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Original author: 
Maria Turchenkova

Despite the reduction of large-scale military operations 10 years ago in Chechnya, a guerrilla war waged by Islamic fundamentalists rages on, and has brought a striking level of violence and bloody insurgency to the neighboring Caucasus republic of Dagestan.

For decades, and in much of the world’s eyes, all the news coming from the North Caucasus seemed focused on the cataclysm in Chechnya. Now, with Grozny slowly emerging from decades of chaos, Dagestan – the largest, most heterogeneous and, today, the most violent republic in the North Caucasus region – is raising its international profile, but for all the wrong reasons.

With a population of about 3 million people, Dagestan — bordering Chechnya, with the Caspian Sea to the east and Georgia and Azerbaijan to the south — is comprised of more then 40 ethnic groups. Ethnic Russians make up roughly four and half percent of the republic’s total population, while political power is held mainly by the two largest groups: the Avar and Dargin, both of whom practice Sufism, or the region’s traditional brand of Islam. Recently, however, Salafism — a puritanical form of Islam practiced largely in Saudi Arabia — has begun to make inroads, further complicating the already tangled political and religious picture.

Split by seemingly intractable social and religious differences and with almost a half of its territory locked down under a special security regimen (CTO, or “counter-terrorist operation”), Dagestan’s populace endures martial law, rigid curfews and random searches enforced by the Russian military.

For most Russian citizens, meanwhile, the North Caucasus is peopled not by neighbors or citizens but by stereotypes. A mountain region, alien and dangerous, it is populated (in the Russian popular imagination) by suicide bombers and terrorists. Period.

The Jamaats—local Islamic societies—comprise the vast majority of active anti-Russian Islamist fighters in Dagestan. Numbering somewhere around 500, by best estimates, Jamaats manage to replace those killed in action with newly joined militants in a remarkably timely manner. The reason for this renewable source of fighters is, in fact, rather simple: namely, the fundamentalists find fertile ground to propagate their ideas in the region’s remote, mountainous villages — as well as via the Internet. As the Dagestan justice system is largely ruled by nepotism, Russian law and order doesn’t have real power and most people find it impossible to receive justice from local authorities. Jamaats’ leaders, meanwhile, claim to be the “legitimate authority of Dagestan” and are candid about their aim of establishing a “fair society” based on Shari’a law. As the years pass, more and more people convert to Salafism.

Dagestan’s society is still deeply split. The gap between the richest and the poorest is enormous — and, like everywhere else, is rapidly growing. Conservatives, including many traditional Muslims, who still feel an allegiance to Russia certainly do not accept the “Islamization” of their country and their culture, while many others simply vote with their passports — emigrating from the republic entirely. The men, women and children who stay behind must somehow find ways to endure in the midst of their country’s hidden war.

Maria Turchenkova is a freelance documentary photographer based in Moscow. She was recently selected to attend the 2013 World Press Joop Swart Masterclass.

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VICE Loves Magnum: Thomas Dworzak Takes Photos of Sad Marines and Taliban Poseurs

Magnum is probably the most famous photo agency in the world. Even if you haven’t heard of it, chances are you’re familiar with its images, be they Robert Capa’s coverage of the Spanish Civil War or Martin Parr’s very British holiday-scapes. Unlike most agencies, Magnum’s members are selected by the other photographers on the agency, so becoming a member is a pretty grueling process. As part of an ongoing partnership with Magnum, we will be profiling some of their photographers over the coming weeks.

Thomas Dworzak joined Magnum in 2000. His books often deal with war. His first, Taliban, was a found photo project which freaked out a lot of Americans who didn’t want to see what the Taliban looked like when they were fooling about. M*A*S*H IRAQ examined the daily lives of US Medevac teams in Iraq, and his latest book,Kavkuz, explored the impact years of brutal war had on the Caucasus region. Oddly enough, in spite of shooting in some of the most hellish conditions imaginable, he thinks Paris is the hardest place to work in.

VICE: You are often described as a “war photographer.” How do you feel about that?
Thomas Dworzak:
 It’s a label. What are you going to do about it? I’m not going to say I am not one, because I do go, and I used to go very often, to these conflict areas. But there are definitely people out there who are more into combat than me. There is a scale of how much involvement in war one has. And I’m not all the way up there.

How did working in Chechnya during the war there differ from your time in Iraq?
I think in Chechnya, I was more “on the ground.” I was hitchhiking around, trekking alone. You would talk to the fighters, you would spend time with them, and then if there was an attack you would arrive with them. It was all done in a very disorganized, one to one, personal way. I think Chechnya was very extreme as a war, compared to anything that I have seen since.

