Thanks to PULSE
Thanks to PULSE
The dancer Manjari Chaturvedi sent me to Lucknow. It wasn’t as if she asked me to go. It was the uniqueness of her art and the questions it raised in me that compelled me to go. She argued that her dance – classical Indian Kathak elaborated to the specific rhythm, musicality, imagery and possibilities offered by the vast breath of Sufi kalam (poetry, music), could not have emerged but from Lucknow. She told me that her innovation reflected not only the city’s magnificent classical dance heritage, but also the uniquely syncretic cultural and social values that once prevailed there and whose influences can still be found in carefully sought out corners of the city. I just had to see this city, and to immerse myself in its life and history. Here was a uniquely Indian place and a uniquely Indian woman and artist – a product of this magnificent everything that India makes possible. And come to think of it, perhaps only India makes possible.
I will be adding new essays to the project, one of which will discuss Manjari and her dance, and the Lucknow that helped inspire it.
Binyanvanga Wainaina’s essay How to Write About Africa remains one of the most powerfully insightful criticism and accusation of the continued dehumanization and oppression of Africa and Africans that continues in modern day language, photography, fine art, literature, poetry and the stultifying and lobotomizing rhetoric of so-called aid organizations and their employees.
It was an essay that stopped me in my tracks and forever changed the way I looked at Africa as a photographer and as a viewer of photography from the continent. It was also the essay that led me to search out more interesting, complex and human works from and about that continent.
This search led me to such wonderful works as that by Steve Simon’s The Grandmother Spirit - a project that will, as Steve describes it, ‘…illuminate the determination, strength, resiliency and inspiration of The African Grandmother – the heart, soul and hands of response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic there’
Or the work of the brilliant, infectious, exhilarating and simply magnificent Malick Sidibe - what can I even say about the sheer humanity, vulnerability and beauty of the people he knows, meets, photographs and offers to us as angels from lands afar. Just look how beautiful they are…..just look!
And more recently this fascinating look at the African middle class by the photographer Joan Bardeletti called Middle Classes In Africa. The project was surprisingly recognized in this year’s World Press Photo competition. I say surprisingly because such competitions have traditionally been at the forefront of celebrating Africa’s pathological representations as they sum up the general approach of the press and editorial markets.
Frustated by the simple succesion of photo essays and …launched … the “Middle Classes in Africa” project … [to] study new ways to produce and broadcast photography.
It reminded me of the works of the Swedish photographer Per-Anders Pettersson who has been documenting South Africa’s transition from apartheid to….well, whatever it is that it is confronting today, complete with all its remnants of apartheid’s legacies and new founds possibilities.
Speaking of World Press Photo and the editorial market’s inability to see its own frail and contorted sensibilities, I point you towards this story by the British photographer David Chancellor which left me saddened and bereft of words. I don’t know Mr. Chancellor and do not suppose to judge his intentions or his sensibilities. Here I speak as a viewer reacting to his story and what it was constructed – and yes it is a construction and a very deliberate one at that.
In fact, the story is best seen in the near cinematic, quick fire sequence that in fact the photo essay presents. I have re-created it here:
If I see a people photographed like maggots, is it me or is it the way the story has been constructed?
And if you think about it, it is that ‘insect/carnivore’ instinct that gives this sequence of images its ‘story telling’ cohesion. It is the near maggot like appearance of human beings who, as Mr. Chancellor himself describes it:
…fall upon the body of a dead elephant, starved of meat they reduce the huge carcass to bones in under 2 hours.
These are disembodied, dehumanized ‘creatures’ who ‘fall upon’ another creature for apparently they are ‘starved of meat’. The entire construction of the sequence was troubling – and it is a construction because the photographer could just as well have broadened this story to show us a different possibility. A possibility that would emerge from asking a few more questions, for example:
Who are these villagers?
What are their lives like?
How do they know how to strip an elephant?
What use is made of its bones, meat etc?
Why are they ‘starved of meat’?
What makes the elephant a valuable commodity?
What is the relationship of man to beast in this region?
So many questions were left answered that I could not help but feel that there was more to this story than just a bunch of Africans attacking a dead elephant as maggots would.
