Since we are living, to a large part, in a socially constructed world – think of the legal system or of bureaucracy, for instance –, social reports can be pretty much about anything and everything that explores conditions and trends in a community. Unsuprisingly, the photographers in this volume had very much their personal reasons for documenting what they deemed worth focussing their attention on: life on an island, for example, where church towers guide the fishermen home; or, the transformation of a once prosperous Eastern European gateway into a place where there is no more work to be found. And while we might not use words like slavery anymore, it nevertheless still exists, be it in Brazil’s Amazon forest, or for Zimbabweans looking for a better life in South Africa.
Spending time with the photographs displayed here is in many respects a learning experience: Ever heard of guano, and how it is collected? Or, of how cultivating silkworms in a former Armenian village in Turkey might symbolise the legacy of its former inhabitants? Or, that there is a Christian minority in Pakistan?
Moreover, did you ever reflect on the divided Cyprus’ identity? (not easy to illustrate, by the way). Or, on the plight of the stateless Rohingya refugees? Or, that the present gold fever in Burkina Faso is taking place in awful conditions?
The fact that we are inhabiting a world that is largely socially constructed implies that things do not have to be the way they are, that they can be changed. Also, because the culture we grow up in is not a static entity but in constant flux. In other words, we are responsible for the way we live (and for the circumstances that we accept).
It is amazing and impressive (it really is a miracle) how resilient people are in face of the hardships they have to endure, be it in Athens County, Southeastern Ohio, be it in Peru’s Andean towns, cut off from the outside world, or be it by having to bear the human cost of the war on terror in Afghanistan. And, some have started to rebel against their conditions – in February 2011, for instance, on Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Yet not all are unhappy with their sometimes dire circumstances, there are also the ones (like Gregorio, the 84-year-old Italian shepherd) who seem to be content with the hard life they are leading.
Social Reports is classical documentary and this essentially means: it is about the things as they are and not about how we would like them to be. The photos in this volume are personal records of events that have taken place in the physical world. They are about discovery, not creation; about finding out, not inventing – for other people to see how the photographer has framed what he has witnessed. These photos are meant to educate us. And they will, provided we are willing.
(PRIVATE 53 – Hope, introduction, p. 3)