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Photo students explore war games, migration and climate change

Phil Coomes
Picture editor

Published

Students on the postgraduate documentary photography and photojournalism course at the University of Westminster present their final projects at an exhibition in London on 21 August.

Here we present a selection of the projects that will be on show.

With the growing numbers of migrants crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe, Kiki Streitberger decided to focus her attention on their story.

image copyrightKiki Streitberger

Rather than producing portraits or images of ships laden with people, she took a step back and photographed the possessions they managed to bring with them.

image copyrightKiki Streitberger

"I wanted to know what people who leave everything behind to embark on such a gruelling journey manage to take over into a new life and what these items mean to them," says Streitberger.

"Most of the images were taken in a makeshift studio. I would take the items with me overnight, take the pictures and return them to their owners the next day. Sometimes I could hardly sleep for fear of losing one of those precious items."

It's an engaging piece of work, as the images sit alongside an explanation of what the items mean to the owners.

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image copyrightKevin Percival

Kevin Percival's pictures look at ways in which warfare has become assimilated and normalised, from the virtual world of computer games to the supposed team bonding of paintball.

"From news imagery of modern conflicts, to remembrance parades, air shows, video games and of course films, war is glamorised and packaged," says Percival.

"With this saturation of imagery feeding into the cultural conscious, it is little wonder we are fascinated by it."

image copyrightPhotographer: Kevin Percival

"Whilst video games are now used to recruit and even train fresh, young soldiers, physical games such as airsoft and paintball respond to this cultural mythology through which we filter the realities of war."

image copyrightKevin Percival

"The props, costumes and arenas mimic popular culture and exaggerate and romanticise the reality, allowing a bizarre mix of violence and false-heroism to slip into civilian society," Percival adds.

This trickle-down effect extends to the startlingly accurate replica weapons sold as children's toys - and ultimately contributes to the desensitisation of the public, and sanitisation of the reality of warfare.

image copyrightKevin Percival
image copyrightKevin Percival

"My project explores this phenomenon and engages with the popular mythologies of war; specifically focusing on their manifestation in the deeply embedded, psychological aspects of war-play," says Percival.

"The images question how comfortable our society has become with conflict, through the associated objects, landscapes, and those who play."

image copyrightMaryam Khastoo

Maryam Khastoo is a British Iranian who having spent 20 years living in Wales, decided to move to Tehran in 2010. She didn't return to the UK until last year.

For her MA project she set off to the Iranian capital once more, looking to create what she calls "an honest, non-exoticised, personal portrayal of memories and identity".

"My time spent living in Tehran was defined by changing states of mind," Khastoo says.

image copyrightMaryam Khastoo

"The contrast between secluded spaces and the palpable tension of public spaces felt distinctly noticeable. The relief of feeling at ease, ensconced in the home, a cafe or on a trip with friends, gave these spaces distinct character and value within the cacophony of Iranian life."

"The project faced the challenge of avoiding succumbing to common misconceptions of Iran. We are continually inundated with images from Iran, which tend to take the same, one-sided slant on a very diverse country. In order to buck the trend and to try to avoid stereotypical undertones, I decided to make this is personal study."

image copyrightMaryam Khastoo

"The change in one's mood from one environment to another is highly accentuated in Iran because of the perpetual feeling of tension in most public situations. With the door closed to the public sphere, a feeling of serenity is readily attained."

image copyrightMaryam Khastoo

"My focus was predominantly on secluded spaces. Photographing street scenes was something I wanted to avoid because it would have become a distraction to the core concept of the project."

"To be consistent with the message of the portrayal, I made the conscious decision of only photographing people I know," she adds.

image copyrightNeil Baird
image captionBevis: Carbon footprint 17.2 tonnes CO2e

Climate Change has been in the headlines for many years, with seemingly continuous summits to set new targets for emissions that stretch way into the future.

Neil Baird has taken this and broken it down to an individual level, asking people to examine their own impact on the climate.

"Footprints is a project that aims to explore how different lifestyles and attitudes in the UK affect our personal emissions, through a series of portraits, still life and environmental photographs," says Baird.

"Each person was asked to work out their own CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) footprint and talk about their attitude to climate change. This turned out to show a surprising range of results - from four tonnes per annum to more than 50."

image copyrightNEil Baird
image captionThe project also looks at the carbon footprint of items like a litre of petrol (left) and various foods.

Baird has also interviewed a number of experts on the issue and the final project is presented in the form of a newspaper, which in keeping with the project, will be printed on environmentally friendly paper stock.

"Throughout the process I have paid attention to the carbon footprint of the project," he says.

"To date my travel footprint, using mostly my small car which averages 54.5mpg, has been 907.18kg of CO2e ," Baird adds.

image copyrightClare Bennett

Clare Bennett's piece is very different to all the others, taking the name of a woman from the 19th Century and transposing her into the online world of the 21st Century.

"Clara Bennett was a real 19th Century person of with a similar name and background to me, who died when she was the same age as I am today," says Bennett.

"As such I have researched Clara and created photographs representative of her life, as though she were here now using social media."

