Project 28 Malta

19 December 16

Posted at 4:24

Malta is the 7th country I visited for Project 28. Valletta is my chosen town. The first seven towns I visited for Project28 I had never visited previously however I have been to Valletta twice before, both times in the early seventies, so in theory I had some knowledge of the place albeit a long time ago. Malta is also a place I grew up hearing a lot about. My Dad used to often speak of the time he spent there whilst serving in the Royal Navy, he talked of Strait Street, known as The Gut, the street the sailors headed for when their ship was in port. So imagine my surprise when I realised my AirBnB room was above a bar in Strait Street.

Malta became part of the British Empire in 1814 and remained so until independence in 1964 (although the Queen remained Head of State) and then became a republic in 1974.

Malta received the George Cross for the part it played in WW2 during the what became known as The Siege of Malta.

Malta joined the EU on May 1st 2004 and the Eurozone in January 2008.

Grand Harbour EntranceGrand Harbour Entrance

Malta is an island (one of three I will visit for Project28), its history, economy and people are dominated by the sea, ships and sailing. Valletta's Grand Harbour is an iconic destination for generations of sailors and cruise ship passengers.

Lazzaretto CreekManoel Island Yacht Marina

Look in any direct from either side of Valletta and this will be what you are likely to see.

Recumbent Figure Siege Bell War MemorialRecumbent Figure at Siege Bell Memorial

Valletta is on a peninsular on the east coast of Malta. On the South East point of that peninsular just inside the harbour entrance is the Siege Bell Memorial and the recumbent figure facing out to see in memory of all those who perished in the Siege of Malta 1940 - 1943.

Church of Saint Francis of AssisiChurch of St Francis of Assisi

Malta is a catholic country. Masses have large congregations throughout the week, not just on Sundays.

Valletta from Marsamxett HarbourValletta from Marsamxett Harbour

These wooden balconies are abundant in Valletta and indeed throughout Malta. They became fashionable in the mid eighteenth century. Green became a popular colour introduced and favoured by the British.

St Ursula StreetSt Ursula Street

A typical narrow undulating street in Valletta with popular wooden balconies populating both sides of the street.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St Paul's Anglican CathedralOur Lady of Mount Carmel and St Paul's Anglican Cathedral

One of Valletta's iconic views. The stone along with churches on the skyline typify Valletta.

Sliema WaterfrontSliema Waterfront

Sliema, a short boat ride across Marsamxett Harbour, along with St Juliens, is today like an extension of Valletta.

Parliament BuildingParliament Building

Freedom Square and City GateFreedom Square and City Gate

 Enter through the city gate and Freedom Square lays ahead and to the right is the new Parliament Building.

Fort Manoel. Manoel IslandFort Manoel. Manoel Island

Manoel Island lies across Masamxett harbour. The fort on the island remains the subject of a 16 year ongoing dispute regarding public access which is currently prohibited.

Malta's economy is dependent on tourism, a freight transit point and increasingly competing with Ireland and Luxembourg in cross border fund administration. There is also a growing business of film production with incentives being offered to film makers. The Maltese are still close to the British with Britons making up a high percentage of of non- Maltese. The population has tripled over the last 100 years and although the smallest population of any EU state Malta has the highest density of population in the EU in fact one of the highest in the world.

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Project 28 Belgium

14 November 16

Posted at 5:05

The 5th country I visited was Belgium, the city of Liege. Liege is in the Eastern Wallonia region of Belgium. The Walloon Federal Region is one of three that make up Belgium, Wallonia as the regions government renamed it, is the French speaking part of Belgium with over 80% of French speaking nationals residing there. The federal regions of Belgium enjoy a lot of devolved powers including even setting their own foreign policy and trade agreements. I am currently unsure of how this sits in the context of the EU. Just prior to my visit Wallonia had at the eleventh hour held the other 27 countries of the EU to 'ransom over the competition of an EU trade agreement with Canada that had taken seven years to negotiate.

