Florian Hetz’s diaristic photo book looks at memory, loss and the “circle of life”

Art has long been practiced for its remedial qualities. When Berlin-based Florian Hetz – a former costume designer for dance and opera – discovered he had severe encephalitis, his life was “put on hold” as his memory started to deteriorate. “In order to fight the memory loss,” he tells me, “I started to take diary photos.” Florian had never dreamt of becoming a photographer, but as time went on and he continued to capture moments from daily life, he started to look at the world a little differently – and with a more photographic viewpoint. 

“The brain inflammation made me quit my career and forced me to take care of myself,” he continues. “For years, I paid my rent by working during the weekends in a famous Berlin club as a bar manager. Ironically, I never cared for techno and night life, which made me really good at my job.” At the end of 2015, Florian purchased his first camera from a friend and that’s when his photographic pursuits started to take the lead, resulting in his first set of exhibitions held the year proceeding. Soon after he was approached by a publishing house to release his debut book The Matter of Absence; the same year he left his job at Berghain and went-full time in photography.

Four years down the line and Florian was handed yet another set of challenges. Coupled with the fallout from the pandemic – which he partially enjoyed as an introvert – his exhibitions were cancelled and, sadly, his father died of cancer. “Very early into the year, it was clear that 2020 wasn’t going to be a normal year, so I went back to taking diary photos again. I never wrote a diary, but the photos work for me in the same way. They immediately bring me back to a particular moment in time.” The outcome of which is his latest photo book entitled Aiko, which initially took off as a means of dealing with the passing of his father. “We had a tough relationship when I grew up,” adds Florian, “but over the last 10 years, we developed a really good one that was based on mutual respect.” It’s important to note that this book, however, is far from a discussion of death, and instead navigates the theme of cyclicality – “the circle of life” – through images taken during a tremulous year. Documented in characteristic diaristic manner of the artist, the work is segmented into seasons; it begins in winter and ends in autumn.

Aiko pays tribute to the little things that we tend to overlook: light reflections on a rainy street, or the first ray of sun after a long winter, or the texture of a plant,” he says. Daily observations of Berlin take a dominant stance throughout this tome, which are coupled with pictures from his trips to Montreal, Vienna, Oslo and Bavaria – 70% of the work is conceived in diary form. Then, sometimes, Florian would meet a stranger and capture them in an intimately soft and relaxed setting, fuelled by a meeting beforehand in order to make them feel comfortable. “During the shoot I basically observe the sitter,” he adds, “I don’t want them to pose and, ideally, I want them to forget all their selfie faces and Instagram poses. I’m quite clear with my directions, but generally I prefer less to more.”

Throughout this publication, Florian shows us – the audience – how photography can be utilised as an archival tool. Somewhat like a souvenir, photography has the power to preserve. Within Aiko, there are countless memories and histories to be unearthed; like a double page spread where, on the left, there’s a pill box and on the right, a photo of a piece of old, sprouting red cabbage on a window sill. “Both photos stand for life and resilience,” he explains. “The medication is a one-week ration of HIV medication and the meds enable people today to live with the virus and have a totally normal life. Through the medication, the viral load won’t be detectable, which means you won’t be able to transmit the virus.” Another picture which Florian is particularly fond of is the image of his father, taken with his reflection in the mirror. “This is the last photo I took of my dad. It’s a very intimate moment, where my mum is changing his pyjamas. Next to that is a photo of my dad and me, when I was two years old. I placed the photo on the bed of my dad after he had passed.”

Aiko is perhaps Florian’s most personal project to date. From the quiet moments to the more posed, the work – staged yet equally candid – provides an insight into his life, revealing his inner self as a person and a photographer. “For many people that know my work, it will be a bit of a surprise,” he states, having mostly published studio works before now. “I hope they will see that these photos are part of my professional identity, as well as my identity as a very private person, and see it as an invitation into my life and the way that I look at things.”

All photography courtesy of the artist 

Aiko by Florian Hetz is published by Paper Affairs Publishers

I AM NOT INVisible

Thilde Jensen documents homelessness in America through her powerful four-year project, currently on show at Martin Parr Foundation

Laura feeling down. Las Vegas, Nevada 2017 © Thilde Jensen

In the spring of 2016, Danish photographer Thilde Jensen met Reine and Lost, two homeless men who lived under a highway in Syracuse, New York. Their openness and enjoyment for being photographed inspired Thilde to start work on her long-term project documenting homelessness in America – which is something that she holds personally having “survived living outside in a tent in the woods” due to a serious illness. Now part of an exhibition named I AM NOT INVisible held at the Martin Parr Foundation from 16 September to 19 December this year, the work journeys from Gallup to New Mexico, Las Vegas to New Orleans. Below, I chat to Thilde about her reasons for starting the project, the demise of her own American dream and what it’s really like to be homeless in the country. 

Bobby dragging his blanket to untangle the energy fields. Homeless for 13 years. Las Vegas, Nevada 2016 © Thilde Jensen

Can you tell me about yourself and how you came into photography?

I grew up in Denmark and my first love was with theatre and film, which led me to photography and photo books. I realised that a series of still images could convey a narrative and allowed for a much more personal artistic process, compared to the big productions involved in both theatre and film. Back in 1997 when I was a young photo student, I decided to move to New York City. Soon I fell in love, got married and ended up working and learning from some of the best in art and documentary photography. 

Unfortunately, my American dream quickly came crashing down when I found myself severely sick from an unknown affliction. Everything fell apart – my marriage and my career – as my immune system was crashing. My body was suddenly not able to deal with the vast chemical overload of our modern world. I had to leave my home in the city that I loved, as it had become a toxic war zone for me. Over the first few years, I survived living outside in a tent in the woods or simply sleeping under open sky, while wearing a respirator whenever I was going into public areas. This, at a time before masks were commonplace facial coverings, made me feel like a freak and I lived a life of deep isolation. I was lucky to have support and not end up in endless homelessness as others who were less fortunate. 

This painful and nightmarish experience became the subject of my first photo book The Canaries about Environmental Illness, published in 2013. While working on this project, and after seven years of struggling with hypersensitivity, I was lucky to recover enough to slowly start photographing on the street again. A few years later and I was fortunate to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship to travel across the country photographing in different homeless communities. The end result being the photo book I AM NOT INVisible, published in late 2019. 

