Outreach Spotlight: The Square Mile

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Charlie Cordero. In addition to the eight natural islands, in the San Bernardo archipelago is Santa Cruz del Islote, an artificial island that is among the most vulnerable to climate change. This place, where 700 people live in just 1.57 hectares, is considered one of the most densely populated areas in the world.

VII Community + PhotoWings present The Square Mile

Square Mile is an initiative by VII Community, a program of The VII Foundation, in partnership with PhotoWings. The initiative presents diverse photographic explorations by members of VII Community, a worldwide network of VII Academy alumni, and Foundry Photojournalism Workshop participants.

“Square mile” is a geographic framework, signifying a local focus on spaces where personal, local, and global influences intersect. The projects presented explore how themes such as climate change, identity, history, legacy, migration, gender, and environment appear within a local perspective.

Square Mile aims to inspire conversations on the significance of local stories in a global context and engage the general public in discussions about social issues and the transformative power of photography.

Square Mile by VII Community, in partnership with PhotoWings, will be an ongoing exploration of global communities by the members of our diverse community of visual practitioners.

The first projects are being shown in an exhibition at the Photoville Festival (Brooklyn Bridge Park, New York City, USA) from June 1 to 16, 2024, and will be screened at the Rencontres d’Arles Festival (Arles, France) as part of The VII Foundation’s events program on July 2, 2024 and at Kranj Foto Fest (Kranj, Slovenia), as part of the festival’s Evening Screenings on August 23, 2024.

© Alejandra Orosco. Photography intervened with water.
Portrait of an inhabitant of Viejo Peñol.
Photographic archive of the Old Peñol Museum

Alejandra Orosco

Series: Sólo los recuerdos no se ahogan / Only Memories Do Not Drown

"Only Memories Do Not Drown" highlights the 1978 story of El Peñol, a town whose residents were compelled to relocate because of a hydroelectric project that would eventually supply 30% of Colombia's population with energy.

Through photographic and press archives recovered during their eviction, Alejandra Orosco reinterprets their narrative by submerging these materials underwater, mirroring the town’s flooding.

Now, only water remains, and beneath it, memories persist.

 

© Charlie Cordero. In addition to the eight natural islands, in the San Bernardo archipelago is Santa Cruz del Islote, an artificial island that is among the most vulnerable to climate change. This place, where 700 people live in just 1.57 hectares, is considered one of the most densely populated areas in the world.

Charlie Cordero

Series: SANTA CRUZ DEL ISLOTE: The most densely populated island in the world and its fight against climate change

The San Bernardo Archipelago, ten islands off Colombia's Caribbean coast, faces a severe threat from climate change. Rising sea levels pose a real danger of submersion; one of the islands is among the world's most densely populated and is currently home to 700 residents. 

One island has already vanished beneath the water. Settlers first established their homes on the San Bernardo islands in the 1870s. Today, they face the reality of their precarious situation, contemplating the longevity of their community and the inevitability of relocation.

Colombia is especially vulnerable to climate change but has been slow to react. The island communities have begun to adapt on their own. Recent initiatives include curbing the logging of mangroves and launching a reforestation program.

© Daniel Buuma

Daniel Buuma

Series 1: Kivu Displaced

In a shocking turn of events, the M23 rebels reignited their fight against the FARDC in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, causing chaos and displacement for millions of people in the region. The impact of this conflict has been devastating, with over seven million people forced to flee their homes in areas such as Masisi, Rutshuru, and Nyiragongo territories.

Among the displaced population, children and women are the most vulnerable, struggling to find basic necessities such as food and clean water. The situation is particularly dire in and around Goma, where many displaced individuals have sought refuge in places like the Kanyarutshinya village, Nyiragongo territory, and the Mugunga quarter in Goma city itself.

In these locations, camps are overflowing with displaced people in desperate need of assistance, with limited access to essential resources. The lack of proper sanitation facilities and medical care has raised concerns about the potential for disease outbreaks.

Furthermore, experts within MONUSCO have reported that Rwanda is allegedly supporting the M23 rebel group operating in Nord-Kivu. This alleged support has only added fuel to the fire, exacerbating the already volatile situation in the region.

As the conflict continues to escalate, it is imperative that the international community takes action to address the root causes of the conflict and provide much-needed assistance to the displaced population.

 

Series 2: Dance for peace

 

In the midst of the devastating war in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, some artists and dancers have found a way to use their talents to bring attention to the suffering of millions of people in displaced camps. The conflict, fueled by the rebel group M23, has led to the control of territories such as Rutshuru, Masisi, and Nyiragongo by the rebels, leaving a trail of destruction and despair in its wake.

Despite the chaos and uncertainty surrounding them, these artists have taken a stand by using their art as a form of protest. They have taken to the streets of Goma, the capital city of Nord-Kivu, to perform and raise awareness about the dire situation facing their fellow citizens.

