© Tony Corocher Beauty In Hell: Contrasts: Curiosity & diffidence, desperation & indifference
In some areas, NGO, Missions, Red Cross and humanitarian organizations are almost non-existent. They do not even want to get involved because it is too dangerous. (Tony Corocher, Artist)
In this picture we see a little girl, amusement and delight dancing across her face. Her beauty reveals a sort of perfection one only sees in very small children. This loveliness stands in sharp contrast to the broken street, the man lying in the street, like a piece of discarded litter, and the shanty homes.
There is, it seems, beauty in hell. We see her face, and that of the toddler behind her, and suddenly I think of the Lakota name for children wakanyeja =sacred little ones / sacred gift. This concept is beautifully explained, in all its cultural meaning and context here. There are many expressions of this sentiment, lost so often in our contemporary society, even in industrial nations not plagued by continual conflict, war and or impoverishment. This sacredness, what some Waldorf writers name “heaven on earth” that sphere of innocence and beauty in the lives of children. Even in the worse places there seems to be an uncorrupted joy. My heart lifts as yours does, and plummets to despair as I wonder at the difficulty and pain of caring for one’s children in such circumstances, perhaps the child will prove to be resilient but can you imagine the torture of seeing your child witness violence, abuse, to go without?
© Tony Corocher Beauty in Hell
Some are braver than others, more resilient, and we can only hope these tiny children are just this. It takes a great deal of strength to go to these places, and tell the stories of those who somehow have fallen off the map of humanity’s consciousness. Tony Corocher, a Treviso born Italian photographer is one such individual. How did this all begin? The artist began his studies and career in the UK, and worked for some time in graphic design. During the economic downturn Tony decided to pursue photography, traveling all over the world, a move that would mean great artistic and personal growth and the production of the award-winning series Beauty in Hell, a journalistic and artistic group of photos of telling the story of African people in Kenya and Nairobi. It was 2012,when the artist first visited the Kenyan Catholic missions, and the slums of Nairobi.
Resilience, sadness and sense of determination characterizes Tony’s work, heart breaking unflinching the photographs depict great suffering, injustice, and deprivation, often written across the faces of the most vulnerable. If one considers that the momentary exposure to these images carves out a space in your heart, it seems that there must be a considerable price to be paid to endure bearing witness for a long period of time.
© Tony Corocher Africa, where are you going?
The cultural, social and humanitarian shock was so powerful that I developed asthma was hospitalized for two weeks in Nairobi. Doctors said it was some kind of psychological response to what I had witnessed. From that moment my life took a very different direction and the year after I was back into the slums to develop the Beauty in Hell project.
© Tony Corocher Enjoying the fleeting moments
RB: Much of your work personalizes or makes intimate trauma, tragedy, and poverty in part by showing the faces, and perhaps hearts of people living in hardship. What drives you to show this intimacy?
TC: When you spend time with people who live in extremely hard conditions, you soon realize that eyes are truly mirrors to the soul. These people do not need to hide what they feel and have no reason to do it… they really have nothing to lose. As a reflection, their faces and eyes will show almost everything there is to know about the harshness of their lives. It is then a question of seeing these clues and capturing them. This is my job as a photographer and what I am drawn to… it feels real to me.
RB: How do you resist assisting people in distress, I know the photographers/ journalist code says not to interfere but how do you deal with seeing things like the boy lying in the street in the series Beauty in Hell?
TC: I always keep in mind a few things: where I am, the real situation, who I am and what I may represent to the local people. I believe security in the field particularly when working with others, is, and should always be, the main concern. Assisting people in distress in these areas is not as “simple” like helping with a road accident. Most of the time local people will not allow you to intervene.
© Tony Corocher An old craft still alive
TC: During my travels in difficult areas I have learned that, most of the times, there is nothing we can really do without creating reactions that are likely to put our lives in real danger. Yes, if there is a chance to help I will definitely try, but I can tell you from experience that most of the times it will lead to more serious situations and tensions with local people.
© Tony Corocher Beauty in Hell, Happy Family
TC: In the beginning, I asked many times (co-workers, guides, humanitarian/social workers, priests and missionaries, etc) if I could help when confronted with hard situations, but the answer was always the same: “Leave it alone… do not get involved”, “nothing you can do about it and people will get upset”, “you are not from around here… do not think you can solve this”, “local people know what can and cannot be done” … now I have learned these lessons and I know they were right.
RB: How do you feel about all of this? Much of what you have described reminds me of post-traumatic stress reaction. In the end, it is at great personal sacrifice that documentary and war photographers go to places like this, as interlopers, to bear witness to the suffering of the voiceless. It is nevertheless crucial for your safety to develop this.
TC: I feel cold and detached during the experience… when I go back “home” it is like an internal explosion of feelings. This is probably the most difficult skill to develop for the humanitarian, documentary or photographer must have in order to complete one’s job and remain safe in very difficult situations. You must also learn to deal with the aftermath and repercussion of what you have seen and recorded. has documented. Sometimes a “simple” image can help to solve a situation; sometimes it can create a worst one. This is why I usually spend a few days with local people and talk to them before I enter a situation “professionally.” I have learned during the years that the best way I can help is to show what happens, to document and raise awareness, to show things as they are… unfortunately, as you rightly pointed out, it is not always that easy.
© Tony Corocher Something ahead… maybe
RB: In what way is this work driven by social justice issues, and how does this thematic inform your oeuvre in general.
TC: I like to believe that my documentary/social work helps to show and give voice to those situations that are not receiving much coverage, events that are not taken into consideration by ‘politically correct’ media, or that are simply too small to be important or too “difficult” to be documented or explained. I also like to work on a project from an artistic point of view, to put my sensitivity in it and to combine the documentary part with the art part.
Most of what we are shown today is linked to drama, in one form or another. Going back to Beauty In Hell, some years ago I ask myself “why not try to show beauty inside drama and document the situation in a different and more positive way (if and when possible)?”
I strongly believe that the only way we can bring change is by changing the way we approach the situation. Showing drama all the time for the sake of drama (like most media are doing) is not helping at all. It seems to me just a form of sensationalism needed by a society starving for real emotions…
© Tony Corocher Little Ghosts
RB: How do you seek out your subjects, establish trust, and decide where you will travel?
TC: I am connected with most of the humanitarian, human rights, NGOs, photographic organizations and receive bulletins every week. I do a lot of research and always try to keep up to date with what is happening. I like to read and I am connected to forums and blogs from worldwide humanitarian organizations and networks. Where to go and what I document depends mainly on the budget at my disposal. Most of the time I have to self-finance my reportage and so that’s why I also produce fine art photography along with exhibitions where I to sell my work. Other factors include any external support, the local situation and the availability of support from organizations.
© Tony Corocher -the artist shooting in Africa.
RB: And what about the relationship with your subjects?
TC: Establishing trust is the main ingredient… again there is no recipe for it. A great part of the success a photographer/reporter has in establishing trust is connected to his/her attitude towards local people. Personally I find it easier, yet considerably riskier to move around by myself (not connected to organizations/media) while working on personal projects that I can discuss with local people. In this way I can show locals that I am there as a human being who is interested in their personal story and not as some kind of authority sent to “investigate”.
Keep it simple and direct… offer a beer and have a chat with local people. Go back a few times, show them that you are really interested in their personal story and that you want to understand and document the situation from their point of view.
© Tony Corocher The production process
© Tony Corocher Western beauty in Nairobi’s hell
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