Between the Tides: War and Peace
In a career spanning over thirty years, Martin Sugarman has used his camera to document the world's darkest and most shameful episodes, as well as portraying many renowned artists and beautiful landscapes.
When not working overseas, he ventures onto Los Angeles' streets and beaches and engages in documentary street photography. Los Angeles is an ethnically diverse and multicultural city, ruled by myth, ritual and globalization. Composition plays a key role. His images of Los Angeles are highly personalized documents rather than metaphors. His strong images of Los Angeles and other urban environments, including rural spaces, are raw and edgy. Like Robert Frank before him, Sugarman shows us a different America.
Sugarman asserts that our world is best understood through emotionally intelligent images. He insists that strong emotional images cause strong "gut feelings" in the viewer.
Besides being a photographer, Sugarman is a sociologist and visual art critic who studies and writes about cultural politics and political culture; he is very interested in the problem of word and image. In societies where democratic ideals hold sway, issues of representations and meditation not only influence out experience of the world but also play a predestined role in the production of political power.
A good portion of Sugarman's photography concerns the breakdown of social institutions and violations of human rights, as well as the forms of power and domination under the control of powerful interests. He insists that photography, however, should not be solely a department of politics.
Currently, he is working on photographing the decline of Western Capitalism. Ideologies like liberalism and conservatism have become powerless and anachronistic. Everyday life under globalization is survival.
Sugarman said, "I pretty much rely on instinct when I seize the moment, interpretation comes after. I believe that cogent images with significant content permit events to speak for themselves in the venerated tradition of documentary and reportage photography."
Many photographers eschew the use of words and narration in their work. Sugarman disagrees with this attitude. he uses words and narrations to give an historical context to his images.
Before shooting images in 1975, Sugarman was a figurative and landscape painter. He has traveled extensively in Latin America, Central Asia and the Middle East. His first visit to Mexico occurred when he was nine years old. He was astonished and fascinated with the visual and historical sites. From 1990 to 1992, he documented the social and cultural conditions in the urban and rural territories of Mexico.
From 1992 through 1994, Sugarman visited Cuba. the socio-economic problems in Cuba are many and intertwined. This series, for their part, illuminate the effects of Castro's iron fisted rule over the Cuban people, and, equally, the punishing conditions of the imposed embargo by the United States on the island. Besides the political context, he captures the passions, emotions and feelings displayed by the Cuban people when the fear of authoritarian rule is out of range. Sugarman's images are reproduced in his 1995 book, Storm Over Cuba.
During 1992, Sugarman traveled to the war torn countries of Bosnia and Croatia to document the widespread ethnic strife and the savage conflict. He was one of the first photojournalists to be in the midst of the war. His poignant images were widely used by human rights organizations and the news media. The work was published in his 1993 book, God Be With You: War in Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina. From this research, a short documentary was made on behalf of the United Nations showing the costly impact of the war, especially the widespread human rights abuses.
In 1993, Sugarman traveled to India and Pakistan to expose the bitter conflict in the disputed territory of Kashmir. The damaging cost of occupation was captured and ultimately published in Kashmir: Paradise Lost. These images have been exhibited in galleries and museums all over the world.
In 1994, Sugarman visited Siachen Glacier, an icebound disputed territory between India and Pakistan, to visually document the highest battlefield in military history. The visual documents of this unique endeavor are contained in 1995's War Above The Clouds: Siachen Glacier. His book has become a standard on this subject.
In 1997, Sugarman traveled to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to document everyday life under the Palestinian Authority. The result of this research is contained in 1997's Speak Palestine, Speak Again as well as a thirty minute educational video.
From 1997 to 2008, Sugarman has been preparing a book on Pakistan. The images of Pakistan are unequal in their scope, each summoning our attention and appreciation to such a diversified and ancient culture. One can observe the progress by going to: martinsugarmanproject.com.
In addition to Bosnia, Pakistan, Cuba, Mexico, the Middle East and India, Sugarman has covered many other conflicts, including Chechnya, Tibet, Afghanistan, East Timor, Guatemala and Nagorna Karabah.
Martin Sugarman's images have been displayed at civic functions, universities and on public radio. Also, his work has been used by many human rights organizations for teach-ins, conferences and campaigns. Some of his work can be seen at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, in an exhibit entittled "The Millennium Machine", highlighting international human rights violations.