And, What Is Your Favourite Colour Of Photographer?

This came across my email, forwarded to me by the Magnum Foundation.

I have serious misgivings about this initiative.

There are a number of reasons, not the least of which is how the title – “Photographers of Colour” – works off the assumption of “White” universality as the norm, while others require to be defined in a ‘special category’. Whereas I can understand the instinct that gave birth to it, I am confused as to why this instinct was even considered valid and one worthy of an initiative of its own. I am surprised that more people did not raise an objection to the rather overt objectification of photographers of non-White origin this initiative demands. This entire effort requires people to self-identify themselves along ethnic and racial lines and is based on the belief that somehow ethnic and racial belonging gives them ‘credibility’ to cover stories and issues in regions of similar ethnic and racial spaces and geographies. This is a terrifying ghettoization of our craft, and in fact, reflected well in the example given in the introductory text alone where an editor’s need for African photographers to cover an AFROPUNK event – black people sent to cover black people – seems to have provoked the idea. Why would being African be enough of a qualification to cover this event?

(Note how the questionnaire does not even ask, until the very last question, the photographer’s race. And then to, as by US law, o a voluntary basis. So what’s the point in the first place? A generic questionnaire such as the one offered demands self-identification along ethnic and racial lines. That is, it demands that a human being reduce her/himself to merely her official race category. This is simply ridiculous to even demand, or to follow!)

But here is the most egregious problem with this effort: it absolutely ignores and/or veils the fact that it editor offices that are predominantly occupied by White / Caucasian people, and that it is here ethnic and intellectually diversity is most needed. To get and find a diverse set of photographers, you need to find a diverse set (by experience, by class, by intellect) set of editors!

The fact of the matter is that the lack of ‘diversity’ in our industry, specially photography and photojournalism, isn’t because editors cannot find non-White photographers – someone please alert Joseph Rodriguez, Wayne Lawrence, Ruddy Roy, Latoya Ruby Frazier, Lorna Simpson, Beian Palmer, Deana Lawson, Jamal Shabazz and dozens and dozens of others who have worked prodigiously in American media, but that our photography agencies, magazine editorial offices, curatorial spaces remain predominantly White.

Why does this matter?

Quite simply because these predominantly White spaces work through a very tight, close-knit, deeply network based social system where most everyone knows everyone else and assignments and stories move to photographers who can afford to and are able work inside this system. Those who do not have access to this close-knit circuit – either because they cannot afford to be in New York, for example, to network and pitch, work and promote themselves in it, are at a serious disadvantage.

This Whiteness of American media also constrains it ideologically, culturally, and socially – class, something we never talk about when it comes to photography, and the privileges it offers, is a powerful determinant of who gets noticed and who never gets contacted.

Class allegiance is that unspoken truth of when it comes to getting ‘into’ the network, because those who are not aligned to it ideologically are also most likely to offer uncomfortable and problematic perspectives and opinions. I argued this clash of world-view point in a piece I wrote earlier called “A Rainbow Prohibition” (see: http://www.asimrafiqui.com/…/2…/06/23/a-rainbow-prohibition/), where I argued:

“So perhaps photojournalism – a small segment of the broader media industry, one that is near exclusively owned by White, Male, Europeans deeply married to the nation-state and current political power, and deeply embedded in the culture and privileges of Western elitism – are not really policing ethnically, but are policing intellectually.” There is a reason all the major photo agencies are predominantly White, why all the major photo-editors are White, why almost all the ‘staff’ photographers at publications like National Geographic have historically been White. It’s not a coincidence. Or a lack of oversight. Or that no one else could be found. Please.

