What Ails Photojournalism: Part II

We have lost our love of the story.  We are no longer telling interesting stories.  In fact it could be argued that photojournalism today is basically middle class voyuerism.  It carries with it the stifling and infantile morality of a middle brow suburban family and attempts to deliver ‘shock’ stories to titilate them into watching. Or it just reduces to historical and charter-tour cliches stories that could be rich, complex and eye-opening.

Just look at National Geographic – if its Iran, its Persipolis.  if its Bolivia, its the Antiplano.  if its Pakistan, its the Taliban.  Tiresome, boring, repetitive, predictable, uncreative, uninteresting stories about some of the most interesting and evolving countries in the world!  Even the formulas and mechanics of photojournalism are boring and predictable.  This magazine refuses to go and explore places in new ways, to produce angles that are creative and interesting, and that challenge our thining and ideas about a place.  Is Persipolis really all that one has to stay about Iran today? This incredibly complex and incredibly interesting country is left silenced!

The Missouri School beliefs are so old and hollowed that they produce not more than what i call comic book photojournalism.  By the way, I was at the MPW in 2002 so i have seen this personally.  Look at the recent multimedia piece that MediaStorm did called ‘Common Ground’ – this is so trite, so simplistic, as to be boring and predictable from frame #1.  Family packing, family walking to car, family hugging – its like a linear story book, with pictures that attempt to create nothing interesting, to provoke no thought or make any argument.  Its is a join-by-numbers photography, which after a while, the viewer can start to complete herself!!  The picture illustrate the obvious!

Someone once said that Bertold Becht’s work was never about pathos or emotions, but always about the need to provoke though and make an argument.  That is a good comment about the state of photojournalism.

And keeping true to the argument for the need for the particular; photography has been growing in areas that we have not been paying attention to.  More photo books are being published and bought, more workshops are being held, more people are broadening their repertoire of works and finding creative ways of funding their projects.  That is, the changes being bought about today are in fact creating some powerfully interesting responses.

Not the least of which is – people are starting to tell new stories in new ways.  And i do not mean multimedia here – multimedia is merely a mechanism that can never hide the banality or predictability of a subject.  It is a means to an end, but if the end if poor, no amount of flash and dash will save anything.

We have to remember that it is newspapers that are turning increasingly to amateurs.  It is not a ‘rise’ of the amateur.  The amateur picture has been found to be mostly free, easily found, and little paid for.  This is its reasons for popularity.  There is no such thing as ‘an army of amateurs’ – these are rhetorical constructs that have no meaning.  What there is in fact is an ‘army of photo editors with no money and personal careers to save’ who have desperately tried to hide the fact of their economic and editorial castration by distracting us with false arguments of ‘citizen’ journalism, an euphemism for ‘cheap’.

Our only hope (i speak of editorial photographers, photojournalists etc. and not of fashion, commercial and other photographers who by the way are doing just great what with all the increase in advertising as a business) is to accept the challenge of the reliance on the amateur work to produce work that could only be done so by a professional.  of course multimedia will be an important part of this – it is a tool of course – and allow us to tell great stories in new ways, but i personally believe that the challenge we face is the need to tell new stories, better stories, from new angles and to overcome our class, nationalistic, religious and other prejudices to find broader and more engaged human experiences to share.

Now, I am not so naive to believe that the latter recommendation will change the state of photojournalism and its economics.  Far from it.  What I do believe is that by broadening, extending our ideas of what photojournalism is about, it will allow us to free ourselves from the constraining mediocrity of the typical photojournalism end game i.e. publication in a magazine like Time or Newsweek.  Too much of what passes for photojournalism is done with the belief, mostly hidden, that the customer is the magazine editor, that the structure is the linearity that is necessitated by the printed page.  Photojournalists and news photographers shoot for a sheet of paper.  Their universe of individuals and characters is restricted mostly to editors, writers, photo editors, their assistants, other photographers and hangers-on.  99% of photojournalism magazines, festivals, competitions and such caters to itself.  It is one of the more closed artistic/non-industrial crafts in world.  Our language, our references, our aethetics, or ideas of what is ‘photojournalism’ and what is not is so limited, has change so little in the last 50 years, and has such little relevance or interest outside of its own community, that we have stagnated.  Visa Pour L’image or Look3 may as well be a gathering of astro-turf salesmen.  There will always be a few curious outsiders, but they are not really that important to the event, nor are they engaged to carry something away from them. (Continued…)

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From “Headmen” To “Hitmen”–A People Brutalised Yet Again

Another photographer turns up at another manufactured ‘traditional’ geography, and produces another set of racist, reductive and entirely fake set of 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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Thomas Sankara’s Restless Children

The project is now complete. Although, we may never really complete the telling of this remarkable story. You can see the project by clicking on this link here, or on the image below.

