Stefen Chow, Malaysia and HY Lin, Singapore
The Poverty Line.
This body of work explores a simple question. What does it mean to be poor?
This is not an emotional analysis of what it means to be poor. It is an examination of the choices one would face being poor. This is an ongoing project, with the first series covering China. The project has since been expanded to Nepal, Japan, Hong Kong and Thailand. The plan is to cover countries in other continents in coming months.
The visual representation uses a per-person, per-day rate of a national poverty line, to have a portrayal of items found in that country that could be bought with that amount. The items are placed against local newspapers bought on the day’s shoot.
Countries maintain their own definitions to monitor socio-economic conditions and formulate poverty alleviation policies.
In coming up with the poverty line, developing countries largely use an absolute standard based on consumption amount, while developed countries use a relative income or expenditure standard.
This is not to compare different countries’ poverty, but rather to have a starting point to understand poverty within a country’s context.
Everything else is left up to interpretation.
Case Study: China
China’s national poverty line, converted into a per capita per-day basis is CNY 3.28, or USD 0.49 or EUR 0.37. This is based on China’s national poverty line of CNY 1,196 per capita annual income; standard and exchange rates were taken as of December 2010, when the photography was undertaken.
China has seen an unprecedented number of people within a country who have moved across the official poverty line over the past 30 years. There were 26.88 million rural poor in 2010. 85% of the poor in China are from rural areas, and the national poverty line is largely used to monitor rural poverty, though it also affects the large number of migrant workers in urban areas, and thus has wide-spanning influence across the country.
China’s standard is an absolute poverty line, using income and consumption aspects with food and non-food expenditures. Since the earliest line of CNY 100 in 1978, China’s poverty line has been adjusted over 20 times, mostly due to inflation adjustments. For food expenditure, a basket of foods which could achieve 2,100 calories per day is used, with proportions spread amongst various locally consumed grains, vegetables, meat, rice/noodles etc. For the CNY 1,196 standard, a pre-determined Engel’s coefficient (ratio of food expenditure to total expenditures) of 0.6 was used. Poverty line and poverty rate calculations are done by the National Bureau of Statistics, which conducts the National Rural Household Income Survey and the National Poverty Monitoring Survey annually.
About the Artists
Stefen Chow is grateful to be a witness through his camera. Stefen has been in pursuit of his vision in the purest form, with a certain energy ﬂow and sensitivity that has crossed genres in commercial, editorial and fine art. A self taught photographer, Stefen has been awarded by PDN, International Photo Awards, PX3 while his works have been exhibited in cities including Los Angeles, Paris, Milan, Beijing and Singapore. An accomplished adventurer, Stefen photographed and summitted Mount Everest, becoming one of the rare individuals to juggle this demanding feat. Stefen has lived in New York City, different parts of Asia and currently shuttles between Singapore and Beijing for work.
His works can be seen at www.stefenchow.com
HY Lin is an economist by training and is in the profession of market research. She has a background in economic policy and has experience in public policy making in the Singapore government. She holds an MBA from the MIT-Tsinghua University International MBA Program. Outside of linear planes, she has won national music songwriting and college badminton competitions. Currently based in Beijing, HY seeks solutions that make social, environmental and commercial sense.
Dezso Tamas, Hungary
The map of Hungary is speckled with capsules of time. During the political transformation twenty years ago, as the country experienced change it simply forgot about certain places – streets, blocks of flats, vacant sites and whole districts became self-defined enclosures, where today a certain out-dated, awkward, longed-to-be-forgotten Eastern Europeanness still lingers. There are places which seem to be at one with other parts of the city in a single space, but their co-existence in time is only apparent; places which decompose in accordance with their own specific chronology, determined by their past, such that what remains would then either be silently reconquered by nature or enveloped by the lifestyles of tomorrow’s generations. Of the inhabitants, who have never fully integrated with majority society, soon only traces will remain, until they, too, disappear in the course of time. I do not observe these mini-universes in the hope of recording entirety, but rather aim to capture the essence of these worlds by elevating certain arbitrarily chosen details into embodiments of a disappearing existence. The series begun in 2009 examines the typically transitional period and symbolic locations of post-communist space which, due to disinterest or thoughtlessness, are slowly vanishing, fading into images, with the result that their inimitable existence may cease to be present by tomorrow. But for the time being, they are still around. Here. Here, anywhere. Tamas Dezso is a documentary fine art photographer working on long-term projects focusing on the margins of society in Hungary, Romania and in other parts of Eastern Europe. His photographs have been published in TIME, The New York Times, National Geographic, GEO, Le Monde Magazine, Ojo de Pez, Polka Magazine and many others.