Gare des Guillemins 1Gare Des Guillemins

I arrived in Liege by train from Brussells. The train station, Gare Des Guillemins is a sight to behold. An ultra modern, futuristic building somewhat at odds with the surroundings but never the less creating a positive, if slightly confusing, impression of the city. The architecture worth of a couple more images I feel.

Gare Des Guillemins 2

 

Gare Des Guillemins 3

 

Paradis TowerParadis Tower

Looking from the station in the direction of the town is Gare Des Guillemins architectural soulmate the Paradis Tower (here seen from the river). A structure as equally out of place in Liege, perhaps both are an indication of the direction of future development in Liege but for now albeit impressive they look out of place.

A walk along the river Meuse towards the centre of town soon exposes more traditional and historic architecture.

Institut ZoologiqueInstitut Zoologique

And then there is the architecture that was 'modern' once upon a time

Cite AdministrativeCite Adminstrative

Then there are mixtures of old and new

Statue Le PlongeurStatue Le Plonguer

Overlooking the city is the Citadelle, the Montagne de Bueren, now the site of a hospital, for me it seemed an ideal spot to capture what is now becoming a Project 28 trademark - an ariel shot.

UntitledLiege from The Citadelle

Citadelle Steps Looking UpMontagne De Bueren

There is just a little matter of 374 steps to climb up. It's number one on the Huffington Post's list of most extreme staircases.

Citadelle Steps Looking Down

No so bad on the way down though.

La Meuse By NightMeuse by night

A walk along the river Meuse is a nice experience in Liege, at night it is transformed with each of the bridges being lit up in ever changing colours.

Belgium of course is one of the six founding nations of the EU and is home to the EU and NATO headquarters. In many ways there is much in Belgium, the way the country is divided and the way at least Walloon appears out of step with the union. It is complex! Whilst staying in Liege I had the ideal opportunity to catch a train to Luxembourg, another founding state and the next country I would visit for Project 28.

 

 

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Project 28 Lithuania

01 October 16

Posted at 4:27

Lithuania, country  number 18 in my project but the second I have visited (the first outside of the UK). Lithuania joined the EU on May 1st 2004 following a referendum held on 10th and 11th May 2003. The referendum had a turn out of 63% with 90% of those voting in favour of joining. Bars and supermarkets encouraged voters to turn out by offering discounts to those who could prove they had voted.

Gediminas TowerGediminas Tower

 Gediminas castle and tower stand at the top of Gediminas Hill, the highest point in Vilinius Old Town. On 23rd August 1989 the tower was the starting point of the Baltic Way.Two million inhabitants of the Baltic states formed a human chain from Vilnius in the South to Tallinn in Estonia in the North in an effort to gain independence from the Soviet Union's occupation.

The Baltic Way The Baltic Way

It was the largest and most effective demonstration in the Baltic State's campaign to regain their freedom.

So the Baltic Way started at Gediminas Tower and so did I. Having been pleased with aerial shots taken in Boston I thought I would take the same opportunity here.

New Town From Gediminas HillView of Vilius from Gediminas Hill

The view across the River Neris in the early morning light is breathtaking.

View from Gediminas TowerOld Town from Gediminas Tower

A view from higher up in the tower looking out over the Old Town.

Vilnius is compact but also has a lot of variation. The skyline is notable for the numerous churches. They are predominantly Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. There is only one Synagogue remaining in Vilnius following the attempted extermination of Jews by the Nazis and more latterly the Soviet Union occupations.