Extreme in what way?
Just the sheer amount of stuff I saw flying around. It was an atrocious war. Bosnia was very brutal of course, but there was not so much physical destruction, it was more killing and revenge on a very personal and human level, between neighbors or whatever. Chechnya was brutal in every way. The destruction of Grozny reached a level I had not seen until then, and haven’t seen since. I guess you might come across something like it now in Aleppo, for example. There was no accreditation when I was working there, no paperwork. I learned Russian so I could talk to the fighters. They were welcoming, so I spent time with them. Whereas in Iraq and Afghanistan I was embedded. You get your piece of paper and the military has to take care of you.

In what way did that affect your work? What’s your view on the embed format, do you think it worked well?
I think there is a strange kind of freedom in the structure of an embed. A lot of people have been bitching about it, going on about the embed being “the end of press freedom” and all that, but I don’t really think that’s true. I don’t know anything about Iraq really; I haven’t seen Iraq outside of the American point of view for so long now. But if I choose to cover the American angle, then an embed is not a bad way to do it. Because it is so institutionalized, you can actually move around and do a lot. You don’t have to beg, you don’t have to worry about anything. It’s a bit duller in that sense. You just have to follow the guys in front of you. And there are not that many decisions to be made. I find embeds pretty relaxing in that way.

Was your M•A•S•H• IRAQ project concluded over one single embed?
It was almost all embed work. I don’t want to over-emphasize the fact that some photos—just a few—weren’t taken in embeds as it’s meant to be an embed book. I don’t know, maybe it was two years or three years, something like that. The core of the work was done over a year, I did maybe five or six embeds with the medical units over that time.

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Davide Monteleone traces the genesis of his new book of photographs, Red Thistle, to 2007, when he heard about a film festival going on in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya. At the time, Chechnya had been locked down for nearly a decade under a special security regime. Known as the KTO, the Russian acronym for “counter-terrorist operation,” the regime had meant years of martial law, curfews and random searches enforced by the Russian military. Not exactly the place for something like Sundance–the region’s film festival was a fluke, a rare chance for some foreigners to have a look around, and Monteleone took it. With his companion, Lucia Sgueglia, who would end up writing the text for Red Thistle, he would sneak out of the guarded hotel to explore Grozny.

“We did this until the Russian troops would catch us and take us back,” Monteleone said. “Then we would go out again.”

What he found was a region slowly restoring the rhythm of life—a weird, entrancing, pensive rhythm—after two devastating wars with Russia fought between 1994 and 2000. After the second war, the U.N. had deemed Grozny “the most destroyed city on earth,” but with billions of dollars in postwar Russian aide, the city had been rebuilt and revived. Over the next five years, Monteleone would return to Chechnya and the surrounding regions of the Caucasus Mountains as often as once a month.

“A lot of work had been done on the wars and the human rights abuses,” he said. “We wanted to study everyday life.”

In 2008, the KTO regime was lifted in Chechnya and travel there became easier, but life was still colored by Russia’s shadow and the legacy of the Soviet Union, which ruled this predominantly Muslim region for almost 70 years. So the settings of Monteleone’s photographs—from the beat-up old Zhiguli cars to the destitute apartment blocks—have a distinctly Soviet texture, a drab, heavy latticework that seems to press against the people inside it. Smiles are not common on the faces in his photos, but they seem to have a stubborn glow amid the grayness that surrounds them.

A common theme, predictably, is death, which is so insistent that it approaches a dulled ubiquity. If there is a kind of music to life in the Caucasus, mortality is its drumbeat in Monteleone’s work. In one frame, a woman in a black headscarf hurries along the sidewalk, not seeming to notice a stream of blood flowing toward her from a bull that was slaughtered in the street. There are weddings and funerals, and both seem to occasion equal measures of melancholy and warmth. At one wake in Chechnya, a group of men perform the Dhikr, an Islamic ritual which, in the local Sufi tradition, involves hours of rhythmic dancing and chanting until the men fall into a collective trance.

“You know that you’re in Russia,” says Monteleone. “But at the same time, life is structured in such a way that you feel closer to Persia or the Middle East.”

That is part of the duality of the Caucasus, which remains a world between worlds. The ongoing insurgency against Russian rule creeps in to remind you that the war goes on—a house stands demolished in one frame after Russian tanks moved in for a counter-insurgency strike—but there is also reconciliation: a group of men from one family walk down a mountain toward a mosque, where they resolve a blood feud with another family that had caused generations of strife. The overall picture is sad but not despondent, and there is resilience in almost every frame.

The unifying image of The Red Thistle comes from the opening scene in Lev Tolstoy’s novella Hadji Murat, which begins with a man trying to pluck a crimson thistle from a ditch in the Caucasus mountains. The thistle fights back, stabbing his hand with its brambles, and only gives in when he has frayed the stem and mangled the flower. “What energy and tenacity!” the man thinks. “With what determination it defended itself, and how dearly it sold its life.”

