James Robertson’s portrait (below) was selected for Portrait Salon 2012 and is from a series of images documenting a group of young Afghans skiing on the slopes above their village in Bamyan. This in turn is part of a larger project documenting the many facets of skiing in Afghanistan, and with the help of the VSCO Artist Initiative has expanded to include documenting two Afghan ski guides who visited Switzerland for training with the hope of competing in the next Winter Olympics.
‘This series of images was taken over only a couple of hours: we were skiing down to the lower slopes about to finish for the day when from many different directions guys with wooden skis on their shoulders started walking up towards us.’
‘Bamyan doesn’t have a history of skiing, however to help the area’s economic recovery there has been a push to reinvigorate the tourism industry and this has included introducing skiing as a form of winter tourism. The local kids have seen westerners skiing and simply bought materials from the bazaar to make their own. There are also programs to introduce as many locals to skiing on modern equipment as well as teaching avalanche safety and training local ski guides.’
‘When I came across an article online about skiing in Afghanistan I had no idea it was possible, and it immediately challenged my preconceptions of it as a country. The idea that not only was it possible to travel there, but it was also possible to ski was completely juxtaposed to everything I had seen in the media up to that point. I want these images to have a similar effect with the images so unexpected they force the viewer to reconsider more than just whether it is possible to ski in Afghanistan.’
James Robertson is a professional photographer based in Edinburgh. Since being awarded The Guardian Student Photographer of the Year in 2008 for his images of the UK boxing talent, James has continued to produce work across a range of sporting disciplines from road cycling to rowing. As well as commerical and product work for a number of publications such as Rouleaur and Privateer he also spends time on his own documentary projects; including a look at off-piste skiing in the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan and a recent series following the members of the one of the UK’s only dedicated ski patrols up in the Nevis Range.
“Then the nations that are left round about you shall know that I the LORD rebuild the ruined places, and replant that which was desolate: I the LORD have spoken it, and I will do it”.
Nick Ballon’s portrait (below) was selected for Portrait Salon 2013 and is from his series Ezekiel 36:36*, a documentation of Lloyd Aéreo Boliviano (LAB) which is one of the world’s oldest surviving airlines. ‘Founded in 1925, it took its name from Lloyd’s of London for its image of safety and security. The airline later earned its place in Bolivian history by playing an important role in the Chaco War of 1932, when its aircraft carried the wounded to safety and transported supplies to soldiers on the front line.’
‘In 1994, LAB was privatised and sold off to a failing Brazilian airline. The company has suffered at the hands of successive administrations ever since, becoming gradually dismantled over the years. In 2007, the Bolivian government ordered it to shut down on charges of unpaid taxes and social benefit contributions, leaving over 2000 of its workers out of jobs.’
‘While all commercial flight operations have been suspended, the airline miraculously survived to the present day. LAB has become a workers’ cooperative which provides a range of aviation services, as well as operating an aircraft on behalf of another local airline. 196 employees continue to work for the struggling company, yet their salaries have been halved, and have even gone unpaid for two whole years following LAB’s collapse. Most of those who remain have continued to work for the company out of loyalty and faith. Their morale is occasionally boosted by small victories, such as their recent crowning as champions in the airport football tournament.’
‘Once an icon of modernity and progress, there’s something decidedly anachronistic about walking through their headquarters. Stray dogs rest in the security booth at the front entrance. Workers, too, can be found taking midday naps in the engine room. Metallic stairs, which in the past were used for boarding modern aircraft, now lead up to nowhere. A Boeing 767 flight simulator worth $2.5MM has been sitting unopened in a gigantic crate for the past six years.’
‘Successive self-proclaimed saviours have appeared at their doorstep offering multimillion-dollar investments and ingenious rescue packages, yet the workforce has grown disillusioned at their promises, which have invariably failed to materialise. Headed by an unlikely CEO, the current administration believes it has a master plan to bring the Bolivian phoenix back from its ashes, and take off once again in the following weeks.’
* The title refers to the name of the only aircraft LAB currently have in operation, on hire to another domestic airline (crew included). It captures the quasi-religious faith the remaining employees have in the airline, which to most outsiders would appear to be a lost cause.
