Dear Spotlight Readers:

Welcome to 2017! What a year lies ahead! More than ever, the documentary image matters. In a world saturated with images taken with billions of cell phones (mostly for social media) and images presented by artists, the media, and in advertising, it is the documentary image alone that stands apart. It is not fabricated, stylized, sentimentalized, photoshopped, or art directed. Instead a documentary image presents the visual facts by an artist with visual acuity and the verbal capacity to explain the necessary context. This is unique, and this should matter.
Each month, I have both the enviable and non-enviable task of selecting the featured photographer of the month. Enviable because I get to look closely at all the exhibits submitted to SDN during the previous month and award one with this distinction. Non-enviable because often it is difficult to decide between two, three, or four excellent choices and selecting only one, when in fact all deserve the award.
The task is always a balancing act of a handful of factors--visual acuity, technical execution, written communications, and documentary commitment. The subject is often the least important factor. A great visual story about a neighbor's dog will win over a poorly executed exhibit from Aleppo. But does this bring up a contradiction--implying that the neighbor's dog is more important than the plight of tens of thousands of citizens living in siege conditions? Hardly. But a good story about Fido will not only tell us about Fido, but will tell us something about the photographer, our neighbor, and most important, something about ourselves. A poor exhibit from Aleppo may not only not do any of that, it may also give us a sentimental, romantic, or horrific presentation of Aleppans when what they (and we) really need is accurate information, empathy, hope, respect, and dignity.
This does get complicated because at what point does the misery of the world just become the canvas for artists to fulfill their privileged aesthetic explorations. This is the last factor cited above--documentary integrity--a rather undefined term but something all documentary photographers strive for.
Gilles Mercier, this month's featured photographer, gets it right with his exhibit on hidden leper colonies in Romania. Each photograph is a complete visual statement both in seeing and in execution, he follows up with meaningful commentary about the larger issue and the specific subjects in his photos, and this is not the work of just one afternoon but rather over many years. This is documentary integrity.
Glenn Ruga 
SDN Founder & Director

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Gilles Mercier

Photo by Gilles Mercier from Zona de Alb.
Gilles Mercier
January 2017 Featured Photographer of the Month
Zona de Alb, Romania           

In the 1950s, the Romanian authorities announced that leprosy, this "divine punishment" had been eradicated in Romania. In actual fact, all the lepers had been sent in secrecy to Tichilesti. Officially recognized in the 1990s, but admitted nowhere, fourteen villagers remain in this white zone, this territory of the forgotten, the "Zona de Alb". In 1999 and 2010,  I took a path leading away from the main road that followed the Danube Delta.
View exhibit and complete text >>

Gilles Mercier
Gilles Mercier is self-taught and committed to the medium of photography and to the Lumen Collective. Having decided upon this path, he moved to Paris to complete his formal technical training with the Iris Centre. A collaborator with the Explorer Agency and several collectives including SyncroX, as well as foundations such as the Raoul Follereau Foundation, Gilles Mercier currently works on multiple institutional orders and as the photographic assistant to AC Barbier. 

