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Saif al-Islam Gaddafi

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The insider-outsider dichotomy is central to artists approaching cultures other than their own, and few have engaged this so perceptively—even prophetically—as the French anthropological filmmaker Jean Rouch. He is best known for Chronicle of a Summer, made in collaboration with sociologist Edgar Morin in Paris in 1960. The work is renowned for its unprecedented level of self-reflexivity and subject participation—a sort of marriage between the early visual anthropologist Robert Flaherty and Dziga Vertov, who invited subjects and audiences to understand the filmmaking process. But it wasn’t his hometown of Paris, but rather Africa, where Rouch began his career as a civil engineer and made most of his films.

“One of the things that amazed me always with the films was that on one hand there was something with the community there, but you could also feel him as a stranger,” said José Pedro Cortes, the 34-year-old Portuguese photographer and publisher who named his recent solo exhibition Moi, Un Blanc (“I, a White”) after Rouch’s celebrated film Moi, Un Noir. Last year, influenced by Rouch, Cortes traveled from his native Lisbon to an area of Mali known as the Dogon. “I don’t pretend to photograph a particular community,” Cortes explains, “but I’m more interested in how we actually perceive the people that live there and how we feel this strangeness.” Indeed, the photographs of Moi, Un Blanc hinge upon a fascinating tension between intimacy and inaccessibility. Subjects are photographed from extremely close range, at leisure, or in private areas such as bed and living rooms, and yet the viewers feel a great distance from faces turned from the camera or just out of frame. Landscapes and still lifes alike offer little context; the viewer is perhaps as puzzled as Cortes was during his initial encounter.

In 2008, Cortes and his friend started Pierre von Kleist Editions, an artist-run publisher specializing in photo books. The small company recently printed the photographer’s latest book, Things Here and Things Still to Come, exploring the lives of four U.S.-born Jewish women who decided to undergo military service in Israel and decided to stay. Unlike them, Cortes remains on the move—restlessly curious, a professional outsider following a sympathetic lens.

José Pedro Cortes is a photographer based in Portugal. See more of his work here. Other titles published by Pierre von Kleist Editions are available here.

With additional reporting by Jon Dieringer of Screen Slate.

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Colin Delfosse was in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) documenting conditions in copper mines when, returning to Kinshasa one evening, he saw a masked man perched atop a car, leading a procession of drummers and several dozen men and children.

Intrigued, the Belgian photographer began asking around and learned that what he had witnessed was the afternoon build-up to one of the city’s most popular sports: wrestling. In a country that, from 1998 to 2003, was the center of one of the bloodiest conflicts since World War II—8.4 million people killed from eight countries—one wouldn’t expect to find crowds clamoring to watch men pretend to beat each other up, Hulk Hogan-style. But influenced by broadcasts of American wrestling in the 1970s, the Congolese adapted the sport, bringing their own spin—parades, voo-doo and body paint. The sport is so firmly entrenched that even the president’s body guard is a popular wrestler, known as “Etats-Unis,” and one of Kinshasa’s district mayors even sponsored a match to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence from Belgium.

In the DRC, there are two branches of the sport. The first is the more recognizable WWE SmackDown-brand, villain vs. villain match, where wrestlers craft costumes out of spandex, wear masks and choreograph a physical tussle. The second, called fetish wrestling, involves opponents, wearing antelope horns or fake machetes through their skull, dancing, casting spells and using witchcraft to combat each other.

“The classic wrestlers consider themselves more important,” says Delfosse, of the group who have day jobs as taxi drivers or bouncers. “They train hard, lifting weights every day. The fetish wrestlers have more of a rock’n’ roll lifestyle—they sit around, drinking beer and smoking weed.”

Gaining his subjects’ cooperation took a while; it was months before Delfosse was able to ride with wrestlers to and from the matches (protection he was relieved to get, as in the early days he was roughed up coming home from a match in a dangerous neighborhood and his cameras smashed). But even with that access, photography is viewed with suspicion, and getting portraits of the wrestlers often took a few hours of negotiation. “They always think you’re going to earn millions from the photo. They’re reluctant and they want to be paid. So you drink a beer with them, and tell them no, you’re not going to get rich,” said Delfosse. “Sometimes four hours later, I can take their picture. You have to be patient.”

