Road to Nowhere

Robin Graubard’s debut book is a stark documentation of Eastern Europe following the dissolution of the USSR

© Robin Graubard 2022 courtesy Loose Joints

Besides the long, paisley dresses and other vintage fashions, there really isn’t much dissimilarity between today and the events documented in Robin Graubard’s Road to Nowhere. The first major book of the photographer published by Loose Joints, Road to Nowhere is a stark documentation of Eastern Europe during the 90s following the dissolution of the USSR, conceived through a diaristic manner in which Robin bore witness to the Yugoslav War, Bosnian genocide and Kosovan uprising. She journeyed to Russia, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia and others, lensing and telling stories of hardship, suffering, war and hunger. And what with Russian invasion of Ukraine and ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, these pictures show that history does indeed tend to repeat itself.

© Robin Graubard 2022 courtesy Loose Joints

Road to Nowhere features primarily unseen imagery shot over the 90s, yet the visuals themselves appear timeless – they could have been taken yesterday, just a few years back or even decades. She worked solo and sought out stories that were close to her heart, revealing the difficulty of these lived experiences and powerfully juxtaposing them with the emerging subcultures of post-Soviet life, such as those seeking joy and normalcy amongst it all. Chores, games or dancing at a concerts are therefore comparatively sequenced alongside the deteriorated urban landscapes and buildings impacted by shelling. It’s a devastating depiction of conflict, but equally one of resilience. 

© Robin Graubard 2022 courtesy Loose Joints

With a career spanning 40 years, Robin’s work is often seen merging the autobiographical, editorial and documentary. She came of age in the counterculture and punk scenes of the 60s and 70s in New York, set against the urban backdrop of revolt and rebellion. She worked as a photographer at a newspaper; there was a strike and it was shut down. Consequently she bought a flight to Prague and met a group of women outside a UN building, who were discussing how no one was covering the war in Sarajevo. Receiving the press credentials from Newsweek, she set up base in Prague and stayed for three years.

“I photographed the war in Yugoslavia, oil smuggling in Rumania, runaways and orphans living in train station tunnels in Bucharest, and a school for girls in Prague,” she writes in the book. Proceeding to travel alone throughout the Balkans, she’d met families, lovers, translators, bus drivers and soldiers. In Belgrade during 1995, for instance, she spoke with a group of soldiers, some “dogs of war” who were the “most elite Serb and Russian mercenary soldiers on the front line”, she writes. “They seemed young and bedraggled.” She spent time photographing them and they were posing with peace signs. “Most of the soldiers in the picture died during the war.”

Robin was often on the front line and at the heart of conflict. Not only did she experience heavy shelling at night in her apartment while in Sarajevo, she also had a near miss when a bullet shot past her head during check in. “The man at the front desk seemed to be in some sort of trance and just ignored it,” she pens. On one occasion, she was walking to the hospital in Sarajevo through what was sniper alley, accompanied by a translator who’d been shot four or five times. Usually walking around on foot through Sarajevo, Robin recalls, “Somehow, I made it out”.

An impactful debut from the photographer, Road to Nowhere sees 130 photos compiled over 228 pages. The book is published by Loose Joints.

© Robin Graubard 2022 courtesy Loose Joints

© Robin Graubard 2022 courtesy Loose Joints

© Robin Graubard 2022 courtesy Loose Joints

© Robin Graubard 2022 courtesy Loose Joints

© Robin Graubard 2022 courtesy Loose Joints

© Robin Graubard 2022 courtesy Loose Joints

© Robin Graubard 2022 courtesy Loose Joints

Can you see me now?

Brunel Johnson’s four-part series provides a necessary platform for Black and minority ethnic groups

Many of Brunel Johnson’s ideas tend to formulate in the shower – it’s where he devises some of his best work. In the past, there’s been Dream, a project documenting the Pembury Estate in Hackney, photographing and videoing young women playing estate football. There’s also the countless sports, commercial, lifestyle and documentary photography projects, that each depict his notably candid style of image-making and, more importantly, his view of the world. It’s my Hair is another fine example, an ongoing project that aims to show the time, effort and skill that goes into maintaining Afro hair. 

