[EXPOSURE]/aftermath project gallery is up!

After many hours of labor, love, and levels, the exhibit of the work produced during the [EXPOSURE]/Aftermath Project workshop in Ajmer, Rajasthan, India is up!  Swing by Slater Concourse Gallery in the  Aidekman Arts Center to check it out, and read more about students’ works.  Mine is up here!

photography, video

the last village, audio slideshow


As part of the The Institute for Global Leadership’s [EXPOSURE]/Aftermath Project workshop in Ajmer, India, led by Sara Terry and Asim Rafiqui last August 2009, I put together a presentation with some video, audio, and photographs from the trip.  Click through for the full story and photoessay, and see below for the slideshow.

Elizabeth Herman | The Last Village from Institute For Global Leadership on Vimeo.

My two weeks in Ajmer were spent in Kankarda, a small village on the outskirts of the city,  which had been forced to sell a significant portion of land to the government for the construction of a new railway track to Pushkar, a popular tourist destination 17km to the northwest of Ajmer. The tracks had not only divided the agricultural lands of Kankarda, but had also created fissures in the social and cultural fabric of the community.  The railroad meant that India’s modernity, with its conveniences and deprivations, had arrived right at its doorstep, imposing new values and new dreams amongst a younger generation of villagers that were rapidly becoming more interested in careers, conveniences, and city life. As the elderly looked on, their traditional agricultural way of life evermore irrelevant, they could see that their village had become a smaller version of the broader changes taking place in today’s India.


elspeth & alex

So I photographed a wedding up in Brunswick, Maine last weekend.  A darling, daring wedding that was held outside.  In November!  In Maine!

Full of beautiful little details, down to the gloves on the ladies and the feathers in their hair, to the strings of RSVP-postcards-turned-table-placards, to the ceremony held in the barn from the bride’s youth, this was a beautiful, beautiful event to shoot.  Here are a few of the film shots from it – my new (old) Rolleiflex!  For additional frames, click on any of the images below – it’ll take you to a mini-set.  And even more soon!


some sites worth the click…

After letting the sites on my Google Reader grow exponentially the past couple of weeks, I finally went back in and hacked it down to truly worthwhile sites. And so I figured I’d pass along some of the ones (photo/journalism/photojournalism related) that made the cut!

  • No Caption Needed: NCN, run by two professors at Indiana University, a blog that is “dedicated to discussion of the role that photojournalism and other visual practices play in a vital democratic society.” They have some wonderfully insightful commentary on all sorts of images, and feature new photographers each week!
  • 10,000 Words: “where journalism and technology meet.” All sorts of neat lists and tips on multimedia journalism, often linking to other great, lesser-known sites.
  • Hey, Hot Shot!: the blog is for the competition of the same name, which is “the premier competition for photographers seeking greater exposure and recognition for their work.” More fine art oriented, with some really beautiful work popping up from time to time. And hey all you young, emerging photographers – you should think about applying!
  • GOOD: a really fantastic site that describes itself as “a collaboration of individuals, businesses, and nonprofits pushing the world forward.” You can submit photoessays to them, contribute to the blog, or view the portion of the site dedicated solely to infographics. And who doesn’t love infographics?!
  • a site run by Tom Engelhardt with a slew of fantastic guest contributors, it offers smart, insightful commentary and criticism on “our post-9/11 world…a clear sense of how our imperial globe actually works.”
  • Mort Unplugged: Mort Rosenblum has co-led a number of [EXPOSURE] workshops with VII Photographer, Gary Knight, and is a strong voice for the need for quality reporting. Mort’s pieces are thoughtful and thought-provoking, reflecting his current goals to “to rescue ‘the media’; to reclaim democracy; to halt terracide; to fight poverty and plagues; to curb corporate colonialism; and to set a great but misguided nation back on course.” Good stuff!
  • The Spinning Head: Asim Rafiqui co-led [EXPOSURE]’s most recent workshop with Sara Terry, founder of the Aftermath Project, and this is his personal blog that explores a plethora of issues, including but not limited to a discussion of contemporary journalism, in a fascinating and provocative way.
  • DVAFOTO: “is two young photojournalists, Matt Lutton and M. Scott Brauer, sharing their work and the news and pictures that they find interesting.” They also have a fantastic blogroll with links to other great sites.
  • Neiman Reports: “For more than six decades, Nieman Reports has explored what it means to be a journalist, examined major shifts in the industry, and shared with its worldwide audience articles about the rights and responsibilities of news organizations.” A great go-to for journalists, run by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard.

