Capturing resiliency and hope: Two photo exhibits

Milford Daily News, MA
Aug 29 2004

Capturing resiliency and hope: Two photo exhibits reveal the power of
coping amid war, disease

By Chris Bergeron / News Staff Writer

WINCHESTER — Peering through their lens, two very different
photographers, Paul Mellor and Sebastiao Salgado, capture hope and
humanity in distant impoverished lands.

As photojournalists, they have little in common except a shared
artistry that transforms the grinding misery of disease and war into
striking images of endurance.

Together, Mellor and Salgado reveal photojournalism’s power to
inform and inspire in two complimentary exhibits at the Griffin
Museum of Photography in Winchester.

Mellor, a 54-year-old Englishman, journeyed to Nagorno-Karabagh,
a Christian enclave in the Caucasus Mountains which broke away from
Azerbaijan in the 1990s.

Salgado, a Brazilian with an international reputation,
documented efforts to eradicate polio in five struggling nations in
Africa and the Indian subcontinent. Now living in Paris, his works
can be seen in “The End of Polio” through Oct. 31.

Museum Director Blake Fitch said both photographers have
succeeded in bringing important stories to the world.

“Both Mellor and Salgado see the sadness people have to live
with. But they both show a glimmer of hope,” she said.

Mellor is exhibiting 20 memorable color photographs that record
the daily struggle for survival in a former Soviet republic where
health care services barely exist. Shown for the first time in the
United States, the exhibit, “Armenia & Karabagh: The Aftermath,” runs
in the museum’s Emerging Artist Gallery through Nov. 5.

By some alchemy of composition and compassion, Mellor’s work
puts a recognizable face on people caught in a conflict consigned to
the margins of public awareness. His photographs range from 20-by-14
inches to 40-by-32 inches.

A father tends his hospitalized young son with hawk-eyed
vigilance. A midwife with raw-knuckled hands waits for her next birth
in a drab delivery room. A family of six makes a home of a metal
container. A woman sits in a street corner market trying to sell a
bundle of sticks.

Mellor takes photographs that present artful vignettes of people
coping with dire circumstances. Shooting from an neutral middle
distance, he never condescends to their poverty or reduces them to

“After surviving war and earthquakes, these people are doing the
best they can. They need help,” he said. “But, they have few
resources and there’s very little foreign investment. It’s a story
the world hasn’t heard about.”

Armenia took control of the largely Christian area of 200,000
people in 1994 after a four-year war.

Mellor has put a recognizable face on people struggling for
normalcy after a conflict that severely damaged the region’s roads,
hospitals and economy.

The exhibit’s most evocative image is Mellor’s large format
photograph of a rosy-cheeked child in a dingy room, looking with
bright eyes toward a sunlit window.

Mellor has spent nearly 35 years as a professional photographer
focusing on news, sports and commercial projects. His current show
grew out of a weeklong visit to war-torn Nagorno-Karabagh in January

Initially, he traveled with his wife, Kathy Mellor, a neo-natal
nurse, to take pictures of a hospital construction program for the
relief organization, Family Care.

Over the course of several more trips during the next three
years, Mellor found himself drawn into the lives of people coping
with poverty and neglect.

Rather than shoot digitally, he prefers the “greater latitude”
of a 35 mm Canon camera that takes sharp detailed prints. “Film
photography does certain things to the imagination that digital
images can’t do,” he said.

Mellor never resorts to “artsy” angles or distorted
perspectives, preferring to compose subtle visual narratives of
people coping with their circumstances. Mellor often frames his
images around a single person or small group in a room or street
scene “to give viewers a strong point for the eye to go to.” He
mostly uses natural light to convey his subjects’ “depth of feeling.”

Like an photographic image emerging from a mixture of chemicals,
revealing details coalesce about the central subject, helping viewers
appreciate the complexities of life in a conflict-ridden region.

In one photo, a hospital anesthesiologist waits for her next
patient in a dingy room with outdated equipment. A sad-eyed young boy
surrounds his bed with a barricade of overturned wooden stools. Four
children sit on the floor of an empty room in a swath of sunlight.

Who are these people? Will their poverty crush them? Do they
somehow deserve their fates?

By observing his subjects with a respectful eye, Mellor invites
viewers to share their plights and, by extension, their humanity.

“When photographing these people I tried to record the sense of
dignity that had not only held the families together but was indeed
the basic ingredient for their bleak future,” Mellor wrote in a
statement accompanying the exhibit. “…The pictures are meant to
convey their hope as well as their acceptance of all that life throws
at them.”

He hopes his photos raise awareness and support for relief
efforts to help the people of Nagorno-Karabagh. He and his wife are
planning to return this October. They now work with BirthLink, a
charity based in England that provides medical training and equipment
to the region.

“This is an ongoing story. It doesn’t stop with this exhibit,”
Mellor said. “We will continue. We’re passionate we can make a

Salgado has achieved legendary status by creating powerful
black-and-white photographs that are startling in their polemical
power and beauty.

Initially trained as an economist, the 60-year-old global
traveler has spent three decades documenting the lives of
dispossessed people around the world.

In this exhibit, he documents the suffering and hopes of humans
ravaged by polio with an unforgiving realism.

Salgado has documented anti-polio campaigns in India, Pakistan,
Sudan, Somalia and the Congo in images that sear the soul.

An 11-year-old polio-stricken child, wearing sandals on his
knees for protection, crawls into a soccer game in Somalia. A father
pours a vial of vaccine into his son’s mouth in a railroad car in
India where they’ve been confined to prevent the disease’s spread. An
emaciated Sudanese child screams as an aide worker in a ragged shirt
with a Disney logo provides medicine.

In several memorable shots, Salgado photographs his subjects in
extreme close-ups with an immediacy that is, at once, harsh and

Fitch said Salgado’s photos “go far beyond promoting public
awareness of a cause.”

“They grab you and force you to face the pain of others with the
hope that you will be motivated to fight for change. (Salgado’s)
beautiful pictures of people in harsh circumstances are designed to
encourage us to engage in what (he) calls ‘essential behavior,’ —
doing the right thing.”

In these two impressive exhibits, Mellor and Salgado employ
their considerable artistry to show how conscience and decency can
overcome enormous obstacles.


The Griffin Museum of Photography was founded in 1992 by the
late Arthur Griffin to provide a forum for the exhibit of historic
and contemporary photography.

Mellor will give a lecture about the exhibit Wednesday, Sept. 8,
at 7 p.m. Tickets are $7 for museum members and $10 for non-members.

The museum is located at 67 Shore Road, Winchester. The museum
is open Tuesday through Sunday noon to 4 p.m.

Admission is $5 for adults, $2 for seniors and free for members.
Children under 12 are admitted free. Admission is free on Thursday.