NEW YORK — As Ara Oshagan rocked his first-born son to sleep he prepared to meet monsters. While he bounced and cooed his boy, Sebouh, to sleep to the achingly plaintive melody of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata he was the image of a doting father, but in his mind he was quietly bracing himself to meet some of what many considered to be California’s youngest and most dangerous criminals. The geo-physicist turned documentary photographer had never been behind the walls of the juvenile detention facilities that dot the outskirts of Los Angeles along the spine of Interstate 5 in the Central Valley, but the following morning he was going to take his camera, walk in, and take pictures of killers and gangsters. “I expected the worst,” he said. “The worst of the worst; The ones glaring at you in those orange jumpsuits.
There is no qualifying the corners of human suffering around the globe. It is all bad, from massacre sites, to famine zones. Still, if you consider just how dark the outlook for a human can be on God’s green Earth, observe the work in West Africa of the Spanish photographer Fernando Moleres. Few places in the world hold the level of hopelessness of an African prison, for the most part vortexes that may release a human but never the human spirit. Now imagine a prison in a failed state in Africa.
JJIE launches Arts site:
Not too many years ago, the still photo was the domain of the professional and the dedicated hobbyist. Today, when school children routinely have iPhones at the ready, we’ve reached the point where the world is our collective subject, caught from a billion different angles.
And what a glorious addition to our gallery of life’s great riches it is, this daily chronicle of human life, the capture of otherwise forgotten moments, the tally of the small order of life’s minutiae as well as the dramatic breaths in time that bring about outcries of emotion, the sparking of movements, the fall of governments.
With so many photos taken by so many photographers, though, the prevailing opinion may be that the art form has been eroded, that the cascade of mostly mediocre images pummels the viewer into disinterest. The riveting scene from a few years ago now ranges from mildly interesting to old hat.
But the truth is, stunningly wonderful photography exists at the top of the populace’s current body of work. These are the images produced by those who know the science of the trade and practice it with a passion, every day. You see their work in the giant metro papers, but also in galleries. The composition, if you will, is there. A nice picture, that on closer inspection tells a story that demands your attention and stirs your emotions.
Today, JJIE introduces Bokeh, what you might call our fine arts site. Here is a place where some very fine still images will reside, along with photo essays and written essays on the art of photography.
Some of this work will include those at top of the field. On Monday, we begin publishing photographer Richard Ross’ work. Ross spent five years photographing and interviewing some 1,000 inmates in youth detention centers all across the country.
Other work on Bokeh (the name roughly means, ‘the aesthetic quality of the blur in that part of the unfocused image’) includes our own. Today, a photo essay, “Saturday in the Park,” by JJIE photographer Clay Duda runs on the site. This is our attempt to capture the voices and thoughts of kids on common, but important, questions of the day. (Click here or see the introduction to the essay below.)
And finally, through our partnerships with groups such as VOX Teen Communications, you’ll see the work of young photographers, the way they see the world and the issues dominant in their lives.
Youth as its subject and the quality of the work are the common threads in the photography of the professionals, the up-and-coming photojournalists and the dedicated beginners congregating on Bokeh.
What you see on Bokeh is meant to be craft, strong and compelling, a home for the best work on the issues of juvenile justice.
“You got any weed?” is how William “Trash” Hansen introduced himself on a hot spring day in the Little 5 Points neighborhood of Atlanta. The heels of his socks peeked through the disintegrated soles of his steel-toed boots as he walked the strip in search of the drug. If you passed him on the street you may have thought twice before striking up a conversation. If the soot- drenched, patch- woven outfit didn’t give you pause, the blatant drug references and casual cat-calls may have. Sporadically he’d push back the small puff of dreadlocked hair sprouting from the crown of his head or run his arm across his forehead to wipe away sweat.
To me this is what field reporting is all about. We had a concept and a vague idea of how to make it happen. One reporter and a camera, not much else. Looking back one of the biggest mistakes we made was setting out too early. At 10am I was already thinking about lunch and a third cup of coffee, but the kids we were looking for were still snoozing in their sleeping bags – and would be for another two hours.