Archive for March, 2009|Monthly archive page

What My Brain Feels Like Right Now!

In The Daily Discussion on March 29, 2009 at 7:18 am

I am in Dubai to teach a photo workshop. I am feeling disoriented and lost here and can’t really even think of anything intelligent. In fact, that I loved this video should tell you about where my mind is and how well it is working. Have a drink!!!

more about “What My Brain Feels Like Right Now!“, posted with vodpod

In Your Face Baby: Photography the Bruce Gilden Way

In Photography on March 25, 2009 at 7:56 pm

This man works with Leicas, those cameras infamous for being ‘discreet’ and ‘invisible’.

This nonsense that has accompanied this lovely camera has misled and confused many a young and experienced photographer.

Watch Bruce Gilden – you don’t have to like his work, or him, but watch him. Using these so-called ‘discreet’ cameras, he is working direct and in-your-face.

Its aggressive, its based on pre-focus and pre-exposure,  and its a translation of his vision into specific images.

Forget being invisible, start being risky. Step out, and put that camera in your face and get close to the subjects. Be invisible by being insistent and professional and focused.

I am not a fan of Bruce Gilden’s work – not all of it at least, but he is an example of what I mean when I say that being invisible is about being part of the situation you are working in, and making sure you take your space in that situation.  Its not the size of the equipment, or the ‘shutter noise’ and any of that nonsense. Its just the photographer’s determination to fit in and to take what s/he came to get.  With politeness and with the subject’s permission of course.  Of course.

more about “In Your Face Baby: Photography the Br…“, posted with vodpod

Kill The Fly On The Wall! Joel Meyerowitz At Work

In Photography on March 22, 2009 at 6:02 pm

It is one of the most persistent myths in photography – the photographer (and his/her equipment) so silent and discreet that they may as well be a fly on the wall.

It is believed to be a skill fundamental to street and documentary photography.

It isn’t. And no matter how often I tell students this they seem to forget!

Invisibility is a state of mind achieved largely by being visible and in the center of the situation until such time that your presence there is permitted and assumed and people begin to go about their actual business.

Here is Joel Meyerowitz working the streets of New York City. Far from discreet or invisible, he is in fact ‘in your face’ most all the time anticipating movements and the placement of objects (people, street signs, gestures. etc)

Having a small camera can help, and a quiet shutter is more polite, but they are not the key to this kind of work .

So forget your shyness, stick that short focal length lens on and charge into the crowd! (Speaking of which, I will post about Bruce Gilden’s technique as well – talk about in your face and taking risks!!)

more about “Kill The Fly On The Wall! Joel Meyero…“, posted with vodpod

The Dance of The Photographer: Gary Winograd

In Photography on March 22, 2009 at 5:42 pm

Gary Winograd’s technique reveals the tenacity, focus and consistent willingness to fail that lies at the heart of great photography.

We can hide behind our equipment but the fact remains that the secret to producing compelling work, or at least attempting to since most of us will never produce even one masterpiece (and Winograd produced dozens in his life time!), requires nothing more complicated than hard work, consistency, determination, and a willingness to spend hours out in the locations where one is searching for an image.

A rather pedestrian reality to the myth of great photography. I can’t think of any one of the masters who did it any other way.

Watch Winograd in action as he works a location to get a few frames – its obsessive, its filled with failed attempts, and it is risky.

And its fast! Using pre-focus techniques, hand held light meter readings (or maybe not!) Winograd works with a speed that at times defies belief!

more about “Garry Winogrand“, posted with vodpod

The Lost Art of Visualization: Some Old Man Explains

In Photography, The Daily Discussion on March 22, 2009 at 10:02 am

See it before you shoot it.

The image is made in the mind before it is captured on the frame or CCD.

A very basic lesson that I find few of my students remember these days with their super fast, 1000 auto focus point digital cameras and the infinite ability to just ‘fix it later’.

So here is some old man, perhaps you know him, talking about this issue.