Working inside the wrestling scene changed Delfosse’s feelings about Kinshasa. He admitted he hated the noisy, chaotic capital—considered one of the most dangerous in Africa, with a homicide rate almost six times greater than the continent as a whole—when he arrived. While the violence that still pervades the society is just below the surface of the matches—Human Rights Watch documented a mass rape, abduction and torture in a couple of eastern villages just last year—the sport showed Delfosse a different side of the Congolese. “They’re surviving day-to-day. There are no jobs, no infrastructure. When they wake up they don’t know what they’re going to eat for dinner that night,” he said. “It’s hard and tough, but this is a way to show they kept their sense of humor.”

Colin Delfosse is a documentary photographer and a founding member of Out of Focus photography collective. See more of his work here

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Japan is no stranger to catastrophe. From the near-constant sequence of storms and earthquakes that have buffeted these vulnerable islands to the unthinkable that unfolded in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese have seen their land leveled, rebuilt and leveled again. But the earthquake and tsunami that struck northern Japan this March were unique in their ferocity, their suddenness and the extent of their destructive power.

Eight months later, the cleanup is well under way, but those who wish to bear witness to the raw wound that was northern Japan in the wake of the tsunami should see the photo collection ATOKATA, just published by the Tokyo-born photographer Kishin Shinoyama. Shinoyama brought his camera to the scene within weeks of the tsunami, and he captures a land ripped apart. Stunned tree limbs, twisted metal and shattered stone bear witness to the moment when, as Shinoyama writes, “nature destroyed itself with an overwhelming energy.”

Yet even in Shinoyama’s dire images there is a hint of recovery. Disaster is in the Japanese DNA—but so is resilience.

Kishin Shinoyama is a photographer based in Japan. ATOKATA was published November 21.

Bryan Walsh is a senior writer at TIME. Follow him on Twitter at @bryanrwalsh.

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The first time Lourdes Jeannette entered her uncle’s house as an adult, she held a camera. For many years she refused to visit her mother’s brother – a man who is the leader of the Piru West Tampa Bloods. She disapproved of his activity and chose to ignore that aspect of her family’s life. But when her two younger brothers started hanging around with his crew, she knew she had to pay closer attention.

Still when she first flew down to Tampa to photograph some members of her uncle’s set of the Bloods, she had no intention of putting her family at the center of her study. In fact, much of Jeannette’s career seems like it could be seen as, if not accidental, guided by intuition and circumstance. After several years working as a manager of an interior design firm, she knew she needed a dramatic change. A friend praised her casual phone camera shots and suggested she pursue something in the arts. She decided to study photography in earnest, gaining a spot at the International Center for Photography’s general studies program. When it came time to select her thesis project, Jeannette soon turned toward gang culture. In retrospect, she wonders if she wanted to understand it better, herself: What was this phenomenon that gripped so many members of her family?

She found a young member of her uncle’s crew who was willing to be trailed and photographed — and to whom she was not related — but when he got cold feet, Jeannette decided to persevere with the project. Asking her uncle’s permission to hang around and shoot was tense, but she says that her desire to truly understand the motivation for her uncle’s gang involvement trumped her nerves.

“He truly saw it as a matter of protection for his family,” she explains. The two now enjoy a close relationship. Likewise, spending so much time with her two brothers has changed the dynamic of their relationship. “They aren’t just my kid brothers anymore,” she says. “They’re working with me, and I rely on them.”

Soon, Jeannette was spending weeks at a time shadowing events like ‘jumping in’ ceremonies or trailing the gang members to parties, nightclubs and business transactions. She became a regular at “The Trap” — a house where gang members relax, unmolested by the demands of families and day jobs. Before she knew it, she was a fixture of the organization with unfettered access.

The relationship strengthening was an important part of the project, but Jeannette saw an artistic progression that was just as profound. “I can see my improvement over the months — getting more comfortable getting close, putting myself in the middle of things,” she says, pointing to an intimate portrait of a young female cousin getting ready for a party with friends in her bedroom. In making her family the subject of her portrait, Jeannette not only grew closer to them, she also found her artistic vision.

The project is by no means over. Jeanette will continue documenting the culture, especially now that she has formed relationships with several female members of the gang. She hopes to deepen her understanding of gang culture through the experience of the women who marry, join or are born into the crew.

Lourdes Jeannette is a New York based photographer. She managed an interior design company before pursuing a career in photography at the International Center of Photography. See more of her work here.

