Wendy Ewald was born in Detroit, Michigan and after graduating from Abbot Academy in 1969, she then went on to study further at Antoich College as well as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she studies photography with Minor White. Her main ambition in life has led her to embarking on a career in which she teaches photography to children and young people internationally.
I am a big fan of Ewald’s work and I find it fascinating and incredibly creative. She creates photographs that really allow for the contemplation of who really created the images and who owns them. Are they all her work or are they the world of the people she works with and allows to write upon the negatives?
One particular series I have looked at in particular is ‘Towards a Promised Land’ which was based on children in Margate. The project is only 10-13 years old but it is still incredibly relevant in today’s society.
Ewald said : “I decided to focus on the issues of moving and uprooting from one culture to another in children’s lives–whether it was a family fleeing domestic violence from within Britain or a refugee leaving Sudan after everyone in his village had been killed.”
Her photographs worked with 20 young children, allowing them to tell their own stories through photography.
The results of the project are a beautiful representation of what life is like for these children, dictating the things that are important to them, how they feel, what’s changed, where they’ve been or where their from their situations and how they are now.
Each picture has a backstory by the child that speaks of what it was like moving to Margate, their hopes, fears and more. Each is immensely personal to each child, yet so formulaic in fitting in with the series. Each triptychs includes a front facing portrait, the back of the head of the subject and still life of their own items/ something important to them. All the images are in black and white, and they create a very beautiful and unique formation of images.
Once the images were taken, they were presented on a large scale around the area where they could be viewed by the general public. In my opinion I feel that the addition of the photographs around the location meant that it gave exposure to a cause that was well worthy of it. Using children is a good way to do this because they are often seen as very vulnerable and this provides a means for people to actually stop and realise what is going on as they can feel empathetic towards them. Engaging with young people also helps to help them learn about themselves.
This project is very participatory and lets the young people learn and take part in the piece. There are images of the children being shown how to use the cameras and equipment and set up their shots. Ewald takes a creative, participatory approach to hers and their work. This is what makes us question who the work belongs to, as it often shot by her by helped directed by the subjects through the photography, the items and also the wording they use to tell their stories.
I love the fact all 20 children have come from different backgrounds but they have all migrated to Margate. They represent the fact that there are a whole range of different types of migrants and no two are the same.
Close up portraiture has worked very effectively in this series and provides a deep focus, especially as we are so drawn to the eyes of the subjects and the stories they are telling. Knowing that Margate is an area heavily populated by migration, there could have not been a more apt location to take on this project.