Ellen Kok

26 Mar 2021
41 files
Try, Try, Never Die, HOOAH!”~Many students of Fall Mountain Regional High School in Langdon, New Hampshire, begin class with that yell every day, sometimes delivering it in military uniform. They are cadets in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, JROTC, a U.S. Army-sponsored program, which is offered as an elective at over 1,700 high schools. Its goal is not to turn children into soldiers, but to motivate them to become better citizens by teaching them military values Americans admire: service, honor, skill and leadership. By using military techniques that challenge the students, both mentally and physically, the course tries to improve their self-esteem and perseverance and give them a better grip on life. ~~For many teenagers, this is precisely why they seek out the program. They come from broken households, several don’t live with their parents anymore, and some already have adult responsibilities: a full-time job, a baby. The class offers them camaraderie and the structure, direction, and security that is often missing at home.~~Jenna (17) says: “I’m more on track. JROTC helped me to calm down and focus. If I don’t, I’ll be disrespectful.”~~A lot of students are also from families with a military tradition. And some intend to join the Armed Forces by enlisting or continuing with an ROTC program in college, at a time when the nation is at war.~~Ryan (17) says: “Every male in my family has been in the military, my father, my uncles, my cousins. My father was in the first Gulf War and Desert Storm. One of my cousins went to Iraq. My dad doesn’t talk much about it, but my cousins tell me. Some is bad, some is good. I hope to go into the Army. I feel it’s a better job than what most people do. You’re giving everything you have for your country, and I think that’s just really cool!”~~Curious about the place of the military in American society, Dutch photographer and writer Ellen Kok followed the cadets for over two years. What do marching in formation, doing push-ups, shining uniform buttons, firing air rifles and addressing each other with “Sergeant” or “Captain” do for young people? Does it help them to cope with the challenges life throws at them, at home and in school? ~~The book Cadets shows in photos and a long written story how the military permeates many people's personal lives, as well as American culture. (Netherlight Publishing, 2013, English edition).
You Are a Girl and You Want to Milk Cows
12 Feb 2021
18 files
Mirjam (19) from the village of Waarder in the Netherlands, wants to become a dairy farmer. However, her father’s farm is just a small enterprise, she won’t be able to make her future there as well. Mirjam will have to find her place as a farmer elsewhere. ~~After graduating from the agricultural school, she wants to get more work experience. She travels to New Zealand to work on the dairy farm of a Dutch emigrant. She plans to attend the agricultural college when she returns. But Mirjam enjoys the adventure of working in a faraway foreign country. When a friend of her New Zealand boss invites her to come to Australia to milk his cows for a few months as well, she doesn’t hesitate. And now that she is used to the space of another continent, she actually doesn’t want to go back to the Netherlands. ~~On the dairy farm in Australia, in the state of Victoria, Mirjam milks 350 cows twice a day.
Happy Birthday! Dutch Children’s Parties.
26 Oct 2020
26 files
Pecos River, Precious stream through a dry landscape
18 Sep 2020
12 files
The Pecos River springs from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains southeast of Santa Fe, meanders through New Mexico and Texas, and ends in the Rio Grande. It is an important water source for both American states. They even fought a twenty years’ court battle over the division of water rights, finally settling it in the Pecos River Compact. Texas claimed New Mexico extracted too much water from the river, for its cities and agriculture, before it crosses the state border. Because of continuous drought, the water level is now especially low. A claim on the water by the New Mexico oil industry is threatening the state’s ability to meet its obligations to Texas.
With God and Ayudante Across Guatemala
10 Aug 2020
16 files
The bus is the most important means of public transportation in Guatemala. Often these are retired American school buses, called chicken buses, colorfully decorated and modified to be able to transport people as well as goods - and chickens. The drivers are mostly also the owner of the vehicle. They are assisted by an ayudante, who sells tickets and loads goods. The bus is also a kind of mobile store. In exchange for a free lunch, the driver allows all kinds of salespeople to peddle their merchandise during the journey from one town to the other. Even a preacher boards to preach the gospel.~~With this photo story a longer written text is available.
