We are jazzed to be showcasing Paris: Baras/Les Roses d’Acier by photojournalist Nick Kozak for Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival 2016!
Nick will exhibit a series of photographs that document two migrant groups living in the outskirts of Paris, Baras: a collective of more than 100 West African male migrants who fled the Libyan civil war in 2011; and Les Roses d’Acier: a group of seven Chinese women who gave their life savings to pursue a new life in France but were forced to turn to prostitution in order to pay debts. They now work to defend the rights of all Chinese sex workers in the Parisian neighbourhood of Belleville.
His photos capture the hope these newcomers have as they arrive searching for better lives, and the consequential barriers they face when trying to secure legal employment and housing. Paris: Baras/Les Roses d’Acier will occupy the 3rd and 4th floor gallery spaces of the Gladstone Hotel from April 30- May 30, 2016.
Nick was nice enough to take a short break from preparing for his show to chat with us about storytelling, social justice and his upcoming exhibition!
As a trained photographer, there are many avenues you could have taken–why photojournalism?
Well actually the most formal training I received as a photographer was during my Photography MA in Dalian, China. The course had a focus on photojournalism, documentary and travel photography. At that point I knew that I wanted to take photographs that tell important stories about the people and places I visit, whether that be in my own backyard or abroad. Like many I was inspired by the photographs in National Geographic and dreamed of taking photographs like that.
You’ve shot a wide array of stories for the Toronto Star from 2011-15 – what made you go international?
I grew up going international. I’ve been lucky to travel my whole life, I was born along the way, so to speak. It is my intention to continue to leave my place of comfort to explore places and communities that are less known to me. I’m happy I got to spend six months in Paris as it really shook things up and got me living in and really looking at a new place.
Your series for CONTACT, Paris: Baras/Les Roses d’Acier, take on social justice issues surrounding immigration and race. Did you search out stories related to these issues?
I think that as an outsider trying to make things work in Paris, I naturally saw myself thinking a lot about the experiences of newcomers, migrants, immigrants and refugees in the French capital. I think that living in Paris, especially outside of the really touristy and rich areas, you can’t help but be faced by issues of race and what role it plays in today’s French society.
Did your coverage of the Charlie Hebdo attacks for Maclean’s inspire Paris: Baras/Les Roses d’Acier?
The events surrounding Charlie Hebdo, terrible as they were, were monumental and happened to take place at about the midpoint of my time in Paris. To answer the question; yes and no; I had been working on connecting with the story of les Roses d’Acier for some time. I’ll say that the solidarity around Charlie Hebdo and what was happening in Place de la République definitely got me interested in demonstrations, or as the French say; manifestations. That’s how I found Baras, I started looking at a website dedicated to public demonstrations and community events in and around Paris.
What brought you to the Parisian suburb of Bagnolet and the neighbourhood of Belleville?
Well my girlfriend found us a place not too far from Belleville at Télégraphe métro station and I walked through the neighbourhood in the first few days after arriving. I found myself wondering about the groups of young and old Chinese women standing along the main boulevard. As for Bagnolet, it is a neighbouring suburb to the 19th arrondissement where we lived. Our apartment was just a couple of métro stations from the Périphérique and Les Lilas, south of which is Bagnolet. I noted the date and time of a demonstration listed online and walked over that day.
What are your favourite shots of each of these groups?
I would say that my favourite two shots for the 3rd floor of Paris: Baras / Les Roses d’Acier are Tairu Di Sam on a tram to a Ghana vs. Mali football match and Bamba Kone prepares Janzanbour to share. Apart from these being what I would deem good pictures, there is the personal experience that led to those moments. That is priceless. When I look at the story of les Roses d’Acier, I’m most taken by the portrait of Aying, there is something in her gaze into the camera that stays with me.
Why do you think photography is an important medium to tell such stories?
Firstly, to me good storytelling images come about from the desire to share in experiences, learn and document people. Photography has always captured my imagination as the most direct and efficient way of telling a story. A photograph provides time for reflection on one specific moment and event. If powerful enough an image can stay with the viewer for a long time.
What are your hopes for this show?
First and foremost I hope that the show does its job of telling the stories of two very different groups of newcomers in Paris. Storytelling should always be the basis for our work as photojournalists or documentary photographers. Exposure of my work allows for more attention to the stories.
Are you stoked to be showing at the Gladstone?
In one word YES! In a few words, I’m extremely grateful to have the opportunity to show my images in a place as frequented as the Gladstone Hotel. More eyes means more attention to the stories.
What and where will you be shooting next?
I hope to return to the remote community of Fort Albany First Nation in Northern Ontario this summer. I am also hopeful that I will make my third trip to Nairobi, Kenya to continue my project No Idling in the informal settlements of Kibera.
Check out the opening reception of Paris: Baras / Les Roses d’Acier on May 5 at 7pm at the Gladstone Hotel, Toronto’s den for art, culture and participation.