So that’s a few that I’ve been particularly fond of as of late – feel free to follow one, or none, or all of them! And post with your own favorites – always great to have interesting new things to play with on the internets!

[And in case you need a way to keep track of all these sites, try using an RSS aggregator like Google Reader, or set up an account with, a ‘social bookmarking’ site (whatever that means…!) that lets you tag pages and then reference them from any computer, so you’re not tied down to a specific machine or browser. A lifesaver for all things research and interesting!]

photography, research

the last village

The Last Village – Images by Elizabeth Herman

This piece was written and photos taken during the [EXPOSURE]/Aftermath Project Workshop in Ajmer, India, August 2009. Co-led by Sara Terry and Asim Rafiqui.

The Last Village
by Elizabeth Herman

The drought had begun the transformation of the village of Kankarda, sucking its lands of their productivity and people of their livelihoods.  Yet it was the railway project cutting through the center of the community that sealed its fate.  The notice came in 2004, an edict not a request, with rate fixed and an order for a signature on the dotted line: a railway is to be built through your property, please relinquish control to the government.  Options nonexistent, in 2007 families handed over multi-generational farmlands in exchange for a lump sum that wouldn’t even cover the cost of a lawyer to dispute the situation.  Progress came knocking down the door, splitting the lands and the culture of the village with the path of a train.

Kankarda has always been defined by its physical elements; the people have lived off the land for centuries, set off from city life by a winding road that weaves its way through hills and pastures on the outskirts of Ajmer, Rajasthan.  When the rains slowed nearly two decades ago, residents hoped it would pass.  They held out hope for years and years, only to have the door to their rural heritage slammed firmly closed by the oncoming railway.  And now this new, artificial physical element stands poised to redefine the way of life in the village, accelerating the generational divide that has been developing since the start of the drought.

Babu Singh, an eloquent yet soft-spoken twenty-eight year old social worker, has grown up as the influcence of modernity within Kankarda has.  He is a sort of bridge between the past and the present; his ancestors were the patriarchs of Kankarda and he feels deeply connected to the spirit of the community and ways of the old, yet he is at the forefront of progress as one of the village’s two university graduates.

In his youth, life centered on community; the physical proximity of families working together on farms, of residents sharing their lands and their days provided a cohesion and sense of belonging to an often-backbreaking existence.  But the drought, which began in Babu’s tenth year, meant little hope for future generations of farmers. Even though they held out hope that the children would one day return to the lands their grandparents cultivated, parents began to see sending kids to school, rather than keeping them home to work the fields, as the more worthwhile investment. This dual mentality was reflected in Babu’s childhood who, like that of most of his peers, split his time between the fields and school, learning both skills in order to keep his options open.

But then the railway line arrived, and with it the stark realization that Kankarda would no longer be responsible for its destiny or the future of its new generation. It was the first indicator of new India emerging around them, an India impatient for an industrial and capitalist modernity, daring its citizens to either catch up or get out of its way.  Families were forced to sell off productive lands and lost the ability to graze their cattle, which impelled Kankarda residents to seek work and education outside the village limits.  Now, Babu laments, “the village – what used to be a village, with all its connections and interconnections and social networks – is finished.”  After pausing and collecting his thoughts, he continues, “The whole closeness and culture of the farming community, of people who farm the land, of the bond – that’s pretty much done.  The family unit has been torn apart with people having to go to different places to work.”

These new livelihoods have redefined the interests of the youth; the ways of the old, of the land, do not concern them anymore. Instead city life beckons, alluring in its novelty and opportunity to define one’s own space.  While the youth spend a majority of their waking hours in the city, the connections of the village are still strong enough, or the benefits of bunking with their parents alluring enough to keep youth living in the village.  As such, city culture has begun to span the 5 kilometer commute between Ajmer and Kankarda, outfitting the youth in jeans and polos and a new sense of entitlement that leaves elders disheartened and exasperated.

Thus Kankarda finds itself at the intersection of the old and the new, with currents clashing within the confines of the town. This once tight-knit community is maintaining a precarious coexistence, with modernity gradually squeezing into the narrow pathways of the farming village.  One can see the transformation daily – in the cellphones that dot a nighttime prayer session, the motorbikes that skid past goats heading to pasture.  The contrast of the male elders’ turbans to the youth’s carefully oiled and slicked-back hair.

Expectations vary, Babu explains.  “The older generation expects reverence, expects honor from the young generation, but the younger generation is arrogant, confident, they have no time for these old people.  They are now focused on getting ahead and not on these old, traditional things.  So it’s come to the point where if the older generation shared their wisdom with the younger generation, they just dismiss it.  There is no respect, there is no value for wisdom of the old in the new generation of the modern era.”