The lack of ‘colour’ in American editorial spaces, and the consistent commissioning of ‘photographer’s of colour’ to be assigned ‘work of colour’ was captured well in a recent piece by Howard French (see: https://www.theguardian.com/…/enduring-whiteness-of-america…), where he pointed out:

“The intersection between America’s age-old race problem and the crisis of race in journalism takes two forms. The first is a simple failure of integration: the news organisations that have traditionally comprised “mainstream” journalism have done little to welcome or encourage African-Americans, who are substantially underrepresented by comparison to their numbers in the overall population. This problem is obvious to anyone who cares to look – and it has become sufficiently embarrassing for a number of publications to make sporadic but ultimately ineffectual efforts to redress it. As soon as one or two hires are made, attention inevitably shifts elsewhere, much as the focus of the press drifted away from racial bias in the criminal justice system once a whiff of the campaign season could be sensed in the air.

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p style=”text-align: justify;”>All signs point towards a tense and extraordinarily racialised campaign that will be a severe test for US journalism
But the second and more subtle issue is a persistent problem of typecasting – a deeply embedded view that regards certain topics as “black” and the rest as “white”. Those black people who make their way into the business are heavily concentrated in stereotypical roles. This has meant sport, entertainment and especially what is euphemistically called urban affairs, often meaning reporting on black people. By contrast, there are very few black journalists writing about politics and national security, international news, big business, culture (as opposed to entertainment) or science and technology – they are essentially absent from large swaths of coverage, and even more sparsely represented among the ranks of editors. This is not a trivial matter, or a subject of concern solely to journalists: the overwhelming whiteness of the media strongly but silently conditions how Americans understand their own country and the rest of the world.”

A failure of integration, and a problem of typecasting.

There is no evidence that a Kenyan photographer can cover anything in Kenya better, unless and only if, that judgement is based on her work, her eye, her intellect and her production. There are non-African photographers in Kenya who are racially White but know the country inside out. What other criteria would you ever use? There is no reason to think that works from places of ‘colour’ are somehow suited to photographer’s from ‘places of colour’.

On an individual by individual basis, there may be those who are more qualified, but their skin colour, ethnicity, or nationality can’t be that qualification. They are photographers. And just as White photographers are never asked to explain their experience before being sent of my the best magazines to cover months longs stories in the Middle East for example – do you speak the language, do you know the political history, can you even figure out a train schedule etc., suggesting that their ethnicity, their nationality, their ‘colour’ is absolutely of no consequence when it comes to giving them work across the globe, we can do the same with the rest of us – judge us for our work.

Participating in this initiative does nothing to address the fundamental reasons why editors ‘cannot find photographers of colour’, but perhaps offers us the greater danger of being stereotyped and type cast. There is a greater danger in being defined as a ‘Brown / Pakistani Photographer’, than in not being noticed at all. For after all, the latter liberates me from the suffocating banality of conversations with editors convinced that the only qualification I must have to produce a work is the colour of my skin, the legacy of my birth, the presumptions of my ethnicity – all issues that apparently are not valid for White photographers, and nor are they ever to be restricted because of them. And the horrifying racist practice of only ever calling me when there is work to be done in Pakistan.

We want recognition for our talents, our ideas, our intellect, our skills, our creativity, our hard work, our commitment, our efforts, our dedicated, our courage, our eye, our sensibility, our willingness to pursue and to create. We want recognition that does not ghettoize us, cut us to our birth, our skin colour or our presumed ‘cultural’ knowledge. We want to be recognised more completely, and not be ghettoized more precisely.

What must be torn down are the walls that protect editorial offices and keep them homogeneous and White. Only when that is done can we be sure that the broader industry will find the spaces for more diverse, more creative, different and exciting work that is intellectually, creative and ideologically challenging. But as long as we keep those ideological walls in place, as long as the network remains tight and close-knit, as long as we go around congratulating ourselves by giving each other awards and prizes, we will not change this situation. What we will do is just find ways to further segregate photographers.

Today, in an American where walls are being raised, where ‘communities of colour’ are being stigmatised and attacked, where ideas of what is ‘American’ is increasingly seen as ‘White’ and the rest of us are being defined and abused along ethnic and racial lines, it is imperative that we not introduce more initiatives – no matter how benign or well-meaning the producer’s intents, that further define and divide people along these lines. If anything, this is a moment for editorial self-reflection, not knee-jerk demands for racial self-identification.

