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Obama Is A Muslim, God Gave Us The Land, There Is A New Holocaust, Palestinians Should Convert To Judaism, The Bible Is A Land Contract

In Israel/Palestine, Our Wars on April 29, 2010 at 9:03 am

Thanks to the ‘self-hating asshole’ (as one protestor calls him) Max Blumenthal from from Feeling The Hate In New York

And in opposition, an unarmed people continue to resist with nothing but their voices, their bodies and their courage. Even the otherwise reluctant Christian Science Moniter had to confront this reality in a piece by Josh Mitnick called Borrowing From Gandhi? Palestinian Passive Resistance Gains Followers, where of course the writer refused to acknowledge that it has been predominantly non-violent resistance that the Palestinians have been engaged in for decades, and that the activities are Bilin are not the anomaly, which is what this piece makes it sound, or a revolution, but the result of a people, unarmed and abandoned, who have been engaged in such actions out of desperation. I quote from the piece:

“It’s not a war between two armies. By using non-violence, we take away the security excuse from the Israelis,” says Mohammed Khatib, a Bilin businessman active in the local popular committee organizing the weekly non-violent protest. “It shows the power of the Palestinian people, which is the right to live in this land.”

And it has always been so; not a war, but an unarmed civilian population brutally occupied by a racist and xenophobic nationalism that uses its sense of being ‘chosen’ to deny others their rights, humanity and justice. The hideousness of religious faith that contorts itself into racism, hatred and a purely venal interpretation of scriptures to justify murder and pillage is perhaps what dismays me most about Abrahamic monotheisms. The sufferings inflicted on man because of that thread of humanity that claims to have emerged from this seed is truly unbelievable to face and can perhaps remain as the one real argument against the Abrahamic idea of God – it just can’t be his/her manuscript if it can be so easily bloodied!

Choose yours sides. Its about to become clearer than it has ever been before. Israel’s reality, a reality that has for decades been veiled behind euphemisms and outright lies (‘the middle east’s only democracy’, ‘peace loving’, etc. etc.) is thankfully now coming out in full light. It is about to get even uglier as the nation completely looses its mooring, trips over itself in these days of increasingly moral isolation, and lashes out more and more violently against a Palestinian generation (young and old) that is finding its voice, articulating its arguments, and refusing to bend to the jack boots of the occupiers.

On a side not, the Christian Science monitor article carried a small slide show of images, and this one caught my eye:

In Yeruham, 9 foot-high concrete blocks sit at a concrete factory in March. The blocks will be used in the construction of Israel's In In Yeruham, 9 foot-high concrete blocks sit at a concrete factory in March. The blocks will be used in the construction of Israel's separation barrier. Photo by Oded Balilty/AP/FILE

In Yeruham, 9 foot-high concrete blocks sit at a concrete factory in March. The blocks will be used in the construction of Israel's separation barrier. Photo by Oded Balilty/AP/FILE

And it looked very family, very similar to something I had seen earlier. And then it came to me…..

Berlin Holocaust Museum. Photo By Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum

Berlin Holocaust Museum. Photo By Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum

All these memorials to a self-righteous, exclusive morality and sense of outrage. The lessons of the holocaust are not to be universally understood, but cheaply exploited to browbeat those who speak out against the policies of Israel and her treatment of the hapless Palestinians. A genuinely European hypocrisy indeed, mired deep in the trenches of her ‘Enlightenment’ thinking.

As for example, Renan a man frequently celebrated as representing the ‘progressive’ spirit of Europe, and who could still in fact hold ideas such as:

The regeneration of the inferior or degenerate races by the superior races is part of the providential order of things for humanity…Regere imperio populos, that is our vocation. Pour forth this all-consuming activity onto countries which, like China, are crying aloud for foreign conquest. Turn the adventurers who disturb European society into a ver sacrum, a horde like those of the Franks, the Lombards, or the Normans, and every man will be in his right role. Nature has made a race of workers, the Chinese race, who have wonderful manual dexterity and almost no sense of honor; govern them with justice, levying from them, in return for the blessing of such a government, an ample allowance for the conquering race, and they will be satisfied; a race of tillers of the soil, the Negro; treat him with kindness and humanity, and all will be as it should; a race of masters and soldiers, the European race…Let each do what he is made for, and all will be well.

