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Condemned by Robin Hammond_Winner 2013 FEBA

“Wherever there is conflict the mental health aspects of everybody is affected… when you bring in poverty, the little thing that somebody has, he loses it in conflicts, and that frustrates them a lot.” These are the words of Médecins sans Frontiers Mental Health Officer, Birongo Mogaka, at the Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya and they hit me like a train.

‘Condemned’ by Robin Hammond is more than a collection of images. The background information and extensive interviews with patients, their families and those who ‘care’ for them, arm the reader with facts as well as awakening them to the horrors of African mental healthcare in the visual sense.

The photo-book was the winner of this year’s FotoEvidence Book Awards and deservedly so. It exposes the social, psychological and physical imprisonment of mental health illnesses in African countries with limited understanding and non-existent resources, and yet it was not always this way. In an interview, Janice Cooper (Country Representative for Health and Project Lead for Mental Health for The Carter Centre in Liberia) explains that before the conflict in Liberia mental healthcare resources may not have been excellent, but a basic system for helping sufferers was in place. Now, what little there was has been taken away. She says “It broke down because fighting forces went into the hospitals…many of the people who were mentally ill were killed or shot…”

As highlighted by Mogaka, conflict is also the source of mental health problems for many African people. Post traumatic stress disorder is rife, not only amongst those who witnessed and suffered horrendous violence but also amongst those who committed it. As child soldiers they were forced to kill under threat of becoming subject to the violence themselves and are now endlessly tormented by the memories of their actions. Many turn to drugs and alcohol to forget in the absence of professional help and medication. Many spend their lives in chains and, without family members to bring them food, starvation in often the cause of death.

Hammond’s images capture the hopelessness of the situation and the overall feeling of helplessness amongst patients. As I look upon an image of a person lying half naked, face down on the floor, in the corner of a bare room with their foot chained… even the word ‘patient’ seems grossly misrepresentative. A lone figure reenacts a fight scene against an invisible enemy, holding a piece of wood as if it were a rifle; the effects of war remain long after the conflict is over.

These may be some of the most shocking and saddening photographs I have ever seen, and I certainly won’t forget them in a hurry. Mental healthcare continues to be overlooked across many developing countries and yet its sufferers are vast in their numbers. Hammond has achieved something incredible here by giving a voice to a group of people who are systematically ignored, misunderstood and ultimately failed by society. His images, however, cannot be ignored and will undoubtedly help to raise awareness.

You can buy the ‘Condemned’ photo-book from the FotoEvidence bookstore.

About Robin Hammond…

Robin Hammond is a 37-year-old freelance photojournalist born in New Zealand. He has been part of the photo agency Panos Pictures since 2007. The winner of four Amnesty International awards for Human Rights journalism, Robin has dedicated his career to documenting human rights and development issues around the world, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

In 2011, Hammond won the Carmignac Gestion Photojournalism Award which allowed him to document in Zimbabwe for four months. Actes Sud published a book of the photos to coincide with an exhibition of the work in Paris in November 2012. His long term project on mental health, Condemned, was exhibited in September 2012 at the photojournalism festival Visa Pour l’Image.

After spending time in Japan, the United Kingdom and South Africa, Robin Hammond currently lives in Paris. He contributes to many international newspapers and magazines including National Geographic, Time Magazine, Newsweek, The Sunday Times Magazine, The New York Times, and Polka. He also works regularly with various non-governmental organizations.

Reviewed by Francesca Bassenger. With many thanks to FotoEvidence.

’No Place Like Home’ is a visual commentary on contemporary Jewish identity in the UK. Throughout the photo-book, photographer Judah Passow captures this complex and pluralist community engaging in everyday activities. In doing so he explores the contrast and coexistence of tradition, national identity, religion and 21st century living.

There is little to shock or surprise in this book. At first glance these images portray nothing more than ordinary people doing ordinary things, but look a little closer and you’ll see a multi-faceted community that has finally found its place in UK society. No longer muted and hidden, Jewishness is exclaimed loudly and proudly; lit up on the roof of a car or tattooed on the body.

The book captures young and old, orthodox and liberal, pro-Isreal and anti-Zionist all in stunning black and white. It opens the doors to a section of our society that is often perceived as willingly closed and segregated, exploring the topic of integration by portraying Jewish and Muslim children playing together in a Birmingham school.

Passow challenges the stereotype of a people that is steeped in tradition and the ways of old by introducing topics of gender issues and homosexuality; the ordination of female rabbis and lesbian and gay congregations. The Jews of today are not faced with the choice of traditional or modern, they can be both.

’No Place Like Home’ is one of those photo-books that grows on you. It may not pack much of a punch a first, but the more you look, the more you see… and there is so much to see. The introduction provides a lovely insight into the work but the book would nevertheless benefit from captions throughout. Not only this, but it’s a shame that this collection of heart warming images aren’t displayed full page.

Reviewed by Francesca Bassenger. Photography © Judah Passow. With thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing.

‘Before the Limit’ by Claudia Guadarrama, not only captures the sheer number of undocumented migrants crossing the Southern Mexican border everyday, but also the very real dangers they face in doing so.

Desperate to secure better lives for themselves, they walk for miles and go without food for days to reach the nearest railway. Here they attempt to board moving trains, often losing limbs in the process.

‘Before the Limit’ is a photo-book that highlights the desperation of these clandestine migrants as they make their journey. Guadarrama creates a sense of what it feels like to walk side by side with them, allowing us to share in their experiences.

She aims to draw attention to the poor treatment migrants face when taken into custody by immigration police (violence and theft of their belongings are regular occurrences.) It’s a glimpse into a previously unseen world, beautifully presented and emotionally engaging.

