Thoughts on Photoville 2017: Stories Behind Photographs

NEW YORK- 09/20/2017
Photoville is an annual photo festival in Brooklyn which consists of many different exhibits covering a variety of subjects. While the photographs are usually digital, one particular exhibition called “Last Rolls of America” used analog photographs. Exhibitions were either in containers or outside. One of them is called “We are the Undefeated”. It explores the lives of African-Americans through the lens of sport, athleticism, and culture. It mainly shows how sports play a role in their lives. We see pictures from a football field, and it has a bigger meaning that we might think of. In Mississippi, an all African-American school and a school with a historical reputation as the white school in town had a five-decade-long segregation happening between them. These two schools played football for a long time together. And they faced off for the final time. It was important for the East Side High School team to win, and they did. These pictures illustrate the spirit of people, the excitement, happiness for the victory. On their faces, we can feel the struggle they had to achieve this success. Looking at the ballet dancer, I can feel the hours dedicated, struggle, concentration and the pain, devotion. As I keep walking, I come across with a photo of a man holding the Captain America shield. At first, the picture seems odd. As I kept thinking, it made complete sense to me. How and why do we have an image of Captain America? The only condition to become Captain America is being American. The image

created for us shouldn’t be how we think daily. We need to think beyond. An African-American Muslim is also American, an Italian origin 60 years old is also an American. Both of them can be Captain America, so why do we find it bizarre? I keep walking inside the container. I saw Simone Biles posing. She is an important figure, illustrating the success anyone is capable of. She won 4 gold medals in 2016 Olympics. There are photos of dancers practicing, giving effort, time, winning. The whole exhibit gives the feelings you would feel after winning something you struggled.

Another exhibition I particularly enjoyed was “Insider/Outsider.” It mainly explores the relationship between the photographer and the subject. While looking at photographs, we can see the different point of view, an aspect of both photographer and subject. We tend to question whether the photographer or the subject actually tells the story. Can we understand better looking for photographers or subjects side? Photographs are displayed in two exhibits on two walls facing each other. “Insider/Outsider” seeks to show how photographers tell stories. I felt that many photographs have an obstacle, barrier between the subject and the photographer. “Sally Montana: Outsider”, Latin N. is shown in prison, behind bars, awaiting his trial for a minor drug offense. He is sitting in the visitation area of the prison, behind a glass. He puts his hand on the glass, showing that he is unreachable. He can’t pass that window, nor the visitor can pass inside. All communication happens without any physical touch, in a room just big enough for one person. As a photographer, he is bound to be an outsider, both physically, but also in that particular story. It’s not his story. All we can do is look from outside, and try to understand what we see, combining with our own knowledge and experiences. “Susannah Ireland: Insider” is the picture of British army troops shelter from the dust storm as a Chinook helicopter departs from

Cher-E-Anjir town in Afghanistan on August 12th, 2009. This picture has more of an insider view. As the photographer witnessed the day-to-day lives and difficulties troops encountered, she can better show us the feeling with the photographs she captures. The photo also has an interesting perspective, we can see one soldier close by, but everything else seems distant and as background. Furthermore, as I looked closely at the photograph, I saw the wedding ring on soldier’s finger. It reminded me how they are more than soldiers, more than their duty. They have mothers, fathers, wives, and children left behind. All those pictures are more than just photographs. They have stories behind them. People in them are not just subjects, they are people with lives, who are in trouble, happiness, struggle, excitement. With photographs, we can be one step closer to the subject’s world.



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