“Then the nations that are left round about you shall know that I the LORD rebuild the ruined places, and replant that which was desolate: I the LORD have spoken it, and I will do it.” (from King James 2000 Bible).
Nick Ballon is a documentary and portrait photographer based in the UK, whose Anglo-Bolivian heritage is an important source of subject matter and inspiration in his work, exploring socio-historical ideas of identity and place, the concept of ‘foreignness’ and belonging.
He graduated with a BA (hons) from Berkshire School of art and design in 2001, and since then has worked editorially for a number of respected international publications, including the Sunday Times Magazine, The Guardian Magazine, the Financial Times, the New York Times, El Pais and Der Spiegel.
His work has been exhibited internationally including at Rencontres d’Arles, Beijing Triennial, Guernsey Photography Festival, KK Outlet, Wellcome Trust, and NCM/Foyle Foundation. He has been shortlisted for the Taylor Wessing Portrait Photography Prize four times, and received an honourable mention for the Photographic Museum of Humanity grant.
In 2013 he self-published his first book Ezekiel 36:36 which looked at the curious and precarious existence of Bolivia’s national airline, which received much critical acclaim and was one of TIME’s best photo-books of 2013. His second book ‘The Bitter Sea’ will look at land-locked Bolivia’s painful longing to reclaim back its sea lost in a war to Chile over 129 years ago, and will be published by Trolley Books.
Nick Ballon’s book Ezekiel 36:36 is available to buy here.
Noriko Takasugi’s portrait, ‘Fukushima Samurai’ (below), was selected for Portrait Salon 2013 and is part of her series ‘Fukushima Samurai – The Story of Identity’.
Takakatsu, 68. When it gets closer to Soma Nomaoi, he practices horse racing every 4am morning with his stable mates in the beach. His house facing the beach, destroyed and some of his horses in his stable next to the house were washed away. September 2012.
‘Since 2011, I have devoted my time to capturing the survivors of 3.11. While I am listening to their story, I could not ignore the unique spirit emerging in these people. For my project, I especially focused on the people who were once residents in the 20km radius of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. These photos are part of my long-term project that differs from the major news stories about the disaster, having been investigating the evacuees not as victims, but as part of a 1000 years old folk culture of the area and representative of Japanese identity, examining how they are surviving such hard times and fighting their fate to retain their sense of self, both as individuals and as part of a group.’
Shingo, 34. His ‘favourite house’ with an ocean view on a hill was washed away 10-meter inland by the tsunami. “All the belongings including armor for the Soma Nomaoi annual celebration and two horses that we had taken care of as family were washed away.” September 2012.
Kunihito, 40. “I lived here since I was born until the disaster occurred. Roof tiles fell off and walls cracked due to the earthquake, but the house is habitable only if the level of radiation exposure was normal.” September 2012.
‘About 18,000 people have past away or missing due to the disaster. It triggered the nuclear explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant. About 230,000 are still living as evacuees. Related death in Japan is more than 3,000 including more than 1,700 in Fukushima. The majority of people who lived in Fukushima at the time are still living the life of evacuees, devoting a great deal of their time to dealing with the effects of nuclear contamination.’
Yoshiyuki, 59. His former house was also his small furniture factory. He had lived here since he was born and worked locally for more than 35 years. In July 2012, he moved all the equipment from his former home to his new one in the neighboring city, where he evacuated to and live now, to restart the furniture business. September 2012.
Masaki, 31. Masaki used to live with his three children in Odaka. After the disaster he decided to stay in the next town instead of evacuating farther afield. “Of course I worried about the radiation effects but I did not want to move too far from my town because it is the place where Soma Nomaoi is held”. September 2012.