Maria Gruzdeva, Russia
Direction–Space! series serves to commemorate the 50th anniversary of first man’s flight into space. Fifty years ago, on April 12th 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. His orbit of the Earth made him a celebrity worldwide. His name is still synonymous with the Space Race and with Russian space exploration. Half a century after the legendary flight, Direction–Space! looks at two key sites that were central to the Soviet Space programme: Star City and Baikonur. Direction–Space! project is an analytical, visual and documentary photographic study of the Russian space industry’s most iconic sites. It explores the reality of the space community at first hand, investigating the physical and psychological space as well as the routine and lives of its residents and their habitat. Generation of cosmonauts have trained in these surroundings and because of the reticence and insularity of this world the physical space and its spirit have been preserved. The series reveals these traces of history, power and ghost-like presence left behind. These walls witnessed the change of political power, historical and social circumstances, from the Cold War times up to the modern days. It is this space that holds the weight of the past and shapes the reality of people who live and work there currently. Direction–Space! offers a new insight into a subject of the Cold War, political regimes of different times, raises questions over attitudes and perceptions that have been formed over past decades.
Bressan Michele, Romania
The project documents the quotidian indications of the past and changes in the surroundings of Romania’s visual present. The last 20 years of the country’s history represented a transition period, which began with the fall of the communist regime. From that moment, the Romanian landscape was no longer precisely defined by the East European communist aesthetic and has become a hybrid scene with a continuous “work in progress” look and status. The attempt to reconstruct the urban background blended with the adaptation of new habits, resulting in a collage aesthetics. However, the scene still holds memories of a well-defined past, as it inevitably suffers transformation, thus creating a compound commonplace. These traces will become ghostly appearances, they are being assimilated by the society’s continuous change in influence and needs. “Passato Prossimo” literally means “the past to come” and intends marking mementos before they are replaced and start fading away, before they change tense. Analyzing this precise moment, I choose not to evoke the past, nor to suggest the future, but observe how change triggers the relationship between time, space and memory. Michele-Bressan-CV
Marco Di Lauro, Italy
Kenya, “Pumwani Maternity Ward”: becoming mothers Becoming parents is key transition of being an adult, crucial step that involves the generations in the world as a ‘marker event’. Here, the symbolic complexity, we add the criticality of a hard land… Pumwani Maternity Hospital in Nairobi is one of the largest maternity hospital in the country. As a result of the quality maternal health care that the hospital provides, the number of newborn deaths has been reduced. UNICEF is advocating for better maternal health and newborn care in Kenya where every year 6,150 women lose their lives due to complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. Every day the hospital treats more than 200 premature, abandoned or sick children and their mothers. It has ante-natal and postnatal services, a maternity ward and clinic, specialist nursery for premature babies and PMTCT (Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV) services which help prevent HIV positive mothers transmitting the virus to their children. Immunisation, supplementary nutrition, counselling and referral are part of the hospital’s vital follow-up care with outpatients. Marco Di Lauro was born in Milan in 1970 and lives in Rome since 2000. He takes his first photograph at the age of 14, during a vacation in Egypt. His decision to be on the scene at the most explosive armed conflicts of the 21st century is arrived at gradually. In July of 1998, he pays his own way to the Kosovo, where he is one of the few photo-reporters on hand when the ethnic cleansing begins, just months after his arrival. His pictures from the front, selected every day from among thousands and printed every evening in a makeshift darkroom, meet with the approval of the Associated Press (AP). In September of 2002, Marco Di Lauro begins working under an exclusive contract for Getty Images, covering International News, Conflicts, Religion and Social Issues Reportage.
Thomas Stanworth, UK
Russians and Royals
In shooting Russians and Royals, I have looked at how Afghans are coping with life during the current NATO intervention set against backdrops of the past; a past which continues to shape lives. The photographs were taken in proximity to several iconic structures in Kabul from the Russian and royal eras. Once a recreational site for the occupying Soviets and their Afghan allies, the Russian Pool was later used by the Taliban for executions. With commanding views of the surrounding city and adjoining open ground, it is once again being used for its original purpose: recreation. Young men ‘hang out’ on the boards hoping to be seen, while the pool is used for ball sports both in sunshine and blizzards alike. Even the railings and steps are used as a makeshift gym. Following a period of dereliction, the Afghan authorities are in the process of restoring the site to a functional swimming pool for public use. Prior to a communist coup, the once splendid King’s (Darulaman) Palace was the seat of the Afghan monarchy. Destroyed during the Mujahideen civil war, the surroundings have been settled by refugees returning from Pakistan. The parade ground is host to regular football games and grazed by herds of sheep, while returning families have settled the surrounding area. Due to increasing land conflicts, the authorities have moved the most recent influx of refugees into the collapsing palace itself. Many would describe Afghanistan as a country that is locked into repeating historical patterns – a country that cannot be changed – while to others the country is unrecognisable from only a few years ago. After six years spent in the country, I can only conclude that it is both.
