Marti corn | road to nowhere

Martin Corn’s project, Road to Nowhere, is a meditation on the struggle to make a home where no hope of one exists. Her sensitive, yet stark, montage of the daily movements of hundred of thousands of people from a multitude of cultures, on their way to and from the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, imparts the endless purgatory that these families are enduring.

Marti listens closely to their stories of escape, daily survival and extraordinary community building, eventually recording their lives with her camera only after she has developed a personal understanding of their plight and created a bond of mutual respect. The desolate landscape in these images is simple, yet replete with the complexity of the lives underlying the travels of these people. Seen together, the images burn with the harshness of the lives passing by. Yet, we are left with a sliver of hope as we watch the people’s inextinguishable urge to make a home, make a community, make a life.  - Editor

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What brought you to photography?
Because of my father’s career, we traveled all over the world. Our favorite places were exotic countries with cultures unlike my own. I recall him always wearing his camera held around his neck with a leather strap. That, coupled with my mother’s work with an NGO and her passion for conversations about human rights issues, I always dreamed of working as a photojournalist bringing back the stories of those who have been treated inhumanely. 

My father bought me a Mamiya camera when I was in high school, and I began my love affair with photography. During college, I earned a Journalism degree with the intention of moving to Africa to pursue my dream. Life took me in a different direction though, as it happens for many of us. Not until nearly thirty years later did my passion reignite when I went to the surrounding villages of Tegucigalpa in Honduras to offer support with medicines and clothing. From that point, I began to take photo workshops, learning from Mary Ellen Mark, Eli Reed, and Steve McCurry, and met Doug Beasley, a Zen Buddhist photographer who has been my mentor for the past nine years.

Who are your photographic influences?
For his courage to go into some of the most dangerous situations to reveal atrocities, I most admire James Natchwey. For her depth of exploring projects, Mary Ellen Mark comes to mind. Diane Arbus is also an influence because of her extraordinary way to reveal emotions from her subjects. Doug Beasley, though, has been my strongest influence. He taught me how to see and how to be patient — to wait for the image to present itself.

Tell us about the steps and processes that go into making your photographs.
I don’t usually have a specific outcome in mind when I begin a project. The direction it takes somehow seems to present itself. As I allow myself to explore and be open to ideas, the projects evolve. I know that may sound trite, but I’m a firm believer in the Law of Attraction. If I envision how the project will be completed, I’m always disappointed. However, if I only focus on wanting to reveal the lives of a particular group or community, doors open that I could never have imagined. 

When I become immersed in a project, I spend a great deal of time listening to their stories. That is empowering, particularly for those who have been marginalized. It creates a trust and mutual respect. Only then do I raise my camera to make their portraits.

What does being a photographer bring to your life?
I like the stillness that comes from sitting quietly with the camera held to my eye, waiting for the moment I’m compelled to release the shutter. If the shot doesn’t make itself known, I’m content to walk away. Photography, in this sense, exemplifies my Buddhist beliefs. 

I have what some people describe as an insane sense of justice. Photography allows me to use my anger against inhumanities in a positive way, with the hope I may somehow make a difference. 

Most importantly, the lessons I learn from those who have faced such suffering remind me on a daily basis of those things that are most important in life—caring for one another and fighting for what is right.

What is this project about?
Kakuma is the Swahili word for Nowhere. 

Hundreds of thousands have walked this road — from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Somalia, and South Sudan — escaping civil war and persecution. They have suffered unimaginable violence. 

Though Kakuma is considered a safe haven for refugees, it is illegal to call this place home. They face systemic corruption, deplorable health care, a lack of food and water, and harsh living conditions with temperatures hovering around 100°. 

And the cruel irony is that few ever escape the terminus in Kakuma. They are refugees trapped with nowhere to go. 

Each morning, I stand and watch with curiosity as those from many cultures walk by. My view is of a thread of road that cuts this wide expanse of desert and open sky. As its travelers walk into their day, back and forth between the camp and a nearby town for supplies, they look towards the horizon and continue to hope that one day they’ll be allowed to venture somewhere ‘out there,’ where they’ll be welcomed and can once again have a place they may call home.

What from your biography influenced this project?
We are living in a dark time, where many are suspicious of one another if they are not like-minded. And racism is spewing from the sewers. 

With each trip to Kakuma, I find myself in awe of how so many cultures in a confined space not only get along but revering their differences. There is an empathy exhibited that I’ve never seen. Perhaps it’s because they all share a history of violence which has turned their lives upside down, and they're determined not to allow that to happen to them again. 

Sitting by the roadside observing how this tapestry-like community all shares the common goal of making life have meaning, reminds me there may be hope for humanity after all.