The Freedom Of The Press Foundation And Small Voices Of Loud Dissent

It has been disheartening to watch the impunity and venality with which the US Government has targeted and attempted to dismantle the operations of Wikileaks, and the lives of all associated. From the hounding of Julian Assange, to the torture and humiliation of Bradley Manning, it has been clear that the US Government is determined to make an example of those who dare challenge its rights to do as it wishes, without oversight or any respect for the law. And the willingness with which major corporations – from financial institutions such as Visa to telecommunications firms eavesdropping on American citizens, have collaborated with illegal and unconstitutional requests from the government, has also been frustrating. I will say nothing about the obsequiousness with which newspapers such as The New York Times, with its herd of mindless stenographers lapping up selected ‘leaks’ given to them by the government, have coddled our politicians, obediently repeating the lies fed to them, and becoming collaborators in illegal wars, and practices such as torture, endless detentions, and the targeted assasinations including that of American citizens.

So it was with some excitement that I read about the formation of The Freedom Of The Press Foundation that will now act as a conduit to independent and watch dog organizations like WikiLeaks, ostensibly bypassing the government’s attempts to cripple them. 2012-12-18 7:41:2

The website explains the simple premise:

The Freedom of the Press Foundation is dedicated to helping promote and fund aggressive, public-interest journalism focused on exposing mismanagement, corruption, and law-breaking in government. We accept tax-deductible donations to a variety of journalism organizations dedicated to government transparency and accountability…

…the Freedom of the Press Foundation will also provide support for organizations and individuals that have been unjustly censored or cut off from funding for doing their job as journalists. Given the variety of corporate and government pressures on journalism outlets around the world, the need has never been greater.

Its first, most important beneficiary will be WikiLeaks. The other organizations that they are currently directing funds to are shown on their website. A number of outlets have carried the news of the launch of this endeavor and you can see a few here, and here, and here. It is heartening to know that there are many who still defend the principles of the craft, and are determined to practice them.

For me personally what remains most important about this effort is that it is being attempted. I have been critical of the pusillanimity shown by the community of photojournalists – a community that otherwise loves to talk about its ability to ‘change’ the world, or ‘bear witness’ and yet did not have the backbone to resist, criticize and organize itself to work outside of the ’embedded journalism’ system. The silence, perhaps even excited willingness, with which photographers rushed to put on military uniforms, and adopt ‘toy soldier’ stances on the front line, will for generations to come, remain a low point in the history of the craft.

In a post I wrote called How We Refused To Embed With Britney Spears I mocked this cowardice, and even suggested that there was still time to organize a boycott of the embedded system and start afresh. That it was the only way to regain the credibility that had been lost, and to reposition ourselves as ‘independent’ and ‘critical’ in the eyes of the world. Of course, mine is a small, marginal voice rarely read and never responded to. Perhaps it was the awareness of my small voice that I wrote:

It can be done, it has been done by more and it is the only and the right way to report these wars. But it takes commitment and a willingness to understand why we are ‘reporters’ and ‘photojournalists’ in the first place.

It can still be done.

The newspapers can still come together and finally refuse to participate in the embed program and possibly even pool their financial resources to allay costs. Imagine if tomorrow all reporters simply refused, announced that they were going to arrive independent of military cover and start to work to establish an independent presence inside Iraq and Afghanistan and make the investments to rebuild trust and credibility with them, and with us here in the USA.

We need to rebuild our commitment to journalism and in particular in the eyes and minds of the people who are dying for ‘our protection’ and our supposedly sacrosanct ‘way of life’!

I still imagine such a moment – if not from the main newspaper and magazine contract photographers – those very men and women that so many look to as embodiments of all that is mythical about photojournalism – independent witness, engagement with human rights, voice to the voiceless and what not, then at least from a group of dedicated independent photographers. A group that can make a similar stand, articulate a similar determination to remain outside the circle of willing idiots that today go about illustrating the propaganda our editors wish us to. There are individual photographers who maintain a determined independence, but perhaps its time to bring them together into an organization that can also act as an argument and platform for others.

Confronting power, challenging the structures of control that we have been trapped in, critically analyzing how our traditional frameworks for photo-reportage need to change in a new media environment, evaluating and opening up the political assumptions that have traditionally informed photojournalism and other such difficult questions need to be addressed. Instead, what I find is that our ‘finest and best’ are busy waxing lyrical nonsense about Hipstamatic and the apparently ‘revolutionary’ powers of Instagram!

I even had to suppress a laugh when an erstwhile ‘serious’ voice of photojournalism tried to tell us that it was no longer about ‘documenting’ or ‘evidence’, but about ‘experience, sharing, moment, streaming’ – a veritable reduction of a once proud craft to becoming simply an exercise in a self-centered, narcissistic telecast of our banal obsessions with our little worlds. This is what is now being sold to us by the very people who represent ‘photojournalism’. It’s as if we are desperately chasing ‘relevance’ by trying to stay ahead of fads and trends.

Rather than argue and defend an method, a craft, an approach on the grounds of its intents, value, place in our society, sense of responsibility, and demands of our democracy, we have become simply followers of the new, adopters of ‘the cool’. Toys for boys, and a rush to see who can grab the ‘intellectual’ space of explaining the obvious, trade-marking a phrase or term that we will forget tomorrow. It’s as if we are no longer serious, or embarrased about being seen to be. It’s as if all that matters is that we are cool, hip, in-the-know, at the front of the curve, or constantly in the spotlight. Our voices have become weak, if not completepy silenced, and we are now rushing to be heard anywhere we can, in any form we can.

The debates that take place at photojournalism festivals and forums are singularly depressing. Their determined apolitical nature reminds us of the refusal of photojournalism to take itself seriously, and the ways in which it remains a craft beholden to power and the opinions of others. That none of our ‘great’ photojournalists – from Nachtwey to Anderson, from Towell to Knight, raised their voices in the defense of independent photojournalism, is something I will never quite understand. There is no Laura Poitras it seems when it comes to photojournalism. No individual, determined, contrarian, dissenting voice taking our government to task. Compared to the American photojournalists rush to don military gear, a few European photographers have been more determined to stand apart and work to produce broader, more complex narratives even when confined in the same censored spaces.

In the mean time, the Freedom of The Press Foundation offers some hope that all is not dead in American journalism, and that there are still those determined to confront the current state of affairs and continue to act as voices of dissent, confrontation and questionining. We need to support for no other reason than that someone is still standing there and willing to say ‘enough’. As Glenn Greenwald wrote in his announcement of this initiative:

Secrecy is the linchpin of abuse of power. Few priorities are more important, in my view, than supporting and enabling any efforts to subvert the ability of the US government and other factions to operate in the dark. It’s particularly vital to undercut the US government’s ability to punish and kill groups that succeed in these transparency efforts.

Amen to that.

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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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