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TIME Photo Department

“For centuries, Cuba’s greatest resource has been its people,” writes Pico Iyer in an extended essay on the Caribbean nation in this week’s magazine. In the twilight of the Castro era, Cubans are finding that change brings both hope and anxiety.

To pair with Iyer’s tome, TIME called upon Danish photographer Joakim Eskildsen. Eskildsen, who previously photographed a large portfolio for TIME on the state of poverty in America, traveled to Cuba for ten days, photographing urban housing projects in Havana and rural settlements across the countryside. With the help of local journalist Abel Gonzalez Alayon, Eskildsen photographed tobacco plantations, roadside fruit vendors, migrant workers and beachfront resorts — capturing all in the vibrant saturation of medium-format color film.

“I immediately fell in awe with the complexity of this country,” says Eskildsen. “The more you learn about the situation and how people are living, the more difficult it becomes to understand. It was like learning to view the world form a Cuban angle that kept surprising and inspiring me.”

To read Pico Iyer’s extended essay on Cuba, subscribe here. Already a subscriber? Click here.

Joakim Eskildsen is a Danish photographer based in Berlin. LightBox previously featured Eskildsen’s Home Works and Below the Line: Portraits of American Poverty.

Abel Gonzalez Alayon is a journalist based in Cuba. Follow him on Twitter @abelcuba.

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Original author: 
Alexandra Sifferlin

For the last two years, Spanish photographer José Antonio de Lamadrid has quietly documented the daily lives of the Morillo Aguilar triplets; three 18-year-old boys at various stages on the autism spectrum. The Morillo Aguilar boys, Álvaro, Jaime and Alejandro, will likely never live independently, and rely on one another to navigate the world around them.

Lamadrid, whose own nephew is autistic, met the Morillo Aguilar triples through his volunteer work at Autismo Sevilla, a non-profit that offers support for parents of autistic children. “I thought that by taking pictures of these three, it would help people understand more about the illness,” says Lamadrid. “Although they are dependent on their family, it is possible for them to live normal and happy lives.”

It’s estimated that autism affects over 2 million Americans and tens of millions worldwide. As with the three brothers, symptoms vary depending on where a person falls on the autism spectrum.

Since he has the most normal social abilities, Jamie is the spokesperson for the three boys, and has a startling intelligence for trivia. “If you give him a random date, like May 2, 2001, he can very quickly tell you if that was a Friday or Saturday,” says Lamadrid. “He is the voice of the children and will often represent the three.”

Alejandro speaks significantly less than Jamie, but has his own unique skill of putting together entire 1,000 piece puzzles in only a couple hours. Alvaro, who has significant brain damage hardly ever speaks, but he still enjoys watching movies with his brothers. Although the three boys arelegal adults now, Lamadrid says they have the mental state of three-year-olds.

Lamadrid says the three boys are some of his favorite–and most cooperative—subjects to photograph. Whether the boys are getting dressed for the day in matching outfits or riding the public bus through Sevilla, Lamadrid says they never questioned his constant trailing as he snapped pictures. “They allowed me to be in their life, and didn’t care about me or my camera,” he says. “They’re the subjects all photographers want to have in their life.”

The mother of the three boys, Noelia Aguilar, stuck out the most to Lamadrid during his work. “I was stunned by her,” says Lamadrid. “She is really trying to give them a normal life. Both parents are taking care of them on their own and they know when to push them and when to stop and listen.”

Through his photos of the triplets, Lamadrid hopes he will spur greater support from the Spanish government and autism organizations for families like the Morillo Aguilars. “I’ve learned that despite the condition, this family lives very positively,” says Lamadrid. “Every day is quite hard for them, but they go to bed happy.”

José Antonio de Lamadrid is a photographer based in Seville, Spain. He is represented by Bluephoto.

Alexandra Sifferlin is a writer and producer for TIME Healthland.

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Original author: 
Aryn Baker

Presidential elections are always a time for hope. Nowhere is that more clear than in Iran, where a fervent desire for change is tempered by fears that the people’s voice might not be heard, or, worse yet, altered through fraud and manipulation. Still, Iranians thronged the election rallies, vibrant and noisy affairs that took place in gymnasiums and sports stadiums across the country. As Election Day loomed, candidates, get-out-the-vote volunteers and Iran’s own Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei exhorted citizens to vote, and they did, in record numbers. Polling station hours were extended late into the evening of June 14th, and, unlike the elections of 2009, when the results were announced almost immediately, the count took an agonizing 24 hours.

