The photographer Roman Sakovich has gotten some heat for his project Half, a series of images detailing the effects of drug abuse, particularly with respect to methamphetamine addiction; his subjects stand, face forward, their lefthand side polished, even proud, while on the right, their bodies are ravaged by scars and scabs characteristic of addiction. The jarring split-personas are achieved not through photoshop but with expert make-up and styling.
The artist has been criticized for his simplified portrayal of drug dependency; by his own admission, the images, in their shocking nature, exclude a more nuanced exploration and rely in part stereotypes. Problematic for some is the fact that the non-addict self is styled professionally in suits and crisp button-downs, while the addict wears more urban attire, the implication being that class and drug use are profoundly connected.
Regardless of the controversy (and perhaps even because of it), the shocking series inspires much-needed and critical discussion on drug addiction, an illness that plagues tens of millions nationwide. Avoiding blaming and scapegoating individuals, the artist provides an intimate approximation of selfhood torn by addiction, one that inspires empathy, not disgust or prejudice.
Sakovich’s subjects, their identities split in two, are as you and I, lead by hopes, fears, and complex yearnings. A doctor, stethoscope slung over her shoulder, hair in a tight chignon, directs a placid glance comfortingly at the viewer; only after allowing our eyes to drift across the print do we see this figure of heath and safety cruelly overtaken by substance abuse, her eye downcast and purpled, a dried lip furrowed and lined. We read these bodies from left to right like strange texts, imagining personal and intimate narratives in order to reconcile the two faces before us. Ultimately, we are left with the powerful warning, “This could happen to you.” What do you think?
July 17, 2014
Nicola Lo Calzo
“Morgante” interweaves the personal stories of individuals linked by a common denominator: being dwarfs. “Morgante”, ironically nicknamed the Giant in the poem of the same name by Louis Pulci, was the most famous of the five dwarfs at the court of the Medicis in Florence. According to the codes of the time, the dwarf Morgante was portrayed as a “monstrum”.
Thus dehumanized and stripped of his personality, he appears in paintings of Bronzino and sculptures of Giambologna. Progressively he becomes an idea, an archetype, and a looking glass through which “the human family” will regard diversity for centuries to come. Using the literary and artistic inspiration photographer Nicola Lo Calzo has created “Morgante”, a moving gallery of portraits depicting the universe of little people, a highly marginalized category in some African countries. Often associated with witchcraft, people with dwarfism live in a semi-clandestine state, subjected daily to all kinds of psychological violence.
Lo Calzo photographed his models in private situations, at home, at work or in the street. In Lo Calzo’s photographs, Fidel, Kwedi, Babel are not victims of their size. On the contrary, they are the primary agents of their lives, protagonists of the scene represented.
In these terms, the photographer questions the conventional representation of diversity, self-esteem and self-acceptance: his models gaze directly into the camera as if intentionally searching the eyes of their viewers. They fully assume the role of actors and directors of their own lives. In some African societes still deeply polarized around the concept of normal and abnormal, good and evil, tradition and modernity, “Morgante” is an invitation to break this archetype of “monster” and come to full recognition of diversity. (artist statement)
July 16, 2014
Orchard Beach: The Bronx Riviera
Although New York’s Bronx is considered one of the most diverse communities in America out of which many subcultures originated, such as Hip Hop and Salsa, it’s still viewed as a no man’s land by many of the city’s inhabitants. Perhaps it is a matter of simple geography that many refuse to venture to the northernmost of the city’s five boroughs or, quite possibly, it may be the Borough’s malevolent reputation lingering from its tumultuous past.
From its earliest years, the Bronx has been a hotbed of immigrant working class families, but its image has largely been defined by the urban blight of the late 1960’s through to the 1980’s when arson, drug addiction and social neglect decimated many of its neighborhoods. For the families who have called this scarred landscape home, Orchard Beach, the only beach in the borough, was and remains a treasured respite from the sweltering confines of the concrete jungle. Built in the 1930s by urban planner Robert Moses, the beach carries the stigma as being one of the worst in New York and is commonly known as Horseshit Beach or Chocha Beach.
I began shooting portraits of Orchard Beach’s summertime regulars in 2005 shortly after moving to New York, realizing that the stigma attached to this oasis was largely unjustified - I felt compelled to engage with this community of working class families and colorful characters. The photographs in ‘Orchard Beach – The Bronx Riviera’ celebrate the pride and dignity of the beach’s visitors, working-class people.
Immediately catching the viewer’s eye is the extravagant style of many of the photographs’ subjects – a quest for identity and sense of belonging. Some individuals carry scars and markings that hint to their own personal histories, which often reflect the complex history of the borough itself. Within the gaze of those portrayed we see a community standing in defiance of popular opinion.
The six years I spent photographing Orchard Beach have not only given me the time and space to reflect on the importance of family and community, but also a sense of belonging and purpose. After having experienced the most profound grief when my older brother was brutally murdered, photography has not only offered me an opportunity to give a voice to a community often misunderstood but also a means of healing from the loss experienced.
— Wayne Lawrence / INSTITUTE