Bojan Radovic, Slovenia
The Icon/The Star
Essay by Marina Gržinić / April 2008-2011 Bojan Radovič reused the star as a symbol, which after the fall of the Berlin wall and with it the fall of communism in Europe, is more and more emptied of its “original” communist revolutionary meaning. Today, as time passes, the star simply floats around countries, brands, contexts etc. Radovič points to this shifting of the meaning of the star produced by the capitalist process of branding, which slowly and steadily removes from the (red) star its historical and revolutionary power. His photographs are more than just keeping track, photographing what is actually happening with the star. He constructs a condition showing a symbol that is caught in the process of being refilled with the easy consumerist world of capitalism and emptied of its past socialism. Radovič is concerned with this in-between meaning produced by the image of the star and its photograph. This in-between is an interpretative space that allows for new ways of thinking and seeing the image of the star as well as photography. Let’s move now toward the title. “The Icon” shifts the symbol of the five-pointed star towards a sign. The sign usually points to something else; it consists of the matched pair of signifier and signified. Some also add to this pair the referent, which is a concrete object and is exchanged with the signified, i.e. it is sometimes seen in its place. The signifier is the pointing finger, the word, the sound-image. The signified is the concept, the meaning, the “thing” indicated by the signifier. It needs not be a “real object” but it is that to which the signifier refers. The signifier and signified form a core element of semiotics. Post-modern theory lays more and more emphasis on the signifier and less on the signified, while the referent, i.e. the concrete object in the real world, increasingly almost altogether disappears. Charles Sanders Peirce, an American philosopher, who was involved in semiotics and is the founder of pragmatism, declared in 1931 that an iconic sign represents its object “mainly by its similarity.” Indeed, he originally termed such modes, “likenesses” and declared that “every picture (however conventional its method)” is iconic. Icons have qualities that “resemble” those of the objects they represent, and they “excite analogous sensations in the mind.” Peirce established the difference between the icon and the sign as index. Index is a mode in which the signifier is not arbitrarily but directly connected almost physically or causally to the signified (as is the case with natural signs, for example smoke is connected with fire). On the contrary, in the iconic mode, the signifier is perceived as resembling or imitating the signified through a system of similarities. Insisting on the iconic moment of the five pointed star, Radovič argues that the star in his photographs just resembles and imitates the (red) star. It is important to state that pure icons do not exist, as there is always a cultural convention (socially and historically defined spaces of meanings) involved in all ways of dealing with the meaning of signs. This convention determines the way we relate to the icon in the last instance. The chain of meaning that is established between signifier and signified is temporally, historically and socially determined. Bojan Radovič tries to find a very different set of meanings of the star as a sign. He is searching for it in almost impossible places. This is underlined by the framing, shooting, capturing in his photographs of the star through a variety of formal photographic solutions. One part of the series exposes the centrality of it; the whole space of the photograph revolves around the star’s central position. The star is placed centre stage and the photograph is completely subordinated to this centrality. The other part of the series is a follow-up of snapshots that capture the star as being suddenly and spontaneously overwhelmingly present in everyday reality. Radovič’s photographs therefore interpret the star as nowadays “signifying” things other than itself, as being part of the whole system of signs. He extracts the familiarity of the meaning of the (red) star and transposes it toward many other meanings. This transposition shows that Radovič is concerned with the question of the contemporary semiotic field of photography. The semiotic here is the interest within the medium of photography to analyse and think about the signification and communication of signs and symbols in the situation of a completely globalized world where the circulation of signs and symbols reaches the point of almost an IMPERIALISM of circulation. Radovič also insists that this semiotics is not just a concept in the mind, but that the “star” cohabits with us. He searches for the star in everyday reality and this is why each of his photographs bears the subtitle where it was found. He could just fake it, using digital possibilities of photography, but he insists on the fact that these stars exist materially; without their existence, photography would not exist either. With this, he is coming near the condition that Roland Barthes in his book Camera Lucida (originally published in 1980) considered the definition of photography. The star is not just a notion of a thing, a concept in the mind, but a material imprint in the world that surrounds us. Rosalind Kraus asked what is the status of photography when “things” are no longer necessary, when the “photorealistic” simulation of reality (as in Hollywood special effects) is considered by some to be more “real” than indexical images because it gives a greater sense of “immediacy”? Could there be any other symbol to follow or shoot? Radovič was a child of socialism and today in the time of neoliberal global capitalism he is a highly respected photographic producer and author. Maybe this life caught between two historical periods grants him the authorization to follow his dream or maybe the nightmare of the (red) star. In his article from 2001 “The Footprint and the Readymade – Photography as Art,” Sven Lutticken makes a comment on Walker Evans’ photography stating that in Evans’ work the photography and the readymade appear closely related. Something similar could also be said about this new photographic series by Bojan Radovič. References: Daniel Chandler, Semiotics for Beginners, 2006. CV_Eng
Lin Wang, China
Is this the human in nature? The cash has been being printed, printed, day and night. Skyscrapers stand from the crowded land one after another, invading the living earth of plants. However one whispers for the dying trees, it won’t overwhelm the whistle of the lumbermen. They might moreover praise themselves for cutting down all the trees in a neat way. How are human beings treating their truly “friend”? Eat the meet, wear the fur, and made the bones into a gorgeous necklace. Sooner or later, endless greediness will drive human to the hell, as the souls of creatures’ human killed are crowding in the heaven. Believe it or not, it’s an essential truth. Probably one refuses to admit only in fear of getting hurt. If so, stop exploiting the nature for human’s lust. Planting trees, restoring the polluted land and protect the environment, all these measures will maintain a sustainable world in return for your kindness.