But on Saturday evening, hope blossomed into joy. Hassan Rouhani, the sole moderate on the ballot, exceeded all expectations to sweep a field made up of five other candidates, winning 51% of the vote and narrowly avoiding a runoff.  Iranians celebrated in the streets with dancing and music, an infectious jubilation that led even the White House to grudgingly admit that despite expectations for fraud, the Iranian people finally had their say.

Newsha Tavakolian is based in Tehran. LightBox previously featured Tavakolian’s portrait series, Look.

Aryn Baker is the Middle East bureau chief for TIME. Follow her on Twitter @arynebaker.

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Original author: 
David Walter Banks

Florida isn’t like other places. In fact, in some ways, Florida isn’t even like Florida. For centuries, from the time the 16th-century Spanish explorer Ponce de León first landed in Florida on his (perhaps apocryphal) search for the Fountain of Youth right up to the present day, people from the world over have looked to that large, water-logged peninsula jutting toward the Caribbean as a kind of fathomless fantasy land. Or, as photographer David Walter Banks nicely phrases it below, as “an epicenter of escapism.” Of course, no state as large and as diverse as Florida (or, for that matter, as small and as seemingly homogeneous as, say, Delaware) is ever just one thing. But again, as Banks suggests, the myth of Florida — the Florida of our tacitly agreed-upon collective imaginings — endures not because of, but despite, the state’s colossally variegated landscapes, cultures, communities and attractions. In his at-once fond and forthright portraits, Banks manages to illustrate much of the Floridian myth, while deepening the mystery of the Sunshine State’s singularly odd appeal.

A long-standing interest in escapism and seeking the surreal in the every day led me to train my lens on the manifestations of those ideas in American society. Eventually and inevitably, this practice led me to Florida, an epitome and epicenter of escapism in the United States.

In 2012, 1 in 4 Americans, or 89.3 million people visited the state of Florida, bringing in over $71.8 billion in tourism spending to an industry that directly employs well over one million individuals. Even after the economy crashed in 2008, Florida’s tourism numbers continued to climb in what is estimated as the most popular tourist destination in the world.

I am interested in the people who comprise these statistics, the environments in which they immerse themselves and the altered realities both the people and places project. I seek not to make a critique, nor to create a comprehensive factual documentation. I aim to create a vicarious experience–that of a tourist seeking fantasy.

My fascination with Florida started at a young age. Like so many Americans, my family would load up our wood-paneled Chevrolet station wagon every year and head down the highway toward the ‘Sunshine State’ for our annual Summer vacation. We would stay in a stereotypical stucco condo building on the beach called the Summerhouse. It was there that I produced some of my fondest childhood memories. It was there that I built sandcastles with my mom and dug giant holes with my dad for no apparent reason. It was there that I first met an older girl and hitchhiked to a club before I was laughed away at the door for my prepubescent appearance – I was 12, after all. It was there that I snuck off to smoke cigarettes stolen from a friend’s parents during my height of preteen angst.

These family trips were something that I looked forward to every year. I eagerly awaited the escape from our everyday life, even if only for a brief while. It is the memories of this escape that keep luring me back.

The theory of collective memory refers to the shared pool of information amongst a group of people. As Americans, our collective memory of Florida has become almost as much of a folk tale as it is based on reality. My recollections from childhood and adolescence are not necessarily how it actually looked and felt, but instead the world that I constructed from those fragmented memories. Such is our collective idea of the state, which has been fed and fueled by the masterminds of advertising and marketing.

Reality, on the other hand, is a different matter all together. Perhaps our fantasized version of Florida does exist, but if so, it is masked under layers of lines and litter, overpriced tourist traps and drunk teens who would steal the shirt off your back – This literally happened to me while photographing Spring Break. If anything is my charge while on the road for this project, it is peeling back these layers.

David Walter Banks is a conceptually based documentary and portrait photographer living in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter @dwbanksphoto.