The Laundromat
18 Mar 2020
12 files
Laundromats in rural USA
Farewell, With Elegance
11 Feb 2020
33 files
Over half a century ago, they were still carefully selected, the teenage girls allowed to participate in the annual Apple Blossom Cotillion in the small American town of Springfield, Vermont.~~At this traditional debutante ball for the high society, also a fundraiser for the local hospital, they were presented to the community on the arm of a prominent businessman. In the months before, the girls had practiced the curtsy in front of their bedroom mirrors at least a hundred times, so as not to mess up this ladylike way of bowing, and make a great impression. After accomplishing this, everybody would dance to the music of a big band. And at the end of the elegant evening one of them was crowned Apple Blossom Queen.~~That is how it went, since 1957. There used to be many chic balls like these in industrial New England. But as the factories that brought prosperity closed, the towns diminished. There is no longer a high society in Springfield. Yet, its Cotillion survived.~ ~Photographer and writer Ellen Kok wanted to know why American girls today continue to take part in an old-fashioned pageant like Apple Blossom. For three winters she went to the Sunday dance rehearsals, from January until May.~~“It’s a great, last bonding activity with kids you’ve been growing up with since kindergarten,” contestant Emilia said. “Now everyone is going to different states, different colleges. You never know when you’re gonna see your classmates again.” And the Cotillion has become an important community event and family tradition, in which grandmothers, mothers, and sisters of the contestants also danced, and hoped to become, even if just for one night, queen of the town.~~The present version is a festive dance show for which everybody can buy tickets. In it, senior high school girls present themselves to a panel of judges in the drab gymnasium of a local school. The music to which they dance is downloaded from the internet. But when the youth of Springfield take the floor, dressed in glamorous ballroom gowns and stylish tuxedos, instead of their usual fashionably torn jeans and camo shirts, the atmosphere changes completely. Besides, in this modern goodbye to childhood, the young ladies may choose their own dance escort – and sometimes it's not even a guy.~~With this photo story a longer written text is available counting 1395 words.
Want to become president, go to New Hampshire
5 Feb 2020
19 files
The American state of New Hampshire has made it a requirement by law that its presidential primary must be the first in the nation, and that it will only tolerate the Iowa caucus to be held earlier. ~And so presidential candidates flock to campaign there at annual fairs, in pubs and gyms, from door to door. The candidates spend millions on travel, venues, flyers, yard signs, and TV ads. ~For the inhabitants of New Hampshire and neighboring states it presents a unique chance to meet their national politicians up close, shake hands, bring up their sorrows, and take selfies with them. Democracy the American way.
Farmer in Amsterdam
15 Jan 2020
10 files
Because of the growth of the municipality of Amsterdam, farms that once were situated in autonomous villages, now are located within the city line. The families that run these farms, sometimes already for three generations, suddenly have become city farmers. Their dairy cows graze in pasture with on the horizon the apartment buildings of the advancing city. To build a bridge between the town and the countryside, city children from north Amsterdam are undertaking weekly farm visits, so that they learn where their food comes from.
Cuba Blues
11 Oct 2019
45 files
Cuba Blues is an impression of the resilience and the lust for life of the Cuban people
The last weeks of Veldzicht Farm
1 May 2019
14 files
Dutch farmers Cees and Gre Molenaar have sold their cows and land to retire. They don't have a successor for their dairy farm.
Viennese pleasure since 1776
15 Oct 2018
19 files
More than 240 years ago, in 1776, the Austrian Emperor Joseph II opened the imperial hunting ground Prater in the capital Vienna for public use. Situated close to the city centre, the six-square-kilometre estate, which has since been open to the public day and night, offered space for mass events such as fireworks, hot-air balloon experiments and flying attempts - although hunting continued until 1920.~Coffee houses settled early on along the Hauptallee, the 4.5 km long access road lined with chestnut trees. ~In 1801 the Panorama was opened, a gigantic all-around painting that gave viewers the illusion of being in a strange city. The next attraction was the Circus Gymnasticus, an imposing wooden building with 3000 seats, which was used for riding lessons in the morning and acrobatics on horseback in the afternoon.~But with the arrival of the World Fair in 1873, the Prater's real heyday began as an amusement park. In popular speech, the fun part of the area, the permanent city fair, was soon called Wurstelprater - after the figure Wurstel in the puppet theatre, which in the Netherlands is called Jan Klaassen.~De Rotunde, an enormous steel construction, partly covered with wood and plaster and with a glass dome whose top reached a height of 84 metres, and the Ferris wheel, which was erected in 1897, were the city's hallmarks. And the Venedig in Wien theme park, with freshly dug canals for gondolas, attracted thousands of visitors. ~The Rotunde burned down in 1937 and during the Second World War almost the entire pleasure park was destroyed. After the war it was rebuilt, but today the emphasis is on average fairground attractions. ~Yet traces of the old glory can still be found: a carousel from 1897 still turns its circles, near the Ferris wheel, rebuilt between 1945 and '47, with its characteristic, red painted cabins, reminiscent of a chain of buildings. It can be seen from afar, luring the inhabitants of Vienna to a day or evening of uncomplicated fun.
