FOTODEMIC, an online publication supported by the Meero Foundation

08 Jun 2020 by Joy Habib

What do you do when you’re a photographer in a time of global crisis? You fight the overwhelming feeling of isolation and helplessness by empowering other visual artists to document these trying times. This is how the founders of FOTODEMIC, a group of ICP graduates based in five different continents, chose to react to the pandemic. Four weeks of video calls and cross-time zone coordination later, the FOTODEMIC website was launched: a platform for emerging artists with an innovative take on current global events. 

This initiative resonated with us here at Meero. Through the Meero Foundation, we strive to support impactful and purposeful photography in a visually saturated world. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, we couldn’t encourage photographers to go out in the world, putting themselves at risk”, explains Maxime Riché, VP of Photography at Meero. “We chose to support an initiative that doesn’t rely on sensationalist depictions of the current health situation. Rather, we wanted to shine the spotlight on positive endeavors that start a deeper conversation on what might happen once the dust settles. By partnering with FOTODEMIC, we can support artists who create innovative projects with a positive impact.” 

Discover the first recipients of the FOTODEMIC microgrants supported by the Meero Foundation

We celebrated the launch of the Meero Foundation program and its support of FOTODEMIC by jumping on a video call with three of the founding members: Rafaella Castagnola, Zoe Freilich and Alexey Yurenev, who told us more about the motivating drive behind FOTODEMIC. 

Finding a common space in times of isolation

Envisioning a place for image-based artists and documentarians to publish, Fred Ritchin, dean emeritus of the ICP, convened a group of recent ICP graduates who shared the same feeling of restlessness and responsibility during the pandemic. “It started with the question of what can we do as image-makers”, explains Zoe. The group originally met over video calls every 48 hours to brainstorm various positive-impact initiatives. 

For Alexey, the strength of the project lies in collaboration: “There is only so much one person can do alone. This is the first time we’re sharing such an intense experience globally”.  As for the theme of the publication, the group agreed to curate content that experiments with innovative visual strategies by exploring topics that are underexposed. “A lot of the experimentation has to do with finding new dimensions to a world that seems increasingly flat as we take to screens to communicate with each other. Our first tendency might be to replicate the physical world online and to recreate the habits we had in a pre-lockdown world. FOTODEMIC doesn’t do that; it provides a space for non-linear forms of storytelling by experimenting with non-conventional visual strategies such as animation and motion graphics.”

The shifting role of image-makers 

The founders of FOTODEMIC all share an acute sense of responsibility. They know that their role as image makers is shifting in a time of crisis when most of the visual content we consume is anxiety-provoking. “Our aim is to move away from the public spectacle of disaster. We have noticed a tendency in the media to fetishize the global catastrophe. Instead, we try to show the complexities of people’s experience of it”, says Alexey.  For Rafaella, FOTODEMIC’s main responsibility is to offer an alternative response: “We need to document this period of time but we can’t rely entirely on the media, or else we would be missing the personal experience, the inner world of people. We are going through a period of history where the lives of people are changing.”

Learning from the pandemic 

“Our biggest fear for the post-pandemic world? Emerging from the crisis without having learned anything from it,” Zoe says. This is why the FOTODEMIC project features works such as Kagerou by Yusuke Takagi, centered around surviving the Fukushima disaster and coping with environmental catastrophe. Another project, Flowers by Federico Pestilli, is a rumination on the world we have created and a metaphor for our times. By putting forth these projects that mix different mediums, including audio, poetry, and graphics, the FOTODEMIC team hopes to inspire new ways of thinking about how society has functioned and to ask questions around how we can collectively build a better world. 

A place for hope 

As for the future of the FOTODEMIC after the pandemic, the team intends to take their efforts into the physical world once it is safe to do so. They are planning for a long future in which they might organize talks, meet-ups, or physical exhibitions. For now, the Meero funds will allow them to focus on their digital launch and financially support innovative artists through open-call grants. As Alexey put it, “Once the pandemic is over, we’ll continue asking questions, providing insights and ideas. We want to be proactive and be a place that gives people hope!” 

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