The Forest Finns’ understanding of nature was rooted in an eastern shamanistic tradition, and they are often associated with magic and mystery. Rituals, spells, and symbols were used as a practical tool in daily life; one that could heal and protect, or safeguard against evil.
This photographic project draws on these beliefs while investigating what it means to be a Forest Finn today, some 400 years and twelve generations later, at a time when the 17th-century way of life is long gone, and their language is no longer spoken.
I began to work on it as a graduation project at the Danish School of Journalism – and it evolved into a long-term venture. I spent three years on research and asked myself: How can I picture something as immaterial as culture – especially one that has nearly died out? I took certain elements of the past – fire, smoke and shamanism – and introduced them into the story. This blurs the lines between reality and fiction, between documentation and imagination. It is a deliberate attempt to create a fictional universe, a magical world.
My pictures also address the grey area between migration and origin. At what point does a migrant become a native? In fact, the only official criterion for belonging to this minority is that, regardless of your ethnic origin, you simply feel that you are a Forest Finn.
Terje Abusdal explores the lives of the Forest Finns, an ethnic minority, peregrinating in the North of Finland. Their original language and religion have disappeared, but their way of life in the dense northern forests is appealing, now more than ever. It attracts new followers, who officially belong to this minority on the sole condition that they feel like it. Abusdal recreates the life of the Forest Finns in an original way, and literally sheds new light on an unknown part of Europe. As a storyteller, he knows that reality is best told with imagination. He uses fiction to document a long gone past.
Maker: Terje Abusdal
The Forest Finns were slash-and-burn farmers. This ancient agricultural method yielded plentiful crops, but required large forested areas, as the soil was quickly exhausted. In fact, it was a scarcity of natural resources in their native Finland that forced the first wave of migration over the border. Fuelled by failing crops and war, the Forest Finns needed new land to cultivate.
Many of the migrants went southwest and tried their luck in the wilderness. In the following decades, they spread across the forest areas of Scandinavia in search of land with the best and highest-density spruce. The occasional migration was an essential part of their existence, as mobility was necessary to continue their slash-and-burn farming.
Today, the Forest Finns are recognised as one of the national minorities in Norway. More and more people feel a connection to it – although there are no statistics on their numbers. Yet the Forest Finn culture as it was four centuries ago no longer exists.
Terje Abusdal (1978) is a visual storyteller from Norway working mainly on independent projects in the intersection between fact and fiction. In 2014 he studied Advanced Visual Storytelling at the Danish School of Media and Journalism in Aarhus, followed by an number of Master Classes with Simon Norfolk and Aaron Schuman. In 2017, his story on the Forest Finns – Slash & Burn – won the Leica Oskar Barnack Award and the Nordic Dummy Award. Two years before, he published his first photographic book Radius 500 Metres on Journal. His work was recently exhibited at Fotogalleriet in Oslo, FOTODOK in Utrecht and Luma Rencontres Dummy Book Award in Arles. In May 2017 he was a Docker at Docking Station (Amsterdam). Abusdal lives in Oslo.
Norwegian photographer Terje Abusdal consciously crosses the line between fiction an reality in his staged documentary series ´Slash & Burn´. He explores the lives of the Forest Finns, an ethnic minority, peregrinating in the North of Finland. Their original language and religion have disappeared, but their way of life in the dense northern forests is appealing, now more than ever. It attracts new followers, who officially belong to this minority on the sole condition that they feel like it. Abusdal recreates the life of the Forest Finns in an original way, and literally sheds new light on an unknown part of Europe. As a storyteller, he knows that reality is best told with imagination. He uses fiction to document a long gone past.
This photographic project draws on these beliefs while investigating what it means to be a Forest Finn today, some 400 years and twelve generations later, at a time when the 17th-century way of life is long gone, and their language is no longer spoken. I began to work on it as a graduation project at the Danish School of Journalism – and it evolved into a long-term venture. I spent three years on research and asked myself: How can I picture something as immaterial as culture – especially one that has nearly died out? I took certain elements of the past – fire, smoke and shamanism – and introduced them into the story. This blurs the lines between reality and fiction, between documentation and imagination. It is a deliberate attempt to create a fictional universe, a magical world. Read more
In October 2017, me and my colleagues Judith Vanistendael and Mei-Li Nieuwland set out to Lesbos, armed with many sketchbooks and endless drawing materials. We stayed in Kara Tepe and Moria camps for 7 days. As artists we drew what no camera had been able to capture until then: the clothes that were set out to dry on the barbed wire of the camp, the little kids sliding off a hill in plastic crates, the improvised coffee corner, the outdoor cooking stations made of bricks, the cooking gear made of iron fence, and the containers and tents in which the refugees live. Based on our observations and interviews, three very different comics were made and published in several news media, including French newspaper Le Monde and the website for graphic journalism Drawing The Times. Even Greek media mentioned the project. We hoped that readers would be informed that the refugee crisis is still not over, despite what most people think.
