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Irish-born Tom Wood photographed the people of Liverpool for almost three decades — becoming such a familiar sight on the streets that he became known locally as the Photie Man — and his selection from his archives makes up Men / Women. The photographs, moving between different formats and styles, colour and black and white, chart family, friends and strangers as they go about their everyday lives.
What characterizes Wood’s work is a consistency of tone and feeling. His perspective defines a way of photographing working-class people that has little in common with the output of someone like Martin Parr. Wood remarked in a Guardian interview, “You can photograph the same face 50 times and 49 are not interesting, but one is and it goes to another place”. In Women, Wood’s camera captures the singular voyage to that other place with elegiac accuracy.
Take his ‘Not Miss New Brighton’ (1978-79) image which shows two insouciant women sitting on the hood of a sports car in bright sunshine, looking straight at the man holding the camera. Their gaze, sexual but not sexy, provocatively silences any male chauvanist who might dare to cast aspersions on their autonomy. Or, in a similar spirit, his photograph of a group of seven female employees, 'One Family’ (1984), where individuality and solidarity are captured with gentle ease and caught in the faces and postures of the women against the background of the shop where they work. They trust the photographer as well as one another and each of them offers their face to the camera with understated confidence.
There are images of male friendship in the Men volume as well but angst is present to a greater degree. A few decades earlier, Liverpool produced John Lennon, who bitterly recorded how young people deprived of a fulfilling future were expected “to pick a career”. In Men, Wood depicts a post-industrial society where there seems to be an absence of any careers to pick. What youth can look forward to, shown with a wicked sense of humour in 'Mad Max’ (1993), is a merger of the body with a force of production.
Taken as a whole, though, Men / Women is an uplifting chronicle of a city’s people. Grimly realistic, it is also affectionate and the twin volumes represent a landmark in photographing ordinary people and their ordinary lives.
Unfortunately, the majority of news stories coming out of Northern Nigeria in recent years have been about the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram (whose name translates as ‘Western Education is sinful) but of course there’s much more complexity and tolerance within the society than Boko Haram’s perverse and hardline view of earthly existence. Centered in the city of Kano, there’s a small but significant contingent of hijab wearing ladies writing subversive romance novels.
These women, their lives, aspirations and works are the focus of a new–and somewhat unorthodox–photobook by Glenna Gordon who met dozens of authors. They write in Hausa, a Chadic language spoken by 50 million people, but their work rarely gets beyond the regions borders. Some translations of the novels appear in English for the first time in Gordon’s book. It is called Diagram of the Heart, published by Red Hook Editions and hits the shelves on February 11th.
“What if a photo of a woman writing a book was as important as a photo of a man fighting a war?” asks Gordon. “What would our foreign policy objectives be? How would we understand and conceptualize places and people we haven’t personally encountered? It often seems to me that fear is one of the driving forces behind the way America interacts with the rest of the world, especially the Muslim world. What if we filled those blank spaces onto which we project stereotypes with visualizations of the specific textures, colors and nuances of a life that is lived on terms different than our own?”
Images (top to bottom): 1. Khadija Gudaji works on her novel while laying in bed at her home in Kano, Northern Nigeria on September 29, 2013; 2. Books are tied up and packaged at the local market in Kano, Northern Nigeria on October 4, 2013. While Northern Nigeria is best known for Boko Haram, an Islamic terrorist group whose name means ‘Western Education is sinful,’ there’s a small but significant contingent of hijab wearing ladies writing subversive romance novels; 3. Rabi Tale, a popular novelist, in the courtyard of her office at the Ministry of Information on October 3 in Kano, Northern Nigeria. She is one of the few novelists who has a “day job” in an office. Many men allow their wives to write because they can do so without leaving the house; 4. A woman reads a Hausa romance novel using the flashlight on her cell phone on a train crossing Nigeria on August 21, 2015; 5. The wedding Fatiah, or party, of Maryan Nazifi, in Dawakin Tofa, another small town outside of Kano on November 8, 2014. Most of the time, men and women live very separate lives in Northern Nigeria and marriages are the main point of interaction; 6. Ahmed Adama, age 35, had wanted to marry Jamaila Lawan, 22, for more than a year when he heard about the mass wedding program organized by the Hisbah, the Islamic morality police in Northern Nigeria, who also censor the novels. They pose for a portrait at their home in Kano, Northern Nigeria, on October 7, 2013; 7. A woman poses for a portrait at the Office of Enlightenment at the Hisbah, the Islamic morality police, on August 17, 2015; 8. An officer of the Hisbah, the Islamic morality police, adjudicates a family dispute in Kano, Northern Nigeria, on August 17, 2015; 9. The diagram of a heart drawn on the outside of a school in Kano, Northern Nigeria on February 26, 2014; 10. Farida Ado, 27, is a romance novelist living in conflicted and rapidly Islamicizing Northern Nigeria. She’s one of a small but significant contingent of women in Northern Nigeria writing books called Littattafan soyayya, Hausa for “love literature.” She poses for a portrait at her home in Kano on April 15, 2013.
THE MOMENT – “Late one night in an empty cobblestoned street in Kyoto, a woman sheltering beneath a red umbrella glided past me. I saw in an instant something in her face – luminous eyes, an aloof expression – that gave her beauty a sense of timelessness and exquisite grace. What I experienced as presence. This moment took place on my first visit to the city that had been Japan’s capital for over a thousand years. And it was this image of an unknown woman in an empty street that impelled me to begin this book three years ago.” So begins the introduction to my book ‘Geiko & Maiko of Kyoto’, that is now on Kickstarter www.kickstarter.com/projects/robertvankoesveld/geiko-and-maiko-of-kyoto. The essay gives a context to the images and draws on research and interviews with people of the five traditional kagai. So good to have an image from that moment.