Category: Photography

The Real Aleppo

By Danielle Elmers, NYU Florence student

On September 7, Issa Touma stood in front of a diverse audience of students, faculty and photographers and described what life is really like in Aleppo in his talk Art In A War Zone: Everyday Life In Syria. Using his latest film 9 Days-From My Window, videos, pictures and words, Touma shared snapshots into the daily life of ordinary citizens and argued that western media has distorted the reality on the ground in Syria.

“There is a dark side in every street,” Touma explains as he describes the war zone in Aleppo. In Syria, there is no good or bad side in the conflict, just two opposing sides. For those stuck in the war zone, there is only survival and pockets of hope in the midst of rubble. From children being killed following their father to work, to parents being shot by snipers trying to get food for their children, the war zone is an unforgiving place.  

What Touma wanted us to know, however, is that Aleppo is not just a graveyard. Through his heartfelt story-telling of the portraits of his neighbors, Touma took the audience by surprise. The audience learned that families still saved up money to send their children to university, and that the younger children still played games in the street. The audience watched as the local people took part in Le Pont’s art camping project called Textures of the City We Lost. The audience witnessed snippets of how normal life continued on. The people of Aleppo are not just surviving, but becoming engaged in the war zone community, making friends in unlikely places, and building support across religions and ethnic groups.

The questions asked by audience members centered on the way the conflict in Touma’s Aleppo is distorted in the western media. Audience members seemed confused and shocked that the media has placed a veil over a major portion of the story in Syria. Some members even identified a shift in media coverage, especially with the publication of the latest photo of the young Syrian boy who drowned in Turkey trying to escape the fighting. To that, Touma had this question:

“Why now?”

To Touma, the answer can be found in the changing politics of the Syrian War. Hundreds of thousands of deaths later, this war can no longer be ignored by big powers. Whether it is government ulterior motives or the growing refugee crisis, the suffering of the Syrian people cannot be hidden away. All that could be implied by Touma was that the media had an idea of what was going on, and chose to either ignore or distort the reality of Aleppo to appease a certain audience.  

Other questions allowed Touma to go further into how life was not over and how the art that the city does, through Art Camping, is a signal to the world that they are still there, living in the city even though they are shrouded from the outside world. Touma, along with the subjects of his portraits, were also adamant about staying in Aleppo, even with the possibility of death at anytime. Touma and his neighbors found life in the fighting and rubble, and the world needs to know.

Martino Marangoni on his Alone Together project

In Florence where I grew up, the division of public and private space was definite. Actions and behaviors were not the same behind closed doors as they were outside in the piazza where everything was noticed and often commented on. When I moved to New York in the seventies, I was struck by how different the relationship among individuals in a public area was to what I had experienced. How indifferent people were to each other. For the first time I felt free from being judged, but also free to watch other people. It was there that I developed my passion for street photography.

For children it is natural to stare at other people, and so did I, until I was told that it was rude, I learned to be more discreet. I am still a people watcher and photography enables me to have a subject to look at, stare at, if you like. Pointing a finger and pointing a camera are related gestures, drawing the attention of others. I try not to be intrusive when taking photographs. I avoid eye contact to capture their states of mind, not their attention; the private inner expressions of individuals as they move/live in today’s often unfriendly public places. Often urban architecture today seems to have ignored the real “inner privacy” needs by creating spaces that are isolating, even menacing. The individual is ironically placed in a situation of being alone together. Photographing from a high vantage point allows me to discreetly observe without being intrusive.

The purpose of this project is to examine contemporary public spaces and capture the mood and psychological effect it has on the people.

These photographs are taken in Europe and America, in specific sites where the style of architecture is “global”. Through photographing in these large open public areas I have come to appreciate the beauty of many of these cathedral- like buildings, designed for maximum visibility and even transparency; the glass walls which separate public and private space have reduced our chances of privacy, taught us to ignore those around us and to expect to be left alone.

