A Small Corner of Hell - Photo Book by Kenny Karpov
In his photo essay, Karpov photographed and interviewed thousands of refugees who fled from their homeland from parts of the Middle East and Africa. Many of the refugees are escaping discrimination and terrible poverty, while others are fleeing from years of war and conflict — and horrifying stories of torture have emerged from those rescued. The men, women, and children were kept in cages for days, holed up in ditches, killed in cold blood, raped and tortured. In some respects, these refugees might be considered lucky since they made it safely out of Libya where their lives were in immediate danger. Thousands of others still remain in Libya enduring horrific violence.
Karpov's book, A Small Corner of Hell, conveys on one hand a harsh reveal of a refugee crisis and yet, on another, an intimate journey in a new perspective; a fresh visual approach. Karpov saw that one of the most significant issues of our day was beginning to numb the world. He searched for a new language with which to tell the story he was witnessing — the story of how millions of people around the world are desperately searching only to fulfill their most basic needs. A simple introduction: “The Mediterranean Refugee Crisis'' (for this is a global problem, not just Europe’s). Deep, pitch-black & white images of mystery and longing. Then, we see again these familiar photojournalistic images, but now in stark poetic color. In the context of a day’s journey, they appear like moments of lucid dreaming — are we awake? Is this horrible nightmare truly a reality?
Flipping the pages of A Small Corner of Hell feels as if one was swimming in thick and heavy waters of different shades of black and blue. Some of Karpov’s images are captured on expired Svema colour film. He also includes photographs from various b&w films. The work encompasses a mix of documentary reportage, portraiture, and art photography. The majority of the images are shot spontaneously, while others appear to be more prepared. However, all of the work emanates a graphic nature and intimacy; and regardless of style the people and the chaotic scenes captured though Karpov’s lens arrive at an impression of displacement, brokenness, beauty, and darkness that evoke an ominous feeling.
The individual photographs are laid out with brilliant and dedicated vision, ranging from thoughtful single pages, and dramatic double page-spreads to reveal both chaotic madness and a lingering sense of hope. Many of the images are intertwined with excerpts from Despite It All We Never Learn, Karpov's nonfiction book of refugee testimonials, offer a continuation of the dialogue constantly at play between the violence they endured and their history. Even the use of blank pages, both black and white, speak to Karpov's commitment to the specificities of the book as a storytelling medium and to his desire to convey his narrative in an original and striking manner. Finally, this book is meant to expose the evolution of deep changes that this crisis has brought about, as well as the scars that will remain long after the violence subsides.
Karpov is a self-taught documentary photographer from Detroit. He carries his film camera to marginalized communities in places such as the Mediterranean Sea, Syria, Iraq, Serbia, and Ukraine. By bringing the faces of the forgotten to light and giving voice to those who have been silenced, he hopes to capture people through the lens of an advocate, rather than a dispassionate observer.