Last Week at ODL: Glenn Ruga presents LiveZeke

by Beyza Boyacioglu

Glenn Ruga, the founder of Social Documentary Network website and the biannual ZEKE magazine, visited ODL last week and introduced his recent project LiveZEKE.

Ruga is a graphic designer, social documentarian, and human rights activist. In 2008, he combined his two passions, design and photography, and created the Social Documentary Network – a website that offers online galleries to documentary photographers. Selected artists from SDN are featured in ZEKE magazine where their work has the opportunity to appear in large print and to accompany in-depth articles. Ruga still believes in print; he says it allows people to really experience the photographs.

Since its launch, Social Documentary Network has featured around 2000 photographers and 2500 projects. The website has an open submission which is also the first step to be included in the print magazine. In addition, SDN takes part in exhibitions and festivals and collaborates with community-oriented organizations such as the Bronx Documentary Center.

Ruga most recently has begun to experiment with the interactive by starting Live Zeke – a project that breaks the wall between the viewer and photographic subject and allows a real-time interaction through live video chat.

The first Live Zeke event took place in 2016 in Photoville – a photography festival in Brooklyn, New York that repurposes shipping containers as exhibition spaces. Ruga worked with the photographers to organize a video call with their subjects. The featured ZEKE project, “The Forgotten Caucasus,” explored the region of the Caucasus which is home to centuries-old political disputes as well as various religious, ethnic, and cultural identities. Amongst the Skype participants were a young woman from Azerbaijan, two elderly cousins from Georgia who had been displaced during the Soviet years, and a family from the disputed region of Nagorno Karabakh.

According to Ruga, one of the most successful interactions was a jam session between a singer from New York and the family from Nagorno Karabakh who played the piano for her. Such moments reveal Live Zeke’s power in connecting strangers while demystifying the documentary process and its subjects.

Glenn Ruga is a photographer, graphic designer, curator, and founder of SocialDocumentary.net (SDN), a global platform for documentary photography. In 2015, Ruga launched ZEKE: The Magazine of Global Documentary, a print and digital magazine presenting the best stories from the Social Documentary Network. Ruga is the former Executive Director of the Photographic Resource Center (PRC) at Boston University. He has an MFA from Syracuse University in Graphic and Advertising Design.

Images are courtesy of Glenn Ruga.