( Full disclosure; I have never been a fan of Adam’s work, finding it rather overly technical and cold. But I respect his rigor, and his commitment to the craft, and the singular passion and belief with which he carried it out.)

more about “The Lost Art of Visualization: Ansel …“, posted with vodpod

Not Just Dancing: Our Music Carries Our Pain

In Essays Related To Pakistan, Our Wars, Poetry, The Daily Discussion on March 22, 2009 at 9:06 am

There is an increasingly perceptible gap between our need for social transformation and America’s insistence on stability, between our impatience for change and American’s obsession with order, our move towards revolution and America’s belief in the plausibility of achieving reforms under the robber barons of the ‘third world’, our longing for absolute national sovereignty and America’s preference for pliable allies, our desires to see our national soil free of foreign occupation and America’s alleged need for military bases.

Eqbal Ahmed in a dialogue with Samuel Huntington, from No More Vietnams: War and the Future of American Policy

The streets of Pakistan may not be filled with photogenic ‘rebel types’ to fill our evening TV screens here in Europe and the USA. However, voices for change, social justice and rights are strong and largely coming from a new generation of students, activists, intellectuals and ordinary citizens. I can’t help but feel that we are saying farewell to the accommodations and compromises of our parent’s generation, and that a new Pakistani society is working its way up into the seats of power and civil society. And that it is a society that is young, educated, religiously conservative but without being fanatical and intellectually empty.

And as always, when it comes to nations of ‘the other world’, these changes are largely being missed by a media largely obsessed with matters of American policy and insisting on seeing Pakistan less as a diverse, complex and sovereign nation and more as a ‘vassal’ state to American state power and geopolitical priorities in South Asia.

The rock band ‘Laal’ (means the color red in Urdu) has been a musical voice for these transformations. Below is a beautiful version of one of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poems put to music, at a time when the citizens of Pakistan have confronted power and achieved the reinstatement of the ousted Supreme Court Justices –  a landmark moment in Pakistani political, social and civic history.

This video itself captures the anger, frustration and marginalization that sits in the hearts of the ordinary Pakistani.

Faiz’s words give these feelings the immortality, dignity and the honor that they deserve.

The video has English translations for those of you who may not understand Urdu.  Particularly Faiz’s magnificently musical, lyrical Urdu!

The Definition of Courage: The Israelis Speak

In Israel/Palestine on March 20, 2009 at 9:43 pm

The testimonies now being given by a number of Israeli soldiers who took part in the recent war on Gaza, a war that Richard Falk, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights, called a criminal act, offer us a glimpse into acts of human and individual courage.

There is no other way to describe the actions of these young men who were involved in what was nothing short of an international war crime against the unarmed civilian population of Gaza.

The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz has been publishing a series of testimonies – the paper’s Amos Harel’s has two pieces, IDF in Gaza: Killing civilians, vandalism, and lax rules of engagement and ‘Shooting and crying’.

The Inter Press News Agency also had a piece, Israeli soldiers expose atrocities in Gaza

The matter is so large that even the otherwise obfuscating New York Times just had to give it some attention in a piece called Further Accounts Of Gaza Killings Released

And you can read Richard Falk’s views on the matter here Israel’s war crimes which was published recently in Le Monde Diplomatique.

These soldiers are finally exhibiting some bravery because it takes none to hide inside armoured vehicles and tanks and tear apart an unarmed civilian population.

But to speak honestly in the face of a nation whose conscience, morality and sense of moral right and wrong has been drowned by sectarian and ethnic prejudices requires nothing short of courage.  These soldiers were commanded to kill for god, (and yes, there were rabbis with the soldiers handing out booklets telling them that palestinians can be killed with impunity to protect the ‘holy land’!) and country, a command that in all nations sanctions murder in return for medals, political posts, and mythical immortality. They could have chosen the easy way out, and just moved on.

And we should not underestimate this act.

This is not the first time Israel’s soldiers have spoken out. They are in fact a rare example to the soldiers of all nations who have been asked to commit acts of murder against innocents.

We should also not forget this; that they are offering us an example of the individual conscience over collective passions and hypnosis. Not an easy act.

Our International institutions of justice and law have failed us, usurped as they are by the powerful and militarily footloose!

The young Israeli men (and maybe women?) know well that their silence will not be questioned, and that no international institution will be able to touch them – Israel enjoys an impunity in the court of law that most all other nations (other than the USA) probably envy!