’Beofore the Limit’ is available as an iBook, you can download it here.

Reviewed by Francesca Bassenger. Photography © Claudia Guadarrama, with thanks to FotoEvidence.

’Sicarios: Latin American Assassins,’ a photo-book by Javier Arcenillas, won’t be to everybody’s taste. Violence, death and bloodshed stain virtually every page, and not in a subtly suggestive way either.

Arcenillas explores a culture of ’murder for hire’ in Guatemala, where anyone can have anyone else killed, for any reason. It is not only the brutality of these murders that Arcenillas portrays, but the incredible frequency of them. He states that this is one of the realest stories he’s ever told, and I don’t doubt him for a second.

Some might argue that to photograph a dead man, not yet even removed from a crime scene, is disrespectful… gruesome… even perverse? And yet, none of those feelings come across in ’Sicarios.’

There is no sense of Arcenillas attempting to shock for the sake of sensationalism. This is photo-journalism at it’s rawest and most unadulterated. The photographs are only as violent as the violence that was truly there in that moment. Consequently, it’s a sense of tragic hopelessness, rather than disgust, that these images provoke in me.

’Sicarios’ goes beyond being a typical fly on the wall project. Arcenillas is no outsider looking in. He’s right at the centre of the action with a pistol pointing straight at him, or his camera lens stuck in a car of dead bodies. That action is portrayed in the movement that his images capture, and consequently so is the sense of real danger.

This photo-book addresses a real problem that affects real people, presented it in a way that no television documentary ever would. There is no sugar coating for our ’sensitive’ eyes, as there is none for those who live with this problem everyday.

It’s a collection of work that’s full of authentic grit and crude truth, and it’s this that makes ’Sicarios’ such a brave and stunning feat of photo-journalism.

’Sicarios: Latin American Assassins’ is available in hardback and now also as an iBook. You can download it here.

Reviewed by Francesca Bassenger. Photography © Javier Arcenillas, with thanks to FotoEvidence.

Stephen Shames’ photography captures the everyday struggles, joys and dangers of being a young man growing up in the Bronx. Starting in 1977, Shames documents over two decades of life, love, family, violence, drugs and community. He follows his subjects as they grow from boys to men, gaining their trust and becoming part of their chaotic world.

His images have a sense of intimacy, ease and comfort that only an accepted insider could achieve. He takes the phrase ’fly on the wall’ to a whole new level, capturing some jaw dropping moments along the way.

The images are accompanied by Martin Dones’ stirring autobiographical narrative. As a man in his forties looking back on his boyhood, he provides a backstory that shows the images in a completely different light. It’s almost impossible to believe that the smiling children they portray are living the same lives that Dones describes in his accounts. Behind those baby faces, there is little innocence left.

The images and text somehow tell two different stories, or perhaps more accurately, two sides of the same story. (Shames himself admits that there is no journalistic agenda, no particular point to prove, just captured moments.) In this way the two contrast and compliment each other, creating a well rounded account of Bronx life.

In his interview at the end of the book Shames talks about wanting to show the good as well as the bad, the camaraderie, the fun, and the love that these boys experience on their journey to adulthood.

In reality though, I can’t help but find an overall feeling of tragic inevitability portrayed in this work. Sadly many of the people in the photographs were later killed or imprisoned.

The very ’joys’ these young boys experience… hanging out on the street, having a close knit crew, skipping school, getting high, having sex at an insanely early age… These things may be portrayed almost as ’fond memories’ but to an outsider, they’re nothing more than the doomed beginnings of a downward spiral.

So perhaps it’s fair to say that whilst Shames keeps the reader in the spontaneity of the ’boy’ moment, Dones provides the gut-wrenching hindsight of manhood. The story wouldn’t feel quite so complete or truthful if only one of these elements were present.

In no uncertain terms this is a spectacular piece of photo-journalistic work, no matter how unintentional it may have been. Photography, interview, and autobiography come together to provide an eye-opening and thought provoking visual and literary experience, and it deserves a place on your iBook shelf.

Download Bronx Boys by clicking here.

Reviewed by Francesca Bassenger, Photography © Stephen Shames, with thanks to FotoEvidence.


‘Black Tsunami’ is a book of photography marking the one year anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

In a series of 80 images, James Whitlow Delano captures the towns and lives that were destroyed by the giant wall of water that swept through them in March 2011.

The interactive iBook begins with a short video clip of the moment the tsunami hit, which cleverly sets the scene for the still images of the aftermath. By recreating that sense of panic and fear for what is to come, and then presenting those fears in their sad reality, Delano  intensifies the impact of his photography.

The images bring home the true scale of the disaster in terms of gravity but also actual physical size. The vastness of the debris is a major focus.

Despite having lived in Japan for a number of years, it feels as though you are looking through the eyes of an outside visitor, a passer by, a witness.

Yet, Delano’s apparent detachment is both effective and appropriate to the subject. After all, the landscapes he presents are now as alien to those who once lived there as any far flung planet would be.

There is little to ’wow’ in terms of incredible moments captured, or stunning composition. Yet, at the same time, this book isn’t about making a tragedy look pretty. The truth of this now epic clear-up task is ugly and arduously mundane, and has the exact sense of hopelessness and desolation that Delano portrays.

The treatment of the photographs however, does come across as over-produced. Some are very nearly beyond recognition which, unfortunately, does take away from the sense of rawness that the images otherwise possess.

The book ends with an interesting video interview with Delano himself, in which he gives his account of the event and the months that followed.

You can download ’Black Tsunami’ from the iBook Store by clicking here.

Reviewed by Francesca Bassenger, Photography © James Whitlow Delano.