Who are these people? Are these members of the Chitsa clan? A people who have been under threat of displacement by the Zimbabwe government that has for years wanted them out of the Gonarezhou National Park area to create the great tourist/money-making safari corridor called The Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park? Claimed to be the world’s biggest ‘wildlife sanctuary’ (a.k.a. safari part) as it will bring together Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou, Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park and South Africa’s Kruger National Park. Are these those people who have been resisting being dispossessed of their ancestral lands and are being ‘starved’ to compel them to do so?
Eating elephant meat is not an act of desperation as it appears to be so in the story. Some simple research suggests that elephant meat is a delicacy. Could there be economic potential? Could the bones produce items for sale or home use? Could this have been a wonderful story about man’s relationship to nature and our ability to re-use all and leave no waste? It could have been, but I would not know this, along with so much more, by the way this story was constructed and delivered.
All I know is that a group of human beings were photographed falling upon an elephant carcass in the manner of maggots and leaving behind the same evidence as would maggots on meat.
A photographer has the right to construct the story s/he wants. I just have the right to ask why and what compelled that particular story to be constructed in the first place.
And that just left me sad. Sad that this was the only angle on the situation, the only aspect that was highlighted. Sad that this was the depiction that caught the photographer’s eye and compelled his creative instincts to ‘construct’ into this award-winning story. Sad in fact, and I admit that perhaps it is just my ‘eye’, that I noticed the barbarism and felt ‘shock’ at its overt display. Where did that construct come from, whether in me or in the photographer or in the other viewers who were clearly impressed enough to give it an award?
I am left, much as I was left after reading Binyanvanga Wainaina’s essay, questioning myself and much more. Wondering how we arrive at where we do, how we notice certain things and not others, and how we construct certain stories but have such a hard time constructing different ones.
But I don’t want to leave this post on this note. So I leave it on the works of another amazing African photographer Seydou Keita:
It was an amusing interview. Marc Thiessen, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, has written a book that argues for the efficieny of torture, relevance of illegal detentions, continued suspension of habeas corpus, the genius of Guantanamo and various other magnificently inane and stupid acts executed by the previous administration.
He came onto prime time TV to plug his newest collection of nonsense now compiled in a book and to of course parrot the idiocies of the hideous Lynn Cheney who has been insisting that those who defend the accused are in fact terrorist collaborators and possibly even Al-Qaeda sympathizers.
You can listen to the intellectually challenged arguments here…
But I want to draw your attention to a particular moment in the interview when it became quite clear what the conventional ‘nuclear’ option tactic that people like Mr. Thiessen frequently use when they run short of a serious argument; they lie.
So when confronted by a clearly indignant Jon Stewart about his stance which assumes that ‘accusation = guilt’ is the only way to handle any and all picked up by our rendition and ‘pay-per-prisoner’ programs in Iraq and Afghanistan, he makes the following claim:
No where in the Geneva Conventions does it say that you have a right to a lawyer, or the right to petition to be released before the end of hostilities…
This is a lie.
The Geneva Conventions are very clear on this question when it comes to the rights of prisoners of war. And lets be clear, that if you are going to claim the right to an endless war, then anyone picked up and/or captured in its process is a prisoner of war. The Geneva Conventions, in particular The Third Geneva Convention, clearly states:
Article 99. No moral or physical coercion may be exerted on a prisoner of war in order to induce him to admit himself guilty of the act of which he is accused.
No prisoner of war may be convicted without having had an opportunity to present his defence and the assistance of a qualified advocate or counsel.
Article 105. The prisoner of war shall be entitled to assistance by one of his prisoner comrades, to defence by a qualified advocate or counsel of his own choice, to the calling of witnesses and, if he deems necessary, to the services of a competent interpreter.
He shall be advised of these rights by the Detaining Power in due time before the trial.
Failing a choice by the prisoner of war, the Protecting Power shall find him an advocate or counsel, and shall have at least one week at its disposal for the purpose. The Detaining Power shall deliver to the said Power, on request, a list of persons qualified to present the defence. Failing a choice of an advocate or counsel by the prisoner of war or the Protecting Power, the Detaining Power shall appoint a competent advocate or counsel to conduct the defence.
The advocate or counsel conducting the defence on behalf of the prisoner of war shall have at his disposal a period of two weeks at least before the opening of the trial, as well as the necessary facilities to prepare the defence of the accused. He may, in particular, freely visit the accused and interview him in private. He may also confer with any witnesses for the defence, including prisoners of war. He shall have the benefit of these facilities until the term of appeal or petition has expired.