Faye Dunaway. Syracuse, New York 2015 © Thilde Jensen

What first inspired you to start documenting homelessness in America?

My own experience of being forced to live outside and knowing that, even though I had worked hard and made a decent living, there was no American safety net to catch me when I got sick. 

What stories are you hoping to share throughout I AM NOT INVisible? 

While photographing homelessness in America, I met so many wonderful people, many of them with life stories so full of trauma and neglect it was hard to believe they had made it this far. Being a photographer, my talent is to make the people I spend time with feel seen – to make them visible. I think the worst thing we can do to each other is to look the other way and thereby make the people pushed out invisible, non-existent. I also think it is important that we dare to look at reality, as complex as it may be, up close and in an unfiltered way. With my camera, I was hoping to be an honest mirror to the often brutal reality I was encountering on the street. I wasn’t so much looking to tell anyone’s individual story, but more so trying to create a tapestry of voices and experiences from the homeless streets of America. 

Drake, ‘I spent time inside, so much human potential rotting away behind bars’. Las Vegas, Nevada 2017 © Thilde Jensen

You first met Reine and Lost at the beginning of the project, and they were very open to sharing their lives. What did you learn about them both, and how did you want to portray them in your imagery?

I met Reine and Lost in the early Spring 2016 in Syracuse, New York, after they had survived yet another brutally cold winter huddled together on a concrete ledge right under the highway. Reine and Lost were close to me in age and were both struggling with alcohol addiction. They seemed to enjoy my company, and after spending time with them I was soon welcomed with my camera in most of the homeless community in Syracuse. Of course some people didn’t want to be photographed and I’m always very respectful around asking for permission. I learned early on that, for me, picture making is a collaborative process. If a person is unwilling it never makes for good pictures – it feels totally wrong to take pictures without permission. I’m a lousy street photographer in that way but my interest is in creating trust and an emotional connection. I feel my images more than I see them, I guess. Unfortunately Lost died some months after I started the project, which is often the sad outcome of long-term homelessness. Lost had been living most of his adult life on the street. 

Cindy with her wig. Las Vegas, Nevada 2016 © Thilde Jensen

Can you share any anecdotes from working on the series? 

A lot of the images are from Las Vegas, where I had never visited before. I drove across the country and found the homeless community in north Las Vegas to be heartbreakingly enormous. This is not the Vegas you see if you go as a tourist. At first, it was much too overwhelming to see so many people living on the street and it took some time to make enough connections there to feel safe to walk around with my camera. 

One morning, as I’m talking to people and taking photographs, Cindy, a woman my own age, asked me if she could pay me to photograph her. I of course refused any payment but gladly turned my camera to her, and that was the beginning of an intense connection which evolved over the following two years while photographing in Las Vegas. Her unique experience of reality was addictive, her mind would run wild and, on a good day, she was the funniest person to be with until suddenly the darkness and the voices overtook her. One of the last times I saw her she told me I better go now because she was afraid I would otherwise dissolve into the wall. I miss her; she was quite special. People on the street told me that she had arrived there some years back as she just got out of jail due to some petty theft charges. She had looked beautiful and was totally sane, but soon she had been taken advantage of. “This is what the street will do to you”, they said. 

I met many people who not too long ago had driven past the homeless, going to work, never thinking this could be them and here they were. Loosing their identity, their self worth, unsheltered, vulnerable to sexual assault and violence. Sleepless nights with drugs and alcohol to dull the pain, slowly the thin veil that separates you from madness starts slipping, as your reality no longer makes sense or becomes too painful to inhabit. 

Bobby’s keyboard. Las Vegas, Nevada 2016 © Thilde Jensen

How do you hope your audience will respond to the work? 

As an artist and documentary photographer, I think the end goal is to always create dialogue. If the viewer feels touched, like I have been, by the people in the pictures or even provoked or unsettled, then I’m happy. I also hope that people can see themselves in these pictures and maybe realise that we need to take better care of each other. The truth is that we all have the same need for love, food and shelter and would likely all benefit from a society that is more supportive and loving. 

Will you continue working on this topic?

I had just started photographing for my next photo project Tomorrow, which is about the future – but then Covid-19 hit so it’s been on pause. Instead, I have been taking a deep-dive into the natural world under the premise of recreating paradise in a sustainable manner; trying to create a model for how we can live in balance with nature. To do this, I have undertaken a scientific journey looking at and understanding the microbiological magic right under our feet that makes up the fertility and health of anything living on this planet. Though after spending many months looking at the alien lifeforms that inhabit our soils, I feel eager to get back to photographing people again. I’m trying to figure out what kind of future we can dream up together. 

Eric in the bushes. Syracuse, New York 2014 © Thilde Jensen
Mike’s black hand in roses. New Orleans, Louisiana 2018 © Thilde Jensen
Moody in the broken down truck where he sleeps. Las Vegas, Nevada 2017 © Thilde Jensen


I AM NOT INVisible by Thilde Jensen is on show at the Martin Parr Foundation from 16 SEPT – 19 DEC 2021, and is part of Bristol Photo Festival


A portrait of The Bahamas

Melissa Alcena’s intimate photography reveals honest snapshots of Bahamian locals

Transmutation © Melissa Alcena

Melissa Alcena’s photography is so intimate – so telling and revealing – that you instantly feel connected to her subjects. Capturing Bahamian locals in documentary portraiture style, Melissa makes sure to spend quality time with those that she lenses; she wants to show them to the world in the most authentic and respectful way possible. From joyful dispositions of boys running and jumping into turquoise water, to imagery of her friends distorted by the ocean’s waves, Melissa wants to amplify her subjects and the stories they want to share. All of which is done through a signature warping style and an almost addictive colour palette and tone. Below, Melissa shares the details behind her practice and the importance of connecting with her subjects. 

Let’s begin by hearing about yourself. 

