7-year-old Xiao Yuan looks at her village on a balcony at a neighbor's home in Yangxi village. Her mother gave birth to her at the age of 17. Xiao Yuan hasn't started school yet while the admission age is 6. Zhemi county, Yunnan province, China, October 27, 2014. © Muyi Xiao. All images courtesy of the Magnum Foundation.

Muyi Xiao, “7-year-old Xiao Yuan looks at her village on a balcony at a neighbor’s home in Yangxi village. Her mother gave birth to her at the age of 17. Xiao Yuan hasn’t started school yet though the admission age is 6. Zhemi county, Yunnan province, China, October 27, 2014.” (© Muyi Xiao) (all images courtesy the Magnum Foundation)

The Magnum Foundation announced its 2015 Human Rights Fellows last month. The seven recipients are: Basel Alyazouri, 19, Palestine; Xyza Cruz Bacani, 27, Philippines; Nour Kelze, 27, Syria; Sipho Mpongo, 21, South Africa; Chery Dieu Nalio, 33, Haiti; Anastasia Vlasova, 22, Ukraine; and Muyi Xiao, 23, China.

The goal of the fellowship is to provide a development platform for “young and emerging photographers, journalists, students and/or activists” who “are deeply committed to advancing human rights in their home countries.” Applicants must live outside of, and not have previously studied photography in, North America and Western Europe. The award provides both a scholarship for a six-week course at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and continuing professional support. The courses are taught by Magnum-associated photographer Susan Meiselas and Tisch professor Fred Ritchin.

Xyza Cruz Bacani, ‘900 square feet of hidden hope’: “One resident of Bethune House, Shirley, showing Images of her burns. Treatment required hospitalization. Her employer refused doctor-recommended sick leave for recuperation, and terminated Shirley’s employment contract, which is against Hong Kong labor law. Bethune House, Hong Kong, July 2, 2014.” (© Xyza Cruz Bacani)

Among this year’s fellows, Xyza Cruz Bacani has a particular closeness to her subjects: she document the lives, and often abuse, of domestic workers, while being a domestic worker herself. In a post last year on the New York Times‘ Lens blog, Kerri MacDonald described Bacani’s employer as fair, a woman who “pays her for overtime.” Yet the article quotes Bacani on her emotional identification with her subjects: “I can relate to their stories … Our job description is the same. It just happens that I’m luckier than them.”

Whether portraying a burned domestic worker filing an abuse complaint or a love-struck couple kissing in front of Hong Kong’s skyline, Bacani’s photographs are dynamic. More than catching a “decisive moment” of movement, they suggest a continuous scenario: implied past, captured present, likely future. Bacani is a master of the use of light, shadow, and hue. Shades of passing clouds, light filtered through rain, the neon of a subway’s glare merging with the yellow of streetlights, and the geometric light patterns created by buildings fashion an impression of a world continuously spinning. This fosters empathy with Bacani’s subjects — we seem to have happened upon them in the midst of their daily lives; the camera creates little interference.

Sipho Mpongo, “Domestic worker at Inanda club in Sandton, 2014.” (© Sipho Mpongo) (click to enlarge)

Fellow Sipho Mpongo also has a remarkably unique eye. His portrayals of his home country of South Africa, its townships and private clubs alike, nonetheless suggest an outsider’s eye. There’s often an awkwardness to his subjects’ poses, a twisting or stiffness of the body; they seem to be performing identities with which they’re not entirely at ease — an appropriate portrayal of a state that’s still extremely racially and economically divided. A statement on his website discusses this theme of transitory identity:

The problem of personal identity arises from the beliefs that we can change in many ways throughout our lives and that these changes happen to the same person. But if we change, we’re different. So how is it possible for a person to change yet remain the same?

Each of the fellowship winners demonstrates concern for the particular human rights issues of his or her country or region. All use the camera as an empathetic, humanistic, and political tool.

