“If given just a bit of water and light, we will suddenly blossom.”
Over the past fifteen years in a neighborhood in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a group of young people that came to call themselves Sudden Flowers worked with me to make photographs that represented the experiences they endured in their short lives. These often included various forms of trauma: the loss of parents, physical abuse, life on the street, psychological distress, the impact of poverty and disease. Though their lives were connected by proximity and common experiences, each of them had unique stories to tell and unique ways of telling them.
Together we made images that attempt to recreate these experiences for the viewer and to fantasize about the unknown future. The pictures do not really document, very few of them explain what was transpiring while the shutter was open. Rather, the camera became a tool for the members of Sudden Flowers to reflect on what happened to them, to heal and to reshape the world they wanted to live in.
For many years, we showed the pictures only in local venues so viewers would understand the context and visual subtleties of the images. Now, many years later, we have assembled these pictures into a book for a wider audience.
We photographers often believe it is our job to represent a larger section of humanity of which the subject is one example: here is a picture of a child (on behalf of all children) or a refugee (on behalf of all refugees) or a Haitian (on behalf of all Haitians). In this project, each subject represents himself or herself, often with unexpected results. Sudden Flowers has become a persistent question mark at the end of a central tenet of documentary photography: the possibility of photographic representation.
Eric Gottesman is a photographic artist and organizer. Central to his practice is collaboration. He has received a Fulbright Fellowship, a Light Work Artist Residency, an Aaron Siskind Foundation Artist Fellowship, the apexart Franchise Award and grants from the Magnum Foundation, LEF Foundation, Artadia and the Open Society Foundation among others. His work was featured in Aperture and Contact Sheet in 2014 and is in various collections including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. He is currently a Faculty Fellow at Colby College and an advisor to the Prince Claus Fund/Arab Fund for Arts and Culture Documentary Photography Program. His first book, Sudden Flowers, will be published in October 2014 by Fishbar.