I was born and raised in Nassau, Bahamas and I currently live here. I’ve always been drawn to photography — I’d look through my father’s hoard of photo books on Africa for hours on end when I was younger. But it wasn’t until I started feeling really unfulfilled and empty at my job at a tech company, that I realised I needed to make a change and fast. I ended up attending and graduating from Sheridan college in 2012 in Canada and starting taking photos in 2016. It was in response to my visa expiring and having to move back home; I was depressed and my camera became the vehicle for which I reexamined my country and my place in it. Since then, my career has been steadily growing and I like it that way, because I’m playing the long game. 

Arawak Cay Boys © Melissa Alcena

You’ve developed this warping and hyperrealist quality throughout your photography. What’s influenced you to work this way?

That set of photos was something I’ve wanted to do for a while, but I knew I needed a certain material to help bring that vision to light and it took a while for me to find it. I spend a lot of time in the summer here on the beach, and watching people in the water has always inspired me to find a way to recreate what I’ve seen without having access to an underwater camera housing. The main visual reference that sticks out in my mind is me being on a boat on a clear day when the turquoise water is almost like glass, and the refractions of light on sand below get wavy with each gentle movement of the waves— one of my friends jumps into the water and swims past me on the boat, and as I look down they look distorted and beautiful.

Dorlan © Melissa Alcena

How do you go about creating one of your photographs?

When I’m doing documentary-style portraiture, my main method is to give a bit of myself when I want to capture another. I’ve talked about the psychology involved in taking a portrait before, because I think it’s very important to connect with who you’re photographing and to make them feel comfortable. Most of the time, I’m trying to tell the story of the individual and I want to amplify them, so I can’t do that from a place that is impersonal and void of connection and emotion. I’m usually photographing Bahamians who are not used to being in front of a camera, so I try my best to tell them a bit about myself, make them laugh and share other photos I’ve taken. I make the effort to get to know them as best as I can within the time that I have to take their photo. 

Can you talk me through a recent favourite shoot of yours?

The most recent favourite shoot of mine took place in early September on a Saturday while driving around with a friend; it was pure happenstance. We took a turn up towards a beach and saw this massive group of boys running and jumping off a wall into the water below. They were so happy and their joy was so pure it was contagious. I asked if I could take their photos and they invited us to another spot close by, where they’d be spending the rest of their day together. Everyone seemed to be out that day and there were good vibes all around. I just followed, watched and snapped what I considered to be a quintessentially Bahamian scene.

Transmutation © Melissa Alcena

How do you hope your audience will respond to your work?

I’m more worried about how the person I photograph perceive the image I take of them, than the audience who views it. I just want to do right by the people I take images of and I hope that whoever sees them, feels a bit of the connection I made with the people in my images. I hope that leads to some sort of empathy or respect.

What’s next for you, any upcoming plans or projects?

I’m currently working on a body of work on Bahamians that I hope to show at my solo show next November at Tern Gallery, here in Nassau. 

Transmutation © Melissa Alcena
Drexel © Melissa Alcena
Marty Horseback © Melissa Alcena
PJ Easter Monday © Melissa Alcena

Photography courtesy of the artist.

Godlis Miami

David Godlis’ new book captures a community of Jewish retirees on the balmy coastline of Miami Beach in the 70s

Sitting on the Coral Wall, Ocean Drive © GODLIS

Miami’s South Beach has continued to be an enduring subject throughout the history of modern photography. Its sandy coast and the people that inhabit its shores, beds and promenades have captured the attention of many image-makers over the years, especially that of its declining elderly Jewish community. A prominent example is Andy Sweet, an American photographer known for his documentary work and momentous Shtetl in the Sun: Andy Sweet’s South Beach 1977-1980. And now, David Godlis – a street photographer based in New York – has released his very own book on the subject, titled Godlis Miami and published by Reel Art Press. He, like Sweet, has captured a community of Jewish elders from the 70s, those of whom are bathing and basking in the heat of the famed coastline as they enjoy the late years of retirement.

Aged 22 at the time, David set out from Massachusetts to Miami Beach with the intention of visiting his grandma who lived near Ocean Drive. During the 10 days spent there, he had a profound realisation; in January 1974, he learnt how to take good pictures. “Not other people’s – mind,” he writes in the book’s introduction. 60 rolls of film later and he unearthed not only a collection of fascinating, humorous and touching photographs, but also a new way of documenting life around him. Two years later, for instance, he’d go on to capture punks for his series at the venue CBGB, documenting a piece of history as he’d capture, without a flash, the crowds swarming to see the likes of The Ramones, Blondie, Patti Smith and Talking Heads in the bustling New York music scene. The capital has long been a consistent subject of David, but here, we’re seeing a new turn for the photographer; a documentation of the magical – almost fictional – scenes of Miami Beach.

Ladies in the Sun, Lummus Park © GODLIS

A decade prior and David made his first visit the to beach. He’d take the train with his mum, and later planes and jets; he’d go fishing with his grandfather while his grandmother entertained herself in the background. It was more than exciting for David at the time, who goes on to describe his past memory of Miami Beach as being likened to a “Jewish Disneyland”. He writes on the matter: “When I returned to Miami Beach in 1974 with a camera, all these memories of Florida came flowing back to me. As I tripped the shutter over and over, taking pictures on those beaches I had walked upon as a little kid, everything clicked. Pun intended.”

Impeach Nixon Protester, Lincoln Road Mall © GODLIS

The book begins with a gold-tinted vision of what appears to be David as a young boy, proudly holding a fish in his hand. A page flicks by and the work turns monochrome, revealing four years’ worth of imagery and the candid, almost intrepid, moments of his characters. Throughout, you’ll find men cooling down in the shallows; ladies resting on benches; palm trees adorning the pavements; dog walkers; Bingo players; tanners; strollers; sleepers; and theatre-goers. Everyone here in David’s matte and contrasted world are revelling in a restful point in their lives, where leisure matters more than most other things. It was a thronging community at its peak, and little did David know that, the next time he’d visit, it would all disappear.

“In 1985, 10 years after I shot these photographs, I returned to Miami Beach with my wife, Eileen,” writes David’s introduction of this pivotal moment. “I took her down to Ocean Drive to show her where they were taken and was astonished to find that most everyone was gone. I don’t think even in my early 30s I understood how fast time flies. Of course, many of the retired people I shot pictures of were dead 10 years later. But also many of them had been driven out by the Mariel boatlift of 1980. You can see what became of Ocean Drive in the bathroom shootout scene with Al Pacino in Brian DePalma’s Scarface. So Eileen and I stayed a little further up Collins Avenue the year. And I had to be very careful taking photographs on Ocean Drive that my camera wasn’t stolen.”