Whether it’s a still or moving image, Brunel’s shower-formed concoctions are deeply powerful just as much as they are empathetic. And Brunel’s most recent endeavour is a fine paragon of his goals as a self-taught, documentary photographer-turned-filmmaker. Titled Can you see me now?, the project is a four-part series produced and directed by Brunel himself, that aims to provide a space for Black and minority ethnic groups to tell their stories. For him, creativity is an apt tool for telling these narratives and to ultimately steer change. So by working with a solid team – including Milo Van Giap as the DOP, plus charities Rise.365 and Re:Sole and United Borders – Brunel has cast an array of real-life people with lived experiences to share, heightened by his artful use of mixed-media and 1:1 format. The result of which is a compilation of four films, Young Black Man, The Beauty Of The Hijab, Black Girl Magic and CHiNK. Below, I chat to Brunel to hear more about his impactful series.


First, tell me about your ethos as a photographer.

I strive to capture the mundane moments of daily life in an authentic and raw way. If I’m working on a project, I’ll always try to draw out the moments that tell the story I want the audience to see best. My goal as a photographer is to change the narrative that surrounds Black and minority ethic communities. I want to change how we’re shown in the media and how our stories are told. So I strive to bring out the stories that I believe the world needs to hear and see without tainting it from a biased gaze. 

When did the idea arise for Can you see me now? Why tell this story?

It actually came about while I was in the shower (a lot of my ideas happen there). Being a Black creative in this industry can be frustrating, as not only do you have to deal with basic day-to-day struggles of life, you also have to deal with the stereotypes, your work being deemed irrelevant, being labelled unprofessional for stating your mind and making a stand for what you believe in, being randomly stopped and searched because of a vague police description as you walk out your front door. 

All these things and many more make you realise that you’re in a constant upward struggle to achieve a basic human right – to just live. And this can really take a toll on you mentally. Simply screaming, complaining and protesting gets you easily labelled and tossed aside. So how do you tell your pain, struggles and experiences while making those who wouldn’t normally listen, listen? It has to be done creatively. In my opinion, anyway. I believe these stories are important and need to be told, especially with how the world is right now. The mic isn’t being given to those who are truly affected and that needs to change. How will people understand what is happening in these communities if it’s always the white gaze of the media telling us what they think we feel? 

What are your reasons for incorporating mixed-media, and what does this add to the narrative?

While planning this project, I wanted the message to be delivered in a way that hits the viewer from multiple angles. I’ve seen this format done many times before, but I wanted to do it differently. Sometimes the visuals are dope but the poem is a bit meh, other times it’s the visuals that are meh but the poem is dope; I wanted to create something that was both visually and audibly dope yet still digestible. 

As a documentary photographer, I know the face and eyes tell a story and are probably the most captivating part of the human body. I saw the face as a blank canvas that I could use to tell the story with words, and would visually have the viewer spending more time staring at the photo. I didn’t want the viewer to come up with their own interruptions. The monochrome palette and 1:1 format were important for me. I acknowledged that, for some reason, whenever we talk about race, despite its complexities, it always somehow boils down to Black and White, so why not have visuals like that too. The 1:1 format was to create a box, symbolising the stereotypical box many of us have had to live our lives in, but now we were taking control of this box and using it to our benefit, to tell our stories. I made the subjects stare directly into the lens to prevent the viewer from looking elsewhere. The subject is in front of them and there’s no escape; it’s time to listen, read and see what they have to say. 

How did you land on the subject matter, and what do these topics mean to you? 

I decided that I wanted each piece to be direct and unapologetic of how these communities really feel. For the young Black man part of the series, I drew upon my personal experiences and had a friend who is a poet write it out as a spoken word. With the other parts of the series, I spent time speaking to people from those communities to educate me on their experiences, their feelings and what they’d like to say if given the platform to. 