Eyes Of Aliyah–Deport, Deprive, Extradite Initiative By Nisha Kapoor

I have publicly and on this forum very explicitly argued against the strange ‘disappearance’ of black/brown bodies that are the actual targets and victims of our ‘liberal’ state policies of surveillance, entrapment, drone assassinations, renditions and indefinite detention. I recently argued:

“Western visual journalism, and visual artists, have erased the actual victims of the criminal policies of the imperial state. Instead, most all have chosen to produce a large array of projects examining drone attacks, surveillance, detentions and other practices, through the use of digital abstractions, analogous environments, still life work or just simply the fascinating and enticing safety of datagrams and charts. Even a quick look at recent exhibitions focusing on the ‘war on terror’ or wars in general, have invited works that use digital representations of war, or focus on the technologies of war. An extreme case of this deflection are recent projects on drone warfare that not only avoid the actual brown/black bodies that are the targets of deadly drone attacks, but are not even produced anywhere near the geographies and social ecologies where drone attacks continue to happen! Yet, these works have found tremendous popularity, though i remain confused what kinds of conversations or debates they provoke given that the voices of the families of those who have been killed, are not only entirely missing, but people who can raised the difficult questions about the lies and propaganda that are used to justify the killings, are also entirely missing.”

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Public Release of “The Sinner”

This is my first feature length documentary film and we–Justice Project Pakistan, with the guiding support of Sarah BelalRimmel Mohydin and others at Justice Project Pakistan, are finally releasing it.

And we are doing it first in Pakistan.

The film takes us into the world of capital punishment in Pakistan through the life of one man; Jan Masi. Jan Masi worked as an execution for nearly 30 years, and claims to have executed over 1800 people. He started his work in the enthusiastic pursuit of revenge for the execution of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

This isn’t a typical documentary film. No talking heads. No linear story-telling. No polemics or moral grand standing. No righteous exclamations against capital punishment. Instead, Jan Masi, his life, his scars, his fears and despair, act as metaphors for the meaning of capital punishment in Pakistan, and the consequences it has on the broader Pakistani society.

Sudhir Patwardhan

Sudhir Patwardhan.

Can you discover ‘an influence’ after the fact?

What do you call someone who seems to embody your eye, your sensibility, and yet you had never seen his / her work, and yet, when you now see it, you see the ‘influence’…the similarities?

Is he confronting the same questions? Is he seeing this incredibly complex and multi-layered world with the same desire to depict it as close to that complexity as possible?

I was taken aback. The aesthetic pursuit is so familiar. It is as if he is a step ahead of me. He is a step ahead of me.

I am going through these images–gorgeous, striking, unique, and no, I refuse to give you some ‘European’ reference to understand them in any way. They are Patwardhan’s and his alone. But I want to make them as photographs.

They are the photographs I would make if in Mumbai. It is beautiful stuff. It makes me want to go and make photographs.

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Make It Right For Palestine, November 4, 2017

Be there. Hyde Park. Speaker’s Corner. London. 12:00 noon. 4th November, 2017.

The Polis Project…Is Up And Running

If you can’t join them, then just do it on your own.

We launched a new collective focused on research, reportage and resistance. The specific goals and objectives are being developed as we speak, but the idea is a simple one: to collect under one banner a group of individuals from different fields – artists, writers, academics, photographers, intellectuals, poets and others, who are consistently working against the grain. In this time of collective conformity, and a media sycophancy to power and extremism, some of us felt the need to create a small space where people are still determined to refuse the agendas of political power, debilitating capitalism, nationalist extremism and neoliberal idiocy, and remain fools in their hearts, and idealists in their souls.

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Short Doc: “As If A Nightmare”;The Story Of Former Bagram Prisoner Abdul Haleem Saifullah


We are commemorating 9/11 this week, but by remembering the ‘other’ victims of that event that few chose to remember. These are the brown bodies that rarely make it into visual media projects, that since 9/11, have chosen to hide behind digital representations, data charts, and other visual forms that do a lot, but never permit us to see or hear the brown and black people who actually suffer the consequences of drone attacks, sweeping surveillance, targeted entrapment, renditions, indefinite detentions, torture and other forms of inhumanity that today liberal minds seem to be able to easily justify.

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Short Doc: “Prisoner 1432” – The Story of Former Bagram Prisoner Amanatullah Ali


We are commemorating 9/11 this week, but by remembering the ‘other’ victims of that event that few chose to remember. These are the brown bodies that rarely make it into visual media projects, that since 9/11, have chosen to hide behind digital representations, data charts, and other visual forms that do a lot, but never permit us to see or hear the brown and black people who actually suffer the consequences of drone attacks, sweeping surveillance, targeted entrapment, renditions, indefinite detentions, torture and other forms of inhumanity that today liberal minds seem to be able to easily justify.

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10 Things To Consider…

I recommend that photographers, photojournalists, documentary photographers remember these wise words by Tania Canas, RISE Arts Director / Member – I am copying and pasting it here. As brown and black bodies are stripped of their clothing, as brown and black children are dehumanised to mere misery, as brown and black women are reduced to simply victims, as ghettos and brothels and refugee camps and slums become the ‘paint by number’ formula for White photographer’s career and publishing success, it becomes increasingly important that those of us on the receiving end of White ‘largesse’ begin to build obstacles, speak back, and refuse / reject these ‘representations’ and their reductive, violent and brutal narrative frames. We have lost too much, and are in danger of whatever little we have left as humans and as histories, if we permit this process to continue.

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