On Lincoln Road Mall © GODLIS

In the 70s, around 80% of the population on Miami Beach was Jewish, peaking in the 80s to around 230,000 inhabitants. Miami at the time also saw the influx of Caribbean and Cuban immigrants, the latter were emigrating to the US from Mariel Harbour which resulted in much of the Jewish community moving north. The community declined and many of the older generations had passed. So when David revisited the beach and expected to see the once-thriving community he laid eyes on years before, he was surprised by the emptiness and speed in which the community had vanished. 

Much has changed since then, and David is a witness to this transformation – Godlis Miami is respectively a documentation of these shifts. He’s seen the disappearances of spots such as Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House, a Jewish delicatessen founded by Wilfred “Wolfie” Cohen who also launched three of South Florida’s most famous eateries. Meanwhile he saw how The Yiddish American Vaudeville and Hoffman’s Cafeteria became nightclubs. “But not all is lost.” he continues to state in the book. “In 2017, when I last returned to Miami Beach, I stayed in the little Century Hotel, looking pretty close to how it looked in 1974 when I first came upon it. I walked around to see where most of these pictures had been taken. To dream the dream I had photographed 40 years earlier. And I could still see it all. Even my cover girl in her cool Oliver Goldsmith sunglasses. The ocean and palm trees have a way of making those dreams come true. If only for a 1/125th of a second.”

Godlis Miami is published by Reel Art Press. RRP £29.95 / $39.99 / €33.12

Collins Avenue Corner View © GODLIS
Fishing Pier, Lower Ocean Drive © GODLIS
Insulin Lady, Collins Avenue © GODLIS
Ordering at Wolfie’s, Collins Avenue © GODLIS
Sitting In the Ocean, Ocean Drive © GODLIS
Yiddish Theater, Washington Avenue © GODLIS

Finding Common Ground

Kemka Ajoku’s new series captures migration and settlement of Black people in the UK after the Windrush era

The After Party

A photographer of fashion and portraiture, Kemka Ajoku – who’s born and raised in London – strives to rewrite the stories of Black British culture. Done so through a mix of personal projects and commissions, Kemka has documented all sorts of meaningful tales from the locals of Lagos, busy in the tasks of their everyday jobs, and the beauty of brotherhood in the post-adolescent stage of life. Each picture he takes reverberates with purpose and passion; he’s a storyteller of truth, and someone who employs visual art as a tool for spreading his messages.

Over the last year, which has been a difficult one for many, if not all, Kemka has managed to find a sense of fulfilment. Not only did he graduate at the end of 2020 form a degree in Mechanical Engineering, he also arrived back home and broke away from the educational system for the first time in his life. “I felt free to creatively understand more about who I am,” he tells me, “looking back at my lineage as a guide to learning more about myself, having never given myself the space or time to truly be introspective.”

Gestural Greetings

A period of self-awareness and contemplation, Kemka’s ventures out into the ‘real world’ arose alongside the arrival of the pandemic. Coupled with the increase in racist hate crimes and injustice the globe, he began to question his role as a photographer, “a Black British photographer for that matter.” A sense of responsibility emerged: “a need to document the life of my people both in Nigeria and the diaspora,” he says. “To me, this was more important than taking a pretty photo. And so, a paradigm shift took place within me, a shift which led to me working with more intentionality, giving more meaning to the work with the hopes of lasting the test of time.”

This matured sensibility has manifested into his latest photo series, titled Finding Common Ground. Months in the making, the body of work is currently exhibiting at Wrest Park as part of the England’s New Lenses project with Photoworks, in partnership with English Heritage’s Shout Out Loud programme. In comparison to his previous series – although motivated in their own right – Kemka has never worked with such drive and ethos. “I sat down and really articulated what I wanted to achieve before picking up my camera.” A lengthy bout of research and exploration later, he came to learn more about the migration and settlement of Black people in the UK after the Windrush era, “a story that me, my parents, and their parents are part of.”

Tami’s Portrait

The photos involved are therefore contemplative, powerful and historical. Shot in Wrest Park, Bedfordshire, the location protrudes with British heritage as it’s built atop the style of an 18th Century French Chateau. He cast a selection of his friends to sit for him, each representing a specific demographic within the Black British community. Referred to as “characters”, Kemka explains how each of his models’ personas have been developed from “watching British Blaxploitation films from the 70s and 80s; films such as Black Joy, Babylon Burning an Illusion and Pressure to name a few.” To accentuate this, Kemka worked with stylists Daniel Obaweya, Charles Ndoimu and Lingani Noah who assisted with adorning the models in Black British clothing lines from both young and more established labels. 

Western Union

“The styling for this project was broken into two parts, highlighting two generations of Black British citizens,” adds Kemka, “from the tailored style of the late 40s and early 50s, to the more relaxed and youthful looks of the 70s and 80s. Fashion is an important part of British culture, used in a way to express identity with the community one associates themselves with. Many fashion nuances migrated from foreign land have interwoven with British styling over recent years, and this integration of style was a focal point in styling the models.”

Observing the completed works and you’ll notice how the poses or gestures appear to have been caught in a freeze frame – recording not only that moment in time, but also an experience and learning exuded from the photographer who’s captured them. “The intention with this work is to artistically depict an important era in Black British history (not in a common documentary photography fashion) that will have longevity long after I’m around,” he concludes. “Thinking back to my intentions as a photographer, one thing I revert to is the legacy my work will have for other Black British creatives, looking for a reference upon which to build their creative career upon.”