Graphic journalism plays an important role in history. During World War I, many illustrators were sent to the battlefields to document what cameras couldn’t. In Auschwitz, the most detailed visual documents left are the drawings of the artists that lived there. Still, it seems that in the age of film and photo, these reportage drawings have lost their value. I am convinced that graphic journalism can play an important role, even in contemporary journalism. Drawing offers the journalist an approachable way of gathering visual information, where cameras can be too intrusive or too obvious. The artistic element makes it more accessible to readers of all ages and could be used to reach out to new audiences. For the subjects of the report, drawing is a very pleasant way of communicating.
It’s not as threatening as photography or audio recording can be. Also, if the subjects want to stay anonymous, it is possible to simply give them a different face or haircut in the drawings, while in film and photography the faces would have to be blurred. In comics, it is also possible to draw what the journalist can’t see. By drawing memories as flashbacks, it is possible to go back and forth in time. A documentary filmmaker would have much more trouble and would have to use voiceovers or actors to get that done.
One of the most important books in comic journalism is Palestine by Joe Sacco, which was published in the 90s. He was the first to make a detailed drawn report where he combined journalism, travelogue and cartooning. For his other books he traveled to Gaza, Iraq and Gorazde. In his comics, Joe himself is always the main character and we see the world through his eyes. This narrative style is still used today by most graphic journalists. Another important book is Pyongyang by Guy Delisle, a Canadian artist. He lived in North Korea for two months and drew what cameras were not allowed to capture. His book is not just a great comic, it is also a very important historic document of what life in North Korea looks like – even though he sees it from a Westerner’s perspective. What Joe Sacco and Guy Delisle have in common is the sense of humor, which surfaces even in spite of all the traumatic stories and events that they capture on paper.
Graphic journalism is an old craft, one that was already practiced during World War I, as Aimée points out in the explanation of her work. She is afraid that reportage drawings have lost their value in this age of film and photo. But she herself proves that this is not the case. On the contrary, her pictures of refugees on the island of Lesbos tell a story that we would not have known otherwise. Apparently trusted by the refugees, Aimée comes very close to them with her sketchbook, and draws their lives with caring detail.
Maker: Aimée de Jongh
NRC / Drawing the Times
Graphic journalism is an old craft, one that was already practiced during World War I, as Aimée points out in the explanation of her work. She is afraid that reportage drawings have lost their value in this age of film and photo. But she herself proves that this is not the case.
On the contrary, her pictures of refugees on the island of Lesbos tell a story that we would not have known otherwise. Apparently trusted by the refugees, Aimée comes very close to them with her sketchbook, and draws their lives with caring detail. We see how the refugees make cooking utensils out of barbed wire, take a peek in their toilets and look their kids, who suffer from attachment disorders, straight in the eye. You can almost smell and hear the camp, that’s how close you get through Aimée’s drawings, which made readers of NRC Handelsblad, De Standaard and Le Monde close witnesses of one of the great human tragedies of our time.
Aimée de Jongh (1988) is an award-winning animator, comic author and illustrator from Rotterdam, the Netherlands. After publishing her first comic book 'Aimée TV' at the age of 17, Aimée proceeded to become a promising comic author with a large variety of styles and techniques. Next to working on comics, Aimée has a great passion for animated film. She received her degree in 2D Animation at the Willem de Kooning Academy and attended the Gobelins Summer School for Character Animation in Paris. Working professionally for ten years now, Aimée created over 10 different comic series, including the daily comic 'Snippers' for newspaper Metro. Other works include children's books illustrations, music videos, independent short films and commercial animations for TV. In 2014, Aimée was an artist in residence at the 18th Street Art Center in Los Angeles, where she
exhibited together with Miljohn Ruperto. The film 'Janus', which they made together, was shown at the Biennial in the Whitney Museum in New York.
In recent years, Aimée's main focus in comics has been graphic novels. Her first one, 'De Terugkeer Van De Wespendief'(2014), tells the story of bookseller Simon, who's facing a financial and emotional crisis. The book won the Prix Saint-Michel, and was translated in French by Dargaud as 'Le Retour de la Bondrée', and in English as 'The Return of the Honey Buzzard', by Selfmadehero. The book was also translated to Spanish and Serbian. In 2016, a feature film based on the book was released, directed by Stanley Kolk and produced by Family Affair Films. In 2016, Aimée returned to animation shortly and released her biggest project yet: 'Behind the Telescopes', a 71-minute 2D animated film with harpist Lavinia Meijer. The movie was screened only with a live music performance, and it ran in Dutch theatres for a year. The show will still be touring through China in 2018. Aimée is currently working on her new graphic novel for Dargaud, written by the acclaimed Belgian comic author Zidrou, to be released in 2018.
I didn’t have any interest in journalism until 2017. That year, I quit my job as a daily cartoonist and began thinking about what else I could do with my craft of drawing. Through a friend who volunteered at the Greek island of Lesbos, I found out that photography and film were not allowed in the refugee camps. This meant that there was only little visual documentation available from inside the camps. Only low-quality handheld-camera footage was available from the biggest refugee camp, Moria, which is forbidden for journalists of any kind. I contacted Dutch newspaper NRC and Flemish newspaper De Standaard to work on a very special project: to draw the life in the camps and publish a graphic journalism report. As this was my first project in this field, I asked two colleagues to join me: Judith Vanistendael and Mei-Li Nieuwland. The project was funded by the BJP Fund and the Pascal Decroos For Investigative Journalism Fund.
