How I Spent The Summer of 2014…

It now turns out….in New York City actually!


Sometimes things take a most unexpected turn, and you find yourself in the most unexpected places. I am moving to New York City for three months starting in late March, to continue working on my research and writings for the Pakistan Justice project, speaking at various academic and other institutions on the East Coast, exploring further possibilities of the ideas we generated in the Columbia Journalism School’s BitbyBit hackathon and to begin work on a new photo project in the USA.

Let me say a few things about each just to elaborate.

I have over a year of work from Pakistan most of which remains unpublished. The current website for the project Law & Disorder: A People’s History of The Law in Pakistan was redesigned in early 2014 and this process continues. However, a large number of stories and testimonies remain unpublished, and of course portraits that remain unprocessed. The challenge as always has been the research that I need to do, and the writings that complement the individual testimonies. This has proven to be a difficult process, but certainly not an unexpected one. It is just taking time, and perhaps worst, taking thought….the latter being the great weakness of mine. But new portraits, testimonies and writings will continue to emerge in the coming weeks as I make use of my access to the libraries at Columbia and post new pieces.

Next, we are extending our panels and presentations to smaller, local academic institutions. After having spoken at the major college campuses there is a sense that the student bodies at places like Brooklyn College, Queens College, Fordham and other such institutions will engage with our work on the victims of the War on Terror in a more compelling and direct way. There has been a quiet acceptance of our presentations so far, but there has been a lack of direct involvement as the panels have largely been academic discussions and few if any of the students have come forward with ideas and/or suggestions for how to continue the arguments on campus. We think that speaking to student bodies who have in fact faced the post 9/11 America’s realities in a more direct fashion would elicit a different, and a stronger response. That being said, I will also be speaking and presenting the work at some major universities in Rhode Island and in Boston this summer. A close friend is also trying to see if I can come out to the University of California, Berkeley and present my work there.

Our three-day hackathon at Columbia Journalism School was exciting and inspiring. However, it was the discussions and meetings that I had afterwards that presented me with some of the most exciting possibilities. A former student of mine, Shannon Carroll, was in attendance and a conversation with her over coffee a few days later offered an interesting thought. Her work with new forms of documentary films and story-telling was fascinating to hear about and quite inspiring. I later shared some of the thoughts she provoked with the photographer Nina Berman and our conversations led to ideas that we are now both anxious to test and try out. I am hoping that by working closely with a designer and a technologist we can produce a prototype of what we have conceived. It should be quite exciting and we are already working through some designs.

Finally, a new photo project. Well, not entirely new, but an evolution of my Pakistan work, but as it applies to citizens and individuals in the USA. It emerges out of a mistake. I had mistakenly assumed that the legal practices inside prisons such as Bagram and Guantanamo were anomalies, and that the American Federal courts were a better, more just, set of institutions to try those we have accused and incarcerated. But I have come to realize that this is an absolute misunderstanding – the American courts have completely failed to carry out their duties and have in fact capitulated in the face of government pressure. The oft-cited claim of ‘over 400 terrorism cases convicted’ is less a marker of their delivery of justice, and more a reminder that ‘due process’ is not in fact a just process. The new work takes a page out of works such as Susan Terrio’s Judging Mohammed; Juvenile Delinquency, Immigration, and Exclusion at the Paris Palace of Justice – a brilliant ethnography of praxis of juvenile justice courts in France. Stay tuned as I will write more about this. I expect to complete the first phase of the project by June 30th.

As always, I am well aware of ambitions outstripping capabilities, but these coming weeks promise to be very exciting and different. Not the least because of the many new people I will be working with and who have already contributed important ideas. I want to acknowledge them all here: Shannon Carroll, for introducing me to new documentary forms that she has been working with at UnionDocs, including sharing with me her work on SouthSideStories, which was the seed for my own concept project I am exploring with the photographer Nina Berman. Geo Geller, the unique New York documentarian, who introduced me to the Hasidim of Ditmars Avenue and gave me a chance to speak to and learn from a very unique and radical group of people. Nina Berman, whose incredible intellectual and physical energy will be tough to match but inspiring to keep up with in the coming weeks. Kati London and Raz Schwartz who collaborated with me on BitbyBit and brought an entirely new set of ideas to things I was working on and I hope now will work with me in the coming weeks to product a prototype of sorts. Saadia Toor, Madiha Tahir and people like Faisal Hashmi who were such a core part of pushing me to do something about things I have previously only complained about. So now I am.

It should be a fabulous summer in the city.

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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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