UntitledChoral Synagogue

Before WW11 there were over 100 synagogues in Vilnius, the city was even called the 'Jerusalem of Lithuania' but today only the Choral Synagogue remains standing and in use. Also of note is the absence of a Muslim presence. There are in fact four Mosques in Vilnius (although I never came across one). There is certainly an absence of the visibility of the Muslim religion that we are used to in Western Europe. Lithuania is the only Baltic State with any mosques. In September 2015 all three states discussed the possibility of banning the Burqa  followoing the influx of Syrian refugees to Germany. Politician's in Lithuania resolved it would be a nonsense as none had ever seen a Burqa being worn in their country. It appears that to date migration from the Middle East and North Africa has not impacted the Baltics. Christianity though is always visible especially beneath the Gates of Dawn where from the street you can look up and see through a glass window the painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Chapel of the Gates of Dawn. Everyday locals and visitors stand in the street below praying, especially when services are taking place on Sundays. You rarely walk far in Vilnius without seeing clergymen or nuns.

 In terms of history, the Kingdom of Lithuania was created on 6th July 1253. During the 14th century the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was the largest country in Europe encompassing present day Lithuania, Belarus, parts of Poland, part of Russia and the Ukraine. For over two centurues a two state union of Poland and Lithuania existed as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. During the late 1700s the Russian Empre took over much of Lithuania. Then after WW1 Lithuania became independent with the Republic of Lithuania being formed on February 16th 1918 Freedom did not last long though in 1940 Lithuania was occupied by first of all the Soviet Union and then by Germany. At the end of WW2 the Soviets reoccupied Lithuania. Then in 1990 Lithuania became the first Soviet republic to declare independence. As mentioned before Lithuania joined the EU in 2004, it then adopted the Euro on 1st January 2015.

The objective of Project 28 is for me to visit, and photograph all 28 member countries of the EU at the time of Brexit before there is any change to freedom of travel for UK citizens throughout the EU, so before Article 50 is completed. Today Brexit, the stability/future of the EU, being brought about at least in part by migration across and into the EU, is seen as a major problem both within the EU and across the globe. We hear through the media about unprecedented change and unprecedented migration. Just looking briefly at Lithuania's history one can see that change on an even greater scale has happened repeatedly throughout history. This is not the place to go into the detail but each of the events referred to above have caused mass migration. As no doubt will become obvious as I visit more countries. The persecution of the Jews saw massive movements of populations and indeed the elimination of many. I intend to highlight where history has seen change with similar human and economic impact as some are predicting for the EU. But for now, back to Vilnius today.

Even within Vilnius there is an area which has declared itself and independent republic, with it's own constitution. The Republic of Uzupis.

Republic of UzupisRepublic of Uzupis

Uzupis means "beyond the river". This small area of Vilnius is encircled by the Vilnele River, it is connected to the rest of Vilnius by seven bridges.

The area is described as bohemian and occupied by friendly artists. Uzupis was declared a republic on 1st April 1997. The constitution is posted in nine languages on a long wall in the centre. Uzupis has a national anthem, a president, prime minister ambassadors and a sheriff.

The centre piece is the Angel of Uzupis

Angel of UzupisThe Angel of Uzupis

So it's a quirky tourist attraction I guess. On my three visits there I didn't really meet many bohemian artistic folk, I saw some evidence of sculpture and art alongside the river and many of the bridges are adorned with padlocks although I'm not sure that idea originated here. I did spend an enjoyable hour or two in one of the cafe bars chatting with locals. Chatting in Vilnius is not a problem, I didn't meet a single person who didn't have and grasp on English, whether young or old, busker, sleeping on the streets whatever everyone can understand and speak English - which was not the case when I visited the other Baltic states of Latvia and Estonia.

Having said I didn't meet the artists referred to in the travel blurb I did find Vilnius in general was at one with all things artistic. My landlady was an artist and photographer. I met numerous street musicians and enjoyed random concerts on stages dotted all over the town and covering all genres of music (all part of the end of summer festival that appears to run throughout September and into October. There was also a lot of interest in Lithuanian culture and history, be it beer production, open air traditional food stalls, or folk in traditional dress. All could be found in the market that runs the full length of  the very long Gedimino Street during the fiesta period.

Then there is the street art. Vilnius has had a street art festival annually since 2013 and artists from around the world are attracted there. Some caught my eye.