In October 2017, we set out to Lesbos, armed with many sketchbooks and endless drawing materials. We stayed in Kara Tepe and Moria camps for 7 days. As artists we drew what no camera had been able to capture until then: the clothes that were set out to dry on the barbed wire of the camp, the little kids sliding off a hill in plastic crates, the improvised coffee corner, the outdoor cooking stations made of bricks, the cooking gear made of iron fence, and the containers and tents in which the refugees live. Based on our observations and interviews, three very different comics were made and published in several news media, including French newspaper Le Monde and the website for graphic journalism Drawing The Times. Even Greek media mentioned the project. We hoped that readers would be informed that the refugee crisis is still not over, despite what most people think. Read more
How did the making of The Deal come about?
We travelled to Lesbos to see what the EU-Turkey deal meant in practice. And we were shocked. Thousands of people were crammed into camp Moria, without decent sanitary facilities, no proper help for their medical needs, and without proper legal aid. It’s a humanitarian crisis in Europe and the EU is looking away. With our film we wanted to make a nuanced and critical analysis of the deal and the people directly involved: the ‘architect’ of the deal Gerald Knaus, refugee Ramy Qudmany, who crossed after the deal, was shipwrecked and has been stuck on the island for more than one and half years, the volunteers from all over Europe who want to help and Greek Katerina, who helps refugees and almost serves as a ‘moral conscience’.
The Deal is part of the cross media project ‘The Asylum Search Engine’, a cross-border, multidisciplinary, transmedia project that explores the complex world of European asylum policy and connected asylum policies of EU member states. The main and initial component is a web documentary providing insight into the European and different national asylum policies and inviting users to think about how they think the policies should work.
The refugee crisis has deeply divided Europe. While some call for closed borders, others advocate free entry. Although few topics ignite such heated debate, how and whether the policies work is almost impossible to comprehend thanks to the vast number of procedures, organizations, rules and exceptions. We live in a democratic society where we share responsibility for our asylum policy. But how can we be sure it is the right policy if it is too complex for most people to comprehend? The EU Asylum Search Engine aims to unravel these complexities. It poses the questions: How does our asylum policy work? And how do we actually want it to work?
At what moment did you think ‘This won’t work, I’ll have to give up’. And how did you continue from there?
Funding for the film was difficult, because the refugee topic is no longer ‘hot’. Fortunately we had the support of broadcaster IKON/EO and two smaller funds. But we made it really low-budget (with the support of our amazing crew).
During the research and production we often asked ourselves: how are we going to tell such a tough, bureaucratic story in a film? Also, things are shifting quickly, new policies are made every day, new deals were being constantly discussed. When we were filming on Lesbos even the Refugee Treaty itself came under attack.
How can we make a film that is up to date and at the same time is more than something you would see on the news?
During the edit period we often thought: hell, this is not going to work. But that is a normal process. And in the end we discovered that telling the story from three different perspectives brought the complex political and rational story also to the heart.
Could you tell us something about the state of narrative in your country, The Netherlands?
There are many possibilities for storytelling in The Netherlands, both in the sense of funding as well as media outlets that are open for different (and new) forms of storytelling. I’m really lucky to be based here.
Who are your narrative hero’s in your country?
In writing, I’m inspired by the work of Joris Luyendijk, whose productions are all well investigated and of great quality, and Paul Teunissen, who writes great narrative stories. Others I look up to are Minka Nijhuis, Ryszard Kapuściński and F. Springer. Filmmakers that inspire me are Kim Longinotto and Baz Luhrmann. I’m also inspired by the radio projects of Laura Stek and the trans-media projects and photography of Anaïs Lopez, whose project The Migrant I co-produced.
In March 2018, it is two years since the EU-Turkey migrant deal came into effect. Under the deal, Syrian refugees who had reached Greece were to be returned to Turkey, while Syrian asylum seekers in Turkey were to be resettled in the EU. S ome regard the deal as a necessary evil; others as a diabolical pact. The EU-Turkey deal now serves as an example for new agreements with countries in North Africa. But does it even work? For whom? And what have we learned from it? Documentary The Deal explores the answers to these questions as well as possible improvements for Europe's current asylum policy.
Maker: Eefje Blankevoort and Els van Driel
In March 2018, it is two years since the EU-Turkey migrant deal came into effect. Under the deal, Syrian refugees who had reached Greece were to be returned to Turkey, while Syrian asylum seekers in Turkey were to be resettled in the EU. Some regard the deal as a necessary evil; others as a diabolical pact. Gerald Knaus, the founder of a Berlin-based think tank, is the architect of the deal. He is reviled by extreme left-wing and human rights organizations alike but also admired for his intellectual courage. He travels around Europe arguing tirelessly for an asylum policy that is both humane and effective.
Meanwhile, the slow pace of procedures and relocation has left thousands of refugees stranded in horrendous conditions on the island of Lesbos. Local residents, volunteers from across Europe and refugees themselves are trying to alleviate the situation. The EU-Turkey deal now serves as an example for new agreements with countries in North Africa. But does it even work? For whom? And what have we learned from it? Documentary The Deal explores the answers to these questions as well as possible improvements for Europe’s current asylum policy.
