By Nile Bowie
Photography allows one to exemplify the historical collective consciousness of events. The objective of a photojournalist should be to capture unmitigated truth, creating an unwaveringly powerful medium in promoting awareness and communicating ideas. When conflict photographers sent home the first images of atrocities taking place during the Vietnam War, it provoked outrage and social discourse. Increasingly, the medium of photo and video journalism has been used as instrument of persuasion, to leverage against governments and institutions, and as a means to build support for foreign military intervention. I became inspired by conflict and sociological photography when I was a teenager; it was the harrowing images of the Rwandan genocide and the ensuing refugee crisis in the neighboring Congo that had the greatest impact on me. My childhood in the United States can be characterized as a period of intellectual isolation, with the affairs of own country and that of the outside world, largely unknown to me.
More than anything else, photography encouraged me to develop a deep personal curiosity to understand these conflicts, to understand the existing ideological, ethnic, and tribal divisions that form the basis of such conflicts, and primarily, to understand the underlining strategic and geo-economic incentives that have historically motivated outside forces to enflame such divisions. I decided to take the initiative to pursue the medium of social photography on my own terms. At nineteen years old, I found myself with a small bag and a paper-thin budget, immersed in the pastoral countryside of eastern India, observing rural communism in India’s last Marxist state, West Bengal. The region was heavily unstable and shaken by guerilla insurgency and indiscriminate killings by Naxalite-Maoists rebels, on a mission to assassinate "class enemies" such as landlords and rural businessmen.
My time there shaped me as a photographer, but more importantly as an individual. I stayed in a rural village for two months with a local family I encountered. Every day, I would travel deeper into the villages, observing the living conditions of people, while attempting to develop some idea of how they viewed the world. It was a time of deep questioning and personal growth. Due to budget constraints, my ability to frequently travel to continue producing these images is not economically feasible, so I began writing. Today, I am attempting to continue aggregating new information and ideas to add to my admittedly humble body of knowledge. Since my first experiences of photographing social unrest in the United States and subsequently relocating to South Asia, I’ve been fortunate to earn enough of an income to continue my work as a photographer. The following series of images have been the focal point of my work over the past three years. In conclusion, I can only hope that this work encourages others to similarly take the initiative to pursue their personal aspirations in whatever form they may be.
New York City, USA 2009
A demonstrator at Ground Zero on the anniversary of September 11th calling for an independent investigation into the attacks on the World Trade Centre.
Kolkata, India 2009An example of India’s urban destitute – a disabled man unable to survive without the compassion of others.
Taunggyi, Myanmar 2011A security officer in the rural town of Taunggyi in central Myanmar standing before a billboard reading “Never hesitating, always ready to sacrifice blood and sweat is the Tamadaw,” a title bestowed upon the men of Myanmar’s military.
Kolkata, India 2009A young man living in slums situated on the side of an active railway, bearing scars of an attack from a wild dog.
Pittsburgh, USA 2009Riot police detaining a man protesting a meeting of the G20 Summit being held in Pittsburgh.
Pyongyang, North Korea 2011An immense portrait of North Korea’s deceased leader Kim Jong-il on the side of a building towering above downtown Pyongyang.
Champahati, India 2009
Animal sacrifices conducted in a rural village of West Bengal coinciding with the annual Islamic Hajj have been historically significant for inciting sectarian violence in this part of India, as Hindus consider the cow to be a sacred animal.
Yangon, Myanmar 2011
Decades of crippling sanctions and economic mismanagement contributed to the downfall of local industries and manufacturing in Myanmar, leading to a desperate economic climate where children must voluntarily labor in order to survive.
Beijing, China 2011
Visitors of Beijing’s National Museum examine a portrait of the nations founding fathers, at a time when the ideals of their revolution appear to have little in common with the climate of contemporary China.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 2011Demonstrators descend on the Malaysian capital calling for reform in the face of perceived flaws in the nation’s electoral system.
Panmunjom, South Korea 2011
A South Korean solider guarding the Joint Security Area (JSA) of the Korean Demilitarized Zone on the border separating North and South Korea.
Kolkata, India 2009A partially blind man residing along Kolkata’s sprawling railway slums fetching water for bathing.
Yangon, Myanmar 2011
A man pleads passerbies to donate money for anti-retroviral drugs that became unaffordable under international sanctions, during a national HIV/AIDS crisis.
Beijing, China 2011
Two saleswomen greet visitors, as China continues to undergo rapid social and economic changes with the established prevalence of luxury brands and consumer culture.
Kaesong, North Korea 2011
A wall painting reading, “Our children will inherit a unified peninsula!” on the outskirts of Kaesong, near the border separating North and South Korea.
Pittsburgh, USA 2009
Riot police detain a young protester after attempting to disperse inner-city demonstrations rallying against a meeting of the G20 Summit.
Yangon, Myanmar 2011
A young sanitation worker manoeuvres through appalling conditions in a residential district of Myanmar’s capital.
Pyongyang, North Korea 2011North Korean children perform in the annual Arirang Mass Games in preparation for the 100th anniversary of Eternal President Kim il-Sung’s birth.
Beijing, China 2011Dozens of security cameras keep watch near the main gate of the Forbidden City in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 2012Protesters in downtown Kuala Lumpur call for electoral reform and rally against the construction of a rare earth processing plant being set up in Kuantan, Malaysia by the Australian Lynas Corporation.
Taunggyi, Myanmar 2011
A middle-aged monk with throat cancer undergoing chemotherapy at a hospital in central Myanmar.
Pyongyang, North Korea 2011A mother and her child sit next to North Korean elementary school students on the Pyongyang Metro service.
Beijing, China 2011Historic residential alley neighbourhoods in Beijing known as “Hutongs” are slowly being demolished as corporate property developers invest in inexpensive areas of China’s capital.
Champahati, India 2009Children in rural eastern India pose in front of a building in a village supporting the Communist Party of India.
Kolkata, India 2009Labourers from the state of Bihar earning a pittance working in Kolkata’s markets, shouldering barrels of produce and vegetables weighing up to a ton.
Yangon, Myanmar 2011Workers along the Hlaing River in Yangon brave unforgiving conditions while clearing a path for future port-side infrastructure, often working barefoot and with limited tools.
Pyongyang, North Korea 2011Ageing apartment complexes constructed in the late 1960’s with development aid from the Soviet Union litter the city view of Pyongyang.
Beijing, China 2011The rubble of demolished local businesses in an old neighbourhood on the outskirts of Beijing’s commercial district.
Yangon, Myanmar 2011A dissident monk bearing scars from past protest activity pauses behind a barbed wire fence.
Champahati, India 2011Communities of Muslim villagers pray during the Islamic Hajj prior to conducting a series of ceremonial animal sacrifices.
Pyongyang, North Korea 2011North Korean onlookers laugh watching foreign visitors on a ride at an amusement park in central Pyongyang.
Champahati, India 2011An elderly man living in a rural area of West Bengal complains of being unable to afford medication.
Kolkata, India 2011Orphaned children sleeping on the side of an active railway in a densely populated area of Kolkata’s slums.
Pyongyang, North Korea 2011Two school children walk through Kim il-Sung Square in central Pyongyang past the slogan, “The Revolutionary Spirit of Mount Paektu,” referring to the birthplace of deceased North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
Kolkata, India 2011A young man lays unresponsive in a pool of urine with unblinking eyes, as hundreds pass on a busy city street in West Bengal’s state capital.