Musings And Confusions – 28 September 2013

I am in Dhaka teaching a workshop at Counter Foto. The students have been launched towards a series of rather interesting projects despite an initial series of story suggestions that were largely trapped in classical conventions of photojournalism. The workshop is concentrating on getting them to move past simply making ‘nice’ images, and to start to think about complicated projects that bring together text, statistics, facts, figures, and a point-of-view. A student’s interest in producing a story about the Bihari refugees in Dhaka has been transformed into a complicated family tree exploration of the ‘idea’ of identity across a single family’s bloodline. Another student’s growing awareness of the depression in the life of a few women he knows has been transformed into a documentation of the experience of sexual harassment in the office space, complete with a landscape images of the site of harassment, NGO research reports on such incidents and audio testimonies of the women. Another photographer’s documentation of the emptiness of the lives in his family apartment building has been broadened into an exploration of the work of the people who keep Dhaka running through the night, using board landscapes of the city and exploring how the people came to keep these odd jobs in the night. Another student has been asked to enter the ghettos of the transvestite community, and to photograph them not as the category ‘transvestite’, but as father, son, daughter, mother, child, sister, brother, and friend. Another student is using the railway station as lifeline to the dozens of people, and their families, that eek out a living off it. Another student has begun looking at Bangladeshi’s mimicking what they think is the ‘West’ – rappers, skate boarders, bowler and so on – and the media and other elements that influence their idea of ‘the west’ – an abstract place that most may not have visited. I have another student who began with an idea of portraits of corporate executives and their similarity, and has broadened his project to explore consumer conformity of the middle-class, complete with trying to see if their spouses too look the same. Should be fun.

Whether the students are able to actually live up to the excitement of the ideas remains to be seen. What however they are doing is moving past their known forms of photography, and their known conception of how photography can work. I am moving them into zones of discomfort, trying to get them see how to use the photograph to do more than simply make nice photographs. Most all the students have typical photo portfolios, and many have confined themselves to conventional story ideas – poverty,  drugs and so on. Now hopefully they are playing with new ideas, and playing with photography, producing interesting stories that have a voice, a perspective, an argument, and are using various methods to do so. Those with little portrait experience are being pushed to work with it. Those who have avoided getting inside lives, are being asked to enter homes and get familiar. Its been an intense few days, but I am always happy when I can help students work on stories that I really want to see emerge. And these stories are just really very exciting and I am anxious to see how the students cope with them.


For there is, in fact, no contradiction at all between the practice of humanism and the practice of participatory citizenship. Humanism is not about withdrawal or exclusion. Quite the reverse; its purpose is to make things available to critical scrutiny as the product of human labor, human energies for emancipation and enlightenment, and, just as importantly, human misreading and misinterpretations of the collective past and present. There was never a misinterpretation that could not be revised, improved, or overturned. There was never a history that could not to some degree be recovered and compassionately understood in all its suffering and accomplishment. Conversely, there was never a shameful secret injustice or a cruel collective punishment or a manifestly imperial plan for domination that could not be exposed, explained, and criticised. Surely, that too is at the heart of humanistic education, despite all the supposedly humanistic education, despite all the supposedly neoconservative philosophy condemning whole classes and races to eternal backwardness, proving – if that is the right word – in the worst Darwinian sense that some people deserve ignorance, poverty, ill-health, and backwardness according to the free market, while others can somehow be fashioned by think-tank projects and policies into the new elites.

Edward Said, Humanism & Democratic Criticism, Page 22

Roger Cohen of The New York Times goes deep into his pool of bigotry and racist generalisations and offers us this brilliant insight:

Iran always operates on at least two tracks; to do otherwise would be simplistic. Its Shiite religion permits, in some circumstances, the embroidering of the truth for the protection of the faith, a divinely sanctioned dissimulation. This is a land where straight talk and virtue are not widely seen to overlap.

Ah yes, those dastardly Iranians – devious, lying, cheating, tricky, unreliable, untrustworthy, conniving, scheming, and mendacious people that they are. Those Iranians, one has to be very alert to them, for they are all such tricky little critters. Of course, through all this hideous bigotry, Mr. Cohen fails to point out that:

In the bird’s eye view, it is hard to see the US approach to Iran as cordial. In the last decade, the US has waged two aggressive wars along Iran’s east and west coast, in Afghanistan and Iraq; it constantly floods the Persian Gulf, directly to Iran’s south, with fleets of navy warships; it supplies money and weapons to Iran’s most threatening regional adversaries, Israel and Saudi Arabia; it has perpetrated the most significant offensive cyber-attack in the 21st century against Iran; and it is imposing aggressive economic warfare that has crippled the economy, all as punishment for a nuclear weapons program that America’s most informed intelligence agencies say doesn’t exist.