Aime Cesaire, Discourse on Colonialism, page 16 (emphasis are Cesaire’s)

I think back to Fanon’s call to stop looking for this Europe that speaks repeatedly of humanity, and yet inflicts such horrors upon it. On the streets of Manhattan, in the neighborhoods of Brooklyn, and in the land that was once imagined as a new homeland for a persecuted people with justice and rights for all, we are witnessing the complete and absolute degradation and desecration of all that our modern world holds as moral and human. And it ties it threads to European colonial attitudes, prejudices and arrogance.

The Palestinians will prevail. There is no other place for this to end.

We only then have to remember that anything that takes billions of dollars of aid, millions of dollars spent on propaganda, thousands of soldiers, and tanks, and F-16s and miles of concrete walls and tens of thousands of voices to scream and shout at others, can’t be very strong.

I know for a fact that these demonstrations in New York repulse and dismay many, including the Jews. Israel is destroying not only itself, but the dream of the very nation that it could once have been. Her people have ignored her finest voices, from Yeshayahu Leibowitz to Deutscher, or Judt to Pappe who repeatedly warned her of the consequences of her policies and greed.

Deaf ears.

The Idea Of India Project Update: Gujarat’s Faded Testaments, 28th April 2009e

In The Idea Of India Project on April 28, 2010 at 10:01 am

They were the seven minutes that changed India’s future. At 7:43AM on February 27th, 2002, the Sabaramati Express, on its way from the city of Ayodhya, arrived at Godhra railway station. The train was packed with Hindu pilgrims on their way back from Ayodhya. During its standard four-minute stop a series of confrontations broke out between the pilgrims and vendors on the platform. The vendors were largely Muslim. Matters deteriorated quickly, and stones were pelted at the train. As the train tried to pull out of the station, someone from inside the wagons pulled its emergency brakes and bought the train to a stop. After a few minutes the train’s vacuum locks released and it started to move again. And history was written.

The fire that broke out inside cabin S-6 and eventually killed nearly fifty-eight people would become not only the spark that would spread across India, resulting in Hindu-Muslim violence and riots in a number of cities, but also provide the pretext for the orchestrated, coordinated, and state condoned slaughter of nearly 2000 people in the modern, technology park littered city of Ahmedabad. In what would become one of the darkest chapters in modern India’s history, mobs rampaged through the predominantly Muslim areas of Ahmedabad and burnt, stabbed, shot, raped and killed anyone and anything Muslim or associated with Muslims (including Hindus related to them by marriage or business). The police looked on, the state functionaries looked away, and India’s democratically elected leaders offered pliant explanations and bromides. Not since the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 had India seen anything so well planned, so destructive and systemic. Its consequences, its wounds, and tremors continue to affect not just Gujarat, but the country as a whole.

Rakesh Sharma’s documentary Final Solution, which can see by clicking here, tells the story that no nation will want to remember. But it cannot be forgotten.

No revenge. Only Justice. No retaliation. Only reconciliation.

My project now moves to Gujarat. I am there to explore the many instances of shared Hindu-Muslim religious spaces and site.  Perhaps now more than ever, these shared spaces can be a lifeline away from those moments of madness, and towards sanity. In a state now infamous for its Hindutva leanings, there remain a number of dargahs and pilgrimages where both Hindus and Muslims find a connection and shared sense of belonging. They hark back to a time when religion was not a divisive factor of identity, towards a time before our histories, our lives, our societies were re-categorized along simplistic and irresponsibly untenable ‘monotheisms’. I will write about the legacy of the likes of Mill and others in later posts. In Gujarat many shared sites have of course been attacked by the fundamentalists, but a few still survive, testaments to a historical heritage now considered unworthy, but that may hold the keys to the future.