Through their powerful and emotional performances, these artists convey the pain and suffering that the people of Eastern Congo are enduring. They use dance as a way to denounce the violence, displacement, and loss that have become all too common in their region.

Their performances serve as a reminder of the resilience and strength of the Congolese people in the face of adversity. They are a call to action for the international community to do more to help those who have been affected by this conflict.

 

© Doug Barrett. Cancer Free Riley request to sit on a white horse for her final portrait with a princess dress.

Doug Barrett

Series: Riley’s Cancel Journey

A cancer diagnosis impacts the entire family. Seven-year-old Riley Simmons faced Wilms Tumor, a rare form of kidney cancer. Photographer Doug Barrett documented the emotions — loss, fear, and confusion — that Riley and her family experienced as they began their courageous battle for survival.

Riley's parents, Robert and Kalecia, had no initial indications of her illness. Early medical scans suggested kidney stones, but Kalecia's intuition pushed for further investigation, leading to an unexpected diagnosis.

Robert, who is still on active duty in the military, and Kalecia, a veteran, leveraged their training, community support, and prayers to navigate the challenging path ahead. Kalecia devoted many late hours to caring for Riley and her six other children. The family faced numerous appointments and hurdles throughout Riley's treatment. Each week, either parent would travel 1.5 hours to Kansas City, ensuring Riley received her chemotherapy at Mercy’s Children's Hospital or radiation at Kansas University’s Cancer Treatment Center.

This journey lasted two years Following successful surgery at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Riley is now living a healthy, cancer-free life.

 

© Fatma Fahmy. Siwan people cook food to be distributed during mass feast as they mark the Siyaha Festival at Gebel Dakrur (Dakrur mountain), in Siwa oasis, 800kms west of Cairo, Egypt. Siwans gather at Gebel Dakrur during October's full moon days every year to mark the traditional three-day Siyaha Festival, that dates back to some 150 years. Siwans gather to resolve any feuds, eat together at a mass feast, perform prayers and join Dhikr ceremony.

Fatma Fahmy

Series: Siyaha Festival in Siwa Oasis

For three days every year, coinciding with the full moon in October or November and the harvest of dates and olives, Siwa families celebrate the Siyaha festival. This tradition began 150 years ago during a period of intense conflict between the Western Siwa tribes, of Arabic descent and residing along the river, and the Eastern Siwa tribes, with Amazigh roots and based in the mountains. Tensions rose when the Eastern tribes descended from Dakrour Mountain to settle by the river. Sheikh Mohammed Hassan Dhafir El Madani, the founder of the Shadhili method of Sufism, arrived in the Siwa Oasis and successfully mediated peace between the two factions.

Since that time, all members of the oasis community gather to share a meal at one table set in an open yard at the mountain's base. Each tribe’s leader ceremoniously carries a table laden with food on their head to distribute among the people. Everyone awaits the signal to begin eating, emphasizing themes of equality, love, and loyalty within the tribe.

In the evenings, tribal elders share stories of ancient Siwa champions and revelations, settle disputes, and facilitate the reconciliation of opponents. The celebration continues with singing and engaging in the religious practices of the Shadhili method, a form of Islamic Sufism focused on guiding individuals towards spiritual perfection and a deeper connection with God. This meaningful ritual unfolds over the span of three days.

 

© Leala Faleseuga. Lyra & Rune, Levin Pools - Nov 2022

Leala Faleseuga

Series: Malaefatu / Malaetā

Malaefatu / Malaetā documents the lives of Rune (Malefatu) and Lyra (Maletā), identical 6-year-old twins. Captured over five months spanning 2022/2023, it takes place in a small town in Aotearoa, New Zealand, during the summer months. Photographed by their mother, this project is a tender observation from within, a record of their interactions and vignettes of their everyday life. 

The images depict childhood, sibling/sisterhood, 'aiga’ (family), and the unique essence of twinship. Woven throughout is a reverence for the quiet beauty of the domestic and mundane, a parent's love, and the gentle acceptance of the inevitability of time. Lyra and Rune are Aotearoa-born and are of Sāmoan, Māori, and Dutch (Salelologa / Ngāi Tūhoe / Te Āti Awa / Limburg / Friesland).

 

© Mahdi Barchian. Zahra, a six-year-old girl, lives in the semi-abandoned village of Sisar in the Hamun region. Hamun Lake has now turned into a vast desert, forcing many families to abandon their villages. The few remaining families who cannot afford to migrate live in these villages without access to water, electricity, and proper sanitation.,Hamun lake , Iran , 2014

Mahdi Barchian

Series: How Does it End?

