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Photoville, the free festival of photography on the Brooklyn waterfront, has a populist, cacophonous feel. This year bigger than ever, it features work placed in and around fifty shipping containers, in a stunning new location right under the Brooklyn Bridge. Prominent and emerging names neighbor exhibits by photography collectives, activist groups, universities, and the odd media giant (ESPN). Some of the most notable — discussed below — surface forgotten dimensions of social conflict, or reverse long-standing erasures.
Jerome Avenue Workers Project
Rezoning has begun for Jerome Avenue, a Bronx corridor of auto shops, botanicas, and braiding parlors due to give way to large residential and commercial buildings. The eighteen photographers of the Bronx Photo League, all Bronxites, spent much of last year there, shooting immigrant workers with old Hasselblad manual cameras. The large black-and-whites possess a formal unity; the workplace portraits shown here express both character and context. Michael Kamber, founder of the Bronx Documentary Center, which runs the league, says real estate narratives often portray areas like Jerome Avenue as abandoned. “As photographers, all we can do is say: These people are here,” he says.
Ebola Through the Lens
Photographs from the Ebola crisis that peaked in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone in 2014 occupy a central area, with two containers separated by a “quarantine area” in which visitors can imagine themselves in a makeshift clinic. The staging doesn’t fully convince, but the photos, by a dozen photojournalists, including Aurélie Marrier and Victor Lacken, bring home the severity of the crisis, sometimes in ghostly or backroom ways. In particular, Jane Hahn’s images of the aftermath of an attack on health workers in Guinea are invaluable: One shows the local prosecutor at his desk; like the rest of the series, it contains no images of disease or treatment, but follows an important auxiliary thread in the story.
Signs of Your Identity
In August 2015, Daniella Zalcman photographed survivors of Canada’s Indian reservation schools — where Native children were taken by force, and often experienced terrible abuse — in Saskatchewan, then made multiple-exposure portraits that melt the subject’s image into another photograph, often of their school’s site. (The last school closed in 1996; most have been destroyed.) “I wanted to come up with another way to represent trauma and its memory,” says Zalcman, keenly aware of the pitfalls of outsiders photographing Native communities. Her images, in black-and-white, are elegant and elegiac; the interview excerpts that serve as captions are punches to the gut.
Photographer Liam Maloney spent three weeks with refugees from Homs, Syria, who were living in an abandoned slaughterhouse in Lebanon. Just before leaving, he thought to capture something they did all day: exchange texts with loved ones left behind. He pairs these images with an interactive experience: Text a number posted on the wall, and you receive in return a series of messages that replicate an actual conversation one of the refugees was having when the photograph was taken. “When I realized what was being said, the gravity of these messages took my breath away,” Maloney says. The effect of his installation is intimate, and deeply moving.
Women on the Outside
The Instagram feed @EverydayIncarceration aggregates images that illustrate the impact of mass incarceration in America. For their first original project, curators Lisa Riordan Seville and Zara Katz, and photographer Zora J. Murff tagged along with Kristal Bush, a young woman from Philadelphia who runs a van service that takes mothers, sisters, and partners to visit inmates in state prison. Large-format portraits and interview-based texts tell each woman’s story; a video from the journey — basically, a road movie — conveys the bonds, and moments of joy, that take shape amid this new kind of family.
Photoville is on view through September 25 at Brooklyn Bridge Plaza.