Meredith Melnick is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @MeredithCM

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It seems fitting that Massimo Berruti was holed up in the Swat Valley in Pakistan for three months early this year, right around the time when dozens of other photographers were off shooting the Arab Spring. The war in the Pashtun tribal territories long predates this year’s conflicts—and is likely to last far longer too. The result of Berruti’s long stay, the exhibition and book Lashkars, is a powerful body of work of conflict photography, yet it has a more lasting feel than much of the work that’s emerged from this year’s tumult. That sense of permanence was the point of the commission, the second Carmignac Gestion Photojournalism Award, in what’s become an annual competition. The foundation says it aims to support in-depth photojournalism at a time of “a several financing crisis.”

Berruti, an Italian photographer represented by VU, based in Paris and Rome, has little interest here in the war on terror, American drone attacks or even, for that matter, death. The Lashkars are Pashtun civilian militia, which have fought the Taliban for control of their valley for years, with tacit acknowledgement of the Pakistan Army, yet with little concrete support. And it’s their grinding, even humdrum daily existence along the amorphous frontier land which intrigues him.

The black-and-white images are quiet and emotionally ambiguous. In one, a young man stands in front of the rubble of his parents’ home, aiming a rifle at the sky. Is he shooting at some invisible drone miles above? We don’t know. In fact, Berruti says, he’s an 18-year-old Pakistan-born Londoner called Jalal Khan, who’s returned to his village to marry a childhood friend. The rubble isn’t from a drone attack, but from Taliban fighters who’ve destroyed the family house in retaliation for the Khans’ anti-Taliban views. In another image, a child carries a tree branch past the bombed-out ruins of a Taliban commander’s house. But it’s not just a photo depicting a boy collecting firewood. The children are claiming back their neighborhood, by stripping the trees around the commander’s house. “It was a sign of freedom and emancipation,” Berruti says.

The exhibition’s textured portrayal of the area extends to the spectacular valley and mountains, which you might have expected Berruti—who loves shooting panoramas—to photograph. Instead, Berruti’s used his artist’s eye to offer something far more timeless: A painted mural of the landscape, which is pasted across the wall of a gas station. There’s a jagged crack down the side of the wall, a sign that this tourist idyll once known as Pakistan’s Switzerland is a deeply disputed place.

Despite the presence of guns and rifles everywhere, the conflict is off-stage. It’s so part of normal life that the business of fighting and killing hardly needs photographing. The story of war is instead etched into people’s faces, like the lined forehead of Saidbacha, the chief in Mahnbanr, who sits holding his pistol, gazing into the lens with what looks like a smirk. “He was the first to engage in battle against the Taliban before the Army arrived, and told me he’d killed four Taliban with his own hands,” Berruti says.

This was no easy world to penetrate, even for Berruti, who first traveled to the area in 2008. He kept secret his prize money—a whopping €50,000 ($68,000)—fearing that local chiefs might demand a cut in exchange for allowing him to work there. He also labored hard for permission to spend more than two weeks in the area, since Pakistan’s government suspected that any photographer opting to spend months there was surely up to no good. Berruti’s used his time well, depicting the long winter months when the Swat Valley is snowed in and isolated from the outside world. And the quiet moments appear to have been captured after weeks of Berruti winning the trust of locals and being able to melt into the background. As VU’s creator Christian Caujolle says in the forward to the book, there’s a feeling of “the photographer waiting.”

Given this intensely conservative area, it’s no surprise that women are completely absent from the exhibition—an unfortunate vacuum, given that Berruti focused so deeply on the Lashkars’ daily life. Berruti says he asked several times to photograph women, until he realized that “to continue to ask for this was putting me in a bad light.”

Finally, a disclaimer: I was a member of the jury for the first Carmignac award, which met in Paris in November, 2009. Led by William Klein, we sat around a conference table at the Ritz Hotel, poring over dozens of portfolios in search for a winner. After our discussion dragged on for hours, Edouard Carmignac—who heads the investment company and created the prize—finally walked over from his office on the Place Vendôme and suggested we continue over (what else?) a long lunch. He then listened intently to the discussion, enthralled at the excitement the prize had evoked. After hours of fine food and wine, Carmignac admitted to having his own favorite for winner, but insisted that the process was a “democracy,” in which he had no say. His prize is aimed at picking one photographer each year to spend months in an area which Carmignac believes is under-covered; the first year focused on Gaza, and the third commission is Zimbabwe. Despite the big prize, Carmignac is strangely not flooded with submissions; there are 76 submissions for the prize Berruti won, and fewer than that this year. In the introduction to Berruti’s book, Carmignac writes that photojournalism needs “lucidity and courage, a hardened character, and nerves of steel.” And sometimes, it needs backers like Carmignac.

Massimo Berruti is a photographer based in Paris and Rome. Lashkars is on vew at the Chapelle des Beaux-arts in Paris until December 3, 2011. See more of his work here.

