political-religious situation prevented her from returning. It is only aged 30 that she decided to accompany her father  in his family, adding the pieces to her life puzzle. Sabrina's return to her father's country is also a trip to a childhood place from which she was for long kept away. When she finally goes back, she finds somewhere unfamiliar and foreign, slightly worrying but also warming,
[algeriamap]
scattered with clues of a story both difficult and necessary to make her own. How can she not look at herself in the mirror of those little girls, of those young people whose destinies have drifted so far apart from hers? But all or almost all the images, are pieces, extracts, shadows, from an uninterrupted film. The only stable and familiar points are those stood in front of her camera, the faces of those looking at her and recognizing her:
Portraits taken on the go, or reproduced, of a family so close and far-away at the same time.

Christian Maccotta
01.05.2012
 

SQUATS 2002-2012 - Julien Gregorio

“We demand the impossible, the abolition of the absurd, ignorance of laws, the free distribution of happiness- that poetry be listed on the stock-market, not the moon, Neptune...”
The bitter oranges or the repressive tolerance.


During my adolescence in the 90s, I would often run out into the night to discover a world of dark cellars, bizarre bars and abandoned buildings always patched up here and there in the most spontaneous of ways. Today, the alternative scene of Geneva has reached the end of its ten years of glory, disillusion has been knocking on the door and the excitement has deflated.
But back then I was adventuring in a gigantic zone of experimentation and autonomy.

I remember... One night a little before the new millennium... I was invited by a friend to a building on La rue des Etuves, and after climbing a medievelish staircase, rushing through a dining room while barging over a long table covered in the leftovers of a feast, then reaching a second room spanning over a window in order to grab a rope to finally climb up a roof and reach an improvised terrace. There we stood with a view on the chimney's of Geneva, with about twenty hosts who awaited us. That night, we dined above the city's lights facing the jet d'eau, I was twenty years old and I felt like an escaped convict tasting freedom for the very first time. Two years later I moved into that same building and in the meantime I had found a job: Photographer. I set down my mattress on the wooden planks of a little room under the roofs, pigeons were cooing, I shivered, my new housemate brought me a welcome-tea and a trumpet sounded off signaling supper time.


Squatting in Geneva during the 80s was tolerated by the authorities because it was considered a means to fight real estate speculation. Even a special police named “ The Squat Brigade” was created in order to mediate between the squatters and property owners. During the 90s up to 160 locations were occupied simultaneously by about 2000 people.
Throughout those abandoned empty spaces that were left to rot for many years a parallel lifestyle developed, one that promoted a strong sense of community and association based on sharing and the experimentation of models different from those of the commercial and consumer society. This way of living developed to such an extent that a network was created between Europe and reaching to Latin America, it was named “Intersquat”.







Much of the general public finds these housings ugly and degrading for the city, Geneva is both proud and ashamed of its alternative side. Under the pretext that the real estate speculation is over and that there isn't enough housing, squatters are evacuated without being considered as inhabitants and without being offered another housing therefore unable to perpetuate the life of their subculture and community experience.

As a former inhabitant of these improvised homes and as a member of this alternative community it was absolutely essential for me to photograph these spaces in order to keep a document of the privileged relationship squatters created and maintained with their homes from the time of occupation until the too-quick-to-come time of expulsion.
I wished to underline the beauty of this poetic and comedic experience by presenting them in this book. The book does not adopt a strict chronology of the squat adventure from 2003 to 2009 but rather, uses a thematic and esthetic pattern which reveals the central theme: Community life.
The construction of the work follows the logical events which define the story of a squat. The first pictures show places left for abandoned, dilapidated and gnawed by humidity.
The inhabitants appear in a fragile and ephemeral collective organization. First, we see a few mattresses and electric heating, then objects are refreshed, information boards are hung up on the walls, projects begin to be discussed, there are struggles and utopias but also many practical problems related to the challenges of living as a community. We do what we can to live, often thanks to installations that could remind one of “Art Brut”. There is only one credo, “Houses belong to those who maintain them”.
Most of the time, soon, this is followed by a precipitated departure and evacuation. The rooms are turned upside down and all equipment is left on location as a trace of the illegal inhabitants. The abundance of objects revealed by the photographed spaces enables one to discover new details after every new viewing.

