Yesterday, 3 hours into our walking tour of Madrid led by Karl and his crutch, we stopped to admire a gorgeous hanging garden. We sat next to a building, photographing and chugging water, and in true Karl fashion he said, “Hey guys, let’s go in this place!” …so we did.
The building housed one of the Obra Social Fundacion “la Caixa”, featuring different galleries sponsored by the bank la Caixa. This particular one is called CaixaForum Madrid and the third floor exhibit was a documentary photo gallery, Fotopres “la Caixa” 09.
The pamphlet reads, “The exhibition presents the work of the photographers selected as the winners of this year’s edition together with work by young documentary photographers who have been able to carry out their projects at various locations around the world thanks to FOTOPRES “LA CAIXA” 09 grants.”
There were nine sets of photos from different photographers. Subjects ranged from transgender in Pakistan to gender violence to DubaiLand. View the photos from the three winners here. Here are some of our thoughts about the gallery:
I was riding a wave of excitement and joy after wandering through Retiro Park for a couple hours when Karl shepherded us into the Fotopres “la Caixa” exhibit. What I saw brought me back down to reality. The photos were incredibly moving, yet horrifying. It’s a travesty to see what humans are still capable of doing to each other. One positive that can be taken out of these photographs is the power of documentary photography. These people are given a voice through these photographs, and these images can further serve as a platform for social reform.
As an asspiring photographer myself these photos captured every emotion from hope to pure terror. I think John said it correctly when he said the photos brought him back to reality. The world is so diverse and with the photos nestled in a beautiful, clean and joyous city it really gives you perspective on how different the world can be when you just cross country borders. What was also inspiring to me was the uniqueness of each photographer’s project. Every one of the photographers had a narrow focus and their photos did what photos do best, they told a story. The courage of the photographers I think must also not be ignored as it could not have been easy to sit back and watch these things happen while focusing on sharing others messages with the world. And in the midst of telling a story their technical beauty of their photographs was hard to ignore. Each picture seemed to be illuminated from behind as the light was brilliant in even the most horrifying places. It was truly an inspiration to use your talent as a photographer to do something good.
A tad bit weary, Karl promised us he had one more place that he wanted to take us before we sat down to get a bite to eat. But it wasn’t long before he yelled the all too familiar, “Hey guys, let’s go here too! Just for a couple minutes I promise!” Well I don’t even think Karl knew what we were in store for when we entered the 3rd floor exhibit of La Caixa Forum. The portraits of women from Pakistan, whose faces and lives had been torn apart by violence were the first things to catch my eye, but were also the things that churned my stomach. I started slow, and read each and every photo’s description from that section, and it wasn’t long till I found myself brought to tears by the emotion radiating from each portrait. Those photos were by far the hardest to get through, and I felt not only physically tired from walking, but emotionally tired after that. It was something, I think that our entire group needed to see though. We are so lucky. Traveling through EUROPE of all places with a group of close friends and a teacher that is more of a kid than some of us combined. The biggest thing we worry about is whether to get the salmon bocadillo or the jamon y queso at lunch. Or what shoes to wear with which dress (or jersey). For me, the entire exhibit was a wake up call. This trip has given me some of the best experiences of my life and I will try my hardest not to take any of it for granted.
I have to talk specifically about the photos of the abused Pakistani women because I can think of nothing else. I remember that they were the very first thing I spotted when I entered the hall, and they made me stop dead in my tracks. I spent at least a half hour staring blankly at each terrifyingly disfigured face. My initial reaction was absolute emptiness, probably shock. The last photo was particularly haunting, because the woman in it had no plastic surgery yet done, and all of the skin between her face and neck was still melted together. She was staring directly into the photographer’s lens and out at the viewer, and I stood there for at least 15 minutes staring directly into her huge, dark eyes. Never in my life had I seen such an expression of misery and dejection, as if she was saying; “Look. Look at me. Look at what they did to me.”
Eventually I had to leave the gallery, because the photos began to make me angry. And disgusted. Not disgusted because of the hideous mutations of the women — I was no longer bothered by that. Instead, I was disgusted by the actions of the men, family members and husbands that had caused these women such pain. And I was infuriated that somewhere in the world, this horrific kind of abuse is still going on, while hundreds of thousands (such as myself) are ignorant of it. To imagine that gender injustices still exist frustrates me, but to realize that they extend this far makes my blood boil. Particularly when I think of the people I know in my life who tease and make fun of feminists and still crack sexist jokes and still have sexist ideals. I just want to show them this exhibit, so they can finally realize that sexism and gender violence in all of its forms is still shockingly, terrifyingly real.
When I first walked into the room of photos, the portraits of abused women made me stop mid-stride. There faces were tarnished by acid. I’m sure their spirits suffered too. Husbands, cousins and friends changed these womens’ lives, caused them to have dozens of surgeries, wrecked their careers and devastated them.
But there was hope and that was what bad me quietly cry as I walked by these photographs.
I read each caption and then focused in on the woman’s face. Not because I was gawking at their injuries. I just knew that I should not turn my head from such sorrow. If they could endure the pure torture they were put through and then agree to put it on display, then I could stand to let their images speak for a few moments.
I live such a lucky life and really do appreciate everything I have but sometimes it is easy to forget the life I could’ve had. That woman with the haunted eyes, melted flesh and forgotten dreams of being an airline stewardess could have been me.
I could have suffered like she did.
Walking through this exhibit during the best week of my life, quickly put my charmed life into perspective. Even my most trying moments are nothing compared to those of the subjects of these photographs. I realized my life could have been completely different purely due to circumstances out of my control. I had not anticipated the deep emotion these photos and captions would evoke; it was the perfect time for me to receive a reminder of how lucky I am. Amidst these amazing heart-wrenching photos, I found a since of optimism. My favorite photographer in the exhibit, took a narrow subject matter, of African immigrants to Europe, and focused on an unexplored area of their existence in their new homes. Instead of focusing on the extreme poverty he showcased some very specific colorful and optimistic areas of their existence. It was interesting to see this portrayed this way. This photojournalism at its best was an unforgettable eye-opening experience.
I was drawn to the portraits of the Pakistani women like a moth to flame (forgive the cliche). I stood under the spotlight that shown down directly in front of the display, making me feel like I was the only person in the room. The presentation only intensified the deep connection I felt with these women, these victims of acid violence, who never proclaimed their victimization.
What struck me hardest about Emilio Morenatti’s ‘Generation of Violence in Pakistan’ was the juxtaposition of the soft portrait format of each photo and the unexpected disfiguration of each subject. It was incredible to see how determined each woman was to live her life as if she was not in unbearable pain as a result of backlash from petty family arguments and disgruntled spouses. They seemed without anger in a way that awed and confused me.
The emotions I felt after spending some time on this exhibit distracted me so much that I don’t even remember the rest of the photos I looked at. I don’t know what I saw when I left the group to explore another floor, and I don’t know how long I was walking around (the group searching the museum for me) before I snapped out of it and could return to reality. The quiet strength the women in the photos projected is still a mystery to me.