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Original author: 
Lily Rothman

When the Swedish photographer David Magnusson created the pictures for his series Purity — now on view at the Malmö Museer as part of his first solo show — he followed the same procedure every time. One hour with a large-format camera. Sixteen pictures taken; one used. In front of the lens, a father and his daughter(s).

“I want to see your relationship as a father and a daughter,” Magnusson says he would tell his subjects, “in light of the decisions you have made.”

Those decisions were very particular ones. The subjects of Magnusson’s series are participants in Purity Balls, an American phenomenon in which girls promise to remain virgins until marriage and their fathers pledge to help them do so. The photographer spent three years—and four trips to the U.S. for a total of five months—capturing these images. Magnusson first heard about Purity Balls when he stumbled across a short magazine story about them, and was fascinated: although Sweden is a Christian country, he says the culture is generally very secular and the idea of religion so affecting one’s life seemed unusual.

But, by spending time with Purity Ball participants, he learned that maybe they weren’t so different from him after all. Each person in front of the camera was his or her own person with his or her own reasons, but the core motivation was something Magnusson could understand, even though he has no children of his own.

“I found out that the fathers participated out of the best intentions. They had been taught this is the best thing for their children, and a lot of the young girls had themselves taken the initiative to attend the purity balls,” he says. “I got the idea that maybe the difference between us wasn’t more than the culture of how we grew up.”

And though the movement is controversial, he strives to present the images without commentary. His aesthetic goal was to make the portraits beautiful and his subjects proud, while still allowing people coming from other perspectives to reach their own interpretations.

“I’ve done a lot of photojournalism in the past and I was at a point with my photography where I felt that I presented a lot of answers. My pictures were being read quickly – you could see, oh, this is sad, then you move on – and I was a bit fed up,” he says. “I had wanted to do something with the goal of passing along a lot of questions and information, letting the viewer make up their own mind.”

And sometimes that information was beyond his control. Though he did give each of his subjects the same instructions, the details each brought — the pose of their hands, how close they stood to each other — were impossible for him to predict. “That,” he says, speaking of the father-daughter relationship, “can’t be directed.”

David Magnusson is a Stockholm-based photographer. His series Purity is on view at Malmö Museer in Malmö, Sweden, through Sept. 8, after which it will tour. The work will be published in book format by Max Ström this winter.

Lily Rothman is a reporter for TIME.com.

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Original author: 
Josh Sanburn

Swedish photographer Lars Tunbjörk has documented frenzied consumerism, the soul-deadening effects of office life and the strange theatrics of U.S. politics, always displaying a sense of humor and a grasp of the absurd that would not be out of place in a George Saunders short story. For our feature on the increasing popularity of cremation around the country, TIME sent Tunbjörk deep into the American heartland to chronicle the goings-on at three separate crematories.

For decades, burial has been by far the most common form of disposition in the United States. Most Americans never gave it a second thought: their grandparents were buried; their great-grandparents were buried—it just made sense that they’d get buried, too, in the family plot, beside their closest relatives.

(Click here to read TIME’s special report on cremation and find out why our changing attitude toward this final rite of passage says everything about the way we live now.)

But today we’re a far different society than we were just a few decades ago. Within the next few years it’s projected that, for the first time, more Americans will get cremated than buried.

Much of the recent rise of cremation’s popularity can be credited to the Great Recession. Cremations can cost as little as a quarter as much as traditional burials. But it’s not just the price tag that makes cremation a popular alternative.

For one, we’re a much more mobile society today. We don’t buy family plots the way we used to because more of us get an education, start a family, get a job and retire far from our birthplaces. When it comes time to find a final resting place, transporting an urn is much easier than dealing with a casket.

Historically, the U.S. has been a majority Christian nation, and Christianity favors burial for a number of reasons. But Americans are becoming increasingly secular and many of us now identify as atheist, agnostic or, even if we consider ourselves religious, aren’t affiliated with a particular faith. That separation from a religion with ties to traditional burial has led to more Americans exploring other options of disposition.

