Interviews with Tim Hetherington Award Winners: Stephen Ferry


Here at the Trust, we’ve been catching up with the winners of the many awards given in Tim’s name starting with The Tim Hetherington Grant, a joint initiative set up by The World Press Photo and Human Rights Watch. The programme, which started in 2011 is an annual 20,000 euro grant given to a visual journalist who is creating work based on a human rights issue. The award is a chance to present content that operates on multiple platforms and in a variety of formats; that crosses boundaries between breaking news and longer-term investigation; and that demonstrates a consistent moral commitment to the lives and stories of the subjects.  The award is given with an understanding of Tim’s own ambition and integrity for work that can reach audiences far and wide through different platforms.

‘Underpinning my work is a concern with human rights and analysing political ideas, with thinking about history and politics. It’s also about witnessing, about telling stories. Photography to me is a way of exploring the world, creating narratives, and communicating with as many people as possible…I am interested in working across a broad platform, in both screen-based media and the print media.’ —Tim Hetherington, after he won the World Press Photo of the Year 2007.

Stephen Ferry

Interview conducted 08/2015

Our first interview is with documentarian Stephen Ferry. As the winner of the grant in 2011, Ferry created a publication titled, ‘Violentology: A Manual of the Colombian Conflict’ which documents Colombia’s internal armed conflict with a focus on human rights and the struggle of Colombian civilians to resist the violence, often at great risk to their own lives. The project also looks at the history and current dynamics of the war in Colombia, while exposing the role of the distinct parties in the conflict. Ferry documented the environment for a decade and distributed the work in three different platforms: a book, an exhibition and selected chapters in the form of booklets free of charge.

What has happened since the book ‘Violentology’ came out?
A lot of things. We printed the book using a rotary press here in Bogota, which is the same rotary press as that of El Espectador, a newspaper which has a legacy of investigating corruption and standing up to the violence in the country. Symbolically the rotary press and its relation to the newspaper was important but it also meant that we had a lot of copies to work with (9,600 copies in total). We were able to sell it to Colombian book stores and distribute it to a large number of students, journalists, members of civic committees, local social organisers, people who are themselves under a death threat. Many of them received the book for free but those who paid for it got it at eleven dollars which for a large scale photography book is pretty extraordinary. It also meant that there is a large number of university students that now have the volume in Colombia and many universities are using it in their curriculum. I did a lot of presentations when the book came out for newspapers, high schools, public and private universities around the country which proved successful.

The other components of the project included an exhibition and downloadable booklets. The exhibition was printed on similar paper to that of the book and we actually based it on a wall which is interesting conceptually because it goes with the street level nature of the project but it also meant the exhibition was portable to a lot of places. We put the exhibition up in regional universities, the faculty of journalism and in cultural centres in Bogota. The third element, the downloadable booklets, were pretty good in terms of issuing them to people to download and read them. They were issued as downloadable pdf’s which could be stored on pen drives and sent to areas which don’t have internet access.

The works relation to universities is an interesting development.
Yes, it’s worked well in universities. I’ve been invited by professors of different faculties to present the work as a basis for discussion. There are also important initiatives in Colombia which have included the work such as The National Museum of Historical Memory in Bogota and a museum in Medellin called ‘Museo casa de la Memoria’ which has a permanent exhibition which includes my own work.

It’s amazing that the project has such life after all these years.
It’s interesting now because there are peace talks which have been going on for almost three years. I think a lot of people are finding the work very relevant in this context because its important to understand what has been happening in the last fifteen years of the conflict. There are students in universities who are twenty who were ten years old when I was collecting the research and so this recent history is important in understanding what has happened.

Outside of Colombia how has the book been received by the international audience?
Most of the international audiences have been in the United States. The reception varies, I’ve been to some universities in the Mid-West where people have very little familiarity with the conflict. There have been dialogues between myself and US Veterans in which they have discussed their own relation to warfare. There has also been five hundred copies of the book distributed to Mexico. Their reaction was more orientated to the narcotic side of the equation because of their current situation. It’s different for each country, for example in Chile when we showed the exhibition, there whole history is to do with the forced disappearances of crime, the famous missing of Chile. There orientation with the Colombian conflict is more about a particular period of time.

Do you feel different about the work now than when you were making it a few years ago?
I made a decision to use the subtitle, ‘The manual of the Colombian conflict’ in the project and it’s meant in some sense to be useful. I didn’t sacrifice my photography too much but there was an intention to create a journalistic, punctual record of conflict, so that it would be useful in the context as it is being viewed now.

‘Violentology’ is a carefully designed, large scale book, printed on the rotary press. What is it that drew you to creating a book that is crafted to emphasise its physicality?
When creating Violentology I put a lot of emphasis on the sense of touch. The paper has a texture that is quite attractive which is one way to get people into the book, to feel and to touch it. In this sense the physicality is in many ways related to the act of reading a newspaper.

Have you had feedback from the press?
There’s been a lot of press attention, it was critically well received here and elsewhere. It won the POY Latin America Photojournalism Book of the Year in 2012 and I was a finalist in the international one. There’s been a lot of positive feedback on that level.

What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a book about gold in Colombia which is coming out next year. It’s a project which I’ve been working on for five years. I’m looking to use local resources, paper and cardboard made in Colombia to create a book that is accessible and affordable to people, and beautifully made I hope.


Interviews with Tim Hetherington Award Winners: Stephen Ferry