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"Portraits in Landscapes:" Brendan Bannon at Nina Freudenheim Gallery, thru June 25th.

Epworth, Zimbabwe

Small Victories

In Brendan Bannon’s current exhibit at Nina Freudenheim Gallery the viewer is brought close-up and full circle to the power of the photograph to bear witness. A self-taught photographer whose earliest visual interests were encouraged by his mother, an amateur photographer, Bannon, at 10 years was asked by his father, a photography curator, to choose interesting pictures for an exhibit of antique images.

Later he became inspired by photographer Robert Frank’s work The Americans and the Vietnam combat photographs of Larry Burrows. In his twenties and caring for his mother stricken with MS, he came to develop an empathetic attitude toward people in difficult circumstances and in telling stories through photographs of people striving against odds, achieving small victories.

Responding to a opportunity in Kenya to teach writing and photography to teenagers orphaned by AIDS, Bannon chose to stay in Africa and since 2005 has made Nairobi his base of operations on assignment for the UN and Doctors Without Borders among other work for The New York Times, The Guardian, Der Stern, and Maclean’s Magazine. He has also worked in Congo, South Sudan, Zimbabwe and Somalia.

The scenes exhibited are full frame examinations of lives lived in daily uncertainty and privation as refugees in the derelict shadows of a colonialist past.

These pictures show the common plight of people subsisting in flimsy shelters of plastic, tin, cardboard and ingenious patchworks of old clothes—even the ropes made to hold the structures together are woven of strips of cloth. Women and children are seen in candid passages of passive routine depicting everyday chores and at play in the displaced persons camp—a refugee settlement in the barren acreage of the former Government State House. Children vulnerable to malnutrition, malaria, HIV play their games in dusty open spaces while their parents persevere against the cycles of tribal violence that has swelled the population of persons displaced by war since 1990 to over 29,000 in this camp alone. Long term water and food insecurity punctuate their calendar of survival. Landscape scenes are sand colored with bright spots of profuse color—the Somali’s garments standing out against the ruined State House wall and relentlessly arid terrain.

In speaking with Bannon he is quick to dispel the idea of his camera being intimidating to his subjects. His work shows a familiarity with the refugees that allows him entry to their lives to tell their family stories. In the media, generally terror and chaos is more often the default setting on issues of Continental Africa, while Bannon’s images are pointedly nuanced and detailed—intended to provoke a viewer’s complex response and a second look. People living in marginal circumstances are framed in the beauty of their culture and seen displaying a measure of grace while living under pressing needs isolated from a benignly indifferent world.

Bannon is now back in Buffalo dividing his time at six month intervals to return to live and work in Nairobi, Kenya.

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