I now leave for Gujarat, taking to the road on buses to find these locales, and perhaps in some small way, remind us of how we can still return from this madness, still find a way back to ourselves. To India.

The project map will be updated as I arrive in various locations and begin to work there. This phase of the project will concentrate on Gujarat’s shared sacred spaces. A subsequent trip later this year will take us into syncretic communities, particularly in the region of Kutch. I will write more about that in future posts.

You can follow the updates here, and also on the Project Progress Page on the project website at The Idea of India

Oh, and the temperature in cities in Gujarat this morning was hovering around 44C, or ~ 108F.

Seeing Blood….

In Musings On Confusions on April 26, 2010 at 10:23 pm

…Bohnchang Koo touched on this at the same press conference, noting that “we discussed different images but in my opinion journalism has a very strong pull. When you see blood it has a strong effect…

Bohnchang Koo, Judge, Sony World Photography Awards 2010

British Journal of Photography, 26th April 2010

And the winner was…

This year’s winning portfolio – a set of images taken in abattoirs by Tommaso Ausili – was unanimously judged the winner by the whole judging panel.

British Journal of Photography, 26th April 2010

Hey Buddy, Hold That Execution While My Memory Card Reformats Or What Does It Take Before Something Can Be Called A Story

In Journalism, Musings On Confusions, Photography, The Daily Discussion on April 25, 2010 at 6:51 pm

Photographer Marco Vernaschi has gotten himself into quicksand, and taken the otherwise respectable Pulitzer Center On Crisis Reporting with him. And all I can think about are the forces, commercial and personal, that compel individuals to transgress boundaries of common decency, and institutions that celebrate these by publishing them.

Marco Vernaschi recently published a piece on the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting’s Untold Stories site about child sacrifice rituals in Uganda. When I first saw the piece I was left unmoved and frankly uninterested. The writing itself was uninteresting, and the photography – black and white pictures stylized, manipulated and otherwise manufactured to suggest ‘menace’, ‘evil darkness’, and ‘nightmares’, seemed only to be the latest in a long heritage of photographers trawling Africa for their piece of the continent’s apparently rich buffet table of the ‘demonic’, ‘diabolical’, ‘devilish’, ‘maniacal’ and otherwise deranged and deviant.

What in fact did surprise me about the work was that the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting was supporting and funding it. The work, and the photographer, just seemed a bit too over-the-top, too sensationalist and titillating and hence incongruent with so much of the rest of what the Pulitzer Center typically sponsored and supported. But I just dismissed my response as uninformed and moved on.

Full Disclosure: I, along with writer Elliott Woods, were recipient of a Pulitzer Center grant for our work in Gaza in early 2009.

But there were other matters, and perhaps had I paid closer attention I too would have noticed them. But the ever vigilant Benjamin Chesterton of adevelopingstory.org certainly did. In a post titled Pulitzer Center Crisis in Ethics, Benjamin raised some very specific and clear questions of the ethics of Mr. Vernaschi’s work, and why the Pulitzer Center had chosen to overlook these significant violations of ethics, in particular the rights of the child.

Very simply; to get ‘the meat’ of the story, the photographer Mr. Vernaschi asked/suggested/encouraged/ the exhumation of a child’s body so that he could take photographs of it. In his own words (from Uganda: Babirye, The Girl from Katugwe from the Pulitzer Center Untold Stories site):

I explain to the chief of the community that I’m a journalist that I’m trying to expose the practice of child sacrifice. It’s hard, in my mind and my words, to make them understand the logic that led me there, late at night. We speak different languages, belong to different cultures, but we have the same human understanding; we both know this practice must be fought and exposed. I try not to speak as a journalist but simply as a human being, naked in front of something that has no explanation.   The family appears to understand — so I push it a little further and, with their permission, I show them some pictures I took from similar cases I’ve been following through the past month. Everyone gathers around the computer, while I briefly explain the cases I have documented. I’m surprised and moved when the mother interrupts my conversation I’m having with the elder chief. “Thanks for being here” – she says, with a thin voice coming out from the deepness of an unimaginable sorrow.