I really enjoyed this process because, for example, with Black Girl Magic I was going down the lines of Maya Angelou and the strong Black woman narrative. However, after speaking with Black women, many said that the era of the strong Black woman had passed and that they wanted the world to know that they experience other feelings too; that they cried, laughed, felt anxious, scared, fatigue and more. So making this a reality was incredible. It was the same situation with CHiNK and The Beauty of The Hijab. One thing I made sure of was that each poem was written by someone from their respective community. This is why I decided to call the series Can You See Me Now? I do what I do so I can learn more about humanity. Each topic for me is an opportunity to learn, to find common ground and build bridges. 

What’s the main message with this powerful series, what can the audience learn? 

Can you see me now? Am I visible now? Can you feel and understand my pain, struggles and experiences? It’s to be visible. I hope the audience can relate to the series and feel a sense of relief that maybe how they’ve felt is finally being put across, and those who haven’t experienced the things said in the series become more understanding and accepting to the fact that they do exist and are happening. 

Film credits:

Producer, Script Writer, Director: @bruneljohnson
DP: @milovangiap
Sound & photographer: @bruneljohnson
AC: @notsergioh
Lighting: @flapjacksss & @milovangiap
Makeup: @ioanasimon_mua @madalina_petreanu
Editor: @jfroudy
Sound Engineer: @flynnwallen
Retouch: @alberto__maro @isahakeemphotography
Runner: @soyd1416

Models: @lenaelghamry @sadiqa.e @_shazfit @alex_fergz @da_bf9 @mrbonsu @proscoviauk @doggsza @jaychelle.1 @youngshahid @belliebooze @_purnimaraicreates @w.cui Gladys & Sandro.

Poems by: Yumna Hussen, @ashleybelalchin @thejasminesims @belliebooze

Brunel Johnson is represented by Studio PI, an award-winning agency with a diverse roster of talent from the most under-represented sections of society






New Perspectives: Dorothea Lange

Port’s director of photography, Max Ferguson, analyses an iconic piece of New Deal propaganda from documentary photographer Dorothea Lange

Shot in 1938 by heavyweight photographer Dorothea Lange, this picture shows a barn packed with children celebrating Halloween at the Shafter camp for migrant agricultural workers, in California. The boys are in their Sunday best. Some of the girls are wearing homemade fancy dress and masks. Most of the children are looking at something beyond the frame – perhaps at the blackface musicians we see in another image in the series.

One boy, however, peering through his round spectacles, is straining to see above the other children’s heads. He’s looking straight at the camera, and therefore at us, bewildered. A child of the American dust bowl, he is unlikely to have seen a camera like Lange’s expensive large-plate Graflex before; but he also seems to be questioning the viewer: Why are you looking at us?

Though the people at Shafter camp don’t know it yet, they have been made a part of something bigger: poster girls and boys for a new, modern form of capitalism that would come to define the post-war West.

From the mid-’30s until the early ’40s, dozens of photographers were sent to the poorest parts of America by the Farm Security Administration to document the consequences of the Great Depression. President Roosevelt badly needed support for his New Deal reforms and employed image-makers to provide potent portrayals of a desperate, rural America. These photographers – Lange, Walker Evans, Gordon Parks, to name the best known – are held in high esteem as documentary photographers as a result of their work, and they contributed greatly to defining the photographic discourse around the subject.

Across the Atlantic, other governments, notably in Germany and the USSR, were sponsoring artists to create favourable depictions of their regimes. But although the FSA images are not favourable, they are still part of Roosevelt’s campaign to force liberal capitalism to renew itself. To deny that the New Deal photographs, as they came to be known, are anything but propaganda does a disservice to their power.