"How Does It End?" explores the profound impacts of climate change and environmental destruction in Iran, a country experiencing severe ecological challenges. Living in northern Iran, an area still rich in forests and favorable climate, photographer Mahdi Barchian's childhood observations of diverse migrants led him to understand their displacement as a result of climate changes like drought and severe storms in Sistan. His work documents not only these migrations but also the dwindling populations in near-abandoned villages and the struggles in Iran's largest informal settlement around Chabahar, all consequences of environmental degradation.

Over the last decade, Barchian has traveled extensively within Iran, capturing the effects of environmental damage through the stories of those directly affected. His photographs chronicle the government's controversial initiatives to relocate villagers for dam construction in water-scarce regions, cutting off basic services to force migration, thereby highlighting both human resilience and the profound disruptions caused by such policies.

Barchian's narrative is not just of despair but also of adaptation and resilience. In concluding his project, he focuses on individuals and communities inventing new ways to survive and thrive despite the challenges posed by climate change. This shift to a more hopeful perspective seeks to showcase the human capacity to find solutions and forge new paths in the face of environmental destruction.

 

© Natalia Neuhaus. Mr. Tyler West. Tyler is a professional theater actor, host and performer at Slipper Room. I met Tyler backstage at The Box in 2019. While the crowd was partying and having fun, waiting for the show to begin, backstage was calm and beautiful.

Natalia Neuhaus

Series: Burlesque NYC: A Celebration of Love and Diversity

Natalia Neuhaus shares, “This is the story of my community and family. Since October 2019, I’ve been photographing the lives of some burlesque performers in NYC, creating abody of work that started as a documentary project and transformed into a collection of moments of those who became friends.

The first time I saw a burlesque show was in August 2019, and it was love at first sight. I fell in love with this art form, its message of empowerment, and its celebration of diversity. Within this community, the majority are LGBTQ and non-binary folks, with straight individuals being the minority, diverging from the usual norm. Burlesque welcomes and accepts everyone, supports and loves all, and acts as the counterculture and voice of protest of current and past times. Whether on stage or the street, burlesque has always been political and a safe haven for the LGBTQ community and its allies.

This community, my community, is unstoppable. Even at the height of 2020, during the city's darkest moments, it knew how to find a sense of joy and togetherness.”

 

© Oleksandr Rupeta. After the morning prayer, parishioners gather around the table. The church in the Kherson district, known as the Island, was flooded following the detonation of the dam. Every week, residents of the Island come together in a small chapel for the Sunday sermon.

Oleksandr Rupeta

Series: Gone Sea

On June 6, 2023, amidst the war in Ukraine, the Kakhovka Dam breach led to widespread flooding, impacting the Kherson district, notably an area known as the "Island." Many international experts and Ukrainian officials say the evidence suggests Russian forces, which captured the dam in the early days of the invasion and remained in control at the time of the disaster, were responsible, a claim that Russia denies.

The Kakhovka Sea, a monumental Soviet-era project, disappeared following the dam's breach, altering the landscape drastically. The resulting flooding submerged local towns and villages, with water levels reaching up to six meters in some areas, causing widespread damage and affecting the local population. The floodwaters eventually drained into the Black Sea, leading to significant ecological and geographical changes in the region, including transforming the reservoir bed into an area overrun by weeds.

This series delves into the aftermath of the flood in Kherson's coastal territories, the largest of which are directly in the path of the floodwaters. Despite the receding water, people are afraid to return to their homes due to Russian troops' constant shelling from the territory they occupy on the opposite bank of the Dnipro River.

 

© Tako Robakidze. Eva wearing traditional Kist dress. Village Duisi. Pankisi Gorge. 2018

Tako Robakidze

Series: A Look Beyond the Headlines

In recent years, Pankisi Gorge in northeastern Georgia has faced controversial perceptions due to its Muslim population. “A Look Beyond the Headlines” challenges these labels, urging audiences to see beyond headlines and recognize individuals leading peaceful lives with unique traditions and customs, gradually dispelling the myth of danger associated with the Gorge. Pankisi symbolizes the paradox of modern perception: consumed by images we construct in our heads, we overlook the extraordinary reality of ordinary people.

 

© Uma Bista. Kathmandu, Nepal.

Uma Bista

Series: Stay Home, Sisters

Uma Bista shares, "I was confined for twelve days, restricted from going out into the sunlight or seeing any male family members. Filled with fear and uncertainty, I still remember those days and nights, my eyes fixed on the ceiling while rays of light came and went.

 This was my first period.

It taken time to grasp the taboo surrounding menstruation—I’m still trying to understand it.

Despite being outlawed, Chhaupadi is still widely practiced in Western Nepal. Each month, women are subjected to a ritual of isolation. Deemed impure, they are forced to stay in cowsheds. In my previous work, 'Our Songs from the Forest,' an old woman sings in the Achhami dialect, 'Stay home, sisters.' Elsewhere in the country, this oppression manifests in different forms.

