'Moving Walls' calls attention to the importance of documentary photography

Holly Bailey, Yahoo News
Yahoo News
Open Society unveils 'Moving Walls 21' – Exploring the 'broader context' through photography

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"A Long Walk" (Photographs by Shannon Jensen/Reportage by Getty Images)

When photographer Shannon Jensen traveled to South Sudan during the summer of 2012 to document the country’s ongoing refugee crisis, she struggled with how to visualize the plight of the tens of thousands of people who had been displaced.

After all, it was not exactly a new phenomenon in a country that had been torn apart by civil strife for decades. But it was a new experience for the Sudanese refugees who were driven out of the country’s Blue Nile region that summer, and Jensen longed for a way to tell their story.

That’s when she noticed the shoes.

“The refugees were wearing an incredible array of worn-down, misshapen, patched-together shoes,” she recalled.

To Jensen, the footwear seemed to “provide a silent testimony to the arduous journey” the people had made, a wearying trek that often saw them walk into refugee camps with little more than the clothes on their back and the ragged shoes on their feet. She began to photograph these shoes — hundreds of them — while interviewing the men, women and children who had worn them about their journey and the lives they had left behind.

The project — called “The Long Road” — is included as part of the Open Society Foundations' “Moving Images” series, which honors outstanding documentary photography.

The latest installment in the series opens Wednesday at the foundation’s gallery space in New York City and includes work from Jensen and four other photographers who have worked to offer distinctive and in-depth takes on subjects.

In an era of glancing smartphone images, “Moving Walls” pays tribute to photographers who explore the issues and lives behind the daily headlines more deeply — projects that are not easy in an era of shrinking news budgets, sparse grant funding and limited attention spans. Launched in 1998, the annual show helps fund and offer exposure to photographers working on in-depth documentary projects.

This year's exhibit also features work from photographer Diana Markosian, who explores modern-day Chechnya through the eyes of young women coming to age in the Russian republic. Mark Leong examines income inequality and diminishing freedom in Hong Kong. Nikos Pilos documents industrial ruins in Greece as a way to explore the country’s economic recession. And Joao Pina explores the legacy of Operation Condor, a secret plan hatched in 1975 by the right-wing military dictatorships of six South American countries — Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay — to eliminate their left-wing opponents.

The exhibition runs through Oct. 3.

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