Mr. Vernaschi was not exactly ‘exposing’ this issue. The Guardian, ABC News, the BBC, The Telegraph, Huffington Post to say nothing about Africa newspapers that have all covered this story before. But I digress.

He tells them that he needed ‘visual evidence’ to do the story, I quote him again:

At this point I feel the barriers have someway gone and I explain it is part of my job to gather what a journalist would call “visual evidences”. Of the many things I have done in my life, this was among the hardest. Being there, out of the blue, in the darkness of this creepy night asking a broken-hearted mother to show me the mutilated corpse of her daughter, is one thing that someway changed my perspective on life. But that is another story.

Actually what Mr. Vernaschi did was not ask the mother to show him the mutilated body, but in fact speak to the chief to arrange for men working with Mr. Vernaschi to dig it up so that he could take pictures for his ‘visual evidence’. And then he paid the chief. We do not know what he paid his ‘fixer’ and ‘helpers’.

Benjamin raised this as a serious ethical dubious, and some other pictures that the photographer made and published, including one that shows a fully naked child with his penis cut off and a catheter sticking out as a violation of the rights of the child. It would be had it been in the UK or any number of ‘civilized’ nations, where such a request, and such behavior would have been met with immediate denouncement and opprobrium. As it should be. Instead, since it was Africa and Africans, this behavior resulted in major publications and attention. Oh well.

Now it appears that there was more to Mr. Vernaschi’s shenanigans that what we first suspected. In what can only be a searing and final indictment of his methods, his integrity and his entire understanding of the role and responsibilities of a journalist and photojournalist, Anne Holmes of avigilantejournalist.com has revealed that in fact the entire story may have manufactured. Anne Holmes retracted an interview with the said Mr. Vernaschi and has posted a detailed account of the outcome of her asking some further questions about Mr. Vernaschi’s story on the killing and exhumation of the child. As we speak, it seems that the entire reportage is falling apart at the seams as Mr. Vernaschi scrambles around trying to cover his tracks, change his story, and revise claims that he made earlier and in writing. But her finding were summarized as:

His credibility as a journalist, however, has been seriously cast into doubt. I believe he truly felt that what he was doing was going to help bring attention to a very real problem, but it’s remarkable how easily we can delude ourselves when years spent covering violence makes the moral compass go haywire. Clearly he has a lot of thinking to do, and he will have to go to great pains to restore his reputation among his colleagues, but the western editorial world might overlook this issue just as they do so many others worth redressing.

I want to say a lot about this issue, but I have been beaten to it by others more articulate and insightful.

Tewfic El-Sawy spoke out in a post called POV: Marcho Vernaschi & Child Sacrifice,

asking that most dangerous of questions:

…what if Babirye and the baby boy were your children, your niece and nephew or even just a relative…or an acquaintance? Would you still have photographed and published the photographs…or is it because they’re “just” Africans?

Vernaschi is an award winning photographer….and well-experienced dealing with gruesome topics. Surely he could have photographed the story differently? Or is it about winning awards and applause from the rest of the lemmings?

Jorge Colberg at Conscientious spoke out in a post called The Pulitzer Center On Crisis Reporting Challenged which seemed to have been annoyed by the Pulitzer Center’s Jon Sawyer’s earlier dismissive treatment of Benjamin Chesterton’s raising of questions of ethics.

The original accusations of impropriety in reporting were raised on lightstalkers.org in a post called Illegal Exhumations: A Debate About Marco Vernaschi’s Methods. Many fine folks contributed to this discussion, and some of the responses, including comments from Nina Berman, are worth reading.

The Pulitzer Center has issued an apology, but not a retraction of the work. I find that indefensible. All of Mr. Vernaschi’s three stories (see here, here and here)  remain on their site and in what can only be a judgement call of some serious doubt leaves their apology sounding rather hollow.

