HELLO. HOLA. OLÁ. NAMASTE. SALAAM. BONJOUR. KIA ORA. HALLO.
The Van Gujjar Community Photo Project (Digital & 35mm, 2008-2009)
Van Gujjars, an indigenous forest dwelling nomadic buffalo herding community, have lived remotely in the forests of northern India for generations. Each and every summer, Van Gujjar families migrate from the Shivalik Mountains to beautiful alpine meadows below snowline in the high Himalayas. A way of life for centuries, state governments in India have begun to test the validity of each family's forest permit. Many of these permits date back to 1937, when India was still a British colony. In the spring of 2008, 91 families were denied entry into their summer pasture lands within a recently created wildlife sanctuary in Govind Pashu Vihar National Park. This discrepancy threatened to deny them access to their indigenous homeland and the chance at claiming the land under the recently passed Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act. In the spring of 2008, with the help of a local NGO, I conducted a photography clinic within two khols (forests surrounding a dry riverbed) and distributed 27 cameras to a wonderfully inspirational group of men, women and children. They were free to explore and photograph what people, places, things and moments were important to them. These images offer insight and a view of a distinct indigenous reality in a rapidly growing India. Photographs taken by the Van Gujjar coming soon...
Medium Format Topographic Journeys (2005-2015)
These images are from an ongoing series inspired by the relationship between humans and the landscapes we live within. Intrigued with the abstract boundaries present in the world, I undertook this project in order to reassess and reflect on the conscious and unconscious interaction between human beings and the natural and urban living landscapes that surround us. This exploration illustrates another side to my work and incorporates a part of my vision that is important to my ongoing development as a photographer and storyteller. This project is global. The photographs within this series reflect my wanderings within the boundaries of America’s borders and beyond.
After The Fall (September 2001 - June 2002)
Living in the United States, we are constantly inundated with images. Advertisements and slogans pervade our lives. Television and media influence our everyday. Since September 11th, our scenery has changed. American flags are everywhere. I remember walking around Northfield (Minnesota) in late September being amazed at the amount of flags I saw. I couldn't remember the country ever being that patriotic. Division Street was lined with flags, while billboards went up along I-35, and new bumper stickers could be found everywhere. It didn't prepare me for my return home in November. New York had totally changed. Every open space was filled with patriotism. Every subway car, storefront, billboard, and bus were caked in flags. Every Christmas tree on Broadway was now crowned with the stars and stripes. A Kenneth Cole billboard on the West Side highway with a black background and white lettering proclaimed, "Red, White and Blue is the new Black."
I spent December walking. I would wake up every morning and take a train somewhere, walk until sunset and shoot photos. Every block in New York, whether it was in Manhattan or the Bronx was plastered in "pride." I would spend hours shooting and realize I'd only made it a few blocks from the subway station. From Harlem to Tremont, Long Island City to the Upper East Side, I felt it was important to capture and stop and think about what was in front of my eyes. Kenneth Cole was right in a sense. Flags were and still are the new "fad." People are draped in patriotism.
Walking, I met Calvin Soloman, a homeless man living in a shelter on 104th street. Calvin told me he put on his bandana, because he felt he just needed to. I saw spray paint on a new building in the Bronx that said, "Run, Fight Terrorism. Stop Police Brutality." I went into Cannon's pub one night and found myself pissing on Osama Bin Laden's face. After talking to the bartender, I learned that the owner of Cannon's had ordered a pack of twenty Bin Laden urinal "targets" and now there were only five left. People were taking them out of the urinal every other night. The first urinal "targets" came our in the early 1070s and displayed images of Jane Fonda's face, alluding to her anti-war stance during the Vietnam War. The famous Seinfeld restaurant, Tom's, right near my house had a beautiful flag draping the back of its counter. I had felt some of this sentiment in Northfield before I left, but never did I expect to be inundated as I was in New York.
I think of these photos as snapshots from a wide range of worldviews and places and more importantly, beliefs. I sought to record people, trains, skies, buildings, storefronts, car antennas and even urinals in an effort to get everything down. The photos before you are not meant to judge. I'll admit I'm scared by the resurgence of all these flags. But I came into this project attempting to be impartial with the use of my lens. The following images are our landscapes; they are our lawns, our storefronts and our lives.
- Ben Lenzner, June 2002