The World Press Photo Foundation has announced the 196 nominees for the Joop Swart Masterclass, from which the 12 participants will be selected. Included amongst the finalists are Mary Gelman, VII Photo Agency member, and Mentor Program photographers Swarat Ghosh, Hector Guerrero, Christopher Lee, Esther Ruth Mbabazi, Prin Rodriguez, and Valentina Sinis.
“For me, my people are everything. My language, my people are always with me. ”
For Takie Dela, Mary Gelman photographed the story of seamstress Elena Ader who works to save the Nenet culture from disappearing. Elena Ader has sewn traditional Nenets clothing all her life, and several years ago she began to combine national elements with modern fashion trends.
Mary Gelman has won first place in the 77th annual Pictures of the Year competition’s portrait category for her photo of couple Alyona and Sasha.
“Pig, sow, cow, oink-oink – I heard more often than my name. All the people in kindergarten and school insisted that I quit dancing, a fat girl in dancing sounds like a scandal! Once at school, we rehearsed a dance, and while I was dancing, about ten boys from the class surrounded me. They were grunting and laughing at me. I always loved to dance, but I left this as each time I tried I was kicked and bullied.
It was a lot harder at home. My mother was ashamed of me, my father beat me. He always thought I ate too much and controlled me. He dumped a plate with food on my head or smashed it against the wall. I was afraid to eat and could starve for weeks. My mother hid food from me or cooked something I didn’t like on purpose. Sometimes I ate leftovers from the kindergarten that she picked for our dog. My father did not care for this food, so I could reach it. When my mother was in the hospital, my brother and I stayed with my father. He locked me in a room for about five days and did not give me anything but water. Everyone was obsessed with my weight.
Probably most of my life I thought about death. It’s hard to live when you are not respected and bullied only because of your weight. A couple of times I tried to drown myself, but my mother pulled me out. A few years ago, I found a love, learned about other overweight people on Instagram, started to read about body positive and feminism. If not for that, I would not be here right now.”
In The Guardian’s “My Best Shot” series, photographers reveal the fascinating stories behind their favorite work. This week, Mary Gelman was interviewed about her long-term personal project “Svetlana.”
“From the moment I first arrived, in 2016, I fell in love with the atmosphere of this place – the goodness, the openness, the honesty, the acceptance. The residents with special needs were so inspiring. At the same time though, precisely what their needs were – what illness or condition they live with – was unimportant. In Svetlana, everyone is different, and valued as such. I always found it a little easier to breathe there.”