One View of the Temple
Kozy’s Portrait
Couple in Wrest garden
The Consultation
Wrest River
The Essence of Chi
Lover’s Rock


Photographer: Kemka Ajoku

Assistant Photographer: Anu Akande

Talent: Kozy, Ore Ajala, Amidu Kebbie, Chieloka Uzokwe, Tami Bolu, Feranmi Eso

Hair: Shamara Roper

Styling Team: Daniel Obaweya, Charles Ndiomu, Lingani Noah

Special Thanks: Mahtab Hussain, Ingrid Pollard

And special thanks to Photoworks and English Heritage for giving me the opportunity to create this body of work through their ‘England’s New Lenses’ project

Minceirs by Joseph-Philippe Bevillard

Revealing an honest and raw side to the Irish Traveller community, the photographer shares the details behind his powerful series

Charlotte, Tipperary, Ireland 2019

A fire burns behind two girls as they pose for the camera, cosied up in matching puffer jackets  with an unmissable fur trim. The sky is grey, bleak almost, and you can see the signs of industrialisation poking out in the background. Another image portrays a young bride sitting with her great grandfather, just moments after the event. Her hair is big, her dress is as white as starlight. A further picture sees a young boy in boxing gloves, gesturally strong as he dons a look of pyjama bottoms and wellies.

These are some of the scenes depicted in Joseph-Philippe Bevillard’s Minceirs, a powerful series that lenses the lives of the Traveller community in Ireland. Born in Boston, USA before moving to Ireland in 2000, he started work on the project after hosting a workshop that focused on Travellers – Russell Joslin from Skeleton Key Press in Oslo, Norway, then contacted him about the work and they spent nine months sifting through 750 images, selecting the 90 best. “We wanted to show the readers the hidden world of the Travellers in Ireland,” he tells me, who are a community continuously ostracised by society and people across the globe. He went on to meet 200 families in total and, proving the falsity of many claims and assumptions about the community, learned that they are “very humble” people who mostly wanted to keep living traditionally in an increasingly modernised world. “I wanted to capture their way of life before it disappeared; Irish government are trying to force them to live with settled people and lose their identity and lifestyle.”

The resulting imagery is chaotic just as much as it endearing, like a window has been edged open to reveal a lifestyle in all its raw and undulated honesty. Joseph-Philippe shows the human side of the community, which is a skill that’s been refined since he lost his hearing at the age of three. It was around then that he first started drawing and painting, and thus began what would become a lifetime filled with art and storytelling. Below, I chat to Joseph-Philippe to hear more the project.

Paddy, Galway, Ireland 2019

What can we learn about this community, and how did you want to portray them within your imagery?

I hope my images give a glimpse into the lifestyle of the travelling community; I show their hardships, culture and how important family is to them. I try to portray it honestly, where some Travellers live in extreme poverty, while others have made a better lifestyle and love to celebrate life and all occasions. 

What was the process like while photographing this project?

I am very lucky to live in an area where it’s not far from many Traveller campsites, where some are my favourite places and are easily a day trip by car. Sometimes, if it’s over a two hours’ drive, I’m heading to a late-night event like a wedding, or when I have a workshop or a private tour, I would be on the road for one or two weeks. So that is when I would stay in a hotel or B&B.

After Church Wedding, Wexford, Ireland 2019

What was the relationship like with your subjects, did you spend much time getting to know them?

It was difficult at first since being deaf in both ears; communicating with them was awkward but once I started taking pictures and showing them the photographs, they trusted me and brought me to meet other members and clans. Photographs are so important to them. Their photographs from the past are often damaged or missing from moving place-to-place and living in damp and cramped caravans. They said I am always welcome and greeted me with tea and food, and even offered me a bed to sleep. Most importantly, they know I don’t work for the media or the government as they feared they will portray them as bad people.

What’s your main goal with Minceirs, are you hoping to change the negative stereotypes associated with Irish Travellers?

I wanted to show that the Travellers are not bad people. Since they are made up of one percent of the Irish population, they are often demonised by society, and Travellers are often helpless and voiceless. Like any society in the world, when one person commits a crime, they are painted with one brush. For the past 12 years, I have visited their campsites unexpectedly and I have not witnessed any illegal activities. Boys and men were always working with the horses, the women clean their homes, looking after the babies and the children were always playing outside.

Kathleen and Bridget, Dublin, Ireland 2020

What’s next for you, any upcoming projects?

I am continuing to document the Travellers for the rest of my life. Currently and for the upcoming future, I am working on several themes related to the travelling communities. For the past year I have been focusing heavily on the fashion side of the travelling communities, as I find them very elaborate and colourful. Some of the girls have hair almost reaching their feet and start wearing makeup, high-heeled shoes and pierced earrings as young as three to mimic their mothers and older siblings. 

My other themes are focusing on specific families or a campsite. I wanted to capture the transition of the children’s future and what became of them once they leave school at around 15 years of age. Most boys end up working with their father, looking after the animals and working with scrap metal and wood. The girls help their mother, looking after the younger siblings, the disabled and the elderly. Most are married from the age of 16 to 18 and tend to have many children. They are a very tight knitted community and are always looking after each other. This is because it is difficult for a Traveller to gain employment due to discrimination. 

Gold Rings, Galway, Ireland 2019
Murt and his Great Granddaughter Betty on Her First Holy Communion, Wexford, Ireland 2021
William and His Lurcher, Limerick, Ireland 2018
Running Child, Dublin, Ireland 2020
Donoghue Brothers, Galway, Ireland 2019
Connors Men, Dublin, Ireland 2019

Joseph-Philippe’s Minceirs is available from Setanta Books

Jake Michaels: C. 1950

The LA-based photographer talks us through his captivating series documenting the Mennonites of Belize

In the late 1950s, when the first Mennonites arrived in the Caribbean country of Belize, they did so with one main intention: to live without influence from the outside world. They moved to be undisturbed, continuing customs in farming and agriculture – growing crops like potatoes, corn, tomatoes, watermelons, papaya and more. Some have also said that, in recent years, the German Mennonites in Belize produce over 85% of poultry and dairy products in the country. They are also known for their skills in carpentry, traditional clothing and language; a vast majority speak Plautdietsch, while some speak Pennsylvania German, English and Belzean Spanish.

Jake Michaels, a photographer based in Los Angeles, first came to learn of the Mennonites of Belize as he was working on a series for The New York Times, looking at the culture of dress worldwide. “I had a few images of Mennonites from northern Mexico saved in my reference folder,” he tells me. This sparked a few conversations with other photographers around the topic, and before long he was introduced to the community. In 2018, C. 1950 was borne – a documentary project that turns an honest and respectful lens onto its people and age-old traditions amidst an increasingly modernising world. Here, I chat to Jake learn more about the series, now published by Setanta Books.