Keule RukeKeule Ruke

The mural on the end wall is by Brazillian artists OsGemeos, twins who did this piece for the 2015 festival. Their grandfather was Lithuanian, he is depicted in the giant's left hand. The smaller piece of Putin and Trump with splif and enganged in blowback was originally a piece of them kissing, painted by Dominykas Ceckauskas (co-owner of Keule Ruke) and graphic designer Mindaudas Bonanu and was an interpretation of the 1979 photograph The Socialist Fraternal Kiss. The kissing image was defaced. In September 2016 Ceckauskas and Bonanu repainted "Trump-Putin V2.0" they changed Trumps election campaign words "Make America Great Again" with the phrase "Make Everything Great Again" Great being coloured green symbolising their pro-cannabis stance. The artwork has full backing of Vilnius's mayor. Post Soviet Lithuania, well at least Vilnius, values young creative people and values the freedom to criticise well known public and political figures without fear of reprisal.

Some more images of Vilnius

Gediminas Tower from Pilies StreetGediminas Tower from Pilies Street

Pilies street is one of the central and most popular streets in the old town

Church of Saint ParasceveChurch of Saint Paraskeva

Pilies Street runs into Didzioji Street with this small market and Saint Paraskeva at the junction.

Vilnius CathedralVilnius Catherdral from Gediminas Hill

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Vilnius Cathedral BelfryVilnius Cathedral Belfry

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Sv. Dvasios StreetSv.Dvasios Street

One or two parts of the old town have buildings dating back to the 16th Century when this street was just inside the "Defence Wall" that surrounded the city until the late 18th century. This build and street featured in an episode of a TV series called Moscow Burning.

Vilnius Full Of Space Vilnius Full Of Space

As I left Vilinius to head north to Estonia I still had much to learn about the town. A couple of weeks later I've still not discovered the meaning of this slogan. At first I thought it must refer to the empty building(s) but on investigation `i found it features in a couple of short films on skateboardong and ice-boarding. The phrase is often used on social media but I cannot discover the origin. Do you know? If you can help please give me a shout.

Next stop for Project 28 is Estonia.

 

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Project 28

15 August 16

Posted at 6:07

Project 28 is the working title of my latest, and hopefully greatest, documentary project. Born out of the result of the United Kindom's EU referendum result the project will require me to visit all of the 28 countries in the EU at the time of the referendum and to do so before Article 50 is completed.

My premise is that following the somewhat surprising and unexpected result the EU will never be quite the same again. It will certainly no longer consist of 28 members once the UK has exited. In fact the future make up of the EU will only become clear over the forthcoming months and years. Travel to and the right to live and work in EU member states is likely to become more complicated for British citizens. I have decided to visit and document a town in each member state prior the implementation of changes, what ever they may be.

Project 28 Map

Through a somewhat longwinded process I have identified a town in each of the member states. I started with Boston in Lincolnshire in the UK. I chose Boston as its electorate had the highest percentage, 75.6%, voting to leave the EU. I then looked for links between Boston and other EU towns through twinning or sistering. I continued the process until I had a target town in each country with, if somewhat tenuous, links to the other target towns. I prefered this somewhat random approach to going for capitals or choosing towns for any specific reason. Instead having identified a town I will then research its history, culture and in particular its position regarding the European Union.

Last week I went to Boston.

Boston From St Botolph 

Boston from St Botoplhs

I climbed the tower of St Botolph's, known as the Stump. The church dominates the quite picturesque market town. It was an ideal place from which to get bearings and some ariel landscapes.

Port of Boston

Port of Boston

Researching my chosen towns throws up many interesting facts and lots of ironies in relation to my project topic. Here is an example the port's slogan proudly declares "Port of Boston into Europe" yet the citizens have declared their desire to be out of Europe or at least the European Union.