It infuriates me how my mother treats me, as someone who herself suffered under the same patriarchal oppression. It infuriates me to see other girls subjected to the same dark rooms. The fear is so deeply rooted that it upholds these harmful beliefs. In every household, we have to contend with the older generation. We are told that while we may enjoy our freedoms outside, we must follow these rules and restrictions inside the home. But I ask, 'Where is outside? Who are the outsiders?'

When we get cramps, we can take medicines to ease the pain. But what about the psychological trauma, inherited and passed down through generations?"

Square Mile Photoville Interviews

 

Table of Contents

Alejandra Orosco

Charlie Cordero

Daniel Buuma

Doug Barrett

Fatma Fahmy

Leala Faleseuga

Mahdi Barchian

Natalia Nehuaus

Oleksandr Rupeta

Tako Robakidze

Uma Bista

 

Alejandra Orosco

“I am interested in highlighting the importance of the photographic archive and its ability to tell future stories.”

What was your inspiration, process, and research?

The impossibility of photographing what was beneath that lagoon inspired me to imagine other aesthetic possibilities to tell this story.

While I imagined what that underwater world could look like, I began to interview different people to understand how they or their family members had lived the migration experience and reconstruct the old town from their stories. Among them, I found Nevardo, director of the Old Peñol Museum, who granted me access to their entire photographic archive, and from which I decided to work on the photographic proposal.

Nevardo had been one of the children who had to leave his home due to the arrival of the water. He, like others, began to play to rescue the photos that the adults threw into the waters of the Naré River. Those children did not calculate the importance of their game and that those images would be the only physical evidence that would remain of that town that was disappearing before their eyes.

I spent two years researching both the history of the town and the impact of hydroelectric projects in Latin America, finding that thousands of towns are displaced for the construction of dams. This reaffirmed my need to tell the story of El Peñol to show that it was not an isolated case, but rather the sign that thousands of towns are constantly forgotten under the waters of these development projects.

My photographic research went through many stages, until I finally decided that distorting the images with water would be what would tie the entire series together, conceptually, and aesthetically.

One of my main visual references was "Narciso" by the Colombian artist Oscar Muñoz, or "Paisagem Submersa" by the Brazilian photographers João Castilho, Pedro David, and Pedro Motta.

What do you hope to achieve with this project? I hope to encourage reflection on the human stories behind each development project from which we all benefit.

The way we live detached from the origin of our privileges, without knowing where the resources are extracted so that we have electricity, internet, food, or water in our homes, encourages us to continue being an unconscious and excessively consumptive society.

I would like this little story to help us see the problem in a more global way. May these portraits encourage us to see ourselves as part of the problem and that perhaps in the face of closeness to invisible human stories, we will achieve a more empathetic society and begin to see ourselves as part of the solution as well.

At the same time, as a photographer I am interested in highlighting the importance of the photographic archive in its ability to tell future stories. This project taught me to value the everyday images that I consume and produce and think of them as possible evidence of this time for those who come after.

In times of image overproduction, I find interesting to tell stories from recycled images, giving them value and speaking from what has already been done.

Were you able to apply what you learned at VII Academy/Foundry Photojournalism Workshop to this project, and if so, how?

Yes, I have been able to apply different things learned during the VII Academy courses, like the editing tools that Monica Allende shared with us during the development of Level 1 of the Program for Narrative and Documentary Practice. I was also able to reflect on my role as a photographer within the stories of people displaced by development projects together with Stefano de Luigi in Level 2. Stefano's comments were crucial in helping me see myself within the story and recognize myself as a character too, expanding and strengthening my statement as a photographer, helping me with writing tools to land these reflections in my work.

Finally, perhaps the most valuable thing I have gained from the experience as part of both seminars, has been meeting a community of photographers in Latin America and the world that helped me understand the similarity of our stories and what role we are playing. within these. This is something that I appreciate, and it still helps me today to understand the importance of our work documenting socio-environmental stories from each region.

 

Charlie Cordero

“This was my first personal project … As time went by, I began to witness the changes that the island was undergoing and how climate change was putting subsistence in this place at risk.”

What was your inspiration, process, and research?

It's been more than 8 years since I visited Santa Cruz del Islote. The first time I heard about this place I was still working at the local newspaper in the city of Barranquilla called El Heraldo, where I had done several stories about vulnerable communities living in aquatic ecosystems like Nueva Venecia, Tierrabomba or Bocas de Ceniza. The newspaper never sent me to this island;later I had the opportunity to visit it as a freelancer. It became the subject of my first personal project.