Cremation has also appealed to those looking for a more eco-friendly solution than burial, which involves placing a body filled with embalming fluids on a plot of land that will need to be maintained in perpetuity. And while flame-based cremation is a more environmentally sensitive solution than traditional burial, a new breed of eco-friendly cremations is just starting to become popular. “Green cremations,” which use a mixture of water and potassium hydroxide, are available in a handful of states and are outpacing flame-based cremations in the areas where they’re offered.

The practice of cremation will in all likelihood only grow as we become more mobile, secular and eco-conscious as a society. In fact, in the not too distant future, burial might well be seen as a peculiar option in light of the eminently reasonable, less expensive and environmentally sound method now so widely available—and increasingly embraced.

Click here to read TIME’s special report on cremation and find out why our changing attitude toward this final rite of passage says everything about the way we live now.

Lars Tunbjörk is a photographer based in Stockholm. He previously photographed the 2012 Iowa Caucuses for TIME

Josh Sanburn is a writer/reporter for TIME in New York. Follow him on Twitter @joshsanburn.

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Original author: 
Eugene Reznik

Variously characterized as the “private land of God,” the “land of flowers” and the “diamond” of the subcontinent, the state of Kerala—perched on the southwestern tip of the Indian peninsula—is renowned for breathtaking landscapes and, in contrast to much of South Asia, an uncommonly high standard of living. Despite enjoying India’s highest life expectancy and literacy rates, however, Kerala also struggles with staggering numbers of homeless, alcoholics and suicides. The rate at which someone takes his or her own life in Kerala is three times the national average. These blots on an otherwise near-flawless reputation have puzzled researchers for years.

“The rapid economic development has left many people behind and amplified social taboos,” photographer Paolo Marchetti tells TIME. “All of these problems are really linked together—single pages of the same book.”

In 2009 and 2011, the Italian photojournalist traveled to India, embedding himself in NGO orphanages and mental hospitals, in slums and bars peopled by the most marginalized populations of Kerala, abandoned by family and government. He photographed children born out of wedlock, alcoholics and the (supposed) mentally ill. In the process he captured the complexities inherent in development and, especially, the clash of new opportunities and old traditions.

In Kerala, where reputation rules, “the good name of the family,” Marchetti says, “determines one’s ability to integrate into society at every level—professional and especially marital. [One's reputation] has to be something clean, something limpid.”

Many of the problems he explored, he says, can be traced to the traditional market rules of marriage—essentially an economic transaction managed by the head of the household and one that necessitates proof of a healthy lineage.

“The abandonment of a relative is a common practice, a response to the least manifestation of a mental deficiency or dependence on alcohol,” he says, “some little problem, problems that in our society we have every day.”

“It’s not necessary to be—forgive my word—mad, to be crazy,” he adds. “Depression, for instance, this is enough to be abandoned on the streets.”

Marchetti, who had previously documented incarcerated youth in Nicaragua, describes the facilities where the abandoned are held captive, hidden from view, “exactly like a prison.” These places are improvised, overcrowded, unsanitary and inadequate. Far from any kind of serious rehabilitation, the majority volunteer-run NGOs offer little more than some food—when they have it—and a place to sleep.

“Most of the money,” he adds, “comes from the church, so there is a condition that you have to respect if you want help.” This means following Catholic teachings and praying several times daily, starting at dawn, even though over half of Kerala’s native population practices Hinduism, and a quarter are Muslim.

To document the scope of the problems, Marchetti adopted a fly-on-the-wall approach, staying silent and as invisible as possible, attempting to forget his own cultural background and immerse himself in the environment. He’d spend hours each day in a facility observing, and when possible, spending the night, if only “to breathe the sensation.”

“If you want to take a good picture, it’s not only a technical gesture, it’s something about you,” he says. “You need to listen, you need to understand, to spend time and spend yourself, your emotions.”

The most vivid thing that he remembers from his experience was a personal connection he made in a mental hospital. “I was taking pictures of someone who seemed perfectly normal—normal like me.” And though he knew little of the local language and could not speak with his subjects, Marchetti notes that “it is incredible how I could easily communicate with my eyes. Respect is a universal language and you can convey it without words.”

That respect not only gained him access, it also elevated his imagery. His intent, he says, was not to make art of other people’s misery, but to come away with an honest and useful report that can generate questions, especially about reforms on the government level.

