Kontinent Agency is happy to introduce a new member, Jesper Klemedsson. As a documentary photographer Jesper works primarily in South and Central America, where he prefers to work on long term projects in order to contextualise the issue he is examining.
We caught up with Jesper to talk about his recent project which focuses on the silent epidemic of chronic malnutrition among the children of Guatemala.
– Could you please tell us more about yourself and how you came to photography?
I started to take pictures because I’m interested in the world and important issues related to it. In 2008, I graduated with a Masters in Photojournalism. At first I didn’t really have any focus or direction. I was happy to be able to pay my bills and work on interesting issues around the world.
Things changed in 2011 when I first went to Peru. Since then, I’ve focused my work on Central and South America.
– Why did you decide to become a photographer?
Visual storytelling is, in my opinion, by far the most effective and powerful way to reach the widest audience.
– How would you describe yourself and your way of working?
Tod Papageorge* once said: “If your pictures are not good enough, you aren’t reading enough.” These words define my view on the profession.
I believe that context is everything. Images without a context are just beautiful photographs on a piece of paper, on a screen or on a wall.
At a time when the epic image no longer belongs to the professionals, but to amateurs with mobile phones, where is our place as photojournalists? It has to be in the in-depth, long-term stories. These photographic stories will more likely show the aftermath of an event, rather than the event itself.
*Tod Papageorge is an influential American photographer and a recipient of two Guggenheim fellowships. He was the director of Photography at the influential Yale University School of the Arts between 1979-2013.
– You have worked extensively in Latin America and feel strongly about questions related to the indigenous peoples. Please tell us more about this.
I am most concerned with issues related to poverty, malnutrition and inequality. Two years ago (2014), the richest 10 percent in Latin America had 71 percent of the nation’s wealth. The indigenous movements are on the front line fighting against this concentration of private capital.
– You’ve recently returned from Guatemala where you covered issues surrounding landownership and malnutrition. Please tell us more about the children you portrayed and why you chose to pursue this project? What are your plans with this series?
So often stories about Central America focus on its position as one of the most violent parts of the world. But there is another silent and much less dramatic tragedy lying in the shadows of this violence. Around half of all children in Guatemala suffer from chronic malnutrition
Bizarelly enough, as Guatemala is witnessing economic growth, malnutrition continues to rise. Among the indigenous population (the majority of Guatemala) 70 percent of all children are malnourished. In some areas, 80-90 percent of children are affected. It’s hard to grasp the magnitude of the problem.
– You work primarily with a medium format camera and traditional film. How has the choice of using analogue photography on longer projects influenced your way of working?
I feel it’s necessary to make a distinction between my everyday assignments and my longer projects. The use of analogue photography is a way to create this separation and it enables me to work at another pace, to slow down and focus on the very issue I’m covering.
– Please tell us about two of your photographs that are particularly meaningful to you?
Both of these two pictures are from the Aldea Las Rosas community, in the Quiché region (situated in the central part of Guatemala). Quiché is an area in which roughly 80 percent of all children are malnourished.
When I took these pictures I had already interviewed their families earlier in the day. The children, together with their mothers, met up with me later in the afternoon to make the photographs. The kids were all dressed up in the nicest clothes that they had.
This was my first visit to Quiché since I started the project in 2013. The root cause is always the same; the families lack access to land. But Quiché is also part of what is called the Dry Corridor. The Dry Corridor is an area that is heavily affected by droughts and lack of rain. So even if some families may have a small piece of land, they can’t provide enough food for their children. Due to climate change, the rain is absent for months. The crops die quickly and food is nowhere to be seen. This also makes food prices increase, which makes it impossible for most families to buy the extra food they need.