‘Soma Nomaoi is an annual celebration of Samurai culture in Fukushima more than 1000 years old. About 2000 people died in Fukushima due to 3.11, most of who were from the area where the Soma Nomaoi is held. Despite the harsh conditions, loss of lives and loss of hundreds of their horses and much of their armory, the majority of the surviving Nomaoi Samurai warriors agreed to hold the gathering in 2011, just a few months after the disaster. It is not just an event but also an embodiment of their identity and fight for survival. Here, the samurai way of life, “Bushido”, corresponds to the concept of chivalry. This sense of identity represents how and why, they live. The Nomaoi Samurai warriors portrayed here were once residents in the area close to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Most of them are no longer allowed to live there but they can enter the area during the day. Each of them stands in the places that had a personal meaning to them in the area in their everyday life, reviving their memories of home.’
‘Although the typical image of current Japan might be still positive with Tokyo’s high-tech buildings, to people outside Japan, the country remains a hidden world. I would like, through my photography, to show this secret part of Japan: the mentality, inner warmth and profound sense of beauty triumphing over adversity, and awe to the nature. Those secrets part are not the extraordinary things for us but accumulation of our choices in our ordinary life. Such qualities are often obscured nowadays in the world as a whole, not just in Japan. My ordinary life and Japanese root came across to these Samurai people while I am taking the light and shadow of them by my camera.’
Hironobu, 44. He took me to a horse stable that his family member and he built on his wife’s parents’ property after the disaster. “I am now taking care of several horses that did not have anyone to rely one anymore because of the disaster”. The three kids and their parents are living separately in different municipalities as an evacuee life. “It is hard to only see the kids on weekends.” September 2012.
Kunio, 65. “I used to stand in front of this kamidana (a household altar) sacred to Odaka Shrine and pray every morning when we were living here before the disaster.” He prayed when somebody in his family got sick, when his daughter-in-law gave birth and also for other occasions. Standing solemnly in front of the kamidana with gratitude as part of his daily routine was such a precious and calm moment for him. He cannot live here now but he prays to the kamidana whenever he visits here. August 2012.
Born in Japan and based in Tokyo, Noriko Takasugi graduated with an MA in Photojournalism & Documentary Photography at London College of Communication, University of the Arts London. Working as an editor for monthly graphic magazines led Takasugi to increase her passion for photography and storytelling. She has always been fascinated with connecting with people whose culture is strongly associated with the land and integrating herself with them through photography. Takasugi’s work has been exhibited widely in UK and published in The Telegraph, Independent, Wired.com. She was awarded the Konica Minolta Foto Premio 2014, selected as a finalist of PhotoQuai 2015 Biennale and a finalist of Critical Mass 2013 (Photolucida).
Takasugi’s hand made self-published photobook, “Fukushima Samurai – the story of identity” has been selected for E Book Show and G Book Show.
Sarah Lee’s portrait, photographed on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles (below), was selected for Portrait Salon 2014 (Sarah’s portrait of Wallander actor Krister Henriksson was also included) and is part of a long term project with the writer, broadcaster and novelist Laura Barton about the urban American experience. It’s working title is ‘Sidewalk America – This Is Your Land’.
Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles
‘Sidewalk America: all these images are part of a wider project I’ve been working on where I’ve been walking the length of the main streets in five American Cities from dawn till dusk. I have no fixed rules other than I must keep moving forward.’
Broadway, New York City
Broadway, New York City
‘Sunset Blvd in LA, Broadway [from the Staten Island ferry to 189th St], Pennsylvania Avenue in DC, 8th Street in Miami, and Woodward Avenue Detroit. My aim has been to observe the America that isn’t often commented upon the city from the sidewalk itself. A series of road trips fuelled only by shoe leather and caffeine, rather than by gasoline and horsepower.’
Pennsylvania Avenue Washington DC
Sunset Boulevard Los Angeles
‘I’ve found that the people I’ve met along the way have been surprisingly willing to chat and tell their stories and to let me take their portraits. I worked only using prime lenses and a manual camera, keeping them as color with the intention of trying to remain as honest to the subjects as I can be.’
Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC
Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC
‘I only photographed people and places as I encountered them without having any “control” over them or the environment. This was enormously liberating. I’m not American, but it’s a country that I love [my Mother is a citizen, I met my husband here] and that I keep coming back to trying to understand it more. This project has been part of that process.”
Broadway, New York City
Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC
You can hear Sarah Lee and Laura Barton discussing ‘Sidewalk America’ for The Guardian and Observerhere.