29 Nov 2017
13 files
Adrianna Rouillard was a slender, serious eleven year old Native American girl when I first met her during the Northern Colorado Intertribal Powwow in the small town of Loveland. She wore a colorful Jingle Dress, decorated with metallic cones that made happy jingling sounds while she danced, and on her head she wore a crown that had been carefully beaded by her mother, Iris Rouillard.~Adrianna, who can trace her lineage to the Oglala, Lakota, Santee and Sioux Indian tribes, had been chosen Powwow Princess, and thus would represent this powwow for a year at other ones all over the United States.~A powwow is an event for Native American people to meet and sing and dance to the music of a ‘Drum’, to socialize, and honor their culture. There is a dancing competition, often with significant prize money awarded.~“The powwow is a way to celebrate our culture and keep it alive,” Iris Rouillard explained. “Especially for our children, many of whom grow up in the city these days. And with it, we show non-Indians that we are still there.”~Iris found it important to bring up her three children, Adrianna and the boys Tylor (7) and Teak (1), with American Indian values. She taught them how to dance as soon as they could walk. “We are so few,” she said. “It is important to pass on the stories, morals, customs and ancestry. It affords a basis.”~Ten years later I meet Adrianna (21), her mother, a new stepfather, two brothers and grandmother again during the annual three day Denver March Powwow. It is one of the most important events on the Indian calendar. Native Americans from all over the U.S. gather there to meet family and friends. I want to hear if her American Indian heritage and traditions still play a role in Adrianna’s life. She studies psychology and is training to become an officer with the U.S. Marines Reserve. She also has become one of the better Jingle Dress dancers, regularly winning prize money.~“Dancing is like breathing to me,” she says. “Every time I get on the dance floor and I hear that drum beat, I just feel elation. And I go with it. It’s a part of who I am.”~Being a Native American is at the basis of her existence, she explains. All her decisions and plans for the future derive from that. Her choice of wanting to be in the military stems from the Native American warrior culture. “I love the discipline. The respect that you have to give, just like with the Native tribes, to older people, or people in a higher rank, and to yourself.~“I take pride in being part of a people with an important heritage. One of my great great uncles is Crazy Horse. I know what I am, where I come from. I have many friends that don’t know exactly what they are. Yes, Irish or Polish, but they don’t have a bond with their people anymore. I feel bad for them. They are only Americans.”~~Photographer and writer Ellen Kok works since 1996 on the book “American Moments” with photo stories about young people in the United States. By photographing them in their daily lives, she is looking for an answer to the question: What does it mean to be an American? The young people in her photos are after all still finding out for themselves how to become a member of American society. “Powwow” is one of the stories from the book. A longer narrative is available with the photos.
Fishing with an ice drill and a fishing rod
24 Oct 2017
8 files
Once ice fishing was a survival strategy for Native Americans during winter time. Now it is mainly a weekend hobby. In the American state of Vermont there is even a temporary ice fishermen’s village.~The photo’s are accompanied by a written story.