Xyza Cruz Bacani, ‘900 square feet of hidden hope’: “Shirley suffered third-degree burns over much of her back and arms when the mother of her employer placed a pot of boiling soup on top of the shoe rack where the families’ shoes were stored. Bethune House, Hong Kong, August 26, 2014.” (© Xyza Cruz Bacani)

Sipho Mpongo, “I’m sexy and I know it. Braamfontein in Johannesburg, 2014.” (© Sipho Mpongo)

Basel Alyazouri, “A young man puts a bottle of water on his head while he is dancing during Al-Qasaboghli bachelor’s party in Gaza city. April 9, 2014.” (© Basel Alyazouri)

Basel Alyazouri, “Fishermen walk along the Northern shore of Gaza beach during a stormy day. Gaza Strip, Palestine. December 11, 2014.” (© Basel Alyazouri)

Muyi Xiao, “16-year-old Xiao Mei sits on a bed with her 2-year-old daughter (front) and 1-year-old son at home. Xiao Mei and her husband were classmates in primary school. They started dating in sixth grade and dropped out of school when they got married in 2011. Shuichang village, Mengla county, Yunnan province, November 3, 2014.” (© Muyi Xiao)

Anastasia Vlasova, “The portraits of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Vladimir Lenin are seen on the wall of a shell-destroyed rehabilitation center for alcohol and drug addicts in Sloviansk, Ukraine.” (© Anastasia Vlasova)

Anastasia Vlasova, “The body of one of the passengers is marked with barrier tape near the crash site of the Boeing 777, Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which crashed during flying over the eastern Ukraine region near Donetsk, Ukraine. A Malaysia Airlines plane with 295 people on board crashed on July 17 in eastern Ukraine, and both the government and separatist rebels fighting in the area denied shooting it down. All passengers on board Flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur are feared dead.” (© Anastasia Vlasova)

Nour Kelze, “A Free Syrian Army fighter sits behind a desk in Palace of Justice in Aleppo, June 6, 2014.” (© Nour Kelze)

Nour Kelze, “Children who have been displaced due to the fighting between rebels and the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, sit beside a tent at the Shinshrah archaeological site, in the Idlib countryside. Many Syrians living close to the frontline fled to live at the Shinshrah archaeological site about two years ago, activists said. The site now contains a school, a mosque and recently the community was digging a water well. May 18, 2014.” (© Nour Kelze)

Dieu Nalio Chery, ‘Georges Exantus’: “In this Jan. 17, 2013 photo, professional dancer Georges Exantus sleeps, as his prosthetic limb lays on the floor in his bedroom in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Exantus thought he’d never dance again. He was lucky just to be alive. The earthquake three years ago in Haiti’s capital flattened the apartment where he was living, where he spent three days trapped under a heap of jagged rubble. After friends dug him out, doctors amputated his right leg just below the knee. Exantus says he has learned to ignore the long stares and quiet whispers, products of a longstanding stigma in Haiti towards people with disabilities. Before the quake, few resources existed to accommodate Haiti’s disabled, and many regard people with disabilities as misfits.” (© Dieu Nalio Chery/AP Photo)

Dieu Nalio Chery, ‘Dasilia Daniel’: “A resident expressing shock walks by the body of rice vendor Dasilia Daniel, who was accidentally shot dead during a road-rage incident as she walked to work in the Petionville suburb of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Friday, July 19, 2013. According to Daniel’s cousin, Aclite Laurent, the driver of a semi-trailer truck, pictured in background, tapped the back of a pickup, enraging its driver, who then stepped out from his vehicle, gun in hand, and shot at the semi-truck driver, missing him and killing Daniels. Fellow vendors set the vehicles on fire in retaliation for the death of their friend.” (© Dieu Nalio Chery/AP Photo)

h/t 123 Inspiration

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Julia Friedman

Julia graduated from Barnard with a B.A. in European History, and from NYU with an M.A. in Visual Arts Administration. She works as Senior Curatorial Manager at Madison Square Park Conservancy.