Musings And Confusions – 20 September 2013

From a statement that I read at a recent panel discussion:

…speaking as a photographer, and speaking as an American photographer – it remains shocking to me, that not a single major photojournalists – whether independent or other – has, in the last 13 years, embarked on a major long-term project dedicated to the documentation of the injustices, cruelties, prejudices, and discriminations inflicted on a the Arab / Muslim communities of the USA or of any one of the countries attacked and occupied since 9/11 – not one.

…nothing about the thousands of Muslim ‘illegals’ swept up in raids, processed through immigration courts and cruelly deported separating them from families, or about the many Muslim / Arab communities placed under surveillance including mosques that were marked as ‘terror sites’, or the many incidences of racial violence directed at those considered to be ‘Muslims’, or the many entrapped in CIA ‘terror plot’ dragnet that relied on unreliable, bribed, and extorted collaborators and where the entire plot was concocted, funded, and executed by the CIA itself, or those renditioned, or those tortured in our ‘black sites’, or imprisoned  in Guantanamo or Bagram, or those millions displaced because of our invasions, the thousands killed in our drone attacks, the hundreds of thousands killed in our invasions, and so much more. All these people, all these millions, are absent, invisible, erased, forgotten, unknown and uninteresting. There is an absolute indifference, lack of interest, or engagement by the photography community to these human beings who seem to warrant no sense of outrage, moral indignation, human compassion or simple concern.

The scale and scope of this erasure is incredible when you think about it, and the consistency of the silence is shameful. There have been sporadic efforts, but given the scope of what has transpired since 9/11, and scale at which human life, society and communities have been torn asunder, it is simply shocking to confront the silence and the willed ignorance of my colleagues. It is as if these experiences, these horrors do not matter at all. Today we are more likely to see an American photographer trying to produce a project about Afghani victims of the Soviet invasion, than to see an honest engagement with the current consequences of the current American occupation.


Time Magazine’s managing editor Richard Stengel moves to become the new undersecretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs. Or, as FAIR called it…the new propaganda minister for the administration.

This is simply unbelievable…..the revolving door between pretend-journalistic outlets and State propaganda has rarely swung so fast and obvious. The managing editor of Time Stengel is heading to become the propaganda minister of the US State Department. This follows from the other swinging door of Time Magazine photo editor Alice Gabriner went from the magazine to become the photo editor for the White House propaganda machinery. This is the same Stengel I wrote about when the magazine pumped for Obama’s wars using / exploiting the plight of Afghani women for America’s war purposes (see: where i argued that:

…what irks me the most is the carefully selected sense of moral outrage for one set of victims and the complete silence and in fact justification for the sufferings of another. It is the hypocritical cleaving of our morality, our humanism, our sense of justice, outrage and anger that I find the most insidious act here. These photographs have become weapons of war, aimed at our minds to numb us into submission, to reduce us into towing the arguments of voices of violence and suffering. These photographs have been reduced from the possibility of a larger concern about the complete range of war crimes, crimes against humanity and criminal acts taking place in Afghanistan under our watch and frequently because of our watch, and instead carefully elided almost all to turn a small spotlight towards a specific set of victims that we can carve into spokespeople for our political, strategic, military and imperial agendas.

And now this very man, the one who defended that cover, the one who made Obama the Time Magazine Man of the Year 2012, is walking into the State Department as head of its propaganda machinery. This is simply too sweet – the collusion, collaboration and sheer usurping of the American media, and their greedy, blatant love of power and the need to serve it, cannot have a better and more obvious example than this!!!

Back when I wrote my posts against the hideous exploitation of Afghani women that Time was indulging in, there were some who voiced scepticism. But certainly today they should open their eyes and realize that these publications are merely PR vehicles for power, and that their journalistic ethics and intentions are so limited as to reduce to them to simply being brochures to the government. Good luck Stengel. You are finally home.


They decide to cut food stamps.

If you keep in mind on the one hand the Obama administration’s rush to win support for a multi-million dollar campaign of death and mayhem on Syria, and on the other this decision to cut support for a vital program for American citizens, you begin to see the contours of an administration that has lost all credibility and sense of public interest. What perhaps continues to surprise me is the apathy and willful consent that the majority of Americans continue to indulge in despite being repeatedly shown that their interests, and the interests of our society, are not represented in the Senate or the Congress. We seem to have ceded the space to corporations, and venal personal interests masquerading as representative politics.

There isn’t enough outrage. There isn’t enough anger. There isn’t enough sense of humiliation that comes from being repeatedly ignored, and repeatedly assaulted with patronizing and misleading arguments. This is not even the Republicans. The Obama administration is to blame for failing to create a public debate and government budgets that pursued not war, but investment in our communities and in our citizens. It is they who have left the door open for this sort of callous policy making. We continue to foist the burden of our economic crisis – a crisis created in the laps of the private banks, mortgage companies, and a kleptomaniac political culture that celebrates greed and corruption – onto the most vulnerable members of our society.

And yet there is still silence as we have been convinced that there is nothing to be done. Why have we forgotten that we can congregate, rally, organized and speak out in protest? The Congressmen / Senators sit within blocks of us, their phone lines, emails and other contacts still accessible. It’s not sexy, it’s not fast, but it is there and it needs to be grasped.


Be a better man being less of one. An interesting interview with John Stoltenberg, where he offers some provocative thoughts like:

…my work that it’s really about telling men how to be human. And I remember being surprised by the simplicity and clarity of that summary. I do believe (as I say in both “Refusing” and “Manhood”) that “the core of one’s being must love justice more than manhood”—meaning that one must focus on inhabiting one’s own moral identity and cease struggling to conform to, and measure up against, one’s assigned gender identity.


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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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