And yet they are speaking out, reminding us the real nature of war once all the nationalist and political jingoism has been cut through –  lies that in fact some of Israel’s more ‘cultivated’ minds like Amos Oz, or David Grossman and Yehoshua (to name a few) insist on reproducing for us and by their reputations transforming into ‘truths’!

Now once again and probably for just a little while the thin veil, woven mostly by cowardly political, journalistic and corporate apparatchiks, is lifted to show us what life is like on the other side of the Israeli guns.

Richard Falk in his piece on Israeli war crimes was not optimistic that anything will or can be done to bring to book the military and political leaders who carried out their acts.

As we listen to these young men fighting to save their conscience, morality and souls, we can only wonder if anything will become of their words and acts?

Probably not.

Not yet at least.

But we can hold on to the belief that these testimonies are now part of the official records and histories. And for as long as we continue to collect those we can have hope that some day, if not tomorrow then the day after, justice will indeed be done.

To courage, then.
UPDATE: More details are continuing to emerge, as they have been for many years by the way, of the’ lax rules of engagement’ (read as: kill first and wonder later) under which the Israeli army has operated in the West Bank and Gaza for decades.

FURTHER UPDATES: The Guardian updates the situation with this piece about t-shirts being sold to the IDF, and further revelations about the killings of civilians by the Israeli army.

Confused? The Crisis of Credit Visualized

In The Daily Discussion on March 17, 2009 at 12:18 pm

Its quick and simple; we were taken to the cleaners by a group of people who knew exactly what they were doing. Or at least that when things fell apart they will just get away with it! If you still have the patience to try to understand what the sub-prime and the associated economic crisis in the USA (and the world) is, take a look at this:

Where The Head Spun: March 15th 2009

In The Daily Discussion on March 16, 2009 at 12:40 pm

Michel Lewis tries to understand the Icelandic man, and the destruction of an entire country at the hands of fishermen-turned-bankers. Paragraph that made me laugh and reminded me of the rhetoric of the ‘Asian Tiger’ era:

Icelanders—or at any rate Icelandic men—had their own explanations for why, when they leapt into global finance, they broke world records: the natural superiority of Icelanders. Because they were small and isolated it had taken 1,100 years for them—and the world—to understand and exploit their natural gifts, but now that the world was flat and money flowed freely, unfair disadvantages had vanished. Iceland’s president, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, gave speeches abroad in which he explained why Icelanders were banking prodigies. “Our heritage and training, our culture and home market, have provided a valuable advantage,” he said, then went on to list nine of these advantages, ending with how unthreatening to others Icelanders are. (“Some people even see us as fascinating eccentrics who can do no harm.”) There were many, many expressions of this same sentiment, most of them in Icelandic. “There were research projects at the university to explain why the Icelandic business model was superior,” says Gylfi Zoega, chairman of the economics department. “It was all about our informal channels of communication and ability to make quick decisions and so forth.”

William Pfaff ponders on why the citizcns of the Republic looked away while the Bush Administration tampled all over their constitution and interternational law. A comment that stuck out:

Very few people among the American public seemed to care-except Fox television executives, who recognize a commercial opportunity when it hits them between the eyes.

Fox began a drama in which each program was devoted to the American president’s torturer doing whatever had to be done to thwart a new threat to the American republic. The hero would apply one of the tortures pronounced legally OK for Americans to use, until the terrorist, gasping or screaming, blurts out where the nuclear bomb has been planted.

This turned out to be one of the most popular programs on the air. It seems that President Bush himself watched. People in the torturing business joked that they got some good ideas from the program.

The New York Times Book Review, generally predictable and pointless, did however carry an interesting review of a very interesting writer and on a very interesting subject.  Rashid Khalidi, is a professor of Arab studies at Columbia University, the director of its Middle East Institute and holds the ‘Edward Said’ chair of Arab studies at the University.  His new book is called Sowing Crisis: Cold War And American Dominance in the Middle East. For all the simpletons who may have asked ‘Why do they hate us!’ it may be time to actually read something and ask a more intelligent question.  An excerpt:

Immediately subsequent to the sudden disappearance of its Soviet rival, in 1990–91, the United States engaged in an extraordinarily confident assertion of its suddenly unrivaled power in the Middle East via its leadership of a grand coalition against Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in the Gulf War of 1991, and in convening the 1991 Arab-Israeli peace conference in Madrid, which led to the 1993 Oslo Accords, signed on the White House lawn. Both were unprecedented initiatives in various ways. Although nominally a collective effort, the 1991 Gulf War was the first American land war in Asia since Vietnam. Meanwhile, Madrid witnessed the first multilateral peace conference in history bringing together all the parties to the conflict, Arab and Israeli, and all relevant international actors. Moreover, it constituted the first and only serious and sustained American (or international) effort in over half a century at a comprehensive resolution of the Palestine conflict.