There are questions of deception and outright misrepresentation of facts here, even if Pulitzer had decided to ignore the issues of ethics. There are questions being raised on the very honesty and truth of the story that was produced, and the Pulitzer Center’s reputation and integrity is at significant risk. The work should be pulled from their site, and an investigation launched to either refute the accusations or reveal the truth of what actually transpired, how the story was produced and the action the photographer took to get it.

At this stage I can’t see how anything less would salvage the credibility of an institution I hold in the highest regard. The Pulitzer Center generally takes a hands off approach to it’s correspondence, which is fine as long as these correspondents live up to the assumption of integrity and professionalism. Clearly that is not so in the case of Mr. Vernaschi and the Pulitzer Center should consider his behavior and actions a breach of trust and something requiring punitive and investigatory action. It would be the right thing to do, for both Mr. Vernaschi and the Pulitzer Center and the essential means for both to salvage their damaged reputations.

Which brings to the one question that has been ringing in my mind since this episode raised it’s head, and that Anne Holmes herself raised in her post and it is this:

Why did Marco Vernaschi do it?

This is not an innocent question, but one that goes to the very heart of what publishers and news agencies consider to be appropriate ways of speaking of various regions of the world. What compelled Mr. Vernaschi to believe that crossing into this ethically and humanly questionable territory was essential for his story and his work? Its a question worth thinking about because it touches on the demands of the news industry, and the lengths photographers, young and old, feel they need to go to get their works published and/or seen and awarded.

Mr. Vernaschi works in a media eco-system. He is well aware of the preferences and prejudices of media outlets, including institutions that hand out awards at the end of the year. He is equally aware of the long heritage of photojournalism in Africa and how the continent and it’s people have been represented. Mr. Vernachi’s aesthetics of nightmarish images are not as interesting as they first appear if kept in context of the works of so many of other photojournalists who come and scour this continent for their pictures. That pressure to get that picture, and precisely that picture, emerges from a world that Mr. Vernaschi operates in – a world addicted to depictions of Africa as fanatical, maniacal, and depraved.

I have written about and questioned the very ethics of the industry that we work in (see How To Take Photos Of Africa Or Where Intent And Ideas Collide, and Staying Faithful To The Totality Of Experience Or New Frontiers In Photography, and Creating Tempests In A Teapot Or What Else Can A Photo Editor To Do and Only Interesting If Its Madness to suggest a few) and the pressures that are placed on photographers to come back with the ‘right’ picture.

I repeatedly wonder why photographers package their stories simplistically, and why if we insist on covering African only as a pathology must we do so by removing the broader political, economic and international realities that feed these pathologies.

For example, we here in Europe, are deeply implicated in the ongoing horrors of the Congo, and yet we refuse to speak about them, just as we are implicated in the genocide in Rwanda, or the slaughters in Angola and elsewhere. We are there, we are participating in Africa’s realities both good and bad: trading, supporting, advising, diplomatically protecting, extracting (natural resources), selling (arms, advisors, strategy) etc. and we continue to do so today. And yet all these stories are carefully excised of their connections, those that tie us to the horrors, to the sordid world of diplomacy, trade and influence that has repeatedly used weak and weakened nations for our benefit. We can’t seem to accept, or admit, for another example, that the reasons dead African immigrants wash up on the ‘golden’ shores of Europe may have some connection to our throttling and killing their agriculture and indigenous industries thanks to dumping agreements or sheer land grabs. Just an example. Chad is yet another example of cartoon like treatment by some of the best, determinedly avoiding speaking about history, about trajectories of politics, about oil, about allies and collaborations that make us a part of the story of that region, and the unfolding tragedy there.

Mr. Vernaschi’s transgression is not just that of an individual, but of an industry that never fails to trip over itself chasing the insane. And that is precisely what happened; the work was published and printed by major organizations, none of which even thought about the ethics of the act, or of the publishing. Mr. Vercaschi does not work alone and this issue is not just about his individual actions, but that of an entire institutional world blind to its behavior, immune to self-criticism and drowning in self-congratulations and myth-creation.