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Correction appended Nov. 18, 2011: A previous version of a caption in this slideshow incorrectly stated that a house had toxic drywall. TIME regrets the error.

In 2010, more Americans lived below the poverty line than at any time since 1959, when the U.S. Census Bureau began collecting this data. Last January, TIME commissioned photographer Joakim Eskildsen to capture the growing crisis, which now affects nearly 46.2 million Americans. Traveling to New York, California, Louisiana, South Dakota and Georgia over seven months, Eskildsen’s photographs of the many types of people who face poverty appear in the new issue of TIME. Eskildsen, who last visited America in 1986, says the poverty crisis was a side of the country he’d rarely seen in the media in Berlin, where he is based. “For Europeans living outside of America, it’s a mythical place because we’re breastfed with all those images of Coca-Cola and American culture,” Eskildsen says. “It was very heartbreaking to see all kinds of people facing poverty because many of these people were not only economically poor, but living in unhealthy conditions overall.”

Eskildsen was also surprised by how pervasive poverty is in America. “Once you start digging, you realize people in poverty are everywhere, and you can really go through your life without seeing them before you yourself are standing in the food stamp line,” he says. “So many people spoke about the disappointment of the American Dream—this, they said, was the American Reality.” In the accompanying magazine story, Barbara Kiviat argues that “there is no single archetype of America’s poor,” and that “understanding what poverty is in reality—and not in myth—is crucial” to efforts to erase the situation. Perhaps equally as crucial is the effort to put a face to the statistic, which Eskildsen has done here in haunting detail.

Joakim Eskildsen is a Danish photographer based in Berlin. He is best known for his book The Roma Journeys (Steidl, 2007). More of his work can be seen here

The project was done in collaboration with Natasha Del Toro, reporter for TIME.

Feifei Sun is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @Feifei_Sun or on Facebook.

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From the birth of the 35mm camera until the advent of digital photography, the contact sheet has been an inextricable, ubiquitous and essential part of the photographic process.

Magnum Contact Sheets, published this month by Thames and Hudson, offers unique insight into the working process of the celebrated agency’s photographers over the past seven decades—their approach to taking and editing their pictures, as well as their idiosyncratic relationships with the contact sheet.

The book details—and in some cases reconstructs—the back-stories behind some of the 20th century’s most iconic images. From those taken in the 1930′s by Henri Cartier-Bresson—who, the book reveals, purged all but the “Decisive Moments” from his archive —and Robert Capa’s celebrated images of the D-Day landings, to the civil rights era work of Bruce Davidson and Gilles Peress’ contact sheets that document the massacre of unarmed protesters on Bloody Sunday.

Chien-Chi Chang—Magnum

A sketch from Chien-Chi Chang's sketch book showing drawings of his single-frame series.

One of the most recent examples of work featured in the book is Chien-Chi Chang’s Home—a project that uses the contact sheet from a totally different perspective, premise and relationship to time, space and traditional sequence narrative.

In 2006, Chien-Chi Chang—who throughout his career had exclusively shot 35mm format film—embraced a new photographic pursuit, to work with a medium format 6×7 rangefinder and began his ongoing project, Home. For the series, Chang purposefully shoots a single frame of his subject to build 9 frame contact sheets—chronologies that record his personal life as a travelogue and visual diary. Chang describes the series as “a documentation of my life with an effort to make every frame count.”

“Waiting and wanting to take just one frame at a time goes against the traditional practice, where you tend to shoot more and then pick the right moment,” Chang says. “With this project, specifically, I don’t really care about the before and after anymore. I feel that one shot is enough. Sometimes I might feel I’m missing the so called ‘decisive moment,’ but when you accept that you are going to shoot this way, you accept that you will be missing something. If I get it, I get it, If I don’t, I don’t.”

Every time after he shoots a frame, Chang makes a quick sketch so that he has a visual reference of each frame. Initially Chang tried to construct shapes, connections and juxtapositions —using the sketches to build the relationships between the frames of each roll of film. Now the photographer has a much more relaxed approach. He says he is less obsessive and “just lets things happen.” He still makes the sketches, but more for practical purposes as a record of date and location. He notes what he finds most interesting is to compare the drawings to the final contact — our eyes are very selective Chang says, “but the lens isn’t.”

Chien-Chi Chang—Magnum

A stand alone frame selected by Chang from the body of the contact project.
An hours long exposure taken at Vienna Airport of light trails from the planes as Chang waited for his flight. Nov. 19, 2010.