European Food and Wine

European Food and Wine

The prime reason for the vote to leave stems from the massive migration from Eastern Europe countries of Poland, Latvia, Romania and Lithuania in particular. In 2011 13% of the population was made up of migrants from those countries exercising their rights under EU law. They work in the food processing plants of Boston and Spalding and in Lincolnshire's agricultural industry. I estimate that the percentage is now considerably higher than 13%.

I intend to chart my project's progress on this blog. As interesting as it is the blog won't analyse the political situation, I will do that in other places. i will share some images and some interesting details of what I come across in each town.

So to kick that off take a look at Boston's somewhat unique 'auction' where anything and everything is auctioned in the market from 9am until 2pm every Wednesday The Eddie Stobart Jacket

Project 28 will be the subject of a photobook - I have just 27 more countries to visit in order to gather the material! You can see regular updates on this blog.

If you would like more information about the project or would wished to get involved please contact me 

 

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Nepal Ten Years On

07 August 15

Posted at 8:57

Swayumbhunath

In 2005 I spent sometime in Nepal, trekking in the Annapurna foothills, absorbing the vibrant atmosphere of Kathmandu and exploring in the Chitwan jungle.

Kathmandu

Kathmandu Durbar Square

Sadhu

Sadhu

I fell in love with the place, the people.

Children

especially the people - Nepalese children would quickly melt the hardest heart.

Funeral Pire

Funeral Pire

and the culture. In many ways time seemed to have stood still in Nepal (apart from the tourism, their lifeblood) things continue in the way they have for centuries.

Untitled

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Untitled

The scenery is amazing

Tara Top

Tara Top the high point of our trek

After the storm

One evening whilst trekking we were awoken in our tents by a tremendous storm. During the night much of our equipmet was blown away or destroyed. Together with our guides and porters we took refuge in a tiny cramped shed. And there we stayed for 24 hours until the unseasonal storm subsided. We experienced the tenacity of the Nepalese as our guides and porters gathered our equipment from far and wide, made repairs and took us on our way. A few days later we arrived back in Pokara and to our horror discovered that 13 French trekkers had perished in a mud slide just a few kilometres from where we were camped on the night of the storm.

So I have experienced just a taste of the kind of disaster that can strike in the region with no warning at all and I also experienced how the Nepalese take such events in their stride.

 

Now fast forward to April 2015 - a series of earthquakes devastated Nepal. Over 8000 people were killed, over 16000 injured and 2.8 million people displaced. The buildings pictured above and many many more were destroyed. I have made a significant career change since 2005. For the last for years I have studied photography at the University of Westminster equiping myself with skills, education and experience enabling me to forge a career as a documentary photographer. Having graduated this year I am embarking on my first documentary project as a full time freelance photographer.

My project is to visually document the progress/imact of the aid agencies response to the 2015 earthquakes six months down track. To make this project a reality I need some support so I have launched a Crowdfunder to help with my expenses. To find out more about the project and how you could become part of it click here   Nepal Six Months Later

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British Journal of Photography Article

14 June 15

Posted at 8:48

Well blogging has taken a back seat for some time now. Why? Well I have been completing my final year at University of Westminster. I am pleased to say I have achieved a BA Honours Photography degree with First Class Honours. My major project is a documentary photo book on a community in North West Arkansas. The project is currently being exhibited in the Free Range Graduate show at the Truman Brewery Brick Lane London.

Untitled

Above a photograph showing someone looking at my book and with some prints of images from the book displayed on the left.

Today an article about my work was published in the British Journal of Photography online, it's been the 'cream on the cake' of this week for me. Take a look at it  here

You can see more about the project and progress here   Gravett The Heart of Hometown America

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Mothers and Orphans

30 July 13

Posted at 11:42

Village Boys

Boys from the village of Motlovpur gather round my car as we leave the village after spending around three hours there meeting and photographing orphan girls and boys. The lads are fascinated by me probably having never seen a Westerner before and certainly not in Motlovpur. The village is a torturous drive from Dhaka taking anything from 3 to 5 hours. I was commissioned to visit the village while I was in Bangladesh by the Media Trust. They were making a promotional video for one of their clients, the Al Mustafa Welfare Trust, and really needed some stills of Bangladeshi orphan girls and their Mothers. It was opportune that I happened to be doing a project in Dhaka so they asked if I could fit a visit to Motlovpur into my schedule.