Join us for our Dialogue with Martino Marangoni Alone Together: A Florentine Photographer in New York on October 1 at 6:00pm at Villa Sassetti. RSVP to lapietra.dialogues@nyu.edu

Art in a War Zone

The Le Pont Organization was founded and operated by self-taught photographer Issa Touma, who has been working in photography for the past 15 years. Touma, a well known figure in the Syrian art scene, was born in Safita, Syria, and currently works in Aleppo. He began his career as a photographer in the early 1990’s and has since been organizing photography events all throughout the Middle East. In 1992, Touma established the first photography gallery in the Middle East: Black and White Gallery, which is now closed. Later, in 1996, he opened Le Pont Gallery in Aleppo. It is the only gallery dedicated to photography in a region that has suffered from the pain and degradation of internecine war. Touma is also responsible for the film “The War Outside the Kitchen Window” which documents nine days of fighting on the streets of Aleppo. Read more

The Many Sad Fates of Mr. Toledano Premiers at Trebeca Film Festival

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Photographer Phillip Toledano, who took us on a ‘Disconcerting Stroll’ through his mind this Spring at NYU Florence, is the subject of a new film that has premiered this week at the Tribeca Film Festival. Based on the photographic project he presented in the dialogue, the film follows him as he explores the many possible future paths his life may take, including those that frighten him most. The film’s director Joshua Seftel says

a little over three years ago, I ran into Phil just after his father had died. My father had also just died. Phil talked about his new project with psychics and prosthetics. It resonated with me in part because of the passing of my dad, because I was grappling with a lot of the same things Phil was dealing with.” Toledano adds, “when Josh asked to film me, I agreed because I trusted him. That trust matters when you’re exposing the inner mechanism of your unfinished art.”

Read this interview with Seftel and Toledano in The Eye of Photography magazine and see the films’ trailer below.

For more information about this weekend’s screenings in New York visit the Trebeca Film Festival website.

See our Dialogue with Mr. Toledano in NYU Florence’s Documentary Photography: Through the Lens series curated by NYU Florence professor Alessandra Capodacqua here:

Simone Donati of Terra Project’s New Book Project on the Collective Rituals of Italians

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Terra Project photographer and fall 2014 LPD Documentary Photography speaker Simone Donati’s new book project Hotel Immagine will be published at the end of April. The book includes 48 photographs that document his trip across Italy in 2009 to photograph public congregations and group rituals.

“From politics to religion, going from music, sport and television, between 2009 and 2015 Simone Donati crossed his country in search of myths and icons of the Italian contemporary imaginary. This project provides a glimpse into the Italian society with an ironic but also purely documentary look.”

Read an interview with Simone Donati about his new book here on Vice

Watch our discussion with Terra Project in our Dialogue Collective Perspectives: Photographic Collaboration and Today’s Photojournalism below, part of LPD’s Documentary Photography series curated by NYU Florence professor Alessandra Capodacqua.

“This Art was Useful”: How the “Disconcerting Stroll through the Mind of Mr. Toledano” was not so unfortunate after all

Wednesday evening, La Pietra Dialogues invited a crowd of locals and students alike to take a walk through the mind of Philip Toledano, who became a world renown photographer through what he describes as an “excruciating career.” His talk commenced with a disclaimer that his career was so excruciating that “you’ll have to towel off at the end of the lecture.” He walked us through his beginnings with an informal, humorous attitude. At thirteen years old he began taking pictures, with an eye for geometric architecture and a fear of approaching strangers for portraits. Eventually he got his bachelors degree in English as a practical alternative to art school and ended up in advertising. There he learned how to be “ruthless with ideas.” When he returned to art and became a photographer in 2002, he took that lesson with him. He would not give in to a delusion that an idea was good if it wasn’t. In fact, most of his early work (projects like Phonesex and America the Gift Shop) focused on the idea of delusion, which he described as when “we lie to ourselves, lie to each other and allow ourselves to be lied to.”

Read more

Documentary on Phillip Toledano

Phillip Toledano once said “Photographs should be like unfinished sentences. There should be space for questions.”Toledano was born in 1968 in London to a French-Moroccan mother and an American father and received his first camera at the age of eleven. Toledano’s works are primarily socio-political and vary in medium from photography and installation to sculpture and painting. He is best known for his surrealist portraits full of metal appendages and repetitive figures. His work appears in Vanity Fair, The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, GQ, The Sunday Times Magazine and others.

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Phillip Toledano: When I Was Six

Phillip Toledano is a British photographer who will join us for a dialogue, ‘Manipulating Reality: A Disconcerting Stroll through the Mind of Mr. Toledano,‘ tomorrow. His most recent book, When I Was Six, focuses on the loss of his sister when she was nine and he was six. Here, the British Journal of Photography interviewed him about his exhibit:

For more information about Mr. Toledano’s other works check out his website and, if you want to read more about When I Was Six, check out this TIME article. Read more