The Deal is part of a cross media project ‘The EU Asylum Machine‘, a cross-border, multidisciplinary, transmedia project that explores the complex world of European asylum policy and connected asylum policies of EU member states. The main and initial component is a web documentary providing insight into the European and different national asylum policies and inviting users to think about how they think the policies should work. The EU Asylum Machine brings together investigative journalism, documentary film, photography, interaction and debate. Combining new material (text, photography, film) with excerpts from existing productions, The EU Asylum Machine takes its audience on a journey through the convoluted world of EU asylum policy. We also compare different member states. How do refugee numbers compare to those of our neighbours? Is a common European asylum policy realistic, given the many political compromises such a policy entails?
The project started with De Asielzoekmachine (The Asylum Machine, also available in English), which focuses on Dutch asylum policy. Now this ground-breaking project is looking passed Dutch borders.The EU Asylum Machine combines the expertise of documentary makers, journalists, artists, (web) designers and curators. For the different national projects we are looking for fellow journalists and documentary makers across Europe to use our online and offline storytelling tools to investigate their own asylum policies.
Watch the English subtitled version of The Deal by clicking the button below and using the password: TheDeal2018
Eefje Blankevoort (Montreal, 1978) studied History at the University of Amsterdam. Between 2002 and 2006 she lived in Iran on a regular basis, where she studied, compiled archive for the International Institute for Social History, wrote articles and worked on her book ‘Stiekem kan hier alles’ (‘on the sly, everything is possible here). In between she enrolled in a year-long graduate program American Studies at the ‘all women college’ Smith College, Massachusetts. Eefje writes articles and books, direct and edits (commissioned) films. She published the books ‘The Refugee Jackpot’ (together with photographer Karijn Kakebeeke) and ‘Dream City’ (together with photographer Anoek Steketee). In 2014, she made the interactive web documentary ‘Love radio’, in 2016 ‘The Asylummachine’ and in 2017 ‘The Holy Road’ (together with Dirk-Jan Visser).
In March 2018, it will be two years since the EU-Turkey migration deal came into effect. The deal established a ‘one in, one out’ protocol, with the EU accepting one asylum seeker for every irregular migrant returned to Turkey from Greece. Under the deal, Syrian refugees who had reached Greece were to be returned to Turkey, while Syrian asylum seekers in Turkey were to be resettled in the EU.
Some regard the deal as a necessary evil; others as a diabolical pact. Gerald Knaus, the founder of a Berlin-based think tank, is the architect of the deal. But does it work? For whom? And what have we learned from it?
The documentary The Deal, an example of excellent journalism and outstanding narrative, explores the answers to these questions as well as possible improvements in Europe’s current asylum policy. The documentary shows the efforts of Gerald Knaus, who is behind the EU-Turkey migration deal, to get it implemented in the way he envisioned.
We travelled to Lesbos to see what the EU-Turkey deal meant in practice. And we were shocked. Thousands of people were crammed into camp Moria, without decent sanitary facilities, no proper help for their medical needs, and without proper legal aid. It’s a humanitarian crisis in Europe and the EU is looking away. With our film we wanted to make a nuanced and critical analysis of the deal and the people directly involved: the ‘architect’ of the deal Gerald Knaus, refugee Ramy Qudmany, who crossed after the deal, was shipwrecked and has been stuck on the island for more than one and half years, the volunteers from all over Europe who want to help and Greek Katerina, who helps refugees and almost serves as a ‘moral conscience’. Read more
What did you want to tell with this story?
This book is what I wish I had read growing up. I had no choice but to write it. I always knew I wanted to help young people go through what I went through. It would have helped if I had read it growing up. People say to me that I’m so focused on race. But the thing is: I wasn’t brought up thinking about race. My father is a white Jewish German who moved to Great Britain as a child and fell in love with my mother, who had moved there from Ghana. They had always taught me to be confident and trust myself. I had never heard of micro-aggression or imposters syndrome. But all these things came my way when I ventured out in the world, and studied at Oxford for instance. Now that the book is out, I’m surprised how many can relate to my story. A lot of people feel alone or have a sense of their otherness being questioned.
When did you think “This is never going to work” and how did you overcome that point?”
Uh, I often thought it wouldn’t happen, this book. I wrote sixty versions of my outline, yes that’s 6-0. But once my agent felt I had nailed it and sent it out, we could pick a publisher. I went from defeat to being elated. From then on it was easy to write it; my outline was so detailed I knew exactly what to do. I felt I had already found my voice writing for the Guardian. But I had to take distance from my personal experiences and find a way to write about them. For the Guardian I rarely write first person or talk about personal stuff. And I felt really self-conscious – like the imposter syndrome I described, I was wondering: who am I to report this?
