256pp,227 photographs, paperback, £19.95
Thames and Hudson

ISBN: 0500284326

Tales from a Globalizing World
Edited by Daniel Schwartz

Daniel Schwartz was invited by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation in 2002 to produce this
international photography project – an exhibition and accompanying book – on the process of globalisation. Rather than attempting an all-encompassing approach to the phenomenon, Schwartz introduces us to this vast subject through the commissioned work of ten different photographers. From diverse cultural and journalistic backgrounds and with differing artistic strategies the contributors’ stories range across five continents. Globalisation serves both to unite and destroy – it homogenises national culture while also fragmenting local ways of life. By illustrating its effects at a human level, revealing the individual stories behind the abstract terminology, this book makes them more accessible.

The Balkan states bear the scars of clashing religious and nationalist causes dating back to the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century. The Bosnian Ziyo Gafic photographed his country in the wake of the most recent conflict arising from these tensions. His images record the tragedy experienced by his family – the shrine to his grandfather who committed suicide at the start of the fighting, a portrait of his cousin’s once well-to-do family reduced to penury and traumatised by violence – as part of the tragedy of the nation. His story includes harrowing images of body bags, mass graves and places of execution; but pictures of joyful returnee children and the family moving in to a rebuilt home once on the frontline, speak of hope and recovery.

As part of the early globalising period of the transatlantic slave trade, African religions found their way to Brazil. Akinbode Akinbiyi has documented the still flourishing Nigerian Orisha cults in Brazil, their survival rooted in the slaves’ struggle to hang on to their cultural identity.

He illustrates the centuries-old cross-fertilisation of race and culture between the two countries, with photographs of key cities, religious leaders, devotional offerings and shrines. Tim Hetherington also travelled to Africa to see how for some the universal language of sport has offered a route to recovery in countries ravaged by conflict, or poverty in spite of plentiful natural resources. In Nairobi, where deprivation and dislocation lead to thousands of children living on the streets, former street kid George Mureu, became Kenya’s taekwondo champion. Hetherington photographs Mureu’s squad in training on the streets of the capital. In Angola, he found victims of land mines at a prosthesis centre using ball control to improve their co-ordination skills; and in Liberia, he records the former child soldiers who have found comradeship and a new sense of identity in football.

Contemporary globalisation is manifestly associated with Americanisation. Thomas Kern turns his camera inwards onto America, the homeland of "mass destruction, mass consumption, mass culture", against a backdrop of the fallout from "9/11" and the country’s preparations for war. With great clarity, his images of eroding regional industry, inner city poverty and ethnic and racial difference propose a country where a sense of what is "unAmerican" is clearer than what is. From one global superpower to another: based in Tokyo since 1997, Andreas Seibert has documented China’s transition to a vigorous modern economy. In 1978, China cautiously opened itself up to the world market with the creation of special economic zones such as that in the Pearl River Delta. Today, after a huge increase in foreign investment, this area is a megalopolis of between 40 to 50 million people. Seibert focused on the migrant workers pouring into this region. He records their manual jobs and modest homes in shantytowns of corrugated iron, their meagre subsistence contrasting with the developing urban infrastructure they help to sustain.

With new economies eroding traditional ecosystems, impoverished communities are forced to trade in whatever they have left and more often than not in themselves. Nationwide criminal networks in India, for example, profit from this fragmentation, targeting women and unprotected children drawn to the towns in search of work. Many are lured in to the sex industry. Shehzad Noorani documents the hopeless poverty of those on the lowest rung. His heartbreaking pictures record the rural poverty from which they run and the life of desperation and danger that awaits them. In Vietnam, Phillip Jones Griffiths photographed a nation that has fought back against the spreading influence of the dominant American culture. Yet he depicts a country whose landscape has been infiltrated by international brand names, displayed on gigantic advertising hoardings, in windows and on roadsides as it opens itself up to the international market.

Christina Nunez’s contribution, "Made in Italy", is a more positive exploration of globalisation as reflected in the multi-cultural and multi-layered Italian fashion industry. Her portraits of the "transnational elite" of designers, models and stylists clustered around its Milan hub, are accompanied by those further down the strata – the semi-illegal and black-market workshops of Naples, run mostly by Chinese immigrants, right down to the Senegalese traders at street level. Economic diaspora is captured in Bertien Van Manen’s images of the family, wedding and passport pictures of immigrants living in Paris. Propped against personal belongings in domestic backdrops, these artfully composed still-lives portray a multitude of cultures: Senegalese, Moroccans, Malians, Kurds, Algerians, Kosovans, attracted to the city in search of a better life. In his prosperous home country of Belgium, Stephan Vanfleteren found poverty of a different kind: numerous individuals unable to cope with the confusing contemporary world live solitary existences on society’s margins. His sensitive black and white portraits of these isolated figures memorialise their subjects and resonate with their emotions.

Tales from a Globalizing World does not pretend to provide a definitive explanation; rather it introduces us to a variety of its effects on the contemporary world. The commissioned photographers and their multifaceted approaches emphasise the complexity of this centuries-old phenomenon. In so doing, Tales from a Globalizing World becomes more of an educational tool or resource. Densely illustrated and packed with information, its subsidised cover price makes it excellent value for money.

An Exhibition of this work is at Maison communale de Plainpalais, Geneva, from 13 November to 12 December 2003

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