There are many ways to tell a story. In fact, if I am to take Mr. Vernaschi’s argument seriously that he made the story and the pictures because he wanted to effect change and help people, then I am left even more confused. Nothing in his writings, or his pictures, offers me an avenue where I, an individual thousands of miles away and equally many cultural and social worlds away, can understand how to act and do something about this issue. I have no avenue down which to travel to affect this change.

He seems not to understand that moving us to action comes from creating connections between us here and them there. It comes not from depicting them as deranged and alien, but finding a common humanity, possibilities of shared experiences, and depiction of their struggles and aspirations in a manner that can resonate with my own. It comes from findings ways to bridge the divide between our two worlds and showing me how my world is connected to theirs. Nothing in his work manages to do that. In fact, it repulses, and separates – my civilization and civility here, their barbarism and depravity there.

There is a crisis in the entire form and formalism of photojournalism. And in the industry that can’t seem to find within itself the intelligence and common sense to produce engaged, serious and insightful work. It continues to salivate on the sensational and continues to reduce complex societies and peoples into caricatures and vessels of its own paranoid fantasies.

(Unneccessary digression: see this rather pathetic, desperate and self-aggrandizing tripe by Elaine Laffont whose specious exercise in completely unsubstantiated causality and unverifiable outcomes allows her to call photojournalists ‘heroes of our age’! I will write more about this nonsensical response. A picture, to give only one example, taken in 1968 Ms Laffont did not really affect the direction of a war that only ended in 1975 and then too after millions more died to say nothing about the sheer hubris and arrogance of such a causal myth which is simply staggering and shameful!)

Back to the issue at hand.

Not enough has been said on this issue. There will be some who will argue – move on! I say, No! Remain, think and consider. This touches on the very fundamentals of the future and meaning of our chosen craft. What is the intent of the work we do, and who are it’s audience? What is the role of journalism in our society, and in particular, what and how shall we engage with the world around us so that we see them not as alien, but human and worthy of being taken seriously? Too many young photographers are seduced by the mythologies of the craft. Mythologies that are woven by the practitioners and their publishers. Its time to stop, take stock, and weave better stories, and suggest better and more meaningful means of working. Its time to produce real stories and do so by finding real humanity and a sense of equal dignity and respect.

UPDATE: The photographer Marco Vernaschi and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting has responded to the questions that have been raised about the facts of this reportage on child sacrifice in Uganda. I am posting links to it here for your review.

Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting: Uganda – Response to Critics

My comments on this will follow in a few days.

Save The Children At The Vatican!

In Musings On Confusions on April 22, 2010 at 12:38 pm
Tewfic El-Sawy  at The Travel Photographer Blog recently posted a link to an interesting investigative report on young boys being used for sex:

Can someone send this investigative team to the Vatican please!

The Strange Silence Of The Conscience

In Journalism, Musings On Confusions, Photography, The Daily Discussion on April 12, 2010 at 10:15 am

The New York Review of Books recently published an excerpt from Tony Judts new bookk Ill Fares The Land. Judt has been perhaps the most articulate voice speaking out against the poverty of imagination that has paralyzed our nation and left so many American’s in social, health, educational and economic deprivation. A state of affairs that would have been the scandal of any civilized, modern, just nation, but that in our American today barely seems to find mention in the corridors of power or the glitzy pages of our iPad-ready news publications.

In a version of the essay published on PULSE the excerpt includes some fascinating visual representation of our state of affairs. I reprint them here for your convenience.

His conclusions were heart breaking:

There has been a collapse in inter-generational mobility: in contrast to their parents and grandparents, children today in the UK as in the US have very little expectation of improving upon the condition into which they were born. The poor stay poor. Economic disadvantage for the overwhelming majority translates into ill health, missed educational opportunity, and—increasingly—the familiar symptoms of depression: alcoholism, obesity, gambling, and minor criminality. The unemployed or underemployed lose such skills as they have acquired and become chronically superfluous to the economy. Anxiety and stress, not to mention illness and early death, frequently follow.