Can I mention someone from outside of my country? My hero would be Oprah – I just met her last week. I feel a lot of time we ask people to treat us fairly. But there’s only so much you can ask. Having to ask is actually demeaning. At some point she said: I’m not going to ask, I’ll just build my own platform. And that’s what she’s done. I love the spirit of that. That is how you create change. I’m currently working on two documentaries for the BBC. We’re now asking for equal pay, but we’re still years away from asking equal pay for people of all backgrounds. She’s my source of inspiration.
Sky- and Guardian-journalist Afua Hirsch recently published her first book, Brit-ish, revealing a crisis of identity in Britain and the country's failure to provide British people of diverse backgrounds with a sense of belonging and inclusion. Drawing on her own life, and decades of working on issues of social justice, equality and the politics of identity and immigration, Afua has written a book for anyone who has experienced outsiderness or otherness themselves, or who cares about the profound differences alienating British people today. Her book is a powerful narrative on finding your own voice as a storyteller.
Maker: Afua Hirsch
When I later joined the Guardian newspaper as legal affairs correspondent, it was important to me that this was a role that had nothing to do with gender or race. Coming as I did from a world of bundles of paper tied up in pink ribbon, cantankerous public-school boys paid to have a high opinion of their charisma and bravado, and white horsehair wigs, I expected the newspaper to be enlightenment personified.
But there, too, diversity was conspicuous by its absence. When Howard W. French, the distinguished black New York Times columnist, was posted to Japan as a correspondent, he regarded it as a victory far beyond the implications of actually reporting news from the country. He had broken outside the walled city of reporting ‘urban’ and ‘black’ places and stories to which black reporters are usually confined. ‘Howard has reached the river!’ French reported his colleagues as saying. ‘Someone had escaped, or so it seemed, what we sometimes called the “corporate negro calculus”, the careful tending of our presence, never dramatically expanding our numbers but also never letting them fall too low, all the while keeping us employed in predictable roles.’
The world French described is one I still recognise, characterised by what he calls the ‘persistent problem of typecasting’ – a deeply embedded view that regards certain topics as ‘black’ and the rest as ‘white’. It’s impossible not to notice a similar phenomenon in the British media. As far back as 2002, a report supported by a number of organisations including the BBC acknowledged that ‘the pattern of minority ethnic participation shows less contribution to heavyweight roles and subjects of a serious nature, while minority ethnic contributions cluster around vox pop interviews or stereotypical topics of minority group issues, sport, music and sex’.
To me, it’s non-negotiable that newsrooms should reflect the cultural, racial, class, religious and gender make‑up of the nation. I can think of no other profession where the personal contacts and perspective of an employee have such a blatant impact on their output. The playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah tells a story about how, growing up in west London in the 1970s, his mother would – very occasionally – shout up the stairs saying ‘Come quick! There’s a black man on the telly!’ Things were not all that different by 2001, when BBC Director General Greg Dyke famously described the corporation as ‘hideously white’.
I was in my second year at university then, and painfully aware at the paucity of black people – especially senior or visible black people – in all of the professions I was considering entering. Dyke was speaking just a few years after the Metropolitan Police were judged to be affected by ‘institutional racism’; it was as if the ‘R’ word, as the professor and broadcaster Kurt Barling has called it, was finally coming out of the closet and into the open for public analysis and dissection. It was a relief.
Collecting examples of blatant racism in the mainstream press is one of my hobbies. It’s too much work for one person, so I often rely on members of another WhatsApp group, this time a group of female journalists, which includes all races, the only requirement being that everyone involved is committed to increasing diversity in the profession. My phone buzzes endlessly with the constant stream of offensive examples, but some stand out. A Daily Mail cartoon from November 2015 in particular had special significance because of its timing. The newspaper published a drawing by its long-standing cartoonist Stanley McMurtry satirising the fact that the singer Tom Jones was exploring the possibility that he could have African ancestry. The cartoon, which I imagine would have caused offence in 1915 let alone 2015, showed a white explorer in colonial-era dress, in a black‑as‑night jungle, approaching a pot-bellied black tribesman with a test tube. The caption has the explorer telling the tribesman, ‘The DNA matches – now just one more question. Can you sing Delilah?’
What singled this incident out was the fact that, on the very same day that the newspaper published it, the Mail was playing host to a ‘special celebratory reception to mark 10 years of the Journalism Diversity Fund’ – a fund that dispenses bursaries to talented journalism students from ‘diverse backgrounds’. Joseph, the Hull-born mixed-race Guardian journalist who shared his experiences of childhood with me for this book, was at the reception, and listened to a speech by one of the Mail’s senior editors, in which he praised efforts to increase diversity in the industry and stressed how important it was that more was done. After the speech, Joseph made a point of showing the cartoon to some of the Mail grandees present at the reception, asking how depicting black people in this way was compatible with encouraging diversity. ‘Stop being a troublemaker,’ he reports being told.
It’s too easy to implement corporate diversity schemes and social responsibility checklists, without any actual thought about why our society excludes people of colour. Shonda Rhimes, the American screenwriter and producer – creator of multiple hit US shows including Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal – is often asked why she’s so invested in ‘diversity’ on television, in the sense that she has created lead characters who are from different minority backgrounds, who are women and who are gay. ‘I really hate the word diversity,’ Rhimes says. ‘It suggests something other. As if there is something unusual about telling stories involving women and people of color and LGBTQ characters on TV. I have a different word: NORMALIZING. I’m normalizing TV. I am making TV look like the world looks. Women, people of color, LGBTQ people equal WAY more than 50 per cent of the population. Which means it ain’t out of the ordinary.’
