Searching For Ghosts

They are ghosts, and I have spent nearly two months trying to find a trace of them. They are the 33 Pakistani men who remain imprisoned, without charge or evidence, by the Americans at the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan. Many have not been see or heard by anyone other than their immediate families – they are periodically granted carefully censored telephone and internet video call access, for over 11 years. The prisoners are off limits to the public, the press and the legal community. These men have been silenced, their faces have been erased, the details of their incarceration beyond the eyes, ears and interest of a now compliant and cowed American and Pakistani media. Until 2012 their own government refused to recognize most of them as citizens of Pakistan.

They are the ghosts, and I have spent two months traveling across Pakistan trying to learn something, anything, about them. Details »

Trying To Make Sense Of Pakistan

It is difficult for me to talk in public about my personal projects. This is not because they are unduly complicated but because I fear to honestly speak about them and reveal the doubts, uncertainties and many prayers for luck and chance that underpin them. More often than not I do not know what it is that I am exploring, but only that I hope to find something that will educate me, inform me, and in some way, change me. I have questions I begin with, but no clear path to anything that may resemble an answer. These long term works, whether in India and now in Pakistan, are not based on any concrete hypothesis, or agenda, or righteous certainty but are little more than the one man’s rummaging through society, its inhabitants and asking some questions to learn a few things.

Unfortunately, that is not how a photographer is supposed to speak.

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Yet Again, Saving Brown Women From Brown Men

It is simply, but provocatively titled, Leaving Tehran And Restraints Behind and very, very simplistically – in fact I would argue, cartoonishly constructed and photographed. The entire photo essay is produced at a level that I would expect from a high school photography class student. Its reductive, cartoonish sequencing and linearity unworthy of even the worst of a racist, neo-conservative American think tank. Bad Iran. Innocent Girl. Sadness. Desperation. Dreams of Western Freedom. The Departure. The Arrival Into The Free World. The Emancipation. The Freedom. The Happiness. Done.

What we are witnessing here is a narrative constructive so banal, infantile and frankly idiotic, that it could only be used to tell us about a people we have already been convinced are inhuman, barbaric and unworthy. It is a photo essay that would be laughed out of class, but thanks to the New York Times, it received a publishing credit thanks to the ever obedient James Estrin. Unsurprising, given the low standards and racist tropes this publication has provided to help reduce Iran, its people, and its complex and vivid cultural and historical worlds to a caricature.

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