Photographic essay by Karen Robinson

When I was at college, a photographer called Josef Koudelka was one of the many photographers I admired because of the reasons given below. In my Facebook feed a few days ago, I came across this beautiful photographic essay by Karen Robinson which reminded me of the style of Koudelka, but of course Karen’s work is a brilliant stand-alone project and merits attention.

Karen Robinson is a freelance photographer based in London. From the beginning of her career her natural interest in human rights issues led her to remote, marginal and threatened communities all over the world; Saddam’s Iraq between the Gulf Wars, street children in post-Ceausescu Romania and Madhya Pradesh, India to witness the land-rights struggle of the indigenous Adivasi people. Karen was later commissioned to document the lives of cocoa farmers in Ghana, nomadic Arab tribes people in Israel, subsistence farmers in Mexico, the Inuit of northern Alaska and drought-afflicted villagers in Tajikistan.

Karen was also commissioned by Amnesty International, Anti-Slavery International, Unicef and Panos Pictures to produce a set of images on sex- trafficked Lithuanian women in the UK and Lithuania, highlighting that slavery is a fact of life in modern Britain. The work was first exhibited in St Paul’s Cathedral and is still touring regionally. Further commissions include the Side Gallery, Newcastle to produce a body of work focusing on young women growing up in the former mining communities of East Durham, Northumberland. ‘All dressed up’ was exhibited at The Side Gallery, Newcastle, UK

Josef Koudelka was born in 1938 in Moravia and began photographing his family and the surroundings with a 6 x 6 Bakelite camera. He studied at the Czech Technical University in Prague (CVUT) between 1956 and 1961, receiving a Degree in Engineering in 1961. He staged his first photographic exhibition the same year.

Koudelka’s early work significantly shaped his later photography with its emphasis on social and cultural rituals as well as death. He soon moved on to a more personal, in depth photographic study of the Gypsies of Slovakia and later Romania. This work was exhibited in Prague in 1967. Throughout his career, Koudelka has been praised for his ability to capture the presence of the human spirit amidst dark landscapes. Desolation, waste, departure, despair and alienation are common themes in his work. His characters sometimes seem to come out of fairy-tales. Still, some see hope within his work — the endurance of human endeavor, in spite of its fragility.

Click on this link to see some examples of Koudelka’s photography.

As for Karen Robinson… please click on her photograph below to view her project Roma in Romania and here to view her website.

Photography: Karen Robinson c/o Life Force Magazine.

The photography essay appears in Life Force Magazine October 2012 issue – Life Force Magazine is a free online monthly reportage magazine that celebrates the art-form of the photo-essay.


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