I produced these photographs during the last ten years of the squat movement in Geneva, a period when the eradication of squats and the guarantee of respect for private property had become political objectives. The procedure for expelling squatters was standardized. First, the cops would take the inhabitants to the station in order to record their identities as a bailiff clerk would visit the building in order to verify that it was uninhabited (If someone had stayed under the shower, they'd turn a blind eye). Then the building would be restored to its owner who would demolish the windows and pipelines and personal belongings were thrown out of the windows so the squatters could later retrieve them from the garbages on the streets. Certain houses like the Villa des Tulipiers stayed empty and walled-in for years more to come.
I must admit I sometimes felt like I was a bird of ill omen, taking photographs of places I already knew would soon disappear. It was also important for the inhabitants to trust me for the identification of a squatter can easily facilitate the filing of a complaint. Of some of the houses I only kept one photograph, in others every wall would inspire me, but all are linked to community life. Unfortunately I did not visit all the occupied houses that existed or had existed but I do hope that all of those who know of the squat's intimate reality in Geneva or elsewhere in the world will find it again when seeing these images.


Of course I feel personally committed to this piece of work, I love these places. I love them because the chances are greater for one to get struck by an interesting discussion then by an electrical circuit, because I hammered nails in some of these walls, because in them I learned that newspapers can tell lies and that our system has difficulty accepting what is different and finally that housing is considered before anything else as a commercial product. My perpetual questioning on the subject of housing, the never ending debates, the injustices and the observed inequalities have definitely anchored this theme within my artistic preoccupations.



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Every person has the right to a roof, but when the housing is considered as a source of revenue this right becomes more of a privilege. How many times did I hear that squatters had to vacate to leave the space for “real” inhabitants (that meaning those who pay)? But the squatters are not the only ones confined to evacuation procedures, more and more tenants are forced to leave their houses so the owner can make renovations that will justify an increase in rental price.
I do not wish to idealize the Squat life and I do not believe it is a lifestyle suited for everyone. Furthermore, the environment in which I took these photographs was one where the residents were particularly conscientious and committed to their principles, they did not see their occupation as a last resort but more as an act of resistance. It is important to remember that squats also provide a roof for students, foreigners, the homeless and other residents with a low income. The disappearance of such places further marginalizes these populations. I also have a thought for all the youngsters who won't have the chance to know these kind of experimental spaces and leisures where one is seen as more then a source of income.







Rethinking organization and life in shared spaces and imagining urbanism with a warmer touch are certainly part of the challenges that many architects have attempted to resolve. Squatters are a precious source of inspiration and ingenuity but they are unfortunately not often taken seriously although their ideas are often recuperated for the glory of right and left political wings. In 2001, the mayor of Geneva even lead the visit of the Rhino squat for Bertrand Delanoë, then mayor of Paris, so he could discover the richness of Geneva's alternative network.














Now that the real estate speculation is taking advantage of the housing crisis in order to extend its influence, luxury apartments and big offices are sprouting downtown. Meanwhile, after years of traveling from one empty house to another today the squatters are facing a resolutely repressive politic, what fate awaits them today? Of course some of them have been relocated to apartments, the most lucky in associative buildings, cooperatives or in popular neighborhoods where they can invest themselves in collective projects. Others have converted to nomadism, by fixing up caravans they're able to continue living a lifestyle which promotes the sense of community. The movement also occupies uncultivated lands therefore farming the land enabling them to reach food autonomy and move away from supermarket food. By living-on the movement has proven that it is not dead but reinventing its self, it also shows that this choice of life is more then a passing fad, it is a long-term need.

“We do not want the moon but Neptune...” Neptune is that other planet where money is mutual help and exchange, where each person can manage his life and his habitat how he chooses to, in Neptune you can pursue the projects you want, it's a land outside of the actual system...

Julien Gregorio
(trad: Marwan Bassiouni)