I wanted to explore the living conditions of this community and document the fight for their island, one of the most densely populated in the world. At first it was difficult in a closed community, where everyone knows each other, and it is easy to identify a stranger. However, with each new visit we got to know each other better. They have witnessed my personal and professional growth and I have witnessed the changes that the island and its population have undergone. With each visit I made new friends, met new families, and began to take part in their events and celebrations. I have accompanied them in baptisms, weddings, graduations, and parties. Today, after eight years, the community trusts me and my work; they know me, respect me, and appreciate me. They are and will continue to be an important part of my life.

The first years of this project gave me the opportunity to explore my own way of looking. It was a laboratory, the perfect setting to find my way of narrating. At this stage I managed to publish the story in some international media. The title was: “What is it like to live on the most densely populated island in the world?”. However, as time went by, I began to witness the changes that the island was undergoing and how climate change was putting subsistence in this place at risk. The project began to transform.

It was evident that the community was increasingly suffering with the rising tides. Erosion has begun to cause the disappearance of entire islands and the pressure exerted on the ecosystem by uncontrolled tourism is leaving this Afro-island population with very few options.

During the last 2 years I have dedicated myself to researching the impacts of climate change in the San Bernardo archipelago (where Santa Cruz del Islote is located). I have had interviews with Natural Parks (state entity), environmentalists and academics such as Karem Acero who has conducted one of the most thorough investigations on this topic in the country.

What do you hope to achieve with this project? Santa Cruz del Islote is completely abandoned by the state.

The primary objective of my project is to use media dissemination and exhibitions to draw the attention of local and national governments to the threat that climate change and uncontrolled tourism pose to life in the archipelago.

The second objective is to make visible the actions that are being implemented by the community and the ecological group Eco-Sabios to combat the impact of high tides and coastal erosion.

Finally, through a collaborative project called "Photos x Mangrove," we aim to obtain 500 mangrove seedlings to replant one of the areas most affected by mangrove deforestation in the archipelago.

Were you able to apply what you learned at VII Academy/Foundry Photojournalism Workshop to this project, and if so, how? Yes! Being a part of the VII Academy Fellows program and the Level 3 course in Arles has allowed me to approach this project more efficiently, from properly writing a pitch to presenting a realistic budget.

This training has allowed me to identify interesting angles of history that I had not perceived in my previous time on the island. It has also encouraged me to consider new ways of financing this project that are not associated with the media.

Having had this training has helped me think about different ways to approach history through the use of different narrative tools. (Ongoing)

Finally, having been part of these academic experiences with VII has made me reflect on how to work with these communities in the most ethically and collaboratively way as possible.

 

Daniel Buuma

“My process begins with building relationship and gaining the trust of the displaced individuals in the camp.

What was your inspiration, process, and research?

My inspiration for this report came from the experiences of people living in the displaced camps of Nord-Kivu in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, specifically in the city of Goma and the areas of Mugunga, Bulengo, and Kanyarutshinya. I was moved by their vulnerability and the unique challenges they faced, and I wanted to bring their stories to light through visual storytelling. My process began with building relationships and gaining the trust of the displaced individuals in the camp. I spent time listening to their stories, understanding their daily lives, and documenting their experiences through photography. I conducted interviews and conversations with them to understand their perspectives and struggles. My research involved studying the socio-political context of the region.

What do you hope to achieve with this project? My hope is to shed light on the conditions and experiences of the displaced people in the camps in the eastern DRC. Through my images, I aim to bring attention to their struggles, resilience, and humanity in the face of displacement and adversity. I hope to raise awareness about their specific needs and challenges and advocate for better support and resources for this vulnerable population. Ultimately, I want to give a voice to the people in the camps and spark empathy and action from viewers and decision-makers.

Were you able to apply what you learned at VII Academy/Foundry Photojournalism Workshop to this project, and if so, how?

Yes, I was able to apply what I learned at the VII Academy/Foundry Photojournalism workshops to this project. I applied the technical skills and approach that I learned during the workshops to capture powerful and compelling images for this project. Additionally, the workshops also helped me to develop a deeper understanding of storytelling photography, which I incorporated into this project to effectively convey the message and emotion behind the subject matter.

 

 

Doug Barrett

“Watching the pure grit of a 7-year-old girl brighten lives and bring people together was monumental.”

What was your inspiration, process, and research? At the time I started the project, my daughter was young, so I empathized and knew as a parent that both Robert, being an active duty solider, and Kalecia, a combat veteran of Iraq, had their hands full with their six other children. By telling their story, I felt I was doing my part to contribute in the best way I knew how. Watching the pure grit of a 7-year-old girl brighten lives and bringing people together was monumental.

What do you hope to achieve with this project?

I hope to give the family some positive exposure. And I hope that each person stops and thinks before they judge others as you never know what someone else is going through. 

 

Fatma Fahmy

“This story aims to spark discussions about the significance of peace and community coming together; it conveys the universal message of harmony and reconciliation.”

What was your inspiration, process, and research?