Visiting the village, other than the actual journey, was a welcome relief from the hustle and bustle of Dhaka. The setting was idyllic, paddy fields and a sort of biblical atmosphere, it was like stepping into the past. The villagers along with their ducks, dogs, goats and cows found me fascinating and word of my presence soon spread.

My job was to photograph primarily girls and their Mothers and to interview them (with the aid of my interpreter). In their culture a Fatherless child is an orphan and orphan girls in particular may be disowned by the father's family and indeed some of their own family.

Iti

This s Iti. Her father died when she was just one year old. Iti is now nine. The only income the family have comes from Iti's older brother working in the fields after school.

Iti at Home

This is Iti in her house. The homes are simple. Corrugated iron fixed to a wooden frame. A couple of beds and a chair or two plus all their belongings in a single room. 

Farida and Jahida

Farida above with her Mother Jaheda. Farida's Father died when Jaheda was six moths pregnant so the eleven year old never met her Father. Farida has a fifteen year old brother whose income from working in the fields

supports the family.

Usman

I did meet some orphan boys as well. This is ten year old Usman with his Grandmother. Usman's Father died in a road accident three years ago. Usmans Mother provides for her son by working in the garment industry in Dhaka. Her visits to the village are rare.

Onaukhter

Fourteen year old Onuakhtar does her homework. She hopes to be a doctor one day. Her Father died of TB when she was two. Her Mother works in Dhaka as a servant and is only at home for one day a week. Her paternal uncles live in the village but have disowned her and her Mother.

Khodeza

Khodeza is ten years old and her Father died from kidney failure just six weeks ago. She has three sisters, one works in the garment industry in Dhaka and provides the family income.

Tanjina

This is Tanjina and below is her sister Tamana

Tamana

Tamana's Mum works as a maid servant in Dhaka. The girls fend for themselves in the village when Mum is working away. They have no other relatives.

Although the children I met were smiling and appeared happy they have a tough life of poverty. In many ways they are excluded in the village community because of their orphan status. Most of them aspire to be teachers or doctors when they grow up - aspirations that stand little chance of being fulfilled. The Al Mustafa Welfare Trust endeavours to support orphan girls across many subcontinent countries.

Here is a link to the video which includes my stills which was the objective of my visit.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6PKMI5nXP8&list=FLWE-Ei_92zQHPIrCK5vLNFw

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Rana Plaza Project Days Three and Four

18 May 13

Posted at 10:07

I am still being defeated by technology so this again is a text only blog. There will be images galore in coming days. Yesterday I took time out of the Rana Plaza project to do some shooting for a charity the Al Mustafa Welfare Trust on behalf of the Media Trust. This was to involve photographing orphans and their mothers. That may sound odd but in Bangladesh you are classed as an orphan if your father dies and the consequences are grim financially and, especially if you are a girl, the extended family, brothers and sisters on the fathers side may disown you. So the Al Mustafa charity helps such orphans and the Mothers. The project involved travelling out of Dhaka to a village in Kirshorgong District called Motlovpur. The journey was a three hour roller coaster ride. Our driver seemed to think that Allah and constant use of the car's horn would enable him to have a clear path through traffic and that all and sundry would get out if his way. 

We finally arrived at Motlovpur with everyone's nerves torn to shreds except the driver. A wonderful rural scene, rice harvesting, goats and ducks everywhere, such contrasts from Dhaka. As soon as we walked into the village I was surrounded by inquisitive and somewhat amazed villagers. It would appear that I was the first Westerner to visit Motlovpur. In addition to me and Roni my 'fixer' we were accompanied by a man from the charity who now resided in Dhaka but was born and brought up in this village. I met, interviewed around a dozen orphans and their Mothers or in some cases Grandmothers. Visited their houses, simple corrugated iron shacks and photographed them in line with my brief. Everywhere we went a crowd appeard and smiled and stared at me. We were invited to lunch in the house of an elder of the village as we ate a big crowd of villages, their dogs, goats and ducks gathered around the door and windows (no glass) to watch me eat!

