2019 Joop Swart Masterclass

Introducing the participants (2/3)

The 26th edition of the Joop Swart Masterclass, the World Press Photo Foundation’s best known education program, will bring together 12 emerging photographers and five masters to exchange their knowledge and best practices on visual storytelling. Run as a week-long intensive program, the masterclass identifies, supports and educates new talent in the field of documentary photography, visual journalism, and visual storytelling.

Just a month before the masterclass begins, we’re featuring the 2019 Joop Swart Masterclass participants in a series of three articles. In the second release of the series, we discover the stories of Yoppy Pieter (Indonesia), Shahria Sharmin (Bangladesh), Christopher Gregory (Puerto Rico) and Thandiwe Msebenzi (South Africa).

Yoppy Pieter

“‘Saujana Sumpu’ can be perceived as the story of a forgotten village that merely stands as a remnant of its glorious past.”

Credit: Yoppy Pieter

Born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia, Yoppy Pieter defines himself as a self-taught documentary photographer and educator. Although he didn’t really become acquainted with taking professional photos until he was 25, he recalls being fascinated by photography from an early age: “My father was the one who helped me nurture my interest in visual culture since I was a kid.”

In 2018, Pieter wrapped up his first long-term project, ‘Saujana Sumpu’, a five-year photo-essay that explores the Indonesian phenomenon of merantau in a forsaken village named Sumpu, located in the vicinity of Lake Singkarak, West Sumatra, Indonesia. The term merantau refers to the act of migrating to bigger urban populations to gather experience, learn new skills and, ultimately, prosper.

For his 2019 Joop Swart Masterclass project, Pieter decided to add a new chapter to this story with a focus on those migrants from Sumpu that left home “to merge forever with the urban population”.

“’Saujana Sumpu’ can easily be perceived as the story of a forgotten village that merely stands as a remnant of its glorious past.” According to Pieter, many of those migrants used to return home, put the skills learned to good use and improve living conditions for those in their native villages. Nowadays, however, many of those who moved out remain settled in big cities, leaving their villages slowly abandoned.

Pieter explains how this year’s masterclass theme 'Contrast' plays out in his project: “At first, my definition of contrast came from the duality between the life [of the migrants] in their own native village and their new life in urban areas, but when I delved deeper into it, contrast was beyond that comparison of two lives separated by the distance. Contrast is absolute.” 

Credit: Yoppy Pieter

In 2017, Pieter was selected as one of the 6x6 Global Talent Program talents from Southeast Asia and Oceania. Now as a Joop Swart Masterclass participant he expects to improve his visual narrative skills. “In some regions, like my home country, narrative is a huge barrier to conquer. Otherwise many important and authentic stories will be unheard and remained unrecognized.”

Shahria Sharmin

“The stark contrast between my daughters leaving for college and Rohingya children forced into a foreign land inspired me to initiate this project.”

Credit: Shahria Sharmin

Shahria Sharmin is a freelance photographer based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. She describes her interest in photography being driven by the flux of identity, sexuality, and gender in relationship to material culture.

Sharmin's ongoing project for the 2019 Joop Swart Masterclass focuses on Rohingya people, raising questions about the futures of those living in the fourth largest refugee settlement in the world.

“A ‘safe’ prison or a marauding army at home cannot be the only choices left to a human. Although the escape from such conditions could be even more perilous, many still attempt it. Some come out successful. But do they find a home? Will the Rohingyas ever have what most people in this world take for granted?”

The idea was born at a time when millions of Rohingyas were fleeing to her home country, Bangladesh. “Being a citizen of a struggling country, I knew my twin daughters would eventually branch out to other countries for higher education. However, unlike my daughters, these children were stateless. Lacking citizenship or legal documents, their rights were next to nothing. The stark contrast between my daughters leaving for college and these Rohingya children forced into a foreign land inspired me to initiate this project.”

Sharmin reflects on the role of visual storytelling in relation to this masterclass year’s theme, Contrast: “Millions have fled what they called their home to seek refuge. Millions continue to starve and die of diseases that have been eradicated in most countries. Perhaps the darker side of the contrast ought to be portrayed in all its shades and hues. Visuals can only portray that contrast and visuals can only trigger questions. Images can’t presume to present solutions but they must ask the questions and give voice to the millions whose voices aren't being heard.

“I believe the masterclass is a platform for experimenting for socially concerned photographers. Through enriched discussions and multicultural perspectives, I would like to improve my ability to craft better narratives, to coordinate my intuitive feelings and bring new values by removing my confusions.”

Credit: Shahria Sharmin

Christopher Gregory

“My project is an exploration of memory, nostalgia and the physical spaces of Puerto Rico.”

Credit: Christopher Gregory

Puerto Rican photographer Christoper Gregory focuses his current work on the residue of colonialism in Latin American and the Caribbean. He is particularly interested in the imprint of power and history in current affairs, and his photographic style questions the relationships of power between the photographer and the subject.

His 2019 Joop Swart Masterclass project explores memory, nostalgia and the physical spaces of Puerto Rico. It combines photographs taken by his grandfather in the 1950s, during a period of industrialization and decolonization of Puerto Rico, and photographs taken by him in the same places today, using his grandfather's camera.

During his work in Puerto Rico, Gregory found himself looking back in time to find answers to the island’s current problems. “I realized that understanding the state of Puerto Rico perhaps lies less in facts and more in a state of mind or feeling. My project interrogates a personal history and the complicated identity of my family, to give viewers insight into the psychological reality of the oldest colony on earth.”

In Gregory’s project, the Contrast theme can be found in the two complementary bodies of work that make the story: the photographs taken by his grandfather and the photographs created by him. “Vision and documentation across generations and the contrast they present is a key component of my project.”

“That duality is a powerful tool to communicate complex stories in a way that does justice to the duality of every ‘truth’”, he adds.

Credit: Christopher Gregory

Asked about his motivation to join the 2019 Joop Swart Masterclass, he put first the opportunity for exchange and learning with a global community of photographers and mentors: “Like any workshop or grouping of image-makers [the Joop Swart Masterclass] is a portrait of a generation. It is always inspiring to “check-in” with the pulse of global artists and contextualize, learn and grow from that exchange.”

Thandiwe Msebenzi

“I would like to see stories that challenge representation, and find new ways to tell stories that do not conform to the norm.”

Credit: Thandiwe Msebenzi

Born in Cape Town, South Africa, Thandiwe Msebenzi is an artist who predominantly works in the medium of photography.

Msebenzi’s work explores silence and the performance of gender through different subjects in South Africa. For her 2019 Joop Swart Masterclass project, she reflects on the impact of violent masculinity in raising young boys. The project tells the story of a young man who grew up not conforming to society's idea of masculinity. Teased for being weak and soft, the story documents the challenges he has to face in growing up in such a society.

This story highlights the importance of being aware of stereotypes and having an understanding of the complexities of individuals.

“Visual storytelling can help to unfold and distinguish the multiple layers and variations of a story by constantly striving to tell stories differently in ways that challenge and do not conform to the norm,” Msebenzi explains. “In my project contrast exists through how I challenge the traditional ways in which masculinity is supposed to be, by telling a story of a subordinated form of masculinity that is often marginalized,” she adds.

During the Joop Swart Masterclass, participants and masters review the work produced and exchange ideas and experiences on visual storytelling. The masterclass features a diverse program including masters’ lectures, one-on-one sessions, editing sessions, group discussions, guest lecturers and cultural visits. “I am looking forward to learning new ways of seeing, and improving my craft.”

Credit: Thandiwe Msebenzi

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.