Pointing out with his characteristic clarity that:

Inequality is corrosive. It rots societies from within. The impact of material differences takes a while to show up: but in due course competition for status and goods increases; people feel a growing sense of superiority (or inferiority) based on their possessions; prejudice toward those on the lower rungs of the social ladder hardens; crime spikes and the pathologies of social disadvantage become ever more marked. The legacy of unregulated wealth creation is bitter indeed.

As I scanned these statistic, and read Tony Judt’s words, moved as I was by their sense of urgency and sheer call to common humanity, I was struck by the fact that most all of this is completely absent from the works being produced by the best and the brightest of our photojournalists and photo agencies. I guess what I mean is; why isn’t this the most important photojournalism story of the last few years?

As I look across the recent photojournalism awards, and scan for works in newspaper websites, I see a dearth of serious and committed interest in the hollowing out of America. There are a few stories here and there, a large number based on news reports about the health care debate and the foreclosure crisis. Matt Black has been working away with his usual tenacity and dedication. But this is far, far more than about a news blip, or a protest march, or the foreclosure of a home or two. It is about a fundamental surrender of government and national responsibility towards the very citizens both are supposed to serve. It’s about finding ourselves in this strange, irresponsible, unconscionable and immoral place in history where we can approve billions for foreign wars – illegal, unjust and paranoid as they are, and yet fight tooth and nail to stop even pennies for the care of our own.

I see the statistics above, and I see the silence all around. And I ask why?

UPDATE: Anthony Suau. Why does that not surprise me. It turns out that Anthony Suau has been working on different aspects of this story and you can see some of that work on his archive site US Economy 2008 2009. I have written about Anthony in an earlier piece called Anthony Suau: Quiet, Serious, Profilic, Focused

The Idea Of India Project Update: April 10th 2010

In The Idea Of India Project on April 10, 2010 at 3:52 pm

It has been quiet here on this blog, but only because I have been busy working away on some new essays for the The Idea Of India project. Some new posts have been uploaded and I have two more in the works before my return to India next week.

You can read them here:

The Hindus Live In Small And Dark Houses Or Finding The Roots Of War In Textbooks – The Pakistan Episode

The Reality Of Legends: The Sabarimala Pilgrimage And The Dance Of Faiths

Deconstructing Kashmir – Part IV: Through The Gilded Windows Of Emperors

In Defense Of Doubt Or How Intellectual Walls Have A Terrible Way Of Leaking

I am currently working on a new piece about the Sufi/Kathak dancer Manjari Chaturvedi – I hope to complete that in a couple of days. Stay tuned.

Thank you all for your patience.

Condemned To Obscurity Or A Personal Perspective On The iPad

In Musings On Confusions, Photography on April 10, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Well, not strictly. Just a short statement of dissent against all the toy-obsessed hacks insisting that the iPad changes everything. Much like they insisted earlier that the iWhatever would change everything.

The writer Thomas Hettche recentl said something that struck a chord:

Why are people so keen to convince writers to use new media formats? We don’t write novels, poems, plays, essays due to a lack of imagination about what other forms are out there; to the contrary, we do it because we are convinced of being able to communicate in precisely that way something that can only be communicated in that way, and that is something which will silence the racket across all the media channels. Literature is about beauty, which language only reveals when, in rigor, passion, rage or ardor,  you place yourself completely at its mercy as a writer or reader. If you do this, you have nothing to gain from the attention scattered across so many channels.

I think that his words are relevant to any act of individual creativity – literary, visual or other.

There are unexamined assumptions of speed, access, visibility and technical sophistication that distract from the very craft that we pursue. Beneath all this are the engines of profiteering and selling ,busily and desperately attempting to convince us that this next ‘product’ will ‘solve’, ‘improve’, ‘resolve’, ‘transform’, ‘revolutionize’, ‘change the game’ and what not.

It will not.