What did you learn about the Mennonites of Belize; did you know much about this community beforehand? 

I had some knowledge beforehand of the Mennonite culture as I did not want to arrive and assume anything about them. I focused on the Mennonites because I found their traditional dress and culture captivating in the juxtaposition of a jungle setting.  

What was the process like while photographing this project, where did you visit and stay? 

Although my time was brief, it was very impactful on my work and my process going forward. I slept in a hotel about an hour away from the villages because that was the closest lodging to the community. I found that removing myself from the surroundings allowed my mind to reflect on the day and make better images the next. 

After gaining access to the community’s families, was it hard to gain trust, or were they open to being photographed?

I had conversations with each family and the pastor from the villages. I feel the people’s engagement was just as meaningful as the photos themselves. Everyone I encountered was very hospitable and open to the project.

Did you spend much time getting to know your subjects, or were you more of an observer?

Every family was a different experience. Some I played games with, looked over books with, or just shared a meal. Photographing a community like this, it is essential to share as much as they give.  

Can you share any stories from working on the project?

One of the most impactful parts of the project was my ability to be present and not looking towards the next shot, engaging in the present instead. With the pace of my normal day-to-day, it was essential for the work to be present.

One of the experiences that stood out in my mind, was when one of the families I had a Saturday night meal with gave me their horse and buggy to try out. Without any guidance or hesitation, they said, ‘here you go’, and handed me the reigns. The horse knew what to do, so that took the pressure away. The experience of driving the horse through the dirt road gave me a brief glimpse of their point of view, and gave me a better sense of the visual landscape. 

What’s your main goal with c.1950?

My main goal was to create a body of work that reflected what I had seen in the project, and document the Mennonite people and their culture as we all become more of a global society. 

Photography courtesy of Jake Michaels

Jo Ractliffe: Nadir

The South African photographer publishes her first comprehensive book of works made over 35 years

Photographs: 1980s to now by Jo Ractliffe published by Steidl. The Borderlands (2015)

From 1948 until the early 90s, apartheid took hold of South Africa and South West Africa (now known as Namibia). Politically dominated by the nation’s minority white population, the first apartheid law was the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act (1949); followed by the Immorality Amendment Act and the Population Registration Act of 1950. Between 1960 and 1983, over three million Black Africans were removed from their homes and into segregated neighbourhoods, while the government announced that those who had been relocated would lose their South African citizenship, and moved into ten designated territories known as ‘bantustans’.

Sparking outrage and backlash against the institutionalised racial segregation of apartheid, this resulted in resistance and the rise of social movements across the globe – some of the biggest of the 20th century. Notable documentary photographers of that time would pull their lens onto the uprising and division prevailing across the country, like David Goldblatt who documented South Africa’s people and landscapes, and Ernest Cole, one of the country’s first Black photojournalists. Jo Ractliffe, a South African photographer born in Cape Town, first raised her camera in the mid-80s during the midst of the anti-apartheid movement. But rather than documenting its brutality, she turned an unusual lens onto the metaphorical, shooting landscapes and somewhat allegorical placements of figures, things, animals and nature; capturing the borderlands of her home town; the aftermath of civil war in Angola; addressing themes of conflict and displacement in far from the typical documentary manner.

Jo’s earlier series include Crossroads (1986) and Vissershok (1988), both of which were crafted in her hometown, shortly followed by Nadir (1986-1988) that compiles a collection of photomontages in a land where seemingly aggressive stray dogs have replaced humankind. A move to Johannesburg in the 1990s led to reShooting Diana (1990-1995), which captures the moments of ordinary life. While in 2007, she documented the war in Angola and published three books on the after-effects of the war on the South African landscape: Terreno Ocupado (2008), As Terras do Fit do Mundo (2010) and The Borderlands (2015). These are all but a few examples of the 35 years spent as a photographer, and now her life’s creations have been formed into a comprehensive tome titled Photographs: 1980s to now, co-published with the Walther Collection and Steidl and featuring text by Emmanuel Iduma, Matthew Witkovsky and a conversation with Artur Walther. 

In this publication, you’ll find a mix of prose, impactful imagery and in-depth, personal cadences written by Jo that detail the reasoning behind her credited works. Like Nadir – a series shot in 1988 that, now more than ever, conveys a sense of dystopia in the formidable aftermath of the apartheid government. The stray dogs are luminescent and the backgrounds are dark and bare, alluding to the hostile control of the police as they roam the bleak, supernatural landscapes. And even the name, Nadir, denotes a feeling of despair, defined as the lowest or most unsuccessful point in a situation. It’s a powerful series to say the least, and one that echoes with history and politics.

Below, Jo shares an excerpt from the book that explains more about the series Nadir (1986 – 1988).

Photographs: 1980s to now by Jo Ractliffe published by Steidl. Nadir (1986-1988)

Come down with a thump on the out side of the fents and slyding down the slippy bank in to the ditch which I come up out of it soakit and sopping and there wer that black leader waiting for me with his yeller eyes. 

Jus stanning there in the rain and waiting for me. 

Dint see no other dogs jus only him. Looking at me and wagging his tail slow. Then he ternt and gone off easy looking back over his shoulder like he wantit me to foller so I follert. I ben waiting for it so long when the time come I jus done it. 

» Russell Hoban, Riddley Walker, 198à


Nadir began as an experiment in montage. I was disappointed with my photographs; they seemed somewhat apart, detached from the events that surrounded them. I wanted my work to register with what was happening in South Africa. Especially in that moment, in what felt like ‘a world gone mad’, I wanted to make work that, more than simply an image, conveyed an experience of the world. 

Initially, my intentions were quite straightforward: I needed to retain a degree of photographic mimesis, but I also wanted to destabilise the veracity of the photograph and insert something of the unreality of my own experience. I started to reconfigure my photographs, taking structures and objects from one set of images and incorporating them into another. My ‘empty’ landscapes became like stages as the various constituents found their place and the narrative developed. As I became more technically proficient, I began assembling entirely fictitious spaces made up of fragments of ground, texture, sky and clouds, all with conflicting light sources and distorted scale relationships – things impossible in ‘reality’ but plausible nonetheless. This also influenced how I approached things photographically, my seeing often directed more towards the needs of my montages than the photograph as an end in itself. 