"The manipulation of photography has played a large part in how we memorialise our dead; from Victorian era post-mortem photography featuring a deceased loved one posing as though alive, to early special-effect techniques superimposing an image of the deceased into a group portrait."

image copyrightClare Bennett

"Looking back at these approaches they may seem ghoulish now, but as our online lives proliferate so too do our online deaths, and we find the practice continues all the same, though in the digital realm."

"As people die in real life, their carefully curated online persona can live on, as if haunting and even interacting, through dedicated sites or social networks. Immortal avatars replace real users, and the virtual world becomes a digital afterlife."

image copyrightclare bennett

Backed up with a year long blog, the 19th Century Clara is brought to life, challenging us to think about how social media and the vast amount of data we place online will live on long after we are gone.

You can find out more about the project on the After-like website.

image copyrightLukas Rapp

Lukas Rapp's project looks at the pace of life and the ever present threat of burnout.

"In the UK alone during 2011-12 almost half a million people reported suffering work related stress," says Rapp.

"The project aims to enlighten the audience and combat the stigmatisation the illness is bound to."

The composite image of office blocks comprises pictures taken every 15 minutes, though Rapp notes that security guards "kicked him off" the square before he could take his final frame.

image copyrightLukas Rapp
image captionSarah spent almost a year with a severe Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). Today, she dead lifts more than 70 kg and plans to compete in a body building competition.
image copyrightLukas Rapp
image captionAt least once a week Daniel hikes up the Pfander mountain in Austria, he said: "I leave the stress down in the valley."

Rapp travelled to south west England, Wales and Austria to meet the people featured in his project.

"Each meeting was so unique and important to me and added not only a small piece to my project, but also to my understanding of the issue," he says.

image copyrightRita Alvarez Tudela

Rita Alvarez Tudela spotted the rise in the use of food banks across the UK and so set about gaining access to take pictures of those who work and use the service.

After a few false starts the Trussell Trust media team arranged some visits.

image copyrightRita Alvarez Tudela

"This project made me learn how to be patient and listen to peoples' stories," says Tudela.

"Usually a food bank is open around four hours, some sessions have only one user coming in but other days there were up to 20. There were sessions where none of the users were willing to take part in the photos even though their stories were amazing and heart-breaking."

image copyrightRita Alvarez Tudela

Tudela also found herself waiting for the light to be right for her shot.

"Sometimes I would see myself surrounded by canned food and waiting for a ray of sunlight to come through the beautiful glass to light the space," Tudela says.

image copyrightSigrid Haaland

The idea for Sigrid Haaland's project began with her grandfather who suffered from dementia and was living at a nursing home in Knarvik in Norway.

The home uses "reminiscence objects" to stimulate memory in residents and Haaland began to explore the idea of using this for the basis of her final project.

image copyrightSigrid Haaland
image caption"I've carried many of those with milk: sweet, skimmed and sour. The brown ones had milk that was conserved the longest. They were heavy to carry. You could return the bottles when they were empty, but if you didn't clean them properly, you couldn't deliver them," said a resident.

"Patients who had forgotten huge parts of their life would start to remember again when they discussed old farm equipment, heard music from their younger days, and spent time in a special designed garden with traditional plants," says Haaland.

"What struck me was how simple this seemed. A part of the person that had seemed lost could be accessed again - with keys."

Haaland has produced a series of pictures taken in the studio and these are displayed alongside personal stories that bring them to life.

This is a project that will resonate with many who know someone suffering from dementia.

The picture of wire (above) relates to a woman who was living at the care home.

Department leader Britt Hansen explains: "She was depressed, and rarely wanted to participate in activities. One day, we started to stack hay in the garden. When she saw this, she put her walker away, and started to stack hay herself. She knew how it was done."

image copyrightSigrid Haaland
image captionOne man Haaland met used to make toboggans.

"I have a background as a journalist, and I'm used to taking on an objective role, but the documentary genre has allowed me to be more subjective," says Haaland.

"The staff at this nursing home cared for my grandfather when he was ill, so it's safe to say that my heart has been in this project all the way."

image copyrightJonathan Clifford

The island of Cebu in the Philippines is the location for Jonathan Clifford's project that looks into the world of human trafficking.

Working with the British charity Mercy in Action, Clifford photographed some of the children now living in a dedicated rescue home in Cebu, for underage male victims of human trafficking, the first of its kind in the Philippines.

"This series of photographs present some of those rescued boys as superheroes, empowering them through characters of their own creation with the intention of showing them as masters of their own destinies, rather than as victims," says Clifford.

"Their unique superhero character not only provides them with the anonymity they require as children rescued from trafficking but they also give them an opportunity to have control over how they are represented in the photographs."

"Their individual stories prior to their rescue are indeed heartbreaking, but it is not necessary to include those details here. The focus is on their future," he adds.

Clifford sees this an an ongoing piece of work, something to help in the fight against the ever growing issue of human trafficking.

You can find out more on his website The Heroes Within.

The work by student from the MA course can be seen at the P3 Ambika Gallery from the 21 to 29 August 2015 and on the group's website.

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