The problem is, things have been so skewed for so long, that tampering with the old ‘normal’ creates instant enemies. For many people, ‘diversity’ feels like discrimination against them; they see it as a zero-sum game. On my first day at Sky News, a senior female colleague gave me a dressing-down for my audacity in getting my job, saying, ‘Don’t take this personally, but you can’t get a promotion around here if you’re white these days. You should know that. I’m just telling you, as if people are less than pleased to see you, it might explain why.’ There was always this lingering suspicion that I managed to get the job as a result of some sophisticated scam or, worse, affirmative action.
At the Guardian, people kept asking me how I did it, as if there was some kind of story to tell. ‘I applied to the job ad in the Guardian, did two rounds of interview, and wrote three sample articles,’ I said. How did you get yours?’ The fact is that until a few years before I joined the newspaper, jobs weren’t even advertised as standard practice – in some cases, editors simply appointed people they knew. Privileged, straight, white men who lived in affluent areas tended to appoint – guess what – other people like themselves.
The media is changing, with streaming services like Netflix, online news platforms like Vice, and social media news services like The Young Turks disrupting the market and stealing the loyalties of a generation, who would never dream of waiting for the BBC News at Six to find out what’s going on in the world, as my parents used to when I was growing up. But the fact remains that the decisions made in the newsrooms and commissioning offices of our major TV studios still have enormous influence over public opinion and sentiment. Public service broadcasters in particular are among the first to acknowledge that their content is creating a narrative of the nation, to ‘enrich and challenge the assumptions of modern Britain, and connect its past and future’, for example, or to ‘increase social cohesion and tolerance by enabling the UK’s many communities to talk to themselves and each other about what they hold in common and how they differ’.
Afua Hirsch (1981) is the author of Brit(ish), a 2017 Jonathan Cape publication that explores Britishness and identity, and their seismic social and political impact. Afua is a writer, journalist and broadcaster who has worked as social affairs and education editor for Sky News and legal affairs correspondent for The Guardian in Great Britain and West Africa. She is a former barrister and has also worked in international human rights development. In addition to reporting on issues ranging from politics and policy, terrorism, the War in Mali, and Africa’s tech revolution, she writes and speaks extensively about social issues concerning justice and identity around the world. The Dutch translation, Brit(isch) will come out on April 18 2018, published by AtlasContact.
(Photo: Urszula Soltys)
The book started when I was a West Africa correspondent for The Guardian, living in Ghana, the country of my mother. I noticed many talented Ghanaians moving back. It had something to do with owning your history – knowing where you come from is an empowering experience. But it had also to do with being fed up in Britain, feeling limited, feeling put in a prison of race. It seemed healthier to go to a country where you are not defined by your race. I started thinking: what is it about the British that we feel left out?
This book is what I wish I had read growing up. I had no choice but to write it. I always knew I wanted to help young people go through what I went through. It would have helped if I had read it growing up. People say to me that I’m so focused on race. But the thing is: I wasn’t brought up thinking about race. My father is a white Jewish German who moved to Great Britain as a child and fell in love with my mother, who had moved there from Ghana. They had always taught me to be confident and trust myself. I had never heard of micro-aggression or imposters syndrome. But all these things came my way when I ventured out in the world, and studied at Oxford for instance. Now that the book is out, I’m surprised how many can relate to my story. A lot of people feel alone or have a sense of their otherness being questioned. Read more
Tracks is a combination of two distinct media: audio and video. Because they are never shown together –none of the interviewees speaks on-camera—they remain separated.
There is the story of the train operators who share their experience with jumpers, people who commit suicide by letting themselves be ravaged by a passing train. And there is the visual element: fairly uniform images shot from the perspective of the train operator. The viewer is immersed in the train ride. Without the audio, this could just be another show about beautiful train rides. But the combination with the story leads to something new: rather than a vehicle for a sightseeing tour, the train morphs into a murder machine. The viewer expects a jumper to appear out of nowhere for the camera. And tension gradually builds up as the suicide fails to materialize. Like in a good horror film, you know that a monster will make its appearance, but you don’t know when…
Watch the English subtitled version of TRACKS by clicking the button below and using the password: Master 160119
Gunnar Bergdahl (Stockholm, 1951) is a film critic, author, and filmmaker. His prolific career ranges from working as a programmer for an arthouse cinema, to becoming the Festival Director of the Göteborg Film Festival between 1993 and 2002. He was named Best Swedish Journalist in 1995, and was decorated by the University of Göteborg in that same year. His documentary, “The Voice of Ljudmila” was named Best Swedish documentary of 2002. He has published four books: ”The 20th Century of Bergman” (2000), ”Ludmillas book” (2002), ”Interlude in Smygehuk” (2002), "Elected Culture” (2008), ”Ljudmila from Chernobyl” (2011), and directed seven films: ”The Voice of Bergman ” (doc, 1997), ”The Voice of Ljudmila” (doc, 2001), ”Ingmar Bergman; Intermezzo” (doc, 2002), ”The Voice of Silence" (short, 2003), ”Ljudmila & Anatolij” (doc, 2006), ”TRACKS” (doc, 2016), ”Last Breath” (short, 2017). In addition, he has participated as editor for several newspapers. In 1997, the city of Göteborg named a tram wagon after him.