We spent a about three hours in the village and then had a torturous five hour journey back to Dhaka. Allah looked kindly on our driver but I'm not sure many of the rickshaws, trucks and buses he attempted to run off the road did. We were so late back to Dhaka I missed a planned shoot at a garment factory as part of the Rana Plaza project.

So this morning Roni and I set off to shoot in a garment factory. So far I have shot the Rana Plaza site, and have interviewed and photographed survivors both in hospital and at home, rescuers,  bereaved families and the families of those still missing. The final piece of my project was to photograph inside a working garment factory. At the first factory, and when I say factory it's not what you might imagine, we finally met with the owners, having waded through the hierarchy that seems to exist everywhere in Bangladesh, only to be told that we did not have sufficient papers or permissions from the government. This happened time and time again. We ventured into dark and dingy buildings, climbing dodgy stairs, got past various security and lower level people to finally meet the owners and ask for permission to photograph, We explained my project, my student status and how I will tell the story of the Rana Plaza in a photographic exhibition. The owners then with smiley faces told us in no uncertain terms we could not have permission to photograph in their factory. They were sorry but government rules wouldn't allow us without the correct paperwork. Roni suggested that they thought we were either safety officials or foreign media looking to exploit their poor work conditions or lack of safety.

We were about to give up when we got to our final garment factory, we agreed to try just one more time. We waded through the familiar hierarchy and arrived in the owner's office Mr J.M. Shamsul Arefin of Mayc's Garments Limited in Mirpur Dhaka. I ran through my now familiar story and tried to cover off the negative points other owners had made. Mr Arefin was nice and offered us tea, a first. Him and Roni exchanged words in Bangla. Roni smiled and said to me we have permission.

A  manager took us to two different floors and I was free to take photos of what and who I wished. To me this was a clean and not overcrowded factory with obvious safety facilities. I doubt the previous factories had this standard and am sure the Rana Plaza did not. After shooting I returned to Mr Arefin's office thanked him and congratulated him on his factory. I also took his photograph which seemed to impress him. As a foreigner I stand little chance of getting into a substandard factory in the current environment. The Rana Plaza collapse really is a national disaster and embarrassment and I think will lead ultimately to improved conditions.

i find it interesting that Macy's export mainly to German retailers not to the USA/British multinationals that used Rana Plaza manufacturers, the Primarks, Gap, H&M, even Benneton who deny buying from Rana Plaza manufacturers but had their paperwork found in the wreckage. Are the Germans willing to demand safety levels? Are they willing to pay just a few pence per garment more to look after the well being and safety of local workers? It seems so to me, I will investigate further.

 

I took a photograph of bobbins loaded with cotton feeding the machines, it made me shudder when I rembered the hundreds of bobbins I saw and photographed in the debris of the Rana Plaza where 1127 bodies were recovered over 2000 were seriously injured and  up to 500 are still unaccounted for.

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Rana Plaza Project Day Two

16 May 13

Posted at 1:19

Today was spent interviewing and photographing rescuers. Technology shortcomings still prevent image uploads so again today it's text only. A cyclone hit Bangladesh this morning so I awoke to heavy rain and wind and a few flooded roads. We still set off on our schedule, in the UK this weather would have brought the country to a halt but here they just get on with it.

The day started by visiting the Red Crescent.  I interviewed  and photographed two of the rescuer volunteers after meeting with their director. It was  quite emotional listening to their experiences from arriving at the building just one hour after the collapse and staying there for 21 days. For not the last time today we heard how the collapsed building was likened to a pile of eight pancakes with bodies trapped between each of them. One of the moist heartbreaking stories was how voices could be heard and talked to but it was impossible to reach them, then one by one they went quiet and the rescuers, boys of just 18, knew this time they would need a body bag not  a stretcher. This was repeated day in and out for the first 17 days.