Particulars of the charge or charges on which the prisoner of war is to be arraigned, as well as the documents which are generally communicated to the accused by virtue of the laws in force in the armed forces of the Detaining Power, shall be communicated to the accused prisoner of war in a language which he understands, and in good time before the opening of the trial. The same communication in the same circumstances shall be made to the advocate or counsel conducting the defence on behalf of the prisoner of war.
Clearly Jon Steward himself is not aware of the niceties of the Geneva Conventions for otherwise he may have done well to simply call Mr. Thiessen’s lie.
But we can do that for him now.
Speaking of lies, and in the “I Told Yoo So” category, David Cole has a fascinating discussion about John Yoo’s original torture memos and the contortions of readings, interpretation and re-interpretation that were required to justify, at the behest of men in the highest (or should I say lowest) offices of our democracy, the overt, explicit and indubitable torture of ‘those’ people.
I quote his conclusion:
Responsibility for the illegal brutality inflicted on CIA and Guantánamo detainees cannot be limited to Yoo and Bybee. It extends to all those who approved the tactics—even those so eager later to condemn Yoo’s reasoning. And unless we as citizens demand that these lawyers be held to answer for the wrongs done in our name, responsibility extends to all of us, too. We must continue to insist on accountability—whether in congressional hearings, citizens’ commissions, civil lawsuits, or the marketplace of ideas. The essential lesson must be that torture and cruel treatment are not policy options—even when a lawyer is willing to write an opinion blessing illegality.
Update; Jane Mayer of The New Yorker has written a detailed review of Marc Thiessen’s best selling Courting Disaster. The article, Counterfactual; A curious history of the C.I.A’s interrogation program reveals the misrepresentations, erasures and lies that make up Marc Thiessen’s book. That millions have read a book filled with obfuscations and outright deception and dishonesty can only fill us with dismay. But I loved Ms. Mayer’s conclusion in an article that is certainly worth reading. She offers a vivid and clear headed argument for why crimes, injustices, violations of rights and abuse of the constitution need to be investigated and prosecuted when she says:
Thiessen’s effort to rewrite the history of the C.I.A.’s interrogation program comes not long after a Presidential race in which both the Republican and the Democratic nominees agreed that state-sponsored cruelty had damaged and dishonored America. The publication of “Courting Disaster” suggests that Obama’s avowed determination “to look forward, not back” has laid the recent past open to partisan reinterpretation. By holding no one accountable for past abuse, and by convening no commission on what did and didn’t protect the country, President Obama has left the telling of this dark chapter in American history to those who most want to whitewash it.
There is a new tempest in a teacup, but ironically its the wrong tempest!
A major award competition has had to ‘disqualify’ one of the winning works, and you can follow their thinking here:
This was the original photograph submitted to a competition:
The jury at the competition gave this photograph, or the series it belongs to, an award, until it realized that the photographer had manipulated beyond the tolerance of the jury. I quote (from the article in The British Journal of Photography):
“Following the announcement of the contest results, it came to the attention of World Press Photo that Rudik’s story had violated a contest rule. After requesting RAW-files of the series from him, it became clear that an element had been removed from one of the original photographs.” (My italics)
Really? This esteemed jury realized that ‘an’ element had been removed from the original?
In his defense, the photographer provided his original color image because, once again according to The British Journal of Photography:
Rudik provided BJP with the original photo, as well as the altered one, in a bid to show that he hasn’t “made any significant alteration nor removed any important informative detail.”
So let me understand this: its the tiny shoe that was erased that is the problem here and not the fact that nearly 90% of the original image was simply cropped, a small area of focus was then enlarged, color converted, burned and dodged and a completely ‘new’ image created for submission.
And it is a ‘new’ image, because no ‘professional reportage’ photographer, as this photographer claims he is, creates the first image while trying to make the second. Certainly not a competent one!
And what can I even say about this jury’s thought process that I have not said earlier. See my essay Creating Tempests In A Teacup Or What Else Can A Photo Editor Do where I discuss how the most egregious photo manipulation processes are ignored while trivial and irrelevant manipulations are highlighted as acts of great ‘objectivity’ and ‘concern for truth’.
Speaking of hands being wrapped, remember Miguel Rio Branco’s beautiful work from the Santa Rosa Boxing Club.
That is how its done!