This article is taken from issue 23. To buy the issue or subscribe, click here

Falling into the Day: Christopher Nunn

Photographer Christopher Nunn speaks to Port about ‘Falling into the Day’, a photographic series examining the effects of Alzheimer’s on his friend David

A photograph of David with his mother sits beside his bed, 2009. © Christopher Nunn

Photographer Christopher Nunn was nominated for the Prix Pictet in 2015, an award which employs photography to draw global attention towards issues of sustainability, and a year later was chosen as one of PDN’s 30 New and Emerging Photographers. He has most recently won a grant from the Bob & Diane Fund for his work on Alzheimer’s. Here Nunn speaks about Falling into the Day, a series documenting his friend David’s battle with the condition.

Care home #3 reading room, 2013. © Christopher Nunn

David and I met around 2004, when I was working in a supermarket. He was a regular customer and we used to chat sometimes when he came in to do his shopping. One day he showed me one of his books, and sometime after that I visited him at home and we drank tea and looked at some of his artwork. He was pretty eccentric. Over the years we kept in touch. At the time I didn’t know any other artists, so it was always very interesting to see his process and the way he worked.

Like most of my work it was completely organic, and at the start I had no idea that he would develop Alzheimer’s. I made quite a few pictures of David early on, and over the following years when I was just starting to take photos. I would test out different cameras on him and try different approaches, and he always enjoyed this interaction because he liked to be photographed. He was a terrible poser though, and it took a long time for him to relax and trust what I was doing.

1980 Diary, 2010.© Christopher Nunn

I started to photograph David in a serious way in 2009. Around this time his behaviour and his demeanour began to change and I suspected he had some sort of memory problems. He used to call me and we would have a conversation, and then five minutes later he would call again saying the same things. It was confirmed to me shortly after by one of his friends that he did in fact have Alzheimer’s.

David became more difficult to photograph as it became harder to communicate with him, and he was more difficult to direct. I was shooting in a very slow way on a big film camera with natural light, which required us both to be still. My main concern was that I wasn’t putting him under any stress. Even as his condition deteriorated he was happy to be photographed and still enjoyed the process, but over time he slowly faded away, and became more distant and increasingly difficult to interact with.

Most of the time I would visit him to see if he was alright and just to spend time with him. There were so many times when I tried to photograph him and it didn’t work – it wouldn’t be the right time and felt forced . This is why I ended the project shortly after David moved into care. I did manage to make a few photos in the care homes which worked, but when it began to stop feeling like a collaboration I decided to stop. I still visited him for a few years after that, until his death in 2016.

Spring, 2013. © Christopher Nunn

I was interested in how someone lives alone with Alzheimer’s and the fact that this illness is basically invisible. In fact, David never spoke to me about his Alzheimer’s. We never had that conversation. It was the elephant in the room, so to speak. The challenge was telling this story when there is actually nothing much to see at all.

 The work focussed on him within his own space and his own possessions, which were a part of his life. All this slowly became alien to him. The photographs were made during his last years of independence before he was finally moved into care.
I was also very interested in the idea that he was a well regarded artist, and that is what defined him and how he defined himself. My pictures were made during a time when this stopped making any sense. It was about his character slowly dying. 
Soap, 2010. © Christopher Nunn
Falling into the Day was completed over nearly a decade. Allowing such a long period of time gives you the luxury of being able to really get a feel for a place or subject matter and find those the nuances. However, that is not always possible, and I absolutely don’t think that a good or important series has to come from years of blood, sweat and tears. I have worked on, and plan to work on more shorter projects. 
I see a lot of projects where people make work about their own families, and this is one of my favourite genres of photography. It is certainly not an easy thing to do and has its own set of difficulties, but the access, the control, the intimacy are obviously much easier to achieve than working out in the world. You are trusted, and it’s easier for people to understand the process. You have a genuine connection which is something you can’t force or fake.
Winter, 2010. © Christopher Nunn
Photography Christopher Nunn 

Behind the Frame: America’s Bull Riders

Photographer Jane Hilton recounts her time documenting the drama, brutality and surprising spirituality of the pro bull riders competing at the National Finals Rodeo in Nevada

Even though I can’t ride a horse, I have a horrid feeling I was a cowgirl in a former life. I’ve been photographing the weird and wonderful spectrum of American culture now for over 25 years now, so when I was offered access to the National Finals Rodeo I was too curious to resist. The National Finals Rodeo is the last major rodeo of the calendar, taking place just before Christmas. All the best bull riders from nationwide rodeos that have taken place throughout the year compete for a cash prize of over one million dollars and, of course, the coveted gold buckle trophy.