January 2017 Spotlight
Featured exhibits submitted to SDN in December 2016
Tony Savino
Wake Up and Smell the Misery>>
by Tony Savino/ Dominican Republic
For decades, Haitians have settled in the Dominican Republic to work in sugarcane fields and banana plantations and, more recently, in the booming construction sector. The Dominican government formerly granted citizenship to all children born in the country, known as jus soli citizenship, with the ...
Eric Verdaasdonk
Miercoles negro mujeres Argentina, Black Wednesday Argentine woman>>
by Eric Verdaasdonk/ Argentina
Thousands of women, dressed in black, interrupted their work in Argentina for an hour to protest against an endless plague: more than 200 of them are killed each year, victims of gender violence ...
Valerie Leonard
Black Hell>>
by Valerie Leonard/ India
In the State of Jharkhand, in the northeast of India, the Damodar Valley became a hell on Earth. The open-cast coal mines there took over the forest. These mines have been active without interruption for over a century. The extraction of the "black diamond", destroyed the ...
David Verberckt
The Price of Construction>>
by David Verberckt/ Bangladesh
Subject of a frantic construction boom, Bangladesh is in acute shortage of sand and gravel for building purposes. The Himalayan rivers in the north of the country are being dug up during the dry season for their quality stones that will be crushed into gravel for the construction sector. Thousands of...
Allison Dinner
Tatuadores de Cuba>>
by Allison Dinner/ Cuba
Among all the changes happening in Cuba right now, one thing is staying the same; owning a tattoo shop and giving tattoos are prohibited. They are the only art form in Cuba that is still frowned upon. Despite the governments' suppression, tattoo artists have managed to create a thriving underground ...
by David Arribas/ Spain
Spain is one of the few countries where the hunting with greyhounds is a legal activity. What was a way of survival for the familiar core of rural areas, now (when it is not a vital activity anymore) has been reinvented and turned into a sport, preserving its practice into the traditional culture...
Echoes of the Indelible Sea>>
by William Bay/ Mexico
With an incoming president that has threatened to build a wall and revoke NAFTA, and xenophobia running rampantly out of control, it's important to see the people of the world in a different light. Especially our neighbors. And especially when they supply much of our food. Echoes of...
The skin does not lie>>
by Ricardo Castro Castro/ Mexico
Mexico is agitated. The country is facing social transformations and conflicts. Those changes go from new ways of legislation to violence linked to drug trafficking and corruption. This convoluted context has fostered demonstrations, along with social and political movements all over the country ...
Love a positive life - adolescents and HIV>>
by Gemma Taylor/ Various
Despite the phrase 'AIDS apathy', referring to HIV-related issues falling off the world's headlines over recent years, the epidemic has not gone away. HIV is the second largest killer of adolescents globally, and the first in Africa. Adolescents are the first generation never to have ...
Thanks Ronnie>>
by Tom Kavana/ United States
These photos were taken over a year's time in NYC. They are by no means all of them. The homeless population in the city is growing at an alarming rate. What are the causes, what is the solution? The debate is endless. Patient dumping, addiction, poverty, and mental illness--these are the factors ...
Not one less>>
by Marisol Cid/ Mexico
Protest of women against the femicides that live in the city of Mexico, every day more violent and frequent. Data reveal that in 7 years (from 2006 to 2013) almost 3,000 murders of women occurred, between 2013 and 2015, 6,488 women were killed according to data from the INEGI statistics. This is 46%...
Hmong Funeral>>
by Carlos Téllez Lucio/ Viet Nam
The Hmong tribe is one of the oldest people in the high mountains of northern Vietnam. Rituals around burials are related to their deep belief in the reincarnation of the human soul.
The Amazon Conquerors>>
by Manuel Seoane/ Bolivia
The Amazon region is one of the few places of the earth that still conserves the pure life of nature. Over there, life follows its own rules and not the ones imposed by humans. During decades there were many adventurous explorers, who, guided by their greed, tried to conquer it and ended up succumbing...
Aci Trezza>>
by Emiliano Cribari/ Italy
The air is filled with the smell of blood, alongside the fishermen's voices. Aci Trezza's fish market begins at 2 am. It's like a shapeless, flawed but enchanting dance. A unanimous chorus made of hands and bargain. When one fisherman yells something, the one nearby knows that, soon...
Source of Life>>
by David Verberckt/ Bangladesh
Bangladesh is dominated by the fertile Ganges (Padma), Brahamaputra (Jamuna) and Meghna delta. The alluvial soil deposited by the rivers when they overflow has created one of the most fertile plains in the world appropriate for agriculture during the non flooded season. Unfortunately, the country is...

Advisory Committee
Lori Grinker
Steve Horn
Ed Kashi
Molly Roberts
Jeffrey D. Smith
Stephen Walker
Frank Ward
Jamie Wellford

Glenn Ruga
Founder & Director

Barbara Ayotte
Communications Director

Caterina Clerici

Special Issue Editor 

Kelly Kollias

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About Social Documentary Network
Social Documentary Network is a website for photographers, NGOs, journalists, editors, and students to create and explore documentary exhibits investigating critical issues facing the world today. Recent exhibits have explored oil workers in the Niger River Delta, male sex workers in India, Central American immigrant women during their journey north, and Iraqi and Afghan refugees in Greece. Click here to view all of the exhibits.