Next we went to university and met a couple of amazing students.  They have been Red Crescent volunteers since they were 12 years old. They had limited medical experience but did have dead body recovery training but 21 days ago neither had had to recover a dead body  - they now have personally recovered many tens of bodies. It's easy to see the emotional scars. At the university they run a fund to support bereaved families and people who are seriously injured (multi amputees and spinal injuries. Their  aim is to provide support and rehabilitation to them for months/years to come. They are passionate about doing something for those many in Bangladesh who have suffered for the garment industry. These are everyday university students who do all this voluntarily. It is humbling to talk with them and witness their pride and enthusiasm to make a change.

Last of all we visited the Fire Rescue and Civil Defence. A military like government run institution which appears locked in a colonial time warp. I interviewed the director of operations Major Mohammad Mahboob, a very impressive character who took me through the rescue process for Rana Plaza. He enjoyed having his photo taken as much as I enjoyed taking it. I then met with the team who were in charge of the whole rescue operation over the 21 days. I will cover more of it in future blogs (along with images). Their experiences and their stories are nothing short of remarkable. 

I have now visited the Rana Plaza site, the homes of the survivors and bereaved families and have visited the hospitals and met the severely injured. Tomorrow I will visit a working garment factory and meet and photograph workers.

That is of course assuming cyclone Mahasen has moved on and left us intact!

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State Education

13 March 13

Posted at 5:57

I'm sure you've heard it at some time or other. How bad our state education system is. How our inner city, multi ethnicity schools are out of control, poor teachers, standards and so on. I don't often see the system first hand so my information comes from various second hand sources. Well today I had the privilege to shoot a workshop being attended by around 30 pupils from a West London lower school in what would be described as a deprived area. If you look at my blog regularly you will be aware that I often take on photography projects for Foundations UK   a charity aimed at guiding young people to sustainable health. Often I work with children and adults with learning difficulties or severe disadvantages but occasionally, like today, I photograph workshops around cooking and healthy eating with mainstream school children. Today's workshop was run by another charity, intouniversity  and supported by Foundations staff ( and indeed some Princes Trust volunteers) for the food preparation and cooking sessions. The workshop was held in a church hall so was a trip out of school for the children.

I am not blogging on the actual workshop, maybe another time, and I only have one image to share today (so hardly a photo blog!). I just want to comment on the experience I had as it differs so much from the common perception of state schools in our cities today. As I said earlier I was photographing just the food preparation activity. I was with the kids, their teachers and volunteers for around three hours. The children were incredibly well behaved, courteous and very enthusiastic. They were the melting pot mix of ethnic origins that you would expect in West London. Their communications skills in English were simply excellent without exception. Halfway through the session there was a break and the children had their packed lunches. Again I'll blow away another myth, their lunches consisted of what I would describe as healthy and balanced and, other than some not chosing to eat the crusts on sandwiches,everything was consumed. I chatted with some of the children as they ate their lunch, mainly about the workshop and I answered questions about my camera. As the room was tidied up in preparation for the afternoon session I noticed this girl...

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....she appeared to be diligently reading a Spanish/English dictionary, of her own accord, as the children relaxed post their lunch. I asked her if she was learning Spanish and if she spoke any other languages. She is eleven years old. I was amazed when she told me, in her perfect English, that she was fluent in Arabic and French in addition to English (which she didn't class as a language as she saw it as her 'Mother toungue'). I was amazed and really impressed. A bunch of such highly motivated, educated and balanced children from  a state school in an inner city. You'll never read this in the Daily Mail so I thought I'd give it a mention here. Big respect to the communities, teachers and young generation in West London and of course to Foundations UK and intouniversity

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