The inspiration for this story stems from the timeless tradition of the Siyaha Festival in Siwa oasis, which has been celebrated for over 150 years. The story is inspired by the resilience and unity of the Siwa community in the face of historical conflicts and their commitment to peace and reconciliation.

The process involved thorough research into the history and significance of the Siyaha Festival, including its origins, cultural practices, and impact on the local community. The story was captured through on-the-ground photography and interviews with members of the Siwa community to provide a comprehensive understanding of the festival's importance.

Research involved studying historical accounts, cultural literature, and firsthand accounts of the Siyaha Festival to ensure accuracy and authenticity in depicting the tradition.

Additionally, research was conducted into the role of Sheikh Mohammed Hassan Dhafir El Madani and the Shazalia method in fostering reconciliation and unity among the Siwa tribes.

This story aims to spark discussions about the significance of peace and community coming together, as exemplified by the Siyaha Festival in Siwa.

By showcasing the traditions and rituals of the festival, the story highlights the enduring values of equality, love, and loyalty that unite the Siwa community.

Through visual storytelling, the exhibition seeks to convey the universal message of harmony and reconciliation, resonating with audiences worldwide.

What do you hope to achieve with this project? For this project, my primary goal is to shed light on the enduring importance of peace, unity, and community cohesion, as exemplified by the Siyaha Festival in Siwa oasis.

Through visual storytelling, I aim to:

Raise awareness: I hope to raise awareness about the Siyaha Festival and its significance as a symbol of peace and reconciliation in Siwa and beyond. By sharing the story of this centuries-old tradition, I aim to educate audiences about the cultural heritage and values of the Siwa community.

Promote understanding: Through immersive storytelling and captivating imagery, I seek to promote understanding and appreciation for the diverse cultural practices and traditions that contribute to social harmony and resilience in communities like Siwa. By highlighting the shared humanity and universal themes depicted in the Siyaha Festival, I aim to foster empathy and connection among viewers.

Inspire dialogue: I aim to inspire meaningful dialogue and reflection on the themes of peace, unity, and reconciliation depicted in the Siyaha Festival. By sparking conversations about the importance of coming together in the face of historical conflicts and divisions, I aim to encourage individuals and communities to explore paths toward peaceful resolution and mutual understanding.

Foster empathy and solidarity: Ultimately, I hope that this project will foster empathy, solidarity, and a sense of shared humanity among viewers. By showcasing the resilience and unity of the Siwa community, I aim to inspire individuals to stand in solidarity with communities facing similar challenges and to recognize the power of collective action in promoting peace and social cohesion.

Through this project, I aspire to contribute to a more inclusive, empathetic, and interconnected world, where the values of peace, unity, and community solidarity are celebrated and upheld.

Were you able to apply what you learned at VII Academy/Foundry Photojournalism Workshop to this project, and if so, how?

Yes, the teachings and insights gained from my participation in the VII Academy/Foundry Photojournalism Workshop have significantly influenced my approach.

The workshop emphasized the importance of immersive storytelling and capturing the essence of a subject beyond its surface appearance.

 

 

Leala Faleseuga

“Through seemingly simple images, I think people can understand wider narratives, remember their own experiences, or just feel closer to the fundamental human experience. The experiences we have in our lives always feeds back into the larger web of humanity.”

What was your inspiration, process, and research? This project was completed while under the mentorship of Christopher Morris and Raymond Sagapolutele as part of the VII Academy Pacific Digital Storytellers Program, and for me it represented a chance to return to my first love, which has always been documentary photography and photojournalism. I was excited to return to using my camera to observe, record and document, and I was first and foremost inspired by the work of my mentors and their guidance.

In considering a project for our 12–16-week program, I knew I needed a subject that I could return to often and regularly, so I could really work and rework the project. In my previous documentary work I had always felt that the quality of my project and images was impacted by the quality of the relationship I could build with my subjects; some of my best work had come from long-term projects of family. I know this isn't always a luxury one has when documenting, and learning from Chris who is a purist, who has sometimes fleeting moments to capture impactful narrative, I knew that you could build rapport and relationships in moments, but sometimes you just have to take the photos. To give myself the best chance of producing work weekly, so I could benefit from the critique and the feedback of my mentors, I decided I would document what was known to me, close to me and easily accessible, which turned out to be my daughters. When floating different project ideas and test shots, it was the images of my twins that caught everyone the most and hence the project began.

I have always been taken with the intimate, the domestic, I find them compelling subjects, as well as the internal narrative present in any family or close group dynamic. Truth be told, I have been documenting my family always, as I have the compulsion that many of us have, we just have to preserve and record with our cameras. Having the unique angle of having identical twins provided an element of interest, and I tasked myself with documenting their everyday lives, their quiet interactions, and their bond. And through those seemingly simple images, I think people can relate or see wider narratives, or their own experiences, or just links back to the human experience.