In light of these apparently radical departures in American policy immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it would be useful to revise our understanding of the Cold War as simply a prolegomenon to the current era of unfettered American dominance over the region. Such a revision would help us answer a number of questions: Was the United States previously as constrained by the presence of its Soviet rival as sometimes seemed to be the case, and as these two novel departures immediately after the demise of the USSR seemed to indicate? Alternatively, was America in fact more dominant in the Middle East throughout the Cold War era than may have appeared at the time?

No Pharaohs In The Modern World: The Liberal Muslim & Indian Democracy

In Journalism, Photography on March 14, 2009 at 11:40 pm

The stranglehold of the orthodoxy, especially in its political and religious form, has to be loosened and slackened. The answer lies in more and more Muslim communities moving towards democracy. There is no short cut to democracy. . . . There is no place for pharaohs in the modern world. (Mushirul Hasan)

Martha Nussbaum has had a deep and committed engagement with India – a land she calls ‘her second home’, for many years now.  This American philosopher with an interest in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, political philosophy and ethics, has found a deep interest in modern India’s struggles with democracy and ethics.

Nussbaum is currently Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, a chair that includes appointments in the Philosophy Department, the Law School, and the Divinity School. She also holds Associate appointments in Classics and Political Science, is a member of the Committee on Southern Asian Studies, and a Board Member of the Human Rights Program. She previously taught at Harvard and Brown where she held the rank of university professor.

Her latest missive on the situation in India comes as a bit of a surprise because it addresses a subject few have had the will to address; liberal Muslims confronting violence, discrimination and injustice, and yet choosing the path of the law, non-violence and intellectualism to confront it.

A new essay Land of My Dreams: Islamic liberalism under fire in India Martha Nussbaum offers a fascinating history of one of Delhi’s great liberal educational institutions, the Jamia Millia Islamia.  As Nussbaum describes it in her piece:

Jamia was born radical. Its curriculum emphasized the study of nationalism as well as the study of Islamic history and the Qu’ran; its admissions policy welcomed male and female, Hindu and Muslim; its pedagogy emphasized debate and contestation in the teaching of all subjects, including religion, denouncing the mere “passive awareness of dead facts.” The school had strong links with theorists of progressive education such as Bertrand Russell and Rabindranath Tagore and thus gave substantial weight to the arts and vocational education.

The piece is as much about the Vice-Chancellor of the institution, Mushirul Hasan, whose story, as Nussbaum points out, reminds us of 3 things:

First, the values we associate with classical liberalism-such as the defense of the freedom of speech, the freedom of conscience, and procedural due process-are not exclusively Western values. During the independence movement in India, they were reinvented by a colonized people who had seen just how little their Western masters honored such norms.

Second, these values are not tepid and centrist, as we sometimes hear, but rather, truly radical in a world of nations increasingly under pressure both from external violence and from internal quasi-fascist forces.

And finally, Hasan’s story shows that there is a distinctive and genuinely Islamic form of liberalism, long-lived and drawing inspiration from religious texts and their central concepts.

Unfortunately The Boston Review magazine allows people to comment on the essays they publish.  The reactions to Nussbaums’ piece stretch the realm of decency and coherency. I suspect that in the coming weeks the number of ‘comments’ consisting of slurs, abusive dismissals, sexist denigrations and outright insults against this scholar, philosopher, humanist and ethicist will only grow. These commentators do a disservice to not just Nussbaum, but to the very community that apparently think they are defending by abusing the writer and her works!

Martha Nussbaum is also the author of a book on the rise of Hindu fundamentalism and the threat to Indian democracy called The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India’s Future which was reviewed by Pankaj Mishra in the New York Review of Books