Making these screen-printed photographic lithographs involved printing my negatives through an enlarger onto line film, using a sheet of sandblasted glass as a halftone screen. Various elements were cut and pasted to make up the composite image, which was exposed onto a lithographic plate and printed on cotton paper. Colour and tone were built up by screen- printing layers of transparent ink and finally the image was varnished to produce a surface quality similar to photographic paper. 

In the beginning I didn’t think about dogs, although funnily enough they were always around, getting themselves into my pictures. I then began to seek them out. I photographed domestic dogs at play, went to animal shelters and followed feral dogs roaming the streets. I attended police-dog training sessions, had the trainers set their dogs on me so I could photograph up close. One day in 1986, when photographing in Crossroads, my eyes met those of a white dog slinking around a pile of discarded boxes and rubbish. Soon after that encounter, I came across Ryszard Kapuściński’s book Another Day of Life (1976), about the events leading up to Angola’s independence and subsequent civil war. I was very struck by that book, the ways it resonated with what was happening in South Africa – in particular, a passage about the dogs in Luanda, abandoned when the Portuguese fled. And when I read Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker, the journey of the dogs in Nadir started unfolding. 

Jo Ractliffe’a Photographs: 1980s to now is available here.

Photographs: 1980s to now by Jo Ractliffe published by Steidl. Nadir (1986-1988)
Photographs: 1980s to now by Jo Ractliffe published by Steidl. Nadir (1986-1988)
Photographs: 1980s to now by Jo Ractliffe published by Steidl. As Terras do Fit do Mundo (2010)
Photographs: 1980s to now by Jo Ractliffe published by Steidl. As Terras do Fit do Mundo (2010)
Photographs: 1980s to now by Jo Ractliffe published by Steidl. The Borderlands (2015)
Photographs: 1980s to now by Jo Ractliffe published by Steidl. The Borderlands (2015)
Photographs: 1980s to now by Jo Ractliffe published by Steidl. Everything is Everything (2017)
Photographs: 1980s to now by Jo Ractliffe published by Steidl
Photographs: 1980s to now by Jo Ractliffe published by Steidl

The city and all it holds

Hong Kong-based photographer Roni Ahn remedially lenses adolescence and uncertainty during a difficult year in the city

Cherry and Zac

It’s an undeniable fact that the youth of today have been hard hit by the pandemic. Mental health, education and job prospects have all waned, with repercussions heightened in isolation and from a lack of support throughout the year. Even returning back to schools and seemingly normal life has proven to be tricky for most – with 67% of UK youths who responded to a Young Minds survey believing that the pandemic will have a long-term negative effect on their mental health. Clearly, there’s much to be done in the way of bettering the lives and minds of the younger generation, and the effects are being felt worldwide.

To alleviate some of the year’s trembles, Roni Ahn, a photographer based between London and Hong Kong, turned towards her medium as a remedial outlet. Originally from Korea, Roni moved to Hong Kong at the age of nine before flying the nest to university in the UK. And just moments before the first waves of the pandemic were felt, she’d flown back to Hong Kong to reapply for her UK visa, which “happened to be when the pandemic blew up in Europe, in March 2020,” she tells me of the experience. “So I decided to stay here until things settled down, but ended up staying a lot longer than planned.” Filled with doubt about what may happen in the future, let alone the present, Roni found this point in time to be difficult – and rightfully so, particularly as she didn’t know how long she could extend her visa for. 

Although, it wasn’t just the pandemic that ensued anxieties; Roni felt like she didn’t have much of a creative place in Hong Kong as she did in the UK. “There are a lot of brand shootings and less room for creative freedom,” she explains. And with the recent political events unfolding – such as the protests led by the city’s youth – this naturally added to the political uncertainty in the area.

Kitman and Kuku

Roni’s camera is therefore her antidote, employed to build on her own personal project that turned out to be unambiguously close to home. Titled The city and all it holds, the documentary-in-style series has now reached completion and compiles various images shot between the months spent back at home in Hong Kong. The imagery, as a result, is both powerful and soft, capturing the moments of idleness and the unknown as her subjects roam the familiar landscape around them. “Working on my personal project gave me a sense of purpose and excitement in doing something that was solely for myself,” she adds. “Whilst I was taking photos of other people, the project reads like a journal of my time here.”

Indeed, it’s important to think of this work as a time capsule. When the lockdowns arose in Hong Kong, and meetings of more than two people in public were banned, Roni started to cogitate about the people she holds close. “When you’re forced to limit social interaction, you begin to narrow down on those that are more important to you – who is your support system?” Addressing this contemplation through imagery, Roni wanted to translate these thoughts into a series and thus formulated her findings into The city and all it holds; the title alluding to a shrunken world, and a place where she can look at things a little differently.

Fat, Kwan and Ruby

Most of her subjects, then, are those she’d met on set or through friends, but oftentimes they are cast on Instagram. A usual meeting would take place momentarily, getting acquainted with the her friends, lovers and family on the day of shooting, “which actually ended up being some of my favourite shoots,” she notes, specifically pointing to the ones with an “environment that feels authentic to them.” This has been achieved through the artful curation of clothes or location, meshed into a pictorial representation of the person in front of the camera, as well as the places that they are particularly font of, “whether it’s where they grew up, where they spent the most time in or has a special meaning to them.”

Setting the precedent is one of Roni’s favoured images of a group of friends – Sam, Blake, Ruby, Shui, Fat and Kwan – jumping across the waterway in the outskirts of the city. There’s an irradiating light flushing through the evening as the sun begins to fall behind the trees; the subjects appear joyous, as part of the group awaits as the others jump across the water. It denotes rebellion, freedom and strength – that nothing can come in the way of the younger generation fulfilling their youthful duties together. “I was shooting them from above a bridge and I was on my last two frames of a film roll,” says Roni. “I wasn’t expecting them to jump across, but they just started running and jumping back and forth, and I managed to catch the moment. I think the photo encapsulates the true spirit of the boys.”