What I love about Hettche’s statement is the underlying idea of resistance to these market-business driven forces of ‘modernity’ and ‘revolution’. The idea that today, human agency, independence, and in fact, human liberty is in arenas away from the technically modern and towards the seemingly anachronistic world where not tools or toys but ideas, thoughts, and human values remain at the center. That is, choosing not to go ‘digital’ or ‘adopt’ the coolest new technical product, is an act of resistance to corporate forces that spend hundreds of millions on trying to convince us to do otherwise. It is a small attempt to stay focused on individual agency and voice, to avoid being drowned under the endless requirements of ‘upgrades’, and ‘updates’ and ‘versions’ and ‘releases’. It is to hold onto one’s sense of one’s human faculties – ideas, ideals, insights, understandings, thoughts, emotions, sensibilities, and values and retain them as paramount. It is to always use the tool to suit the inspiration, and to never allow the tool to dictate the inspiration.

It reminded me something that David Foster Wallace once said:

Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship… is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things…then you will never have enough…Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you….Worship power – you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart – you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.…And the world will not discourage you from [this form of worship], because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation

As I scroll through the many online photography publications, and their tiresome and uninteresting multi-media productions, I feel a dearth of ideas, a lack of individual thought all being suffocated by the desire to appear ‘new’, ‘cool’, ‘of now’, ‘in the know’, ‘up with the technical’, ‘using the newest’. I see stories designed for ‘consumption’, aimed at the sell, easily digested, never controversial, rarely insightful, always predictable, and most each time, repetitive. I have a headache.

Six months from now this iPad will not be good enough. Today Apple calls it ‘the revolution’, but in six months as a new version arrives, and Apple will tell you that the original was not ‘good enough’ but the newest one will be the bee’s knees. Today, this toy is the ‘must have’ and tomorrow the same company will produce another and tell you the many limitations of the original that now can only be overcome with the latest.

We seem to fall for it every time.

The noise is beginning to give me a headache. Photography blog sites are discussing the iPad and its implications for the future of photography. It being posited as the best portfolio presentation tool available. The future. The platform for which all our works will now have to be produced. The magazines have released savvy, glitzy new applications – and each costs money, and locks you into what it wants to sell. The advertisements featured in these iPad-specific versions of the magazines look incredibly spectacular, and are mostly more arresting than the content. Pretty soon, photojournalists will be producing work that once again will look like the advertisements and dance and sing like them too!

I can’t find the individual in these works, but I can see savvy, marketing, placement, promotion, careerism, and the pursuit of that most sought after of trinkets; fame. Maybe that is my underlying fear; the loss of individuality, and individual thought. Of course, I understand that there are independent voices and commercial voices and that it makes no sense to speak about photography as a uniform field of creation. For some, the medium is the message, while for others, the message is the message. I realize that the latter are probably committing suicide.

I also see that many professional photojournalists are actually commercial photographers – their clients being the corporate newspaper publishers, their product the wars, pathologies, issues of concern being asked for by the media institutions. Not much of a difference there – they are just hawking the same products on the pages of the magazines. And no doubt, there are days when I so want it as well – the fame, the name. But each time I step towards it I get a headache. I want to be modern, cool, in the know, and of the moment. My ego strives to be ‘recognized’, appreciated and considered amongst the relevant. I want to be more ‘professional’, better ‘packaged’, more succinct and presentable.

Yet I cringe when I realize the price I must pay and I falter at the doorsteps of magazine editors, stutter during discussions of ‘hot’ and ‘popular’ stories that I think will sell, remain silent about the personally exciting ones that I know will be met with derision, trip over purchasing technical toys that can transport me into the world of the modern digital photographer. People see me as old-fashioned, somehow out of touch and intentionally difficult. But they are wrong. I crave not the trappings of modern possessions, but the possession of modern thoughts and ideas. The latter I can’t reveal on the slide show option of the iPad. I can only do it in a face-to-face conversation, and these are harder to come by. There is no time away from the iPad!

Am I condemned to conventionality, predictability and popularity?

Or am I condemned in my anachronism to obscurity and irrelevance?