Category Archives: IM Mag 2017/2018

Sarah Blesener: Toy Soldiers

Sarah Blesener (USA): Toy Soldiers

Rising Youth Nationalism in Russia and the U.S.


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On a Thursday afternoon, six teenage boys gathered in an abandoned warehouse in the town of Diveevo, Russia, and the drills began. The group, called “The Survivalists,” meets weekly to practice tactical skills and defense strategies. Artyom, who at 17 is one of the oldest of the group, was helping another student, Daniel, 11, to hide in the corner room and prepare for a surprise attack with his plastic weapon. Their instructor calmly tells me that the group is not looking for war, but is preparing young patriots to be ready for the future.

Over 200,000 Russian youth are currently enrolled in patriotic clubs, with 10,000 in Moscow alone. Each club functions independently with their own structures and philosophies. In 2015, the Russian government proposed a program called the “Patriotic Education of Russian Citizens in 2016-2020” which envisions an eight-percent increase in patriotic youth over the next ten years, and a ten-percent increase in new recruits for the Russian armed forces.

There is nothing inherently wrong with patriotism. However, these two terms, patriotism and nationalism, easily blur. There is a thin line between devotion to a place or way of life and to a feeling of superiority or aggression towards “outsiders.” Because youth are always easy targets for new ideologies, for the last year I have been focusing my work on clubs, camps, and alternative groups for youth that combine patriotic education and gun training with a mix of fun that makes the whole experience seem like a game.

The first chapter of this project began in April of 2016 in various regions throughout Russia. Building on this past year of work, it is my intention to extend the project to the United States, where the issue has been underreported. The evident rise of nationalistic sentiment, along with the current political climate, has made this work become a necessity for me. By focusing solely on the country of Russia, I feel that the work can easily be misinterpreted as a phenomena happening in an isolated region. The rhetoric and parallels I see in my own country are something that I want to challenge and visually document.

My intent is to raise questions about how beliefs and traditions are passed down to younger generations. I want to challenge ideas of patriotism. I am interested in youth culture and movements and beyond politics, my photographs intend to tap into this vital essence of youth: camaraderie, bonding, and how our identities are constructed at a young age.

Nationalistic tendencies and biases are part of the make-up of most of us, whether we like it or not. However, I agree with George Orwell when he states, “whether it is possible to get rid of them I do not know, but I do believe it is possible to struggle against them.”

Riel Sturchio: Chasing Light

Riel Sturchio (USA): Chasing Light


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Since birth, my twin sister, Bianca, and I have uniquely struggled with cerebral palsy, illness, and our inherent identities as twins. Over the past several years Bianca has worked with me on this long-term project to document of our lived experiences as twins. Images are made with medium format color film and a Pentax camera.

Authentic and vulnerable images depict a distinct yet universal reality that can help shift the landscape of non-normativity and disease away from disempowering associations and connotations. Stigmatized labels are maintained by dialogues that often disengage, or exclude those who don’t fit into a social norm. Chasing Light is inclusive to all individuals able-bodied or not, by engaging those who relate to challenges with the body’s physical appearance, capabilities, one’s own social identity, self-identity, self-stigma, and shame. The project shows what disability can look like, including scars, the body, pain, and also shows moments of calm, peace, and beauty, a sense strength and courage. The project allows myself and others a greater understanding of non-normative ability and disability. It also entails an inherent political aspect as it looks at a marginalized body that is disabled, queer, and female.

Isadora Romero: Amazona Warmikuna

Isadora Romero (Ecuador): Amazona Warmikuna
Inge Morath Award Finalist, 2017


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Amazona Warmikuna is a photographic project that portrays in a subjective manner the life of the indigenous women in the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest. This series is inspired by the myth of the Amazonas by whom the region receives its name.

According to history, the Amazon Rainforest is one of the few places on Earth that was called after a female character, casually fictional. In the first community I visited, I was struck by the temperament of the women living there; they never stop defending life and their territory. Thanks to their organization, they have managed to unite the community in the fight against mining, a serious threat nowadays. This project is a tribute to their strength, to their mystical vision of the world. It is a tribute to the women building history.

Throughout my career I have been interested in the role women play anonymously in the world. I think that in addition to denouncing the inequalities, it is essential to spread stories of resilience, strength and empowerment, like Amazona Warmikuna, which invites the observer to a mystic journey. This path is just the beginning. My strategy will be to follow the indigenous women’s worldview, which professes that everything in the jungle is alive, that every plant, animal, object has its spirit, its magic and must be protected in order to achieve a harmonious life.

Johanna-Maria Fritz: Like a Bird

Johanna-Maria Fritz (Germany): Like a Bird
Inge Morath Award Recipient, 2017


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When seventeen, I started to accompany the East German family circus “Zirkus Rolandos”. During my education at Ostkreuzschule in Berlin I intensified my pursuit with “Rolandos” and searched all over Europe for extraordinary circuses. I stumbled upon the first and only circus in Iceland, Sirkus Islands, which I visited and whose staff I’ve been documenting since it’s early years. I presented this series of photographs in an exhibition as my graduation work.

For Like a Bird I travelled to Palestine (Westbank and Gaza), Afghanistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran. I was especially curious about the role of women in circus life and the environment the circus is based in – thankfully I was able to get access to the female culture in conservative societies like Iran and Afghanistan as I am myself a woman. With my work I pursue the object of overcoming prejudices and show how small communities are able to function in these conservative or conflict-ridden countries. I direct a spectators view to different worlds: The one of the circus as well as the society surrounding it and how the social fabric of the circus influences the outside and gets influenced itself in reverse.