What you never would have known about European Fascism, Human Trafficking and a Dying River

(for photos, see the original post at stories.GettyImages.com)

Paolo Marchetti spent three months among Italian skinheads before gaining enough of their trust to take his first photograph.

Souvid Datta spent three years nurturing sources before wrangling eight hours to photograph a secret house where kidnapped girls are held on their way to the brothels of Calcutta.

Giulio Di Sturco spent eight years following the Ganges through India and Bangladesh, gaining access to factories and chemical plants to show, in images, how gravely polluted the river has become.

Three photojournalists, three important stories documenting political, social and environmental issues which, though they may be happening hundreds or thousands of miles from where you’re reading this, are crucial to the human race and our survival on this planet.

But despite the critical nature of these issues, with the shifting media and technology landscape, it never has been more difficult for photojournalists to find funding for this kind of work.

Marchetti, Datta and Di Sturco were fortunate enough to win Getty Images Editorial Grants, in 2012, 2015 and 2014 respectively, which allowed them the financial means to continue their important projects. As a result, Marchetti’s look at fascism across five countries, “Fever,” reached international acclaim; Datta’s project is ready to be published; and Di Sturco’s “Ganges: Death of a River” will be released as a book later this year. This means their work can reach people at scale, inspiring and enabling action that could potentially make the world a better place.

“Reality is complex,” Marchetti said recently from Visa Pour L’Image, the world’s most important photojournalism festival (Getty Images is a sponsor). “We have to commit ourselves in order to travel in the middle of each layer. This is the only way to analyze what is happening around us and leave a legacy for the youngest, most vulnerable population.”

He is right.

Behind the Curtain of European Fascists

With “Fever,” Marchetti’s goal was to explore the concept of rage by illustrating how this emotion manifests in politics across various socio-economic classes. He began his project in Italy, where he is from, before expanding his story to include Germany, Hungary, Finland and Spain.

“I have always been interested in Fascism, even though my cultural background is from the opposite side,” Marchetti said, remembering that even as a child, in school or on the street, he was exposed to Fascist philosophies and violent language.

“At the same time, I wanted to better understand why. … What triggers the rage?”

He approached this series without judgement, instead providing an unfiltered look at racism and Fascism in Europe. It serves as a visual warning that illustrates how easily rage can spread via the guise of politics.

“The Getty Images grant was my baptism at an international level,” Marchetti said. “Starting from that moment, my life completely changed. It was my chance to work abroad.”

The Sick, Secret Way Children Are Trafficked in India

Datta’s work in India also is unflinching.

As he pursued his initial project, “Sonagachi,” intending to humanize the women and children of Calcutta’s red light district, Datta discovered a harrowing statistic: He learned that last year, 14,000 children went missing in the Indian state of West Bengal, most of them trafficked by kidnapping and/or child marriage.

So, through his work, he made it his mission to zoom out from the brothels themselves and instead focus on the social and economic issues driving this epidemic in India.

He spent time with the police, with NGOs and with families in rural villages who may never see their children again — and he ultimately was able to photograph a halfway house “grooming center,” where children are taken for weeks before they are brought into brothel life.

“I didn’t know what to expect when I was going there,” he said. “… It was psychologically exhausting.”

Datta then spent time with a human trafficking unit of the police force, and while he was impressed with their dedication, he was dismayed to learn that they were painfully understaffed. Thirty-three officers were tasked with finding thousands of missing children.

“The story is one where you have to be there for a while,” Datta said in an interview at Visa Pour L’Image. “The grant money helped me spend time with the right people, develop the right relationships and get the right access.”

Black Water of the Ganges

Di Sturco began photographing the Ganges soon after moving to India in 2009, when he discovered the river could be an effective visual metaphor for how India was changing — economically, politically and socially.

But what he ended up experiencing was an up-close view of extreme pollution, with factories dumping chemical waste just a few kilometers away from where people bathe in the river for religious purposes.

After receiving his grant funding, Di Sturco was able to follow the Ganges to its end and also cover the story of the river in neighboring Bangladesh.

“Everything that was happening with the river in India was happening in Bangladesh, but 10 times more,” he said recently from Visa Pour L’Image. In Dhaka, for example, he discovered that for about 7 kilometers, the river was completely dead.

“There are no fish, no plants, nothing,” he said. “The water is actually black.”

The grant allowed Di Sturco to make three trips to Bangladesh and complete his project — an important one as the Ganges is expected to become a seasonal river by 2025, a casualty of climate change.

“The Bangladeshi part is as important as the Indian part,” he said.

More Stories to Tell

At Visa Pour L’Image this year, five new Getty Images Editorial Grant winners were named, and each presented a glimpse into their work:

  • Sergey Ponomarev focused on the migrants and refugees of the Middle East and Africa;
  • Katie Orlinsky examined the effects of climate change on Alaska’s native people;
  • Mary Frances Calvert offered a look at the reality of American military rape survivors who are forced out of service;
  • Jonathan Torgovnik detailed the plight of African refugees seeking a better life in South Africa and finding harsh conditions; and
  • Kirsten Luce documented the busiest corridor for human and drug trafficking in the US, along the Mexican border.

These are all stories where a superficial approach could never illustrate the complexities of the situations in a meaningful way.

Being there for a while matters.