Capturing Moments of Kindness in Intolerant Places

‘What Works’ is currently on view at the Bronx Documentary Center

Santiago Arcos
The first division of the Palestino Soccer Team pays regular visits to the inmates of the Prison San Miguel to share some time and play soccer matches together. This initiative was started by Roberto Avalos, a star player of the team who has spent some time in this same prison as an inmate.© Santiago Arcos

In order to educate and mobilize concerned populations, documentary photographers have historically concentrated on shooting social injustices and bleak realities. But what if these stories could be told in new ways? This is exactly what Susan Meiselas, Fred Ritchin and the Magnum Foundation staff thought when they reached out to nine former Magnum Foundation Human Rights fellows to produce new works that depict solutions to global problems.

Eman Helal
Delga church from the fourth century was burnt in 2013 by the supporters of the former president Mohamed Morsy.© Eman Helal

Selections from these nine projects can be seen now at the Bronx Documentary Center in a dynamic exhibition featuring photography and video made by Santiago Arcos, Poulomi Basu, Xyza Cruz Bacani, Abbas Hajimohammadi, Eman Helal, Yuyang Liu, Manca Juvan, Anastasia Vlasova and Muyi Xiao. This international cohort of photographers was asked to document their local communities and find evidence of people overcoming differences.

Manca Juvan
You know there were tanks, police, military, ... I don't know what came to the mind of Slovenian government to create such fear, to be so ill informed on the fact who is coming.. - Eva, Slovenia volunteer.© Manca Juvan

After working on their projects independently for serval months, the fellows convened last March in New York City to attend a ten-day workshop at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. At CUNY, they presented their projects, worked with photographer Ed Kashi and visual journalist Bob Sacha, and received training in solutions-based journalism. Filipino photographer Xyza Cruz Bacani, a 2015 fellow, explains that many of the involved photographers returned to their local communities with renewed commitments to their projects and new strategies for making documentary images—strategies that incorporate positive modes of storytelling.

Yuyang Liu
Abibula is lying on bed and crying for home sick. They've been in Guangdong for about four months at that time. March 22, 2016.© Yuyang Liu

In her project, Classroom of Hope, Bacani documents a school in Mindanao, an area of the Philippines subject to violence between the Al Qaeda-influenced Abu Sayaf and the government's Christian military. Bacani's project focuses specifically on the children in Mindanao and a school where Christians and Muslims learn peacefully side by side.

Xyza Cruz Bacani
Mahammud family with Marine officer Lugo rest inside their home in Zamboanga,Philippines.© Xyza Cruz Bacani

“After meeting in New York, I realized that my work was missing something,” Bacani told American Photo. “Sometimes when you start a documentary project you want to photograph everything; it is easy to get lost in the project … I realized that I needed to focus my story on the children. Sometimes you need to narrow your focus in order to make a stronger story.”

Muyi Xiao
Mona Haydar and Sebastian Robins started to run “Talk To A Muslim” booth in December 2015, in Boston, Massachusetts, as they were shocked by the Terrorism Attack in Paris. They give free donuts, coffee and flowers to people, and welcome them to talk and ask questions about Islam, or anything they want, to combat Islamophobia. Here Mona is hugging a woman who became emotional during their conversation.© Muyi Xiao

In her favorite image on view in the exhibition, Bacani captured a Muslim family sitting on a porch beside a Christian soldier. All the trappings of domesticity are evident in the photograph: a mother combs a child’s hair, a toddler stands in a doorway sipping a large beverage and a young woman leans languidly on her arms as she stares blankly from the porch. This typical domestic scene is punctuated by a soldier, gun in hand, casually leaning against the side of the house. For Bacani this image demonstrates people’s ability to find peace within chaos.

Abbas Hajimohammadi
Maryam reads religious texts with her family while drinking coffee at their home. The book was given to Maryam as a gift from her church in Tehran.© Abbas Hajimohammadi

What Works is a reminder that opposing sides can come together and find common ground— a message that seems particularly poignant given the current political climate in the United States.

What Works is on view now through Nov. 20 at the Bronx Documentary Center.

Anastasia Vlasova
Mariam Muslimova (R) and Khadija Adamova are making dinner while their kids are playing in the kitchen. Both Mariam's and Khadija's families left Crimea after the Russian annexation in February 2014 and moved to the village Borynia, Lviv area, Western Ukraine where they live in a dormitory of a local college.© Anastasia Vlasova
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