This article appears in The Photo Issue 2015
We are living in a transforming media industry that today offers fewer resources and funding opportunities to support in-depth documentation of pressing issues with creative vision, as it did in previous decades.
In 2007, members of the Magnum Photos collective came together to confront and embrace the challenges of this shifting paradigm. We created Magnum Foundation, which offers seed support, intensive mentorship, distribution guidance, and avenues for collaboration through various grants and fellowships. Through our programs, we are building a network of support for the global documentary community.
The best articulation of what Magnum Foundation stands for can be found as you pore over these pages. You will find the work of one of our first grantees, Shehab Uddin, alongside that of one of our most recent fellows, Pedro Silveira. From the streets of Bangladesh and Brazil, their regional voices provide us with an insider's perspective on issues of global relevance. Tanya Habjouqa, who received support for her work in Palestine, now mentors young grantees from across the Arab region. Pete Pin has expanded his documentary project as a fellow years ago into a growing collaboration with the Cambodian diaspora and rising generation of Cambodian-Americans. It is within this nexus of support and sustained engagement that these stories emerge as striking counterpoints to dominant narratives.
The legacy of Magnum Photos, which was created by and for photographers to sustain independent work and artistic excellence, is a beacon within the field of documentary practice. As photographers today take on the roles of collectors and collaborators, Magnum Foundation seeks to support emergent forms of documentary storytelling.
We thank the photographers in this issue—and beyond—who are provoking curiosity, acknowledging those who have gone unseen, and providing us access to today's complex cultural landscapes. It is through these authored experiences that we are all urged to keep critical eyes on the world.
— SUSAN MEISELAS
AND THE MAGNUM FOUNDATION TEAM
In the 1980s, nearly 150,000 Cambodian refugees resettled in America, primarily in communities struggling with poverty and inner-city violence. Cambodian Diaspora is an ongoing project that examines the refugee-resettlement experience across generations in Cambodian-American communities. Three decades after the Killing Fields, the shadows of genocide can still be felt in the diaspora in America, manifesting across generations through a fragmentation of family narratives and a profound silence about its aftermath. Many Cambodians who lived through the genocide remain silent because they do not know how to speak about what they lived through, and also because they often do not speak the same language as their Cambodian-American children. The silence is exacerbated by intergenerational trauma—elders having survived the Killing Fields and their American children having survived the dangers of the inner city.
In 2009, Ramzan Kadyrov proudly announced that "peace has come to the land of Chechnya." The head of the Chechen Republic's rise to power started back in May 2004, when Vladimir Putin appointed him deputy prime minister of Chechnya after the death of Kadyrov's father. Since the age of 30, he has been given free rein in his country so long as he keeps the rebels at bay.
Officially, Chechnya remains part of Russia as the result of two wars, but Russia's constitution is applied selectively here. The government tortures young men if they show any sign of dissent. The houses of rebels' families are burned to ashes at the direct order of the president, and outspoken human rights activists face angry, violent mobs who torch their offices and beat them. Alcohol is sold only in five-star hotels to foreigners, and Kadyrov was able to summon about 60 percent of the republic's population to a "Love for the Prophet Muhammad" rally.
Once, when asked where he gets the money for his lavish lifestyle and Turkish-built skyscrapers, Kadyrov notoriously answered, "From Allah."
The 15,000 to 20,000 pavement dwellers of Dhaka are among the most vulnerable and neglected people in Bangladesh. They have few assets enabling them to survive in a political, social, and economic environment that virtually ignores them. Their main concerns are food, clothing, and a place to sleep. They live for the present—no past, no future. They engage in numerous activities to earn a living (working as porters, rickshaw pullers, maids, sex traders, and solid-waste recyclers), with their own particular struggles and joys. They are conscious of their identities as human beings.
Their population over the last decade has increased at the same rate as that of Dhaka in general. Many newcomers arrive after escaping floods that ruin livelihoods in rural areas and that are becoming more frequent with climate change. Others are crippled with debt and are reeled in by the promise of better opportunities. But for the future influx of pavement dwellers, the move will not bring the better life they hope for.
More than 5 million slaves were brought to Brazil before 1850. Today, black people represent the majority of the country's population, but social oppression of African descendants is endemic. This project seeks to examine the past and present struggle for civil rights in Brazil, as well as the historically driven tensions between black and white people that we still face worldwide.
The narrative is based on a quilombo* oral history of African families' arrival in Bahia. After a slave ship sank on the Brazilian coast, survivors built a community far away from slave owners' fields. But in the beginning of the 18th century, Portuguese explorers found gold nearby and enslaved the locals to work in the mines.
Brazil abolished slavery in 1888, but the history of this region is representative of the social oppression that black families continue to suffer in the present day.
* Quilombo in Brazil is the name attributed to a community originally formed by escaped slaves during colonial times.
Habjouqa's work focuses on gender-, civil-, and human-rights issues across the Middle East. She says she tries to approach her subjects with sensitivity but also with an eye for the absurd. These photos, part of a series called Occupied Pleasures, focus on the ludicrous everyday life that the 48-year occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem has created—and the beauty in spite of it, as the Palestinians refuse to let suffering define their existence.
From a besieged Gaza where a five-minute boat ride is the epitome of freedom to a tropical studio backdrop that serves as a travel fantasy, the photos show that in humor there is often sadness and that, in Palestine, the oppressed never stop dreaming of a life full of greater possibilities. One industrious Gazan refused to be deprived of his right to love and snuck his young Jordanian bride to Egypt through smuggling tunnels. He said, "It was like a Bollywood film, her trembling, covered in earth... I ran to her and covered her with my kisses." Habjouqa says that moment stayed with her and infused in her a desire to capture those little nuggets of happiness and light that Palestinians literally find at the end of the tunnel.
"It's dark, and there's no light. I feel so scared someone might come." Radha Bishwa Karma is only 16, but once a month she is exiled to a makeshift hut deep in the forests of western Nepal. Her only crime is that she is menstruating. Karma is an untouchable, an "impure" polluting agent, to be feared and shunned because, during menstruation, she will bring bad luck and calamity upon her community.
Chhaupadi, a superstitious tradition linked to Hinduism that banishes women during their periods, considers menstruating women unclean. Nepal banned the practice in 2005, but the ruling holds little sway in the remote, formerly Maoist districts of Surkhet and Achham, where it originated and remains widely observed.
The rite of exile and its associate practices are often seen as benign, and adherents follow them blindly, unaware that they are preserving a centuries-old gender divide. This can be seen in the Rishi Panchami festival, which takes place in Kathmandu and memorializes a woman who was reincarnated as a prostitute because she didn't submit to menstrual restrictions. She must atone for her sins by washing her body with cow dung and urine 365 times. Supposedly more educated women practice this ritual, considering it a harmless tradition divorced from a wider context of gender oppression. In reality, it perpetuates a view of women as impure and helps to legitimize the continued practice of Chhaupadi, despite its being against the law.
For girls like Karma, Chhaupadi is damaging and dangerous. "Goddesses are women, aren't they?" she says. "They bleed, but they're allowed to stay in the temple. Why can't we?"