The Other Farm
4 Apr 2017
55 files
One farm lies 8 feet below sea level, in the peat meadows of the Netherlands. The other farm is at 750 feet in the hills of Vermont in the USA. But they have so much in common: the same family has been farming each one for three generations; they witnessed prosperity, and the increase in scale of agriculture; each made the leap to organic farming. ~~The Other Farm tells the story of two farming families who still believe in their family tradition, but who are also seeking new ways to earn a living and contribute to their communities. ~~Family farms are having a hard time of it in rich western countries like the Netherlands and the United States. Thousands of farmers quit every year. But you can still find farms that have been run by the same family for generations. ~~For a long time Dutch photographer and writer Ellen Kok wanted to understand how they keep going. What makes them successful in spite of economic pressures? Without farmers, there is no food. But why does someone become a farmer, and how important is family tradition in that choice? Is it a calling or an obligation? Does the family farm have a future in a global market that demands mass production and low prices? ~~In search of answers to these questions, for eleven years, since 2004, Ellen followed life on Lilac Ridge Farm in Brattleboro, Vt., and De Beekhoeve in Kamerik, in the Dutch province of Utrecht, asking questions and taking photos. ~~The Thurber and Van der Laan families boast ancestors who were farmers in the same areas going back to 1760 and 1622, respectively. At their current locations, they started dairy farms in 1937 and 1914. The first generation at each of these locations had a small herd of dairy cows, chickens, some pigs, and a horse to pull the plow. The second generation used pesticides and chemical fertilizers to gain the highest possible yield. And in each family, when the third generation took over it decided to go organic. ~~The Thurbers and Van der Laans don’t feel called upon to feed the world. They deliberately aim closer to home. Mass production, they emphasize, always means that you have to sacrifice other things—the very things they value: healthy cows, good soil management, clean water, birdsong around the farm, family life. If you measure the success of a farm just by the amount it produces, in their opinion, you don’t measure the totality of it. ~~Dutch farmer Koos van der Laan reflects: 'For me, the satisfaction is not in the number of cows to milk, but in the variety of the work.' American farmer Ross Thurber considers the balance he is striving for as 'A kind of timeless beauty of plant, animal, and man, all working together in an intimate relationship.'~~Ellen Kok wants to show how creative and driven these farmers are in keeping their unconventional enterprises prosperous in a global economy that insists on industrial agriculture. The Other Farm tells about the importance of family and tradition, and the close connection between farmers, nature, animals and us.~~The photos and stories were published in the book The Other Farm (Netherlight, 2015), in an English and a Dutch edition.
3 Mar 2017
59 files
SCHOOL is a portrayal of a large high school in a small city in the Netherlands, as well as a snapshot of the daily life of young Dutch people. The photos where published in a book (De Verbeelding/Netherlight, 2003), which also contains interviews. SCHOOL was chosen one of the best photography books of 2003 in the Photo Annual of the American magazine Photo District News.
You'll Hear Us Roar
Fall Mountain Wildcats Athletics
30 Dec 2016
30 files
You’ll Hear Us Roar shows the role that sports play in American high school education.~~On a sunny but breezy Monday afternoon in early May, the board at the edge of the field at Fall Mountain Regional High School in Langdon, New Hampshire, shows a 21 - 0 score. The school’s softball team is getting beaten by Conant High School, visiting from Jaffrey, NH. Catcher Colleen Heidorn finds it difficult to keep her annoyance in check. “I can’t keep it out of my mind, standing there catching those balls.”~When the game is over and the players of both schools have said their ritual goodbyes – two lines passing each other, hands touching, “Good game, good game” – coach Katie Hanatow gathers her girls in a tight circle on the field for a brief motivational wrap-up: “It’s not the game we wanted, not the score we wanted, but they make us better by challenging us, and everybody stayed positive.”~~Athletics is about winning and losing and the lessons that come in between. If you ask Fall Mountain student athletes, they will come up with all the right qualities it teaches you: “Dedication, determination, competitiveness, confidence in yourself and in your team.”~But Clay Gendron, who plays football, basketball and baseball, has a more personal reason, too: “Most of my friends I wouldn’t even have if it wasn’t for sports.”~~Fall Mountain’s Volleyball coach Missy Swift says: “One of the biggest reasons I love to coach is because I know how important sports were to me when I was a kid.~“I was very quiet and reserved, I just thrived on the competition. I was never the standout on my team, but I was consistent and, frankly, oftentimes smarter. I was always in the right place at the right time. I could see it happening in my head.~“As I went through high school, I was academically lazy. If I had not wanted to be able to play volleyball, basketball and softball, I wouldn’t have performed as well as I did. You can’t participate in athletics if you don’t have your grades. It was a big deal!”~~The photo of ‘her’ volleyball girls sitting at the sidelines, looking pained, brings back “the struggle of a season. We play big, big schools. It’s an uphill battle for us at times. And we can either roll over and cry and let them beat us up, or we can dig in and fight with them. That’s the attitude that I’m trying to help them with.~“They never gave up at any time throughout the season, when it could have been so easy for them to do that. Because they cared so much about each other, that they couldn’t do that to their team mates.”
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