Sarah Lee has been a contracted freelancer for The GuardianandObserver since 2000 and specialises in portraiture, features and the Arts but is interested in all photography that focuses on people, and our shared human experience. Her work has appeared in many publications and places including the cover of TIME magazine, Billboard, Rolling Stone, The Sunday Times, Intelligent Life and many others.
Phil Le Gal’s portrait (below) was selected for Portrait Salon 2014 and is part of his work entitled ‘Days of Mercy’, a study of the area Brittany in France. Phil was born and lived in Brittany until he moved to London in 2003. He graduated with an MA at the London College of Communication in 2014.
‘Brittany is a land of many beliefs, cults and traditions. Successively the territory of Celts, Gauls, Romans, Bretons and finally Francs, the peninsula boasts a particularly important cultural heritage. With thousands of places of worship and religious relics scattered across the region, Christian Catholicism is the de facto religion in Brittany. The Celtic peninsula offers a very pious face to visitors, a construct built upon hundreds of years of pagan beliefs. One of the most prominent illustrations of this fact can be seen during the ceremonies of the Pardon (French for Forgiveness).’
‘Every year local Catholic saints are celebrated across the region in an eclectic mix of superstition, religion and rites of pagan origin. For hundreds of years on the same Sunday, relics of saints are paraded around towns, in a procession which goes on sometimes for most of the day. Every Pardon is unique but the general aim is to ask forgiveness and redemption for committed sins from a particular saint. Every saint is a patron for a specific profession (lawyers, sailors, etc), an activity (travellers/pilgrims or more recently motorcycle riders) and even some for animals.’
‘The bulk of the season happens between May and September. During that time, every Sunday sees the celebrations of a saint. This culminates with the most fervent moment around the 26th July when many Pardons are dedicated to Saint Anne, patron of Breton people. Christian Catholics celebrate their religion in many different displays of faith. This heady mixture of tradition, religion and paganism seen at Pardon ceremonies remains an unique occurrence within the Christendom still to date and only visible in Brittany.’
‘The project Days of Mercy attempts to decode the practice of ancient religious rituals deeply buried in the heart of brittany and equally to Breton’s psyche. It also tries to answer questions about the role and place of this ongoing traditions on today’s Breton’s culture as well as documenting and revealing the various forms that the Pardons can take. With a church congregation losing its appeal it is feared the next generation might not be able to perpetuate these century old practices.’
Phil Le Gal is a French documentary photographer who specialises in documentary, reportage and portraiture. Much of his practice stems from his interests in the contemporary social, environmental and globalisation issues. After training in photography at London Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design and later graduating with a Diploma in Arts and Design Digital Photography he has completed a Masters in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at the London College of Communication.
Michal Solarski’s portrait (below) was selected for Portrait Salon 2012 and is part of his work entitled ‘Hungarian Sea’ which saw him revisit Lake Balaton in Hungary where he spent summer holidays as a child.
‘We were heading south. It was the most exciting time of every year. Luggage, fixed to the top of out tiny Fiat made the car look almost as high as it was long. There were three hundred miles to drive but for us it was almost an eternity. Three hundred miles could easly take more than one day if we happened to come accross nasty officers at the border, who would scrutinise our car inside out in case we were smuggling contrabands.’
‘Equipped with government-issued food vouchers and a little amount of pocket money in local currency, we were driving to a warm, colourful and pleasant place. For us, coming from sad, cold, and almost monochromatically grey Poland, it was like a window to the world. On arrival we found ourselves surrounded by a multitude of smells and colours. I would play endlessly on the beach with my sister and my parents. We would swim in the warm waters of the lake. For the next two weeks we would indulge in the holiday spirit until the day we had to make our way back home.’
‘The Hungarian Lake Balaton is the largest in Central Europe. As Hungary is landlocked, the lake is often called the ‘Hungarian Sea’. From the 1960s onwards Balaton became a major destination for ordinary working Hungarians as well as for those from the eastern side of the ‘Iron Curtain’ who were rewarded for their work in building socialism with a permit to travel across the border. As we could not dream of travelling to Spain, Italy or Greece, Balaton was the closest and most achievable destination for ordinary Poles to see ‘what’s out there’.’