There’s a delicate balance in that sort of mission, however, and a visually stunning image that grabs your attention, he says, “is the best that I can give back to these people, even if you have to wait for that picture for three minutes, three hours, three days, three months… It is really hard sometimes, but it’s the minimum price that you can pay.”

Paolo Marchetti is a photographer based in Rome and Rio de Janeiro. In 2012, Marchetti received a Getty Grant for Editorial Photography.

Eugene Reznik is a Brooklyn-based photographer and writer. Follow him on Twitter @eugene_reznik.

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Jorge Benezra

His name is Wilmer Brizuela, Wilmito to his friends, but to the inmates of Vista Hermosa, he is simply the Pran, the unquestioned leader of one of Venezuela’s notorious prisons. Outside its walls, the Venezuelan national guard patrols; inside, the inmates live and die in a world of their own making. Brizuela has occasionally allowed reporters to visit for a few hours, but earlier this year, he gave photojournalist Sebastián Liste and me exclusive, full access to the prison for more than a week, revealing an improvised society that mirrors the one outside.

Brizuela, who is serving sentences of 10 years for kidnapping and 16 years for murder, believes that his rule over the 1,400 inmates of Vista Hermosa (Beautiful View) in the southern state of Bolívar is more humane than that of the Venezuelan prison authorities, who have been widely criticized by human-rights groups for the overcrowding, poor living conditions and corruption in the country’s prisons. Gang violence is rampant; last year 591 inmates were killed, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Prisons, a watchdog group. Under strongman Hugo Chávez, advocates and journalists who reported on abuses in Venezuela’s prisons faced intimidation and threats of violence; conditions have not improved since Chávez’s death.

Vista Hermosa is emblematic of these problems. Built in the 1950s to house 650 inmates, it now houses more than twice that number. As the population grew, clashes between prisoners and guards became common. Rather than improve conditions, prison authorities have allowed them to descend into near chaos. Since Brizuela, a champion boxer, and his gang took control of Vista Hermosa by force in 2005, drug use and violence are still widespread but tightly controlled. “So far we have achieved peace and a minimum of decent human living standards,” Brizuela says.

Entering Vista Hermosa during visiting hours feels a bit like stepping into the streets of a bustling slum. There are open-air vendors selling DVDs, medicine and snacks amid the unbearable heat and thumping techno music. There are plazas for dancing and a more formal ballroom for parties. In these areas, visiting women and children walk freely, the iron bars have been removed and the walls are freshly painted. The prison, like any society, has distinct subcultures. There are Christian evangelists, called varones, who live, pray and sing together and work hard to keep their spaces clean. Gay inmates have their own quarters, where they can live without fear of harassment.

Vista Hermosa feels like an extreme version of Venezuela itself, in microcosm. Along with the families and celebrations, there is violence and despair. Dozens of addicts, their bodies withered by crack and other drugs, smoke and sleep in rows of hammocks or on piles of trash. Men serving time for sex crimes live in an area far removed from the other inmates. And this society of prisoners has a prison of its own the zone known as La Guerrilla, where gandules, the renegade inmates who have violated Vista Hermosa’s unwritten code, are kept under armed guard. Their inmate-jailers make surveillance rounds night and day armed with pistols, high-caliber revolvers and automatic rifles.

Prisons like Vista Hermosa, which Brizuela says generates about $3 million a year in profit from illegal activities and weekly taxes paid to the Pran by the inmates, could not function without the complicity of corrupt officials who allow drugs and weapons inside. Even the Pran fears them. As Brizuela puts it, “The arms are for protecting us from the national
guard.”

Jorge Benezra is a journalist based in Venezuela. Follow him on Twitter @JorgeBenezra.

Sebastián Liste is a Brazil-based photographer. In September 2012, he received the Getty Images Grant for Editorial Photography and the City of Perpignan Rémi Ochlik Award. LightBox previously published Liste’s work documenting the community living in an abandoned chocolate factory. Follow him on Twitter @SebastianListe.

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Ian Willms

At the heart of the Mennonite religion, you’ll find an unwavering commitment to nonresistance that has endured five centuries of oppression and violent atrocities. This work is a photographic ode to an endless journey that my Mennonite ancestors undertook in the name of peace.

