A Man In The Sun

This is an essay without reason. It emerges as a result of recent discussions with a friend and colleague about decolonialisation–what it means, how does it apply to various areas of human knowledge, and what can it mean for photography. Actually, this essay without reason emerges as a result of discussions at The Polis Project as we design a “Decolonise Photography” workshop series. Our discussions have led us to think about what new and different ways of seeing and doing could emerge in a documentary and photographic practice that recognises that “…the target of epistemic de-colonisation is the hidden complicity between the rhetoric of modernity and the logic of coloniality,” and is based on a need to learn to “unlearn” [See Walter Mignolo, Delinking: The Rhetoric of Modernity, the Logic of Coloniality and the Grammar of De-Coloniality, Cultural Studies, Volume 21, 2007].

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Rebel Cities: The Anti-Colonial Imagination & The Dilemmas of the Present

At the end of 2011 I stopped making photographs. I did not stop working as a photographer, but I stopped making the kinds of photographs I was making in India. Those were very special photographs.

From 2009 to 2011, my work on The Idea of India project, had been nothing short of a deeply ecstatic, emotional and powerfully creative experience. The process of researching, producing and struggling through the project, remains one of the most memorable experiences of my life. But it was a project that required considerable trust, and faith in luck and fate. It required relinquishing all expectations of results, all hope for finding what I was looking for, and all presumptions of planning and structure. In fact, I once wrote about how embracing doubt-as a verb and as a noun-remained central to the work itself.

It was doubt that made me leave the conventions of photojournalism and practice a different eye. It is doubt that keeps me asking, searching, wondering and growing as an individual and as a photographer. It is doubt that defines the seemingly random, apparently inconsistent trajectory of this project – precisely as I want it to be. Since beginning this work in late 2008, it has been doubt that has taken me into new worlds, and new understandings. It is doubt that has taken me to new photographs. And in the end it is doubt that I want this work to infect others with, to give them nothing more than an equal love of this act which realises that our worlds are far more beautiful, complex, complicated and varied than we were ever told.

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From Headman To Hitman

Another photographer turns up at another recently manufactured ‘traditional’ culture, and produces yet another set of racist, reductive and entirely fake images. I don’t mean ‘fake’ in the way that most photographer’s get all concerned about. I mean ‘fake’ in a much more serious way, one that reduces people to social, political and historical caricatures and makes them into concocted objects for class titillation and voyeurism. And this American magazine–mired deep in the heart of American imperialism, its violence and its brutality–publishes the images and accompanies them with what can only be described as one of the most incredibly ahistorical, obfuscatory and infantile articles I have read outside of stuff frequently published by Time Magazine and/or The New York Times.

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Photographs Are No Longer Enough

So, here is a Masterclass in photojournalism, particularly for European photojournalists producing works on immigration, refugees and Africa. It is a Masterclass in how not to work as a photographer / photojournalist working on stories of immigration, refugees and the European fear of ‘the Other’.

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Not Our Men

This habit of displacing patriarchy to the ‘Muslim’, has generated wealth and fame for many in South Asia, so much so that any and all attempts to remind people of the Orientalist lineages of the term, and the racial nature of its application, are often met with disdain and mockery. But the fact remains that there is a massive industry – from NGOs, to artists to writers, pandering to the Orientalist and racist categorisation of crimes against women by Muslim men as ‘honour killings’, while remaining quiet or dismissive of attaching the same label to other regions of the globe where close-relative based violence against women remains large and growing. It is an industry facilitated by easy media narratives, and by easy framing of Arabs and Muslims are uniquely misogynist – something one sees in the discourse and discussions of so many expatriate and ‘recently arrived’ college academic / researchers who within days are confident about ‘explaining’ the looks, cat-calls and flirting of Arab men as cultural deviance and violent misogyny. For as long as they are the Arab men they are not interested in meeting of course.

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And, What Is Your Favourite Colour Of Photographer?

Brent Lewis, a Senior Photo Editor at ESPN’s The Undefeated has realised that there aren’t enough ‘photographers of colour’ that he can commission for assignments, and believes that other editors have a similar problem. And his solution–classically technocratic and technological–is to create a ‘database’ of coloured photographers and, without ever once questioning or examining the more difficult structural and political reasons for the issue, resolve the issue. And in the process, albeit inadvertently, Lewis has entrenched the very problem of culturally, ethnically, and racially stereotyping photographers and restricting them to their little ghettoised speciality social, cultural, and physical geographies. He needs more black and brown people to go cover more black and brown events. 

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Scratching At My Skin

“I have been stereotyped: my life and lived experiences negated by photo editors in the USA in particular. My editors in the USA in particular. I am nothing but my ethnicity, a man from my country of my birth 42 years ago. My name marks me as a ‘Muslim’, my ethnicity marks me as a ‘South Asian’, my birth marks me for work within the confines of the geography of the country of my birth. My birth on an unexceptional day in Karachi nearly 42 years ago was of greater interest and relevance than the nearly 18 years I spent studying, working, learning, and becoming in the United States of America (a country of which I am a citizen). I am the ‘Pakistani’ photographer and never allowed to be anything else, or asked to be elsewhere.”

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Still Speaking For The Others, But At Least Doing It Honestly

Ben Ehrenreich wrote perhaps one of the best pieces about the Palestinian resistance struggle in the town of Bilin in the West Bank against Israel’s hideous and inhumane apartheid wall. He was also the guy I quoted in a piece I wrote on Western photojournalism’s obsessive Eurocentrism when it comes to reporting on Brown and Black societies.

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Amnesia As A Choice

This is one of the most beautifully produced pieces of Western propaganda I have seen in a long time. There is no doubt that MSNBC spent a lot of time, money and design effort, in collaboration with the ‘great’ Magnum Photo agency, to put this together. But there is also no doubt, that this entire body of work, with all its fancy graphics, its large-scale photographic presentations, its sophisticated digital presentation structure, is entirely meant to help us forget.

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The Fall Of Adonis

This was a shockingly bizarre set of responses from a man considered to be one of the great Arab intellectuals of our time. I have read Adonis extensively, and I am frankly really surprised to see him argue that:

“If we do not distinguish between what is religious and what is political, cultural, and social, nothing will change and the decline of the Arabs will worsen. Religion is not the answer to problems anymore. Religion is the cause of problems. That is why it needs to be separated. Every free human believes in what he wants, and we should respect that. But for religion to be the foundation of society? No.”

Oh dear. I never imagined a day would come when I would realise that Adonis, considered one of the greatest living Arab poets, would reveal that he is poorly read, and even worse, intellectually dead. 

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