Documentary

Sara Medghalchi | Tehran, Iran

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Hello Sara, thanks a lot for your submission. I am very excited - you are the first photographer from the Middle East who submitted work! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?
Thank you for giving me the chance to have a voice and share my work. I am 29 and live in Tehran, the capital city of Iran. I have a BA in English Literature and MA in Teaching English as a Foreign Language. I have been an English teacher and teacher trainer for more than 10 years. I love learning new languages, travelling, reading and taking long walks. 

When did you become interested in photography as a mode of expression? 
I started Photography as a serious hobby about 4 years ago. I try to do different kinds of photography, but mainly I focus upon street photography. I believe photography is one of the purest ways of expressing myself.

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What fascinates you about photography?
Photography to me is opening conversations and raising questions. It’s a never ending challenge. As I shoot, I take a moment of silence and stay in that very moment. I chose photography to appreciate the present time, document life as it happens and make history. What I call my reality which is different from yours and everyone. That’s what’s so fascinating! One image and multiple interpretations. As Vivian Maier, one of my favorite photographers said , “We have to make room for other people. It's a wheel. You get on. You go to the end. And someone else has the same opportunity to go to the end. And so on. And somebody else takes their place.” 

Let’s talk about your submitted project “Stories of a Generation". Can you tell us something about the project and how did the idea came up?
I take photographs to tell a story. The story that has multiple voices. The ‘Stories of a Generation’ is a personal one documented. It’s the story of an abandoned house in an old region in East Azerbaijan Province, in northwestern Iran, where I am originally from. The house itself has witnessed many stories. Some happy endings and some not so!

I didn't know how attached I was to the house till I was about to detach. Fear of loss! It was then when I decided to walk into the house and take a closer look, explore and picture all the details so that I won’t ever forget. The house was the only proof that I had existed then. I have always been a fan of 'History’. My very own version of history.

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What was your creative process when you worked on the project?
Well, I had travelled to the city many times and had short visits. When I was sure I was going to work on the project I had to prepare myself and spent hours wandering in the house. There were places that were significant and I had to shoot them. Then I had to wait for the perfect illumination to happen. Once you have the idea you’re waiting for that very moment to appear and hope that you’re not too late. And then Click! A lot of unexpected things happened since the house was old. And this was the challenge and excitement about the project, being responsive to whatever happened.

 “Stories of a Generation" is a very personal project and a document of your memories , but also a fragment of our time we live in. What happened to the house now, and how do you feel about it?
That is so true. The house is destroyed and nothing is left. As I mentioned earlier I am a big fan of documenting my own version of what goes on around me. We can not deny the fact that there’s an end to everything and one day we all are left alone. These images are bitter sweet reminders that nothing can fill the emptiness of loneliness. That modern life is lonely. The houses are gone, the stories of many generations are gone. What is the meaning of life these days?

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The pictures are very well composed and have a very minimalistic cinematic look - in kind of a peaceful mood. How did you cultivate your sense of composition?
For these very specific series, I had thought about the composition beforehand, so I had to figure out a way to make the abstract ideas relate to one another. I think what is composed in the pictures is the result of the photographs I see, the movies I watch, the books I read, my imagination and some years of practice. 

Is there any photographer who has influenced you as a person or your work?
There are many photographers who I admire like Henri Cartier-BressonAnsel AdamsSteve McCcurryJames Nachtwey, Reza Deghati and Vivian Maier. I am also very impressed by Roger Ballen’s photography.

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Tell us a little bit about the photography scene in Iran. Are there any female photographers you could recommend?
I think as long as there is a camera and a person behind it, there’s an identity talking through a photograph. Like anywhere around the world there are great photographers in Iran who inspire the world and make a change. Nothing can stop a photographer. No rules and regulations and no limitations.

There are many outstanding female photographers. Here are a few names; Maryam Zandi, Gohar Dashti, Shadi Ghadirian, Tahmineh Monavi and Niewsha Tavakolian.

What are your next plans and projects?
To me photography is journey with no destination. I am learning everyday.

I have some ongoing projects that I am not sure if they will ever finish. I’m currently working on a project called ‘Life & Shadows’ through which I’m telling stories of common people who are left alone and shaded.

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Here you can find more of Sara's work:

Behance: https://www.behance.net/saramedghalchi
Instagram: saramedghalchi
Facebook: saramedghalchi

ALEXIA ZÚÑIGA | Mexico City

Hello Alexia, when did you first become interested in photography?
I've always been interested in images. I used to paint a lot when I was a child. At family events,  parties or birthdays, I was always played with the camera and took pictures.