Chang shoots 60 to 70 rolls of film a year for the project. But he has been disciplined, selective, restrained and purposeful in his approach. Sometimes a roll can be shot in three or five cities and can span for two weeks. But other times, it can be shot in a few days. There are motifs that appear across multiple contact sheets from the project—hotel beds that Chang has slept in and airports are two reoccurring themes. Over the six years of the project’s development Chang’s process has been almost always to restrict himself to making only one frame at a time. However on rare occasions, a whole roll is dedicated to a single subject— the Dalai Lama in Sao Paulo, another time, Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon. In these exceptional cases Chang only shot the 9 frames recorded and documented on the one contact sheet. It is not a contact sheet culled from many; these are the only shots.

In the age of digital photography, the traditional contact sheet is no longer the inextricable standard in terms of working process. Chang’s work offers alternative ways of using contacts as part of a more conceptual practice.

Chien-Chi Chang is a member of Magnum Photos. He was awarded the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund for Humanistic Photography and Visa d’Or, Visa Pour L’Image in 1999. He lives in  New York and Vienna.

Magnum Contacts was published this month by Thames and Hudson.

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American artist James Casebere has been photographing dioramic constructions of human civilization since 1975. His tableaus—scenes from places both fictional and real—respond to current events and are the subject of a new book called Works 1975-2010, which chronicles highlights from his 35-year career.

Over the years, Casebere’s images have expanded and redefined to show his exploration of aesthetic technical challenges. “Photography resonates with me because it manipulates our perception of the world around us,” he says. “I am interested in photography as a means of persuasion, of propaganda and constructing histories. I am interested in how photography creates and reconstructs reality.”

Born in Lansing, Michigan in 1953, Casebere grew up during the era of television’s rise to becoming America’s prominent medium for creating images and manifesting visual culture. Referencing the sets of sitcoms of the 1950s and 1960s, Casebere’s early career focused on disseminating and questioning the domestic household and addressing the growing dysfunctions of the ideal American home. Though the scenes that he constructs and then photographs are often similar to the environment of his native Lansing, the images are not anecdotal. This absence of a personal narrative is a strategy Casebere still continues in his work today.

Among Casebere’s most well-known work are his images of the interiors of detainment cells and prisons, such as Prison Cell With Skylight, 1993. “I was thinking a lot about the Enlightenment era and the way that different cultural institutions were created in the late 18th and early 19th century. One of the developments was the prison,” he says. “I wanted to investigate innovations of the whole system…I was trying to critically look at the whole process of incarceration as cultural-historical phenomena.”

Color became more focal and the construction of sets more filled with detail in the work that follows the prison images. Casabere began capturing interior rooms beginning in the mid-90s, with images like Converging Hallways from Left, 1997. ”When I was working on prisons, I was really dealing with a subject that involved deprivation and denial,” he says. “When I moved to the interior spaces, they were less obviously models—they were more convincing. The images are printed quite large, and when viewing them in a gallery, they really become something one can walk into. There was confusion about what is real and what isn’t…There came a moment when I decided to break down the wall, visually— to do things with color, light and texture— literally, to break down the walls, the construction of the models.”

At times, Casebere’s work seems to be indicative of future events. Images that Casebere created from 2006 through 2007, seemed to almost foreshadow this year’s Arab Spring, addressing issues that were boiling in the Middle East for a long time. The images depict the Middle East from a place of brewing conflict, but also a place where people lead normal lives. “I was really trying to create a different impression entirely. Tripoli, 2007, the image that I photographed is actually a recreation of Tripoli in Lebanon,” he says. “Shortly after I made that image, there was a battle at a refugee camp, where the Lebanese army surrounded the village and drove them out.”

Casebere’s latest series of images, each work titled a numerical variation of Landscape with Houses (Dutchess County, NY), reveals his return to focusing on the domestic, a move influenced in part by the advent of the mortgage crisis. But this time around, the artist brought color and dramatic lighting into the work. “I was really working with the lights, recreating morning light, afternoon light, evening light, twilight, moonlight, all kinds of light to exhaust the possibilities and color,” he says. The latest image in the series, however, depicts the idyllic suburban houses with a catastrophic, albeit humorously cartoonish, fire burning in the background. “The fire is metaphoric of the sense of crisis of living in the home, the loss of the American dream,” Casebere says. “I emphasize and criticize [the fact] that we’re caught in a cyclical lifestyle that is destructive and self-destructive.”

Works 1975 – 2010, was published this month by Damiani and distributed by D.A.P.

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