2019 Joop Swart Masterclass

Introducing the participants (3/3)

Just a couple of weeks ahead of the 2019 Joop Swart Masterclass (JSM), we’re introducing this year’s participants in a series of articles. Read on to discover the stories of Abdo Shanan (Algeria), Fabiola Ferrero (Venezuela), Soumya Sankar Bose (India) and Nydia Blas (USA).

Abdo Shanan

“The idea is to contrast… the loud protest with political demands and the social struggle that was always there and keeps being there.”

Credit: Abdo Shanan

Abdo Shanan considers himself neither a documentary photographer nor a photojournalist: “I rather see myself as a storyteller, with all the freedom of creation that it can give to create a story about something.”

Born in Oran, Algeria, to a Sudanese father and an Algerian mother, Shanan decided to put the spotlight on his motherland’s recent history for his 2019 Joop Swart Masterclass project. Under the title A Bit Louder, Shanan’s project documents the daily life of protesters who have been taking over the streets of Algerian cities every Friday since 22 February 2019, “to express their censure to the current [political] situation.”

This year, the masterclass theme will be ‘Contrast’, focusing on how visual storytelling helps to unfold and distinguish the multiple layers and variations of a story. Shanan describes how contrast plays out in his project: “The idea is to contrast Friday with the rest of the week, the loud protests with political demands with the social struggle that has always been there. The elements of this contrast merge to form the bigger picture of what is really going on.”

From resident physicians to “harraga” – an Algerian Arabic word referring to North African migrants who flee to Europe – and journalists, Shanan believes that everyone taking part in a small protest any given Friday is part of what led Argelia “to shake itself”. However, “during the week, people keep struggling just as it was before Friday 22 February,” he adds.

A storyteller at heart, Shanan looks forward to the week-long intensive masterclass program as an opportunity to challenge his storytelling skills and to “experiment with new ways to tell a story alongside the use of photography.”

Credit: Abdo Shanan

Fabiola Ferrero

I Can't Hear the Birds aims to create a psychological portrait of what it’s like to grieve your own home.”

Credit: Fabiola Ferrero

Venezuelan journalist and photographer Fabiola Ferrero worked as a reporter before she started focusing on visual narratives. Based in her hometown, Caracas, she defines today’s Venezuela, not as a country, but “as a state of mind”.

The idea for her 2019 Joop Swart Masterclass project came about when she was looking for answers to unresolved questions around how the political turmoil in Venezuela is impacting people’s lives in the country: What is happening? How is it affecting our souls?

Mixing letters from those who fled Venezuela with images made by Ferrero and the migrants’ family albums, her project I Can’t Hear the Birds aims to “create a psychological portrait of what it's like to grieve your own home.”

“We're in the middle of change, and nothing is yet definite, but we are for sure different than we were.Venezuela's society will probably be deeply changed by this whole social experience.”

In Ferrero’s opinion, Venezuela is a perfect example of what ‘Contrast’ entails, either in a collective or personal story – the social inequalities, the differences between those living in urban or rural environments, the political polarization. “However, the biggest contrast I've experienced is the one between the memories my home is based on and the reality I see when I walk out the door. This chapter of I Can’t Hear the Birds focuses on that distance,” she points out.

Credit: Fabiola Ferrero

The Joop Swart Masterclass brings together participants and masters to exchange their knowledge and best practices on visual storytelling. During a full-time five days program in Amsterdam, there will be masters’ lectures, one-on-one sessions, editing sessions, group discussions, guest lecturers and cultural visits.

Asked about her motivation to join the masterclass, Ferrero refers to the added value of getting professional guidance in her learning process. “To go from the desire to create something to actually develop quality work you need more than talent. You need tools, knowledge and practice.”

She adds: “I’m most looking forward to the exchange with other students: learning from their stories, understanding their backgrounds and the process that led their projects to where they are now. Behind any good project, there are many decisions, turns and mistakes, and that is what I'm most excited about: to hear it and see it.”

Soumya Sankar Bose

“My project is a visual documentation of the memories, reminiscences and repercussions of the Marichjhapi Massacre survivors.”

Credit: Soumya Sankar Bose

Born and raised in the small Indian town of Midnapore, Soumya Sankar Bose took a course in engineering before becoming a professional photographer. Although he wasn’t interested in the former at all, these studies enabled him to move to a bigger city and nourish his photography knowledge.

Concerned about the impossibility that many people have for fulfilling their desires, “as a result of living in a society that prevents us from living a normal life”, Bose’s work attempts to create safe spaces where people can express their personal experiences and feelings outside of their lived realities.

In Where The Birds Never Sing, his 2019 Joop Swart Masterclass project, Bose explores this approach towards visual narratives by documenting the memories, reminiscences and repercussions of Marichjhapi massacre survivors. “I always try to find an incident which was never documented or was underreported, and that fades from our minds with time.”

Bose has merged existing materials and portraits shot by him of some of the around 1,000 Bangladeshi refugees who were forcibly evicted in 1979 on Marichjhapi Island in Sundarbans, West Bengal, India.

Credit: Soumya Sankar Bose

When asked how his masterclass project plays out with contrast, he explains:“The intricate weaving of facts and fictions, past and present, enlightens several perspectives of the same narrative, forming a cryptic framework to be decoded by the viewers.”

Just a week and a half before the masterclass kicks off, Bose feels very excited to meet other fellows and mentors as, he believes the knowledge-sharing will add different layers to his projects and views on photography. “In this period of my life, this program will really play a key role in my career.”

Nydia Blas

“I wanted to speak back to the construction of gender roles and the ways in which they play out in identity formation and the performance of identity.”

Credit: Nydia Blas

Nydia Blas, United States, is a visual artist whose work encompasses photography, video, collage and print. She is based in Atlanta and her work addresses matters of sexuality, intimacy, and her lived experience as a girl, woman, and mother.

"In my work my main subject matter is women and girls. When I found out that the theme was contrast I began thinking about how I could begin working with boys and men." Blas explains. "I wanted to speak back to the construction of gender roles and the ways in which they play out in identify formation and the performance of identity."

Asked about the power of visual storytelling as a tool to unfold and distinguish the multiple layers and variations of a story, Blas admits getting excited, “There can be a needed push and pull between different kinds of images working in conjunction with each other- a portrait, a landscape, an archival image, etc..”

Blas hopes that the time she’ll enjoy as part of this year’s masterclass will assist her in learning how to effectively tell a story, as she tends to create her projects “very intuitively” and “often backwards” to make sense of them once completed. “I am interested in how to make an effective series of photographs with a predetermined concept,” she says.

And on the future of visual journalism and storytelling, Blas hopes that “we can begin to tell new stories. That we can begin to create new ways to look at people and help tell their stories. That we use the power of photography to pose more questions and begin conversations about the world that we live in…I would love for people to feel empowered and have the tools to tell their own stories and speak back to their experiences.”

Credit: Nydia Blas


The 26th edition of the Joop Swart Masterclass will be held from 17 to 21 September 2019 at the World Press Photo Foundation in Amsterdam.

Chosen from the 245 candidates nominated in March 2019, the 12 participants in the 2019 Joop Swart Masterclass were selected by an independent, international committee. Meet the participants, masters and learn more about this year’s theme here.