It is interesting to see how the combination of two readily accessible elements can bring about a completely new effect, in the experience of the selection committee when they saw Tracks. There is an audio layer with quotes from train machinists that have been confronted with ‘jumpers’. And there’s the perspective of the train operator during the train ride, the moving image, the camera in the cabin. The combination leads to increasing dramatic tension. As if there could be a jumper any..moment..now. The spectator can never truly enjoy the sublime Swedish landscape as it rolls by. And the viewer becomes aware of the continuous threat that a train operator needs to learn to live with. At first glance, theirs may seem the most beautiful office in the world, but it can quickly turn into a murder instrument, in a fate that is difficult to predict.
Tracks is a combination of two distinct media: audio and video. Because they are never shown together –none of the interviewees speaks on-camera—they remain separated. There is the story of the train operators who share their experience with jumpers, people who commit suicide by letting themselves be ravaged by a passing train. And there is the visual element: fairly uniform images shot from the perspective of the train operator. The viewer is immersed in the train ride. Read more
Journalist Stephanie Bakker and photographer Yvonne Brandwijk’s multimedia project ‘Future Cities’ explores five surprising hotspots for growth. The web documentary – which was awarded Innovative Storytelling, third prize in World Press Photo’s 2017 Digital Storytelling Contest – breaks new ground in both topic and delivery. CPN Web Editor Deniz Dirim speaks to the pair on steering away from traditional media and deepening the partnership between writer and photographer.
Imagine the world in 2025. With the majority of the population living in urban areas, which cities will be at the forefront of progress? Is it hubs for innovation; the many Silicon Valleys dotted around the West? Or maybe the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries’ reputedly imminent economic takeover comes to mind? The multimedia project ‘Future Cities’ by journalist Stephanie Bakker and photographer Yvonne Brandwijk is testament to answer C: none of the above.
When researching Africa’s fashion scene for a story, Stephanie “bumped into” a map of Global Cities of the Future by the McKinsey Global Institute. She was surprised to see Congo’s Kinshasa listed as one of the top ten hotspots for growth in 2025. Stephanie and Yvonne decided to dig deeper and found five unexpected cities that were leading in their respective fields: art in Yangon, tech in Medellín, gastronomy in Lima, and fashion in Kinshasa. Curious to know more, the duo pitched a five-part series on ‘Future Cities’ to one of the Netherlands’ biggest newspapers, De Volkskrant.
The initial idea was to cover five cities with traditional articles in the span of a year. “But then we started seeing The New York Times, The Guardian and all these newspapers doing such big things online,” explains Stephanie. (The pair cites The Guardian’s multimedia project ‘Firestorm’ as their main inspiration in pushing the boundaries of digital storytelling.) Stephanie shares, “And so we were back from Kinshasa and someone sent us an article about how the Guardian made ‘Firestorm’: 30 people, 7 months, full-time working. And then we thought, ‘Oh my God! We are only the two of us how are we going to do this?’”
Naturally, they sought out advice from their media partner De Volkskrant, hoping to benefit from their centurial experience. But, in 2014, even major newspapers were grappling with how to take full advantage of the digital storytelling realm. Yvonne reveals: “We thought the newspaper would be able to do a lot of the online thing. Now they know how to do it. But we found that in Holland – when we started almost three years ago – that was just beginning. We thought that they were way more experienced than us but, in the end, we found out that no one is very experienced.” And then Yvonne utters the four-words that can be heard from any creator who is innovative: “We just did it.”
MAKE YOUR OWN RULES
Despite being a photographer for 20 years, Yvonne had never filmed video before. She taught herself how to film with the EOS 5D Mark II on the job during their first trip and Stephanie supported with recording audio. Yvonne admits, “We made all the mistakes you can think of – totally. And when we came back home, we started to think ‘OK, it needs to be edited but we don’t know how to edit.’” The humble, successful pair makes an excellent case in point for storytellers exploring new mediums.
Stephanie explains: “We know how to tell stories. The only thing that’s different is the way you tell it. We tried to discover in the beginning: what are the rules of making an interactive? In journalism, you really have rules: what is a good story. And then we found out there are no rules for making an interactive. And that made it really free.”
Their approach to building the right team to produce ‘Future Cities’, was to do whatever they could themselves – by adding new skills to their repertoire – and then bringing in experts where needed. They often found themselves peeping the credits of projects they admired for direction. Yvonne reveals: “We had to figure it out ourselves. There was no-one who told us this is who exists in a team. So the sound designer came because I noticed the sound could be better. Then an interactive designer because we needed someone who was really experienced in telling a story that way. Of course, you need the web developers. A designer. A photo editor…”
Each of the city’s respective area of success – whether cultural or technological – is portrayed through five or so local protagonists. The website includes ample opportunities to see statistics that demonstrate each city’s development, but it is the characters presented which ultimately convince the viewer that things are not as grim as they might seem. Be it visual artist Nann Nann who against all societal pressure lives alone in her own (one-million-dollar) home in Yangon or Louisan Mbeya a fashion designer living in the ‘Paris of Kinshasa’.