Assuredly, there are positive aspects to such expansion.  In a mere ten years, the village has gone from three hours of electricity daily to access twenty-four-seven.  Waterlines are soon to be expanded from the city system.  Land values are rising as the city expands outward, crossing into the village limits.

Yet these material gains run the risk of overwhelming Kankarda’s ideas of home.  Those of a place where children have the freedom to roam from home to home, playing in the streets and fields with their distant cousins.  A community that welcomes a complete stranger into their world as an honored guest for two weeks, no questions asked.  A place where evening skies are met with the smell of fresh chipatis cooking over small fires in open courtyards, where mugs of chai zigzag their way through narrow streets during intimate gatherings.  In another ten years time will locks on fences have become as prevalent as the televisions that already peek out from behind wood paneled doors in virtually every residence?

Few understand how best to respond to these changes. While opinion for the railway has not been entirely negative thus far, as individuals who were forced to sell already unproductive lands were fairly happy to trade them in for a cash payment, such a sightline may not be far enough; little thought has been given to what will happen when the lump sum runs out.  Few have saved any part of their payment, with many spending on transient, material objects like food and motorbikes that hold little value over time.

But change they must. The railway line is only the tip of the wider tectonic shifts taking place in India’s economic, political, and cultural landscape; these shifts, as the nation lurches into a globalized capitalist modernity, will shake the very social and cultural foundations that have defined her society, history and heritage for centuries. And it is in places like Kankarda where these tremors are most being felt. How the residents of India’s small towns, which represent 71% of her population, survive these decades of change may well determine the success or failure of India’s march towards modernity, and what is left behind along the way.


To view entire photoessay in a separate window, please click the above image.


raising profiles: JR

Looking at one hillside favela outside Rio de Janeiro in the summer of 2008, you would have seen its residents staring back at you—their portraits covered dozens of its crumbling houses.

It was the work of a photographer and street artist known as JR, who, since 2004, has been waging a guerrilla campaign to raise the profiles of people living in some of the world’s most difficult places. For his public projects, which are often monumental in scale, JR takes intimate, playful black-and-white portraits of ordinary people and posts the blown-up prints on houses, trains, and city walls.

JR developed his technique after the ethnically charged unrest in Paris in 2005, when he decided to combat the media’s presentation of the city’s marginalized communities with his camera.

Since then, he’s taken his large-scale public art to Israel, Palestine, and Sudan. For his “Women” series, JR recently traveled to Kenya, where he covered the rooftops of one of Africa’s largest slums with images of the eyes and faces of the women who live there. The prints, which covered more than 20,000 square feet, were made on a waterproof vinyl so they would also protect the residents’ houses in the rainy season.

Now JR’s prints are being sold in Sotheby’s and he’s represented by Steve Lazarides, the same dealer who backs Banksy and Blu. But he’s channeling this commercial success back into his mission—making people’s faces stand out in the slums.

(via GOOD)

photography, video


“Satellites” is the culmination of Jonas Bendiksen’s fascinating seven-year photographic journey through unrecognized countries, enclaves, and isolated communities on the periphery of the former Soviet Union. From Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Caucasus and Siberia, he takes us into little known places where the stark legacy of the Soviet collapse continues to evolve: Transdniester, Abkhazia and Nagorno Karabakh, the Ferghana Valley, the Jewish Autonomous Region, and the spaceship crash zones on the Kazakh steppes. In these outposts, the transition to the post-communist world order brought mixed results – some lost everything to bloody civil wars, while others find themselves in tiny pariah states that remain all but closed to the outside world. Some evolved peculiar self-styled brands of capitalism, others simply packed their bags and left.

unfortuantely, i can’t embed it here, but take my word for it, it’s worth the click through…

Jonas Bendiksen‘s “Satellites” is smart, insightful, illustrative work with a thoughtfully constructed narrative and beautiful images; i can’t recommend it enough.


one love photo

Before/after shooting Becky & Brian’s wedding last month, I spent a good amount of time poking around wedding photography sites, looking for inspiration.  Most are quite impressive, with all the ‘right shots’, ones that would absolutely make you swoon.  But only one – One Love Photo – truly stole my heart.

Their story alone is enough to win you over – a young wife-husband team shooting weddings, together.  If that wasn’t enough, get this: they still shoot film.  And not just standard 35mm, medium format, too!  With Hasselblads, Holgas, homemade lenses – the works.  You name it, they’ve done it.  And done it beautifully.

I’m now following their RSS feed, eagerly awaiting new posts.  It’s so refreshing to the commercial photography world shaken up a bit.  Film lives!