Tuesday, January 12, 2010

PHOTOGRAPHY: Showcase: Trouble on the Line (photography by Rena Effendi). By Kerri MacDonald (lens.blogs.nytimes.com)

In Azerbaijan, every story revolves around oil. There are the good stories about new construction, a growing cultural scene and budding business opportunities. But there are others, too — about changing neighborhoods, environmental degradation and poverty.

with 19 amazing photos (slideshow) >>>

Pipe Dreams: A Chronicle of Lives Along the Pipeline,” a new book by the 32-year-old Azerbaijini photographer Rena Effendi, effectively brings an 1,100-mile-long underground pipeline into the light of the day. With a grant from Getty Images, she traveled along its route, from Baku, Azerbaijan; through Tbilisi, Georgia; to Ceyhan, Turkey. She found a collapsing Soviet-era infrastructure and refugees living hopelessly among ruins and decay.

The idea of a Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean, took hold in the 1990s. The structure was completed in 2005.

Ms. Effendi is often asked why she photographed something buried underground. “I’m not interested in the physical presence of the pipeline,” she said over the phone from Baku, where she lives with her husband and a three-month-old daughter. “I think the pipeline has enough political and social presence for me to really care about taking photos.”

“There is human cost,” she said.

Originally a painter, Ms. Effendi began photographing in 2001, inspired by pictures taken by her father, a biologist of butterflies. She studied with Sanan Aleskerov, has won international words and recently joined Institute for Artist Management.

At home, however, some people are surprised to meet a woman photographer. Some even remonstrate, she said: “Aren’t you supposed to be at home and take care of your family and cook and stuff like that?”

“They sometimes advise me to go and take pictures of beautiful places,” she added.

But living in heavily polluted Baku, Ms. Effendi finds herself surrounded by scenes that are less than picture-perfect. The first photographs she included in “Pipe Dreams” were shot in Mahalla, a neighborhood she calls “a bastion of poverty and tradition.” Its small repair shops, mullahs, fortune-tellers and sunflower-seed salesmen are disappearing.

The change can be seen in the faces of Ms. Effendi’s subjects. Her black-and-white images, fraught with emptiness, simultaneously convey change and stasis. They also evoke the very personal interactions she had with those along the pipeline route.

Andy Patrick, the founder and executive director of FiftyCrows Foundation, which promotes socially conscious photography, said Ms. Effendi has an unusual relationship with her subjects.

“She has that ability to stay kind of invisible, which really helps,” he said. “But if you’re only invisible, then you don’t have a connection with your subject, and Rena, she’s really able to connect with her subject.”

Walking through Mahalla, Ms. Effendi recalled, she was invited into a home to photograph a man’s mother on her deathbed.

“It was sort of like in a dream,” Ms. Effendi said. “I couldn’t believe he asked me to do that. I walked in and I saw this woman. She was lying and breathing heavily. To me, this was like the demise of a neighborhood.”

source: lens.blogs.nytimes.com

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