Sam, Blake, Ruby, Shui, Fat and Kwan

Now that this series is out in the world, Roni has realised a shift in her role as a photographer. The city and all it holds has been the gateway for this recognition, where Roni now considers herself as a narrator who’s retelling the stories of her subjects. “I feel more accountable to tell these stories as accurately and authentically as possible,” she says, cementing the work as somewhat journalistic. But most of all, she’s telling the stories of adolescence – a universal experience felt by all. And once you observe the goings on within her pictures, it will most likely bring back a memory, feeling or relationship from your own past, too. “With all my work, I want to make people think. My favourite thing about photography is that it can be interpreted differently by everyone who views the work. What I am personally trying to tell with the pictures (often clouded by my personal experiences and memories) becomes irrelevant.”

Photography by Roni Ahn.

Kayla and Fa
Kayla and Fa
Kitman and Kuku
Lok and Enoch
Lok and Grandfather


Jim Goldberg publishes unseen polaroids from his seminal body of work, Raised by Wolves – a documentation of marginalised youths in LA and San Fransisco

© Jim Goldberg, Untitled Polaroid from Raised By Wolves

Many will be familiar with the work of Jim Goldberg. An American artist, photographer and member of Magnum photos, Jim has spent a healthy career documenting class and power – lensing those neglected from mainstream society. He’s a storyteller of truth and fiction, and his pictures have long been cemented in the photography canon for his collaging of narratives, experiences and histories. Shown through a characteristic mix of text and image, this distinctive output has now been extended into a new publication titled Fingerprint, published by Stanley/Barker and depicting a series of unseen polaroids taken throughout the 80s and 90s.

Jim’s photographic voyage first began with Rich and Poor (1985), a juxtaposition of San Francisco’s wealthy and impecunious. Capturing the class divide in the West Coast and shot between 1977 and 1985, the work instantly gained notability in the art world. Jim’s second book, Raised by Wolves (1985), reached similar acclaim – if not more so – for its frank documentation of marginalised youth in California. Shortly followed was Nursing Home (1986), a portrait of the harsh realities with growing old; Coming and Going (1996-Present), capturing birth and death in the USA; Open See (2003-2009), a project addressing the experiences of migration, immigration and trafficking; plus The Last Son (2016), the more reflective and biographical; then Ruby Every Fall (2016), Candy (2013-2017), Darrell & Patricia (2018) and Gene (2018).

© Jim Goldberg, Untitled Polaroid from Raised By Wolves

Raised by Wolves, however, is considered to be his most seminal; a mixed-media composite of photography, texts, films and objects narrating the lives of runaway street kids as they navigate addiction, abuse and violence. Shot over a 10-year period between LA and San Fransisco, the pictures occupy the precarious and fragile space between documentary and fiction, highlighted through Jim’s ardent camera sensibility and the inclusion of his subjects’ written word. In an interview with Magnum, for example, Jim wrote that it’s a “work of fiction that’s completely true”. An apt and contradictory phrasing, the work sees honest storytelling about real-life people merge with the subjects’ very own sagas – like Dave, who refers to his mother as a ‘junkie slut’, and father a ‘biker from Hell’. “His parents lived in Texas. They were devout Christians. They weren’t junkie sluts,” continues Jim in the interview.

Comparatively, the captions allude to the more realistic side of this feathery dance, striking the audience with the harsh realities of those in front of the lens. “Runaway from Florida who stole her Daddy’s credit card. 14 year-old girl who says she is pregnant with triplets,” writes one of his pictures, a monochromatic portrait of a girl picking at a box of Cheerios, shot in Hollywood in 1991. “Napoleon plays chicken, hanging over the wire guardrail of the Hollywood freeway,” writes another for the image Hollywood Freeway #1, depicting a disorientating photo of a man leaning over the wires, cars out of site, and taken in 1989. The latter is accompanied by text stating how the subject doesn’t remember why he ran away in the first place, “walking around for hours and hours and not being able to stop. Freezing all the time – exhausted, dazed.” 

© Jim Goldberg, Untitled Polaroid from Raised By Wolves

Fingerprint, in this case, is an offshoot of such. An anthology of previously unseen polaroids, the images were taken during the making of Raised by Wolves. “Since the 80s, polaroids have been an integral part of my work,” Jim tells me. “They have been a way to give back images immediately to my subjects, as small gifts of our interactions.” As well as offering an instant, physical snippet of that particular moment, the polaroids also serve a more methodological purpose. They’re Jim’s drafts; his tool for mapping out what would later become the images seen Raised by Wolves.

In signature scribbling fashion, Jim’s polaroids present the scriptures of his subjects, decoding information about their identities, challenges and resilience. One image writes, “Fucked a movie star today for $100”, while another says, “Going to Texas to save my life. Change my ways. Too bad I have to leave S. F. to do it. You all just wish you looked this good!” Jim adds:“The whole point is that everything is written is by the kids themselves.” Coupled with chromatic depictions of the teens, most, if not all, have a certain strength in their demeanour as they pose for the camera; arms placed to the head and one to the hip; a rose held to the face; or a defiant stare into the lens. It’s a personal expulsion of their lives.

Having spent 10 years getting to know his subjects, naturally he was going to build up a stack of personal stories. Which begs the question; without the texts, would the images alone have such pertinence on what’s undeniably a politically charged and important subject matter? In short, the pictures – and polaroids – are both forthright in their documentation of poverty and youth, but the straight and oftentimes explicit words add an extra layer to the image’s impact. The combination of both succeeds in telling a story of class division, and even though these pictures were taken decades back, the struggles and suffering can still be felt today. As Jim conclusively states: “It makes me wonder if we have learned anything about supporting at risk youth.”

Jim Goldberg’s Fingerprint is available to purchase at Stanley/Barker

Photography by Jim Goldberg

© Jim Goldberg, Untitled Polaroid from Raised By Wolves
© Jim Goldberg, Untitled Polaroid from Raised By Wolves
© Jim Goldberg, Untitled Polaroid from Raised By Wolves
© Jim Goldberg, Untitled Polaroid from Raised By Wolves
© Jim Goldberg, Untitled Polaroid from Raised By Wolves
© Jim Goldberg, Untitled Polaroid from Raised By Wolves
© Jim Goldberg, Untitled Polaroid from Raised By Wolves