But such niceties and details are for the fools I suppose. It is the ‘intelligent’ one like Roger Cohen – the ones relying on mendacity and bigotry, that get the platform of our finest newspaper and continue to spew their irrational, illiterate and idiotic bile.


It is a bit verbose and evasive in its arguments, but it is a critical write-up on the increasing acceptance of iPhone apps to document serious social and human pathologies. But despite all that, I feel that it misses the crucial issues – the ones that have nothing to do with technology, or tools, or applications, or social networks. That is, the issues that have to do with ethics, ideals, intents of the craft of journalism. what is egregious is the acceptance of ’embedding’ as any form of ‘journalism’ let alone one that has been repeatedly and hypocritically awarded by major photojournalism competitions, and published my major news outlets. Neither Hipstamatic or Instagram are anything new, or revolutionary or interesting. they are merely tools and we are having a blast with them. the question really is: how are we achieving this blast, to want end and purposes, and for whom? But nevertheless, have a read:
War on Instagram
A fascinating transcript from a drone & helicopter strike on a ‘group of militants’ reveals the many ways in which the human factor confounds and negates our faith in ‘smart’ technology. The myth that our weapons are ‘smart’ or ‘precise’ rests on the false idea that human beings do not design and operate them. The poor judgements, guesses, hearsay, blood thirst, excitement of war, human vanity and a simple desire to look like you are doing something, that underpins the use of these weapons, and the massive loss of life that follows, is something we have to confront. The drones may be pilot-less, but they are not immune from the poor, sloppy, and error-prone judgements of human beings.
America’s Lethal Profiling of Afghan Men | The Nation
This transcript once again shows how the men operating the drones are itching to shoot, trying to search for even the weakest excuse to fall into the ‘rules of engagement’, and simply acting trigger happy. They look for anything that may look like a ‘weapon’, any ‘behavior’ that can later be explained as ‘dangerous’ or ‘military like’ to retro-actively justify their wish to kill. You see men who are ‘playing’ and trying to fit their desire to murder into a concocted scenario of war. It is murder pure and simple, and the drone is their toy.
Some people thought that this was cute….I however disagreed, finding it dangerously sexist and frankly quick misogynist. What do you think?
How to Make Love Stay  6 endless tips.   Rebelle Society
I argued that what bothered me about it was the:

…objectification of the woman as ‘the pursued’, ‘the pampered’ and ‘the fucked’ that reveals the male dominant narrative here. She remains passive, the subject of male action, the Skinnerian reactor to male acts, the simplified and reductive swooning bride to cheesy overtures of flowers, kisses and cock. All her agency is removed, all complexity is erased, and any sense that may be about things other that public acts of affection e.g emotional resonance, intellectual inspiration, attitude, creativity, joy of conversations, or even the gift of shared silences amongst other things, simply not mentioned. And we dare not even suggest that a woman can change, grow, evolve, or move on!


How many things can you see are wrong with this story!
Former F.B.I. Agent to Plead Guilty in Press Leak   NYTimes.comThe so-called plot was a complete CIA concoction, using double agents, bombs they designed, plots they defined, and people they entrapped. So basically, it was never a terror plot, until the CIA operatives in Yemen dreamed it up, and put it into action, seduced a bunch of patsies into it, and then revealed it. And then of course they congratulated themselves because they ‘caught’ their own guy doing it.Of course, whenever it is revealed that this administration and its apparatus of intelligence creation is shown to be the bumbling idiots that they are, it takes its revenge! The entire case is based on the secret stealing of a reporter’s phone logs. ( I suspect the subpeona’s were issued by that most cowardly of institutions, the FISA court – a court that in the hundreds of requests has never denied a single one. Or maybe it has one or two, just for appearances sake! So much for oversight.Its basically a legalese scam. So once the case is done – the agent has been prosecuted, the CIA goons let off scott free, the administration back to its old tricks of entrapment and manufacturing terror plots to justify its anti-terror billions…..this is what the Justice Department attorney had to say:

This prosecution demonstrates our deep resolve to hold accountable anyone who would violate their solemn duty to protect our nation’s secrets, and to prevent future, potentially devastating leaks by those who would wantonly ignore their obligations to safeguard classified information,” said Ronald C. Machen Jr., the United States attorney for the District of Columbia.

that is….we will prosecute anyone who dares reveals the incompetent amateurs we really are. Our secrets are there to keep the nation from seeing our foolishness :)))

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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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