In finding the right people to symbolise a city’s energy, the duo says research can only go so far. Upon arrival, they worked 16 hours a day, recording cityscapes in the morning light as well as attending evening events to meet locals. “They [the protagonists] are not on the Internet because nobody ever talked about them,” recalls Stephanie. “Because we don’t want the known people, we want the unknown people. You find them if you go to these places.”
“We really try to dive into this theme we picked. So for example in Kinshasa the first day we were there we went into a little sewing atelier. We started to talk to the lady and she didn’t speak English or French, only the local language. And she told our fixer that tonight there will be a big fashion show in one of the most expensive hotels in Kinshasa. And I said, ‘OK let’s go there, let’s see’.”
“And we went there and almost immediately we saw a man called Louisan sitting in the audience. He was wearing this yellow jacket, Prada sunglasses and a lot of bling bling – and we immediately saw a nice character. We started talking with him and he was like the star of the evening; everybody knew him and it wasn’t even his show. He invited us to his place where he works and lives. And we said to each other, I hope it’s not a fancy atelier because we are looking for someone coming up. And then we ended up in a slum. It could have been a fancy atelier because he was a really fancy guy but we ended up in his ramshackle house where he didn’t have electricity because it was broken down. And he told us such a great story.”
KILL YOUR DARLINGS
Stephanie and Yvonne first met in a co-working space and there sparked a desire to marry text and photographs more organically. They recount how they even discovered they had worked on the same assignments over the years without ever meeting. Editing ‘Future Cities’ was a reminder that such collaboration also requires sacrifice.
Yvonne explains: “Of course, I have to pick photos that I think is not the best picture. For example, the photographs of [protagonist] Elsa’s best friend in Lima are stronger than Elsa’s photographs. And that I find difficult. But Elsa’s story is stronger so you can’t have a big ego in doing a project together. My photography has changed since I started working closely with a journalist. It’s not about the best image; it’s about the best story.”
“We also realised things that work in a photo story or in a written story doesn’t work if you combine them. So the first city took a long time. It started with a lot text on the photos – and I was very unhappy. The photos didn’t tell a story.”
Stephanie confirms: “That’s what you do in a story. You write about the surroundings to transmit people to the place. But you don’t need it when you already see the photo. And you hear a lot, so you are already there and I don’t have to add much. At the beginning, we had some arguments but we ended up by both having the same attitude. We want to tell the best story – either in text, photography, video or audio. Now it doesn’t matter anymore.”
IT’S ALL ABOUT TIMING
One of ‘Future Cities’ most compelling aspects is its user-driven pacing. The viewer can hear, read or see bite-size chunks of information which ultimately paints a bigger picture. Yvonne explains, “Everyone is trying to find out what is the best way for digital storytelling. Some give the audience total freedom – you choose where you go. People with more experience told us that if you give a lot of choice, people don’t choose and go away so you have to find a part that you give to them – so they have the feeling that you guide them – and from that people think ‘Oh, I can also go there or there.’”
The multimedia format’s flexibility made it possible to flip the usual narrative surrounding urban growth. There are, of course, hardships in the five cities featured. But to create a positive impact, the duo believes the story must begin with the solution before outlining the challenges. Stephanie asserts: “The thing that we wanted to do as journalist and photographer is to tell people what’s going on in the world. And when you tell hopeful stories about powerful people, I think that has more impact. People stay to these kinds of stories. When it’s only about problems people leave with a hopeless feeling. But you cannot talk about the solution without touching the problem. Only the angle is different: we start with the solution, the inspiration and then we come to the problem – always.”
THINK BIG, START SMALL
Stephanie and Yvonne will publish their fifth and final city, Addis Ababa, this September – three years after the project began. When they started, their funders warned them not to be overzealous (they originally set out to do five stories in one year) and their home life (they are both mothers) affirmed their need to re-evaluate scheduling. But in the end, Yvonne tells me you have to think big: “We presented it as big, we were thinking big, we never doubted that we’d go to five cities but we started small with one city.”
Stephanie concludes with her advice for fellow storytellers who aspire to creating award-winning work: “Tell the story you love yourself. I was giving a guest lecture at a university last week and I was showing some of the videos of the main characters. And I looked at them and I really loved them one by one. So it really touches me and that’s the feeling I bring across as well. So I think you can only have this kind of recognition when you really love the story you’re telling and you really can embrace the people you’re interviewing. For me, that’s the most important.”
Photography by Yvonne Brandwijk
Original source interview: Canon Europe
Journalist Stephanie Bakker and photographer Yvonne Brandwijk have worked on their worldwide project Future Cities for the past three years. This cross-media web documentary forms a portrait of five cities of the future. What do cities like Lima, Kinshasa, Yangon, Medellín and Addis Abeba have in common?
Maker: Stephanie Bakker and Yvonne Brandwijk