In regard to research, Chris and Raymond gave us wonderful resources, photographers, documentaries, websites, inspirations to ensure our minds and therefore our practices were fertile. I already had many photographers that I've been inspired by over the years, such as Mary Ellen Mark, Nan Goldin, Evotia Tamua, Glen Jowitt, Mark Adams, Salgado, Miguel Rio Branco, Mel Phillips...the list really could go on and on. I really enjoyed being exposed to more photographers, because I am just fascinated by how we look and see through the viewfinder can produce different results.

The process was very simple. Once the topic was decided, I spend the summer documenting my daughters. I tried to be as unobtrusive as possible, capturing as much as possible without disturbing them, but of course that isn't always possible, and the presence of a camera and a photographer, once noted, always does change the dynamic. I looked for the interactions that spoke to their twinship in particular. Having the chance to sink my teeth into a longer-term project was awesome, as was the challenge to look at my daughters through the viewfinder, with a photographer’s eye, and see what I might otherwise miss day to day.

What do you hope to achieve with this project? For me, this is a love letter to my daughters through the art of photographing and documenting. I am very fond of capturing intimate, quiet and domestic narratives, and sharing them as art. I think the moments and experiences we have in our lives always feed back into the larger humanity of life, and there are often themes in the seemingly small that actually resonate widely.

I am also very aware that time passes us by very quickly; there is an omnipresent inevitability about it, and as a parent documenting my daughters in this time offers a chance to stop time.

I also hope that people will get a glance into a slice of small-town life from here in Aotearoa New Zealand, and that I capture the unique nature of being twins.

Were you able to apply what you learned at VII Academy/Foundry Photojournalism Workshop to this project, and if so, how?

Absolutely! This whole project was completed during my VII Academy Pacific Digital Storytellers program. This meant I had the amazing mentorship and feedback of Chris and Raymond each week, helping critique the images and the project direction, offering suggestions and points of reference, and just keeping me going. The program was really amazing to be part of, and for me it was a beautiful return to documentary photography / photojournalists, after a long foray into more of a Fine Arts direction for my photographic practice. It was a blissful return as documentary photography / photojournalism has always been my first love, and it was the reason I picked up the family camera as a child in the first place. I was inspired by the photography in my parents National Geographic and Time magazines.

 

Mahdi Barchian

“Despite the fact that a significant portion of climate change is due to the misguided policies of governments, people play a crucial role in preventing environmental destruction and climate change.”

What was your inspiration, process, and research? My country, Iran, has one of the highest rates of environmental degradation in the world and is severely affected by climate change today. Large-scale internal migration, land subsidence, depletion of water resources, drying up of large lakes, and the extinction of many animal species will not only affect the future of Iran but also the future of our neighboring countries. Faced with this irreparable destruction, it motivated me to document the damages and consequences of climate change in Iran over nearly 10 years. For this project, I always paid attention to environmental events and sought out local people in each region to find my stories, striving to view events from their perspective.

What do you hope to achieve with this project? This project initially started as a personal endeavor for me, aiming to explore the relationship between humans and the environment. However, as I progressed, I encountered a greater volume of events related to climate change and its impacts on people's lives. Ultimately, I believe that despite the fact that a significant portion of climate change is due to the misguided policies of governments, people play a crucial role in preventing environmental destruction and climate change. I have tried to showcase the reciprocal relationship between humans and the environment in this project, and I hope to raise people's awareness about climate change.

Were you able to apply what you learned at VII Academy/Foundry Photojournalism Workshop to this project, and if so, how? I learned photography through observing and taking pictures, and for years, I lacked formal training for complementary skills such as writing proposals, captions, and selecting photos. However, my most serious training occurred after attending the Foundry workshop and participating in courses at the VII Academy. I was struggling with both photography and the selection and presentation aspects of finishing this project. However, with the above trainings, especially the one-on-one mentoring program and workshops like Grant Writing by Sara Terry, I was finally able to complete this project. I could write a good statement for it and ultimately bring a strong edit of the project for presentation. Currently, with Anush Babajanyan's guidance in the 1-to-1 Program, I am also starting a new project.

 

Natalia Nehuaus

Preference: “Despite conservative trends and the hateful discourse towards diversity, it's not only okay, but essential to embrace and celebrate what makes us different.”

What was your inspiration, process, and research? My inspiration for this project comes from those who inhabit this community. They give me hope that the words "acceptance" and "diversity" are not just ideals but tangible realities. The research for this project was purely experiential; burlesque is about its artists and performers, their friendships, and solidarity. I've never experienced a more supportive community than the burlesque community in NYC, community that's always been politically active and refuses to be silenced.

What do you hope to achieve with this project? I hope that viewers understand the importance of documenting the lives of these artists who dare to be themselves because they are the voice of protest in these troubled times. They remind us that despite conservative trends and the hateful discourse towards diversity, it's not only okay, but essential to embrace and celebrate what makes us different.