Simon Shuster is TIME’s Moscow reporter.

Davide Monteleone is a photographer with the VII agency. See more of his work here. Monteleone’s latest book, Red Thistlewas recently released by Dewi Lewis publishing.

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Martine Franck, an esteemed documentary and portrait photographer and second wife of Henri Cartier-Bresson, died of cancer in Paris on Aug. 16 at the age of 74. A member of Magnum Photos for more 32 years, Franck was a co-founder and president of the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation.

“Martine was one classic Magnum photographer we could all agree with,” said photographer Elliott Erwitt. “Talented, charming, wise, modest and generous, she set a standard of class not often found in our profession. She will be profoundly missed.”

Born in Antwerp, Belgium in 1938, Franck studied art history at the University of Madrid and at the Ecole du Louvre in Paris. In 1963, she began her photographic career at Time-Life in Paris, assisting photographers Eliot Elisofan and Gjon Mili. Although somewhat reserved with her camera at first, she quickly blossomed photographing the refined world of Parisian theater and fashion. A friend, stage director Ariane Mnouchkine, helped establish Franck as the official photographer of the Théâtre du Soleil in 1964—a position she held for the next 48 years.

As her career grew, Franck pursued a wide range of photographic stories, from documentary reportage in Nepal and Tibet to gentle and evocative portraits of Paris’s creative class. Her portfolio of the cultural elite includes photographic peers Bill Brandt and Sarah Moon as well as artist Diego Giacometti and philosopher Michel Foucault, among others. In 1983, she became a full member of Magnum Photos, one of a small number of female members at the legendary photographic agency. Balancing her time between a variety of stories, her work reflects an innate sensitivity to stories of humanity.

In a piece published in the Guardian in 2006 about her time photographing a Buddhist monastery in Nepal, Franck chose to highlight a photo (slide #2 above) of an elder monk sitting with a young apprentice.

“I was there for an hour, just sitting quietly in a corner, observing,” she explained. “The picture is somehow a symbol of peace, and of young people getting on with old people. Although I didn’t think that at the time—in the moment, it’s just instinctive. Afterwards, maybe, you realize what the photograph means.”

Her humanitarian work paired her with numerous social humanitarian organizations and was heralded for the truths it revealed. But her name was also often associated with Henri Cartier-Bresson.

In an interview on Charlie Rose, Franck recalled her first time meeting her future husband in 1965.

“His opening line was ‘Martine, I want to come and see your contact sheets,’” she recalled. They married in 1970.

Throughout her career, Franck served as a powerful advocate, both for Magnum and for the continued legacy of her husband. Serving as the president and co-founder of the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation, Franck ensured that the spirit of his work survived.

Franck continued to work on her own photography, participating in group projects with Magnum, including “Georgian Spring.” As recently as this April, Franck’s expansive collection of portraits were exhibited in Paris at the Galerie Claude Bernard.

Magnum photographer and President Alex Majoli described Franck as a dear friend and a steady foundation within the photo agency. “Magnum has lost a point of reference, a lighthouse, and one our most influential and beloved members with her death,” he said in a statement released by Magnum over the weekend.

She is survived by her daughter, Melanie.

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From South Sudan’s refugee crisis and Spain’s historic Euro 2012 win to the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team trials and a polar bear cub’s piggyback, TIME’s photo department presents the best images of the week.

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Alvaro Deprit

Black Garden

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Nagorno Karabakh / 2010 May.

Inside the narrow valleys of the Caucasus Mountains there is a country not appearing in the maps: Nagorno-Karabakh, which name – a mixed of Russian, Turkish and Persian languages – means Mountainous Black Garden.
This self-proclaimed republic is the result of a cruel conflict – 20 to 30 thousand victims – that started in the 1988, when its majority Armenian population started demanding the independence from the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan.
People in Karabakh try to survive as they can.
The recognition of Kosovos independence by Western powers as the recognition by Russia of South Osetia and Abkhazia – two secessionist regions of Georgia – are the facts that made the Karabakhians think they could become a real country.

 

Bio

Alvaro Deprit, Madrid 1977.
He has been living in Italy since 2004 divides his time between Rome and Istanbul.
Alvaro studied German Philology in Germany, Sociology in Italy. Self-taught, has deepened in photographic language attending the courses in Spain with Pep Bonet and Shreyl Mendez.
Concerned by the Turkish culture and its modernization, changes in post-Soviet South Caucasus and in immigration in Europe which explores the various forms of adaptation.
He has exhibited his photos in Rom, Barcelona, London and New York and has worked for Il Sole 24ore, Newsweek, Internazionale, Vanity Fair, Viva Magazine, El Periodico, Yo Dona, Glamour.

 

Related links

Alvaro Deprit – OnOff Picture Photo Agency

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