Life-Size Replicas of Rooms in Slum Areas Tell of Creativity in Hardship
- Mount an exhibition of Bendiksen's photographs, conveying the need to engage with slum communities, who are creative and resourceful in hard conditions
- HP Designjet L65500 and L25500 Printers were used to print the detailed interior walls of rooms and the urban landscape shots on the exterior walls. Both printers use water-based HP Latex Inks, reducing the impact of printing on the environment, and produce prints for both indoor and outdoor use
- HP Durable Frontlit Scrim Banner for high-quality, durable prints that can travel to multiple venues
- The exhibition catalogues were printed on an HP Indigo press 5000, chosen for its vibrant colours, sharp text, and on-demand printing capabilities, eliminating waste caused by printing too many copies
- A walk-in installation with such life-size detail and powerful testimonial that viewers are transported into the living rooms of the slums and get a realistic insight into the daily life of the people residing there
- A modular exhibition easily transportable and adaptable to different venues of varied sizes and weather conditions
Magnum photojournalist Jonas Bendiksen's exhibition, The Places We Live, contains beautiful photographs with rich, saturated colours on high quality prints. But are the photographs not too beautiful to convey to viewers a feeling for the tough subject matter of the exhibition-the reality of living in four of the most poverty-stricken and most dangerous urban areas of the world? "What?!" reacts the photographer. "You don't think beauty exists in these places? What a lack of respect for people in the slums. They spend so much time creating beauty, just as people in the western world spend time beautifying their houses; why can't we show that in the slums?"
The Places We Live exhibition follows publication of the photographer's book of the same name and recreates the living rooms of 20 families from the slums of Jakarta, Mumbai, Nairobi, and Caracas. By taking a photograph of each of the four walls of a room inside people's homes and using the resulting large-format prints to build 3-D, life-size replicas of the rooms, Bendiksen creates for viewers a virtual experience of visiting the families.
More people in the world now live in cities than in rural areas, and more than one billion-a third of all urban dwellers-live in slums. The United Nations forecasts this figure to double within the next twenty-five years. Bendiksen's book and exhibition serve to create a platform for discourse.
"There is a message," he says, "about the need to engage with these communities as populated by normal human beings who have their own ambitions and agendas and their own variations amongst themselves."
When he started out on the project, Bendiksen was conscious of the fact that so many photographers had already gone out and photographed poverty and poor people. "So much of the material was predictable, clichéd, and full of stereotypes," he says. "I wanted to get away from that and to focus not on the extremities in the slums-the worst poverty, crime, or pollution-but on how people create normalcy in their daily lives in these conditions."
He spent three years photographing The Places We Live and was moved by what he saw. "I was constantly filled with admiration for the people," he says. "They live under very challenging circumstances in terms of crime and pollution, they get no services from the municipality, and everything they have, they build for themselves. People create jobs for themselves, if there's no school they make the school, if there's no child care they make it. They piece together any type of service they need."
The exhibition includes testimonials by the inhabitants, recounting daily life and presenting experiences ranging from hardship and despair, to successes, hard work, and ambition. "I look at the photographs as vehicles for people's stories to be told," says Bendiksen. "The personal testimonials by the slum dwellers are the driving engine of the project. The book and exhibition are really about the stories they are telling."
The Magnum group is part of HP's Experts and Mentors program, and on the visual side HP is lending a hand to make the viewer's experience as real as possible, providing Bendiksen with the necessary durable printing materials and access to the latest large-format printing technology in order to achieve the required high-quality photographic detail on the walls of the rooms as well as in the exhibition's accompanying catalogue. "It's important that the prints are as vivid as possible, as detailed as possible," says the photographer, "because we're essentially printing life-size walls. We really want people to enter these rooms and feel like they are virtually visiting the families."
The exhibition is modular in nature, and light weight for transport between venues. The system for joining rooms together is designed so that they can stand in a wide range of different layouts. Thanks to the durability of the HP printing substrates and the resilience of the HP Latex Inks to adverse conditions, the exhibition may be displayed in a variety of venues. "I've always thought it would be interesting if I could bring this work to the regions where it was shot," says Bendiksen, "to bring it to Africa, to Kenya, to India, and not just have it exhibited in New York, Paris, and London. So that's part of what we're building here, an exhibition that can be built anywhere by anyone, withstand any weather. It could be outside or inside, in a public space, or in a school."
The photographer doesn't presume to try to change people's attitudes to poverty overnight. Instead, he sees journalism, including photojournalism, as cumulative. "I hope viewers will also read an article or another book that will help them,'" he says. "And all this together will enlighten people. I certainly hope that this project will be a part of that puzzle and help people question their stereotypes about poverty and who poor people are."
At a glance
Name: Jonas Bendiksen
Began career: 1996
Represented by: Magnum Photos
Business address: Magnum Photos 151 West 25th Street New York, NY 10001-7204 USA
Telephone: (+1) 212 929 6000
Fax: (+1) 212 929 9325
Web sites: www.jonasbendiksen.com and www.magnumphotos.com