Were you able to apply what you learned at VII Academy/Foundry Photojournalism Workshop to this project, and if so, how?

Through The VII Foundation, its mentorship program, and PhotoWings, I've learned about the importance of perseverance. Whether it's from mentors or peers, this career is more than just a job— it's a calling, and most of the time, it's a solitary endeavor. The VII Foundation, PhotoWings, and all those involved in these tuition-free programs are creating a much-needed support network where visual storytellers from all over the world come together through a medium that connects all: photography.

 

Oleksandr Rupeta

“By directing attention to local stories, we can foster a better understanding that a cruel act of aggression is not merely a tragedy for a single nation or country.”

What was your inspiration, process, and research? It is challenging to discuss the consequences during the active phase of the war. Kherson, which was under occupation for an extended period, continues to face constant shelling from Russian troops, resulting in daily losses among both the military and the civilian population. Nevertheless, I believe that the tragedy of an individual or a local place is no less significant than the tragedy experienced by the broader population or the entire country. It serves as another testament to Russian crimes that need to be exposed.

What do you hope to achieve with this project? It concerns me that, as the war prolongs and becomes more entrenched, the documentation of Russian crimes is becoming commonplace, eliciting diminishing reactions from the international community. Perhaps by directing attention to local stories, we can foster a better understanding that a cruel act of aggression is not merely a tragedy for a single nation or country.

Were you able to apply what you learned at VII Academy/Foundry Photojournalism Workshop to this project, and if so, how? My mentor helped me choose images for the project.

Tako Robakidze

“Starting the project during visits to the Gorge, I learned how dramatic influence of mass media on collective thinking can be, and how detrimental the media's obsession with "terrorism" can be for the lives of ordinary people.”

What was your inspiration, process, and research? I was born in the last years of the Soviet Union and grew up in a difficult time in Georgia during a civil war, without electricity and gas, but with many stories of injustice and human rights violations. Since I decided to be a photographer, my work has had a purpose: to protect people's rights and give voice to the unheard through a single lens and photo.

Starting the project “A Look Beyond the Headlines” during visits to the Gorge, I learned how dramatic influence of mass media on collective thinking can be, and how detrimental the media's obsession with "terrorism" may be for the lives of ordinary people. Pankisi residents represent an "ordinary" population, like any other, although they were forced to carry the label of “terrorists” due to the individual incidents and, most importantly, due to a spirit of sensationalism in the media. The insufficient media coverage of the region truly affected the Pankisi population, and, at the same time, misled the general public, resulting in false perceptions.

Before my visit to Pankisi Gorge, I too perceived the area as extremely dangerous. However, upon arrival, I discovered an eye-opening experience that completely changed my views about the region. I was astonished and inspired by the kindness, wisdom, hospitality, and general beauty of the Kist people residing there. From the very first day of my trip, my goal was to document the dynamics of raw, real life in Pankisi Gorge.

What do you hope to achieve with this project?

Often, we fail to see the truth because we are overwhelmed with information today, making it difficult to distinguish between true and false stories. I hope to make a contribution in changing the perception about the Pankisi Gorge by showcasing true stories of real people.

Were you able to apply what you learned at VII Academy/Foundry Photojournalism Workshop to this project, and if so, how? Yes, absolutely. I am still in the process of learning, which I believe is the most beautiful aspect of my journey with The VII Foundation. I apply the knowledge and techniques I've gained from VII Academy and Foundry Photojournalism Workshop to my work every day. Whether it's carefully editing photographs, discovering the central narrative thread, or enriching the texts through collaboration with colleagues, the skills I've acquired continue to shape and improve my work. Thanks to the invaluable insights from VII Academy's free lectures, this journey of growth is ongoing and nonstop.

 

Uma Bista

“We rarely talk about our own experiences and instead focus on external narratives. Personal experiences and stories hold political significance.” 

What was your inspiration, process, and research? “Stay Home, Sisters” is the second chapter of my long-term project about menstrual taboos in Nepal. I started this project from my own experience and my observations. I have been working in Achham district, located in the Far West region of Nepal, on "Our Songs from the Forest" where women are subjected to a monthly ritual of isolation. Deemed impure, they are forced to stay in cowsheds.

What do you hope to achieve with this project? Through this project, I aim to start the conversation on this taboo throughout Nepal. We rarely talk about our own experiences and instead focus on external narratives. Personal experiences and stories hold political significance

Were you able to apply what you learned at VII Academy/Foundry Photojournalism Workshop to this project, and if so, how? Indeed, every learning experience contributes additional depth to my project. Through the fellowship program at VII Academy, I honed my thought process and acquired skills in articulating precise ideas on the work under the guidance of my mentors.