‘My family and I were among the lucky ones who could go and spend holidays in what appeared to us a paradise. Twenty-odd years later, going through the pages of my family album, I found only one photograph of Balaton. It was a blurry picture of my sister and I, that was taken somewhere on one of the lake’s piers. This snapshot was the only reminiscence of six subsequent summers spent by the lake.’
‘These images are my attempt to create what my parents failed to do. I try to see the world through the eyes of a little boy who used to holiday there with his parents and sister over twenty years ago. Strolling among ruins of the glamorous, back in the day, concrete villas of Castro, Brezhnev and Honecker, the memories start to flood back. Balaton has hardly changed, it is almost exactly the same as I left it. Perhaps a bit more rusty, but the atmosphere remains the same. Only now for me it is no longer a paradise. I have grown and changed.’
Michal Solarski is a London based photographer. After graduating in Poland with a Masters in Politics, Solarski moved to London and studied at The London College of Communication where he earned an additional masters in Documentary Photography. He divides his professional career between advertising and his personal projects, travelling extensively between the UK and Eastern Europe where he produces the majority of his work. Most of his photography is strongly based on his own background and experiences, with a strong concentration on migration and memories. Solarski’s work has been widely exhibited (many group exhibitions in Europe, USA and Canada and his first solo show last year in Toronto) and published in many different publications including The Guardian, Time, GQ, Vanity Fair among others.
Andrew Youngson’s portrait of Mastoor Ali Atia (below) was selected for the first Portrait Salon in 2011 and is part of his work entitled ‘The Devil’s Garden’ documenting Bedouin communities living amidst Second World War minefields in Egypt’s Western Desert.
Mastoor Ali Attia (43) was injured at El Alamein in the early 1990s. He was dining in the desert with friends when their campfire triggered UXO buried beneath it. Mastoor lost his left arm, left eye and penis. His left leg is partially lame. After the explosion he was unconscious for one week and is now awaiting plastic surgery.
‘It is estimated that approximately 17 million unexploded anti-personnel and anti-tank mines; artillery shells; bombs dropped by aircraft and machine gun, small arms and mortar rounds remain beneath the sand.’
Negi Helal Khamis (39) was injured in 1998 at El Harabi when he and another man prepared a fire for lunch. After the explosion Negi was left deaf in one ear, blind in both eyes and with shrapnel injuries to his left arm. The other man was killed.
‘Official records of incidents involving UXO have not been kept until recently but it is believed thousands of Bedouin have been killed or injured since the end of the Second World War.’
Looking south into the desert from the Alexandria/Marsa Matrouh Road.
Fouad Abu Sake (67) picked up an object in the desert twenty years ago near Sidi And El Rahmen. When it exploded he lost his right arm above the elbow and was hit in the face by shrapnel. Fouadi’s older brother, Meftah was killed by a mine while walking in the desert in the early 1950s.
‘The term ‘Devil’s Gardens’ was first used by the German General Erwin Rommel to describe the box-like areas of minefields and barbed wire installed by Allied and Axis forces during the conflict.’
Saleh Beha (47) was found by scrap metal dealers after he stepped on a mine in the desert twenty years ago. Saleh bought his first artificial leg 4 or 5 years after the incident and now runs a small shop.
A boy walks in the desert south of El Alamein.
Rabeh Dawi Salem (40) stepped on an anti-personnel mine in 1986, leaving his left leg so badly damaged that it had to be amputated above the knee. Rabeh used to own an artificial leg but prefers to use a crutch.
Andrew Youngson is a London-based photographer and writer whose work explores the relationship between landscape and memory, specifically in conjunction with the long-term effects of armed conflict.
He has worked with UNICEF in Ethiopia; Al Haq in Palestine; SOS Sahel and Book Aid International in the UK; Bedouin communities affected by Second World War land minesin Egypt and unexploded ordnance contamination in Berlin.
After graduating with degree in Fine Art Andrew interned at Magnum Photos and has been working as a freelance photographer since 2006.