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Photographers Win Grant for Documenting Underrepresented Communities on Instagram

Ronny Sen (@RonnySen): “The symbol of Indian bureaucracy, the iconic white ambassador car waits inside one of the coal mines in Jharia. Whenever the coal thieves see this car coming they run away from the mines.” (2016) (all images courtesy Getty Images Instagram Grant)

Documentary photographer Ronny Sen sees the region of Jharia, India, which is near his hometown, as a vision of “doomsday.” Jharia is the site of some of the world’s longest-burning fires: Its coal fields have been flaming since 1916, when two mines were improperly shut down. The fires have since swallowed up homes, temples, and schools, burned through millions of tons of coal worth billions of dollars, and caused severe health problems for workers and families in the region.

For three months this year, under the Instagram handle @WhatDoesTheEndofTimeLookLike, Sen posted his cell phone photographs of this post-apocalyptic landscape. Now, Sen is among three just-announced winners of the Getty Images Instagram Grant, which supports photographers using Instagram to document underrepresented communities around the world. Each winner will receive a cash prize of $10,000, and their work will be exhibited at photography festival Photoville in New York later this week.

A contractual labour inside one of the coal mines in Jharia. He will make two dollars after loading almost five trucks with coal in Jharia.
Ronny Sen (@whatdoestheendoftimelooklike): “A contractual labour inside one of the coal mines in Jharia. He will make two dollars after loading almost five trucks with coal in Jharia.” (2016)

The winners’ work showcases how, when it’s not being used for posting selfies, Instagram can serve as a platform for a new kind of democratized DIY photojournalism, broadcasting perspectives on stories not usually found in mainstream news media. “Instagram burns all the bridges between the producer of the content and the consumer,” Sen told Hyperallergic.

Christian Rodriguez (@Christian_Foto): “Micalela Ribero (15) and her son Franco. She is a single mother.” (2016)

Christian Rodriguez (@christian_foto), a documentary photographer from Uruguay, received a grant for his project Teen Mom, which chronicles teen pregnancy in Latin America. Himself the son of a teenage mother, Rodriguez started the project after his sister became pregnant at a young age. “My life experience is not very different from that of the people I photograph, and this makes me connect with the protagonists of my stories very closely,” Rodriguez told Hyperallergic. Teen pregnancy rates in Latin America have reached record highs in recent years.

Though his photographs have appeared in magazines like National Geographic, Rodriguez still finds social media offers an outlet for stories that might otherwise remain untold. “Being a freelance photographer in South America is very difficult, we usually work with minimal resources, and a lot of effort is needed to develop a project,” he said. “Instagram allows me to show these stories that otherwise would not have visibility.”

Rodriguez’s latest project is inspired by the Latin American literary trend of Realismo Mágico (Magical Realism). “I want to show the lives of communities far from the expectations of exoticism, show the fantastic aspects of the everyday life of my subjects,” he said.

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Christian Rodriguez (@Christian_Foto) (2016)

Graphic designer, painter, and photographer Girma Berta (@gboxcreative), based in Addis Ababa, won a grant for his vibrant iPhone photos of street life in the Ethiopian capital. The photo series Moving Shadows “focuses on the average working class people in my city, their interactions, and their daily lives,” Berta said. “I go far and wide documenting various things they do. With Instagram, restrictions people used to experience with photojournalism have been removed. I have total control and free reign to show whatever I want to show.”

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Girma Berta (@gboxcreative), from ‘Making Shadows’ (2016)

The Getty Images Instagram Grant judges gave Honorable Mentions to Daro Sulakauri (@darosulakauri) from The Republic of Georgia; Ako Salemi (@f64s125) from Tehran, Iran; and Andrew Quilty (@andrewquilty), an Australian photographer based in Afghanistan.

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Girma Berta (@gboxcreative), from ‘Making Shadows’ (2016)
Girma Berta (@gboxcreative), from ‘Making Shadows’ (2016)
Christian Rodriguez (@Christian_Foto), “The Wall Street of Beauty” (2016)

The work of the Getty Images Instagram Grant winners will be exhibited at Photoville (Brooklyn Bridge Plaza, on the corners of Water Street and New Dock Street) September 21–25. 

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