You submitted photos of your project „A common day“, which is an approach to four third age transsexuals in Mexico City. How did you come up with the idea and how did you realize this project?
I used to work for the Secretaría de Salud (The Health Ministery) in México. When I was watching news about health in Mexico, I came across topics related to problems of elderly people. Questions came up like am I prepared to have a good life when I turn 60 or 70 years old? Do I have guarantees to have a good quality of life? Do I have it now?

So, I started looking at minorities. My question was: if their present life is complicated, how is their future going to be?

How are transsexuals accepted in daily life in Mexico?
This is a problem in Mexico. World’s life expectancy has constantly increased during the last seven decades. Nevertheless, the transsexual community faces an average of below 60 years. Transsexual have a big problem with their health: they don´t get medical support. Many of the surgeries are made in secret places or they don´t have a medical follow-up when they are taking hormones. Baring all this in mind and knowing that México is no 2 on the list of countries (since 2015) for homofobic crimes worldwide. Brazil is first.

So in México, for example, it is almost impossible to find transgender over 60 years old. They don´t have official records.

LINK:
http://www.proceso.com.mx/403935/mexico-segundo-lugar-mundial-en-crimenes-por-homofobia

Can you tell us a little bit about the interaction between you and your models - Did you give any directions?
I gave no particular directions but we have to have a closer relation - I have to know their stories. It is necessary to listen before taking pictures. I´m always looking for that moment when I could have empathy with them, and when that happens, that shows us the way, a “direction” that we have to follow.

What did your models say when they saw the pictures of the project? Did they feel to be captured the way they see themselves?

Once one girl told to me:  “do you know that I have to look more girly than you? I can´t carry, for example, my cellphone in my trousers... my behavior has to be more prudent and rational on the street”.

They are always worried (like us) about how they look when they go out. But, after a while, after years, after the wrinkles, there is a moment when they see what they are, something that cannot be hiden anymore, that is age. When they let me get into their houses I can see that process - their places are their stories.

At the beginning, I always had the impression that they know they are showing me more than they expected. They realized that neither me nor them have control how they or we look. They recognize themselves without masks and that could be amazing and revealing. In my case, is truly revealing myself into them.

What is your intention with „ A common day“? Is there a plan to exhibit?
Now I´m in Brazil doing my MA at the Federal University of Bahia, so I plan to finish the project here by comparing differences and similarities of the transsexual communities in Mexico and Brazil. Next year I will exhibit in Brazil and México in December. I would also like to make a book of this project.

Do you need a particular mood to be able to photograph?
It´s just to have questions (and I always have questions).  When questions don´t have answers, I look in other directions: films, photos, conversations with friends.... then something happens and I start to take a lot of photos, trying to answer my questions.

So there is my mood. Have questions without answers.

Tell us a little bit about the photography scene in Mexico. Is there any work of female photographers you can recommend?
I think that México in the history of photography has always visual questions. There are a lot of female photographers doing fantastic woks: Gladys Serrano, Dolores Medel, Sonia Carolinain Mexico and in Brazil Mayra Lins for instance... they are photographers that are always questioning our context. And it is amazing how their photos give us more questions.

Are you already planning other photographic projects?
I started one in Brazil: 2024. A fictional documentary that tries to question how information on the internet is generated and consumed. The aim of this work is to create images that speak of this darkness like a physical phenomenon and like an unrest of disinformation, in some way, exhibit the fear that causes the uncertainty. You can see part of the project here.

Nicola Miles | Brighton

Nicola, tell us a little bit of yourself and how you got into photography?
Hello, I’m an easy-going woman who lives in Brighton, it’s been home for around 20 years now, i’m lucky enough to live between the sea and the Sussex Downs.
In 2009 i travelled for a while, taking a pocket camera with me. I spent a good amount of time playing around with it, realizing what could be done, i haven’t looked back since. A short while later i took an inspiring course which led me onwards.

Are you a full-time photographer or would you describe yourself as a serious enthusiast?
I’m a part-time photographer & definitely an enthusiast. There’s so much to discover, i’d like to do it more often though, I’m working on it.

When you are shooting, how much is instinctual vs. planned?
The only thing that is planned is where i’ll go, everything else comes instinctively or with a stroke of luck.

How did you cultivate your sense of composition?
This is what interests me the most, getting what i see into the frame. I think you can tell when it’s my work, there’s a continuous pattern running through the composition in my pictures & usually a lot of space placed around the subjects. I guess i cultivated it with practice, knowing what i liked and didn’t like, then, taking more time over a shot. I look forward to my composition evolving as time passes.