For 10 days and 10 nights, Las Vegas’ iconic strip becomes a sea of Stetsons as cowboys descend on the city, with many driving for over 15 hours to take their chances on the backs of bulls. Sponsored by Wrangler, the scale of the televised event is absolutely huge and the stakes are high. To stay on the back of a bucking bull for the target time of eight seconds is a gruelling and dangerous task; riders are shaken to near-death in front of a packed audience, all on the edge of their seats. Both rider and the bull they choose are judged in the competition, so everybody aims to ride the most vicious bull possible in order to prove their skill and prowess. It’s a cowboy thing: they’re so proud of their heritage, and they mourn the day they will be too busted to get back on the bull. One rider went out in the 2nd round, breaking his collarbone – it’s an adrenaline-fuelled sport.

Scottie Knapp, 25 years old

I watched Scotty Knapp over two nights, photographing him on his bed wearing a green scarf. By this time, he’d already had numerous stitches in his forehead and a dislocated shoulder. He was strapped up before he put his shirt on, and could hardly move his shoulders back. Knowing how broken he was he told me, “It’s okay, I’ll make it through the next three nights.” I almost couldn’t watch. This isn’t like other sports where a stretcher and medical team will be sent onto the pitch if you get injured. You have to walk out. Occasionally the barrel men or the wranglers who push the bull out of the way so that riders can get up will help someone who is hurt, but they’re walking out regardless.

Thankfully, Scotty won his round, which he was chuffed about because it meant he won a cash prize. He was very sweet, and had two small children and a baby who had travelled to Las Vegas with him. Rodeo has a tradition of bringing people and communities together. The event is very family orientated, and everyone from brothers and sisters to second cousins come along as a whole support network.

Cody Rstockj with his children

I’ve never met a cowboy who did it for the money, but when it presents itself as it does in rodeo, they have to take that chance. They weren’t what I imagined at all, and were much shorter than I had imagined with their lithe, jockey-like builds and physiques. I have a strong belief that most men are more handsome with stetsons on, and I hardly ever asked them to remove their hats.

 One of the guys I met grew up on a ranch so his family obviously had money because he’d had bulls to practice on when he was a child, but this is not the norm. Most of them will have just started out practicing on a sheep at three or four years old, before transitioning to a calf and then a bull at around 14.
Sage Kimzey’s custom chaps

After Sage Kimzey – who wore the most amazing chaps I’ve ever seen – lifted the title and won, there was a meet-and-greet where all 15 of the riders signed autographs. There were just queues of people. I guess there is a bit of celebrity that comes with competing in the National Finals Rodeo, but I found that this definitely isn’t what motivates these guys.

All cowboys dream of owning their own ranch and the attraction of pro-riding is that the prize money creates the opportunity to buy and maintain the land and livestock, which is very expensive. Freelancing as a cowboy pays a pittance; it’s definitely the lifestyle that keeps them going.

Even though some of the guys were very handsome and had a movie-star appeal, many I photographed were very shy. Most of the cowboys I’ve met over the years are very spiritual, and I remember being told once that a cowboy’s church is his horse, which he rides out on everyday. I’ve never forgotten that. I suppose these men might go hours, days or weeks without speaking to anyone as they do their chores around isolated acres of land. It’s almost like living as a monk does in a monastery; when you’re out in the open, you wipe your brain clear and you can be more in touch with spiritual things. I think that is very good for the soul.

Photography Jane Hilton

Interviewed by Drew Whittam