Right from their origins in the 16th and 17th centuries, Mennonites in the Netherlands were hunted down by the Catholic Church and publicly tortured to death because of their Christian beliefs. This prompted the Mennonites to migrate to Poland, where they remained for a century until the state began to force them into military service. In the late 18th century, the Mennonites chose to migrate again — this time to Ukraine and Russia.

On a bitterly cold winter night, in the midst of the Russian Revolution, Bolshevik soldiers arrived at my family’s doorstep. They forced 48 Mennonite men to walk from house to house at gunpoint using them as human shields as they stormed the non-Mennonite homes; my great grandfather was one of three survivors from that group. During the revolution, entire Mennonite villages were wiped off the map in nighttime massacres that saw men, women and children struck down by Bolshevik soldiers on horseback. Those who were able to escape with their lives would return to their villages the following day to bury their neighbours and families in unmarked mass graves before beginning new lives as refugees. Throughout their history, the Mennonites have been repeatedly faced with the same decision: Take up arms and abandon your faith, leave your home behind and give up everything you have worked for in your life, or die where you stand.

In 2012, I decided to re-trace the refugee migrations of the Mennonites to witness the places where they lived and died. I followed their historical journey through The Netherlands, Germany, Poland and Ukraine, photographing the communities, farmland, execution sites and mass graves that had been left behind. The path on which I traveled emulated the nomadic history of the Mennonites, while I searched for a feeling of familiarity and a connection to the former homes of my distant relatives. In most places along the migration route, the lingering presence of the Mennonites was little more than a collection of memories; a pockmarked gravestone; the mossy foundations of a farmhouse; a group of blurry faces, locked away in a history textbook. I found myself sifting through peaceful cow pastures and rural villages, seeking the ghosts of unimaginable heartbreak and tragedy.

The process of carrying out this work took an emotional toll, but the experience taught me to admire the Mennonites for their immense personal sacrifices. The Mennonites gave up community, prosperity and even faced death because they believed in the statement of nonresistance. I feel that if the places in these photographs could speak, they would tell us that hostilities brought against pacifist peoples are more than an injustice; they are an attack upon the hope for peace within our world.

Ian Willms is a photographer based in Toronto. He is currently represented by Getty Images Emerging Talent.

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Original author: 
Guy Martin

Two years ago, after being wounded in Libya, I made a promise to myself, my family, friends and loved ones to never cover war, civil unrest, protests or even a particularly robust political debate ever again. After witnessing the unfolding of the Arab revolutions in Egypt and Libya, my desire to witness and photograph violent events had never been lower. In short, I had turned my back on anybody and anything that I thought would cause me harm.

However, I do live in Istanbul — a huge, bustling Turkish metropolis that is currently at the center of mix of foreign policy dilemmas, political strife and internal debates.

And this weekend, I’ve witnessed a burgeoning protest movement against the construction of another mall and shopping precinct on one of the few slivers of green space in a city that is increasingly urbanized. Corruption seems to be endemic, and any spare green area is quickly developed without any public consultation.

I wanted to join the protestors to see for myself what was happening 25 minutes from where I live. As I stepped on the metro, I was hit with a knot in my stomach — that swirling, vomit-inducing feeling that only happens when you are utterly petrified. Istanbul’s locals aren’t known for being particularly outgoing, chatty or forthcoming on public transit, and Saturday was no different. It seemed just like any other normal day.

But then the train came to a stop, and every carriage erupted with loud clapping and banging on any object that came into view. It continued as the people made their way up the escalators into the burning mid-day heat.

For the next two days I followed them from the peripheries. Tear gas was fired, barricades were constructed, fires burned and stones thrown. Angry anarchists confronted police in Gezi Park — where I saw mothers bring their young children to witness a momentous event happening in their city.

These pictures were made with no assignment in hand and no particular desire to even make a coherent body of work. My purpose was to just witness and to observe with a sharper eye from experience.

Guy Martin is an English documentary photographer living in Istanbul. Represented by Panos Pictures, Martin previously covered the Caucuses, Georgia and Russia as well as the uprisings in Egypt and Libya.

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