You have a strong body of work from your travels to Myanmar. Tell us a little bit about it.
There have been two visits now, just about to head back for a third. Each time i visit a different area, there’s a lot of walking involved. I’m drawn to the country very much for myriad reasons; for photography reasons - the light in that part of the world is quite wonderful and i have a lot of fun. I’ve been shooting alone and with a small group of other photographers. I’ll do the same when i head back this time.

Did you feel a special inspiration while shooting in Myanmar?
I do, yes. It’s a beautiful country, the people i meet there are great, there’s an open-ness. I feel welcomed. The sunshine and warmth help too.

Is there a photographer or a type of photography that influenced your work?
A few Brighton photographers that i know have an influence, carefully watching what they produce, having an idea of where it might come from. I especially love documentary style and have just discovered Tiksi by Evgenia Arbugaeva, it makes me want to never sit around, get out there. Influence comes from artists like Narelle Autio & Alex Webb too, their great use of rich color. Here far away by Pentti Sammallahti was the first photo book i bought, beautiful, i remember that having an affect on me.  

Would you like to share a little bit about your upcoming project you plan in your hometown in Brighton?
Right now it’s a work in progress inside of my head, possibly to do with the suburbs where i live. There is a coastal project too that i will work on for years, slowly. There is a real pull for me to have a project nearer to home so i can be closer to the subject in many ways, rather than flying off to a faraway land.  

Sally Davies | New York City

You moved from Canada to New York’s East Village in 1983, which has been a very rough area during that time. How did it feel for you as a young woman, coming from a small town from Canada? 
I started leaving my hometown when I was a teenager. Rural Canada in the 70s was the middle of nowhere. I moved to the East Village in 1983. It was a creepy, dangerous broken drug war zone. By the time I arrived here, life had moved on the greener pastures and what remained were drugs, a bunch of rag tag artists looking to rebuild, and mostly burnt out buildings. Nothing about this place looked like where I was from... but oddly, it felt exactly the same... the middle of nowhere. The old was almost over and the new hadn't figured itself out yet.

There were no cars to speak of, unless they were burning on the side of the road. It wasn’t densely populated (too scary for most) and even the scale of the buildings was low, sharing a big sky. It was impossible not to photograph. 

Not sure why exactly, but we all knew things were changing here…and there was a sense of urgency…to document your experience. 

Can you describe how the area has changed since then?
Gentrification is pretty much the same, no matter where it happens. Artists move in to dangerous fringe neighborhoods because of the cheap rents. Restaurants and bars open up, then rich people start coming there because its cool. Then the developers buy up all the real estate and make everything nice and shiny and expensive. Then the artists and poor people can’t afford to live there anymore and leave in search of the next forgotten poor area. It works for a brief cross over period, when both sides are still there but ultimately the artists leave and there remains only rich people in shiny buildings, and its all over but the crying.

You’ve actually been a painter, what has brought you into photography? What does photography mean to you? 
My father gave me my first 35mm camera when I was a teenager in the 70s. I’ve been shooting since then. I didn’t know back then, that I could “be” a photographer, so I just always shot while doing other things. That relationship with photography continued through my college experience as well. I was a painting major, and spent the 80s and 90s in nyc exhibiting my paintings at OK Harris Gallery then at Gracie Mansion in the east village. Photography was something I did by myself, for myself. No one gave a shit about my photos and that was an amazing opportunity to get out there and shoot, unfettered with no plan. Somewhere around 2006 I decided to stop painting entirely and only photograph. That was when I began to shoot every day, on purpose.

Do you carry your camera with you all the time? Do you think it is important for a photographer to shoot everyday?  
Indeed I do carry my camera with me everywhere I go. And if I forget I have my phone camera.  The minute you don’t have it, is the minute you wish you did. That will be a missed shot, and you can’t go back. Once its missed, its missed.  

I don’t know what other photographers should do, but I shoot every day.  Perhaps its because I live in New York City, and its a 24/7 situation out there, but I have never gone out and come home with nothing.  

How would you describe your photography? 
My work is the result of an ongoing relationship with New York City that started over 30 years ago. I’ve been called a street photographer, but I don’t see myself in that formal tradition. I’m not interested in a big situation. I’m looking for  the small, the every day… for the tiniest slice of the giant pie. I am looking for the emotional footprint. The things that are broken…that's the glue that holds us together.

You are a full time photographer. Many photographers struggle to make a living as a full time photographer. In an interview you said once „I don't have a plan B.“ So tell us,  is there a secret how it works? And do you have any advice for young women who want to become a full time photographer?
I struggle just like everyone else. I used to work at a magazine shooting cosmetics, and that supported my street habit. But that job ended as the magazine world started to fold, and I have been only shooting street since then. My work reaches a lot of people, and I am getting well known these days, but that does not guarantee photo sales. I think it's good to have a “real” job to pay your bills. Then you can obsess on your photography without the pressure of selling it.  

Lots of photographers who try to make a living out of it start to compromise with their work - to get a show or being published. Have you ever been in that situation? Or is this a no go - cause you just do the work you feel and want to do?
One night in the 80’s,  years ago, I was at a fancy restaurant. Andy Warhol and I had a 2 minute conversation in the bathroom. He said, “Decide what you want to do and get really really good at that one thing. Don’t chase what you think will be the next big thing because there are already people great at it, waiting for their turn. Better to stay put, get super good at your own thing and wait. When it arrives you will be ready and be the best.”  

What advice would you give young photographers to get a gallery show or being published. Should they apply to galleries or send work to publishers? Or do you think this is a waste of time, cause the tendency nowadays is getting discovered? 
The world is changing quickly, and that includes the art world and photography too. What I would have told someone 10 years ago, is not what I would tell them now. I’m not sure there is a clear path anymore to one prize.  

That said, it certainly never hurts to get your work in front of art dealers and gallerists, providing they are the right reps for your work. Ask yourself, do they understand what you are doing?  Do they have the appropriate collectors for the type of work you do? Do they already have artists in their stable doing similar work?  

I don’t think “all the eggs in one basket” is a smart career choice anymore. You must consider any and all options that are available to you. Social media…get online, get your work on different sites, they all have different viewers. Friend other photographers on Facebook. There are so many great ones on there, and most of them are helpful lovely people. Don’t be afraid to ask for opinions, ask for help etc. Get your work out there every day.  Don’t get discouraged if nothing happens…it usually won’t…But one day, it will. 

Do you think Social Media has influenced and changed the photography business? Is it easier now to get discovered or was it easier a couple of years ago?
I think “getting discovered” is easier now than in the old days. There are so many more opportunities to show the world your photos. The internet is amazing in that way. It is the great level playing field. The down side is that its available for everyone else too, so the competition is much fiercer. People are over saturated with images, so its important that you figure out what your trying to say, then say it well and often.

Can you tell us a bit about your „McDonalds Happy Meal Project“ which went viral in 2010, receiving over 1.5 million hits to date! Have you ever expected this hype? And since then did you ever had a Happy Meal again?
I have been a vegetarian since I was 15, so I was not eating any Happy Meals. Long story short – In 2010 I bought a Happy Meal and set it out on a plate in my apt to see if it would mold or rot. I photographed it every day for 6 months. No rot, no mold no nothing. It was featured on Refinery29 website and from there went viral. It's still in my apt and still looks pretty much the same as it did 5 years ago when I bought it. It will be 6 years old on April 10 2016. On the day it went viral, it was the most viewed story on the internet. It makes me laugh to think I may die and my legacy will be that burger.  

Are you currently working on a new project? Or is there a dream project which you would like to realize? 
I’m not really a project person. My photography is my daily story, my walk to the grocery store, my dog walk around the block or my bike ride somewhere.  

Your work is mostly from New York. Is there a place in the world where you would like to photograph?
I look forward to spending time somewhere else soon. Maybe LA. We’ll see if moonlight on a garbage bag is as heart breaking on the west coast, as it is on the Lower East Side.

Sally Davies is photographing NYC over 30 years. She achieved her first public recognition in New York in the 90s with her „Lucky Paintings“ and „Lucky Chairs“ exhibitions at New York’s OK Harris Gallery and Gracie Mansion Gallery in East Village. Her art has been featured on HBO’s „Sex in the City“ and are in the collections of Havard Business School, 9/11 Memorial Museum, Sarah Jessica Parker, Debra Winger and others.

In 2014, Sally's ”Lower East Side Photographs" were exhibited at the "Bernarducci Meisel Gallery" in New York City, with a 2nd solo exhibit “New York at Night” that followed on June 4, 2015.  In 2014 Sally received a citation from the city of New York for her ongoing interest in photographing the Lower East Side. She lives and works on the Lower East Side and continues photographing New York City.

Website: www.sallydaviesphoto.com