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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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Photographs Are No Longer Enough

So, here is a Masterclass in photojournalism, particularly for European photojournalists producing works on immigration, refugees and Africa. It is a Masterclass in how not to work as a photographer / photojournalist working on stories of immigration, refugees and the European fear of 'the Other'.

This article – written by some hack writer and with an epistemology embedded deep inside the brain trust of NGO-think – is perhaps the single finest learning tool I have come across in a very long time. And I am not just saying that.

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/05/saving-senegal-sons-vanishing-european-seas-170530065009710.html

This is an article about immigrants, about Africa and her poverty, about 'women's empowerment', about European assistance to help African women 'develop' and become 'empowered', about populist ideas of 'humanity' and what not. It is a cliche-ridden piece around which one could construct an entire Graduate School seminar.

And here is why this is a Masterclass.

Point One: The perspective, and POV of the piece of 'the human'. Specifically, it is the individual. This is typical of how typical photojournalists want to work – you focus on an empathetic subject, you find a 'good victim', and you place yourself as the mediator / medium through which their stories will be bought to the White European world. Mind you, this latter point is critical – so many 'concerned' photographers are entirely beholden to the view that the core audience, the critical agency of action and ideas, lies in the European markets. Of course, they are inadvertently acknowledging that their idea of 'agency' happens to be the paying pages of an European publication. They have no interest in the agency of the very people they are documenting. They are 'giving voice to the voiceless', and hence silencing the local communities and erasing their agency. These photojournalists come to serve what Allan Sekula has called 'liberal ideology's false humanism, while denying the fact that information too has been mobilised.' (Steichen At War, by Allan Sekula). The individual as the starting point permits a downgrading of the structural, and also absolves the photojournalist from broader inquiry, and from making critical connections between economics, and politics, and how these create realities within which people operate and surive and thrive. Or die.

Two: An European NGO is highlighted as entering the fray, and helping 'the women'. Its always the women. The White man's generosity and concern, his love of 'the women' move to have him act to help these hapless mothers. So the NGO – we are told that "Yayi has just returned from Morocco, where she received an award from a Swiss NGO, Crans-Montana Forum, for her work in the community." But what is this organisation that we are talking about? That is not looked at. But a simple search of their website reveals it to be a forum and 'action group' comprised of the views and perspectives of some the most rigid, fanatical, fascist, imperialist and neoliberal European political leaders of the last 40 yeas! The Crans-Montana Forum boasts that it is “Committed to a more Humane and Impartial World” and encourages international cooperation and overall growth." i.e. embedded in this faux humanist language is that fascist word 'growth'. The forum boasts participation and 'encouragement' from such 'luminaries' as Peres, Holbrook, Chernomyrdin, Rabin, A. Juppe, and many many more – a veritable list of powerful, elite, political and establishment figures who. This forum apparently gave a few 'dimes' to Yahi. But here is the catch…

Three: Right there, all over the article, is simple and direct evidence of how the causes of the loss of Senegal's sons lie firmly in the trade policies that the EU has 'won' from collaborative Senegalese governments. That is, the reason why millions are leaving Senegal and heading to European shores – shores that are now highly militarised and brutal, is because of Europe's desperate hunger for fish, and the trade arrangements that have destroyed the livelihoods of millions. These unjust, unequal and insane trade agreements, ones that the EU can impose onto weaker nations, are the single largest driver of immigrants heading towards the very militarised borders where they eventually are imprisoned, tortured, brutalised or killed. Its right there in the article e.g.

"According to the World Bank, only one in five people work full time in Senegal and 20 percent of the country's five million labour force is jobless.

"There is no work for young people any more. You can imagine how they see things. They say: our sea has been sold," says Yayi referring to overfishing practised by industrial trawlers from Europe, China and Japan.

Although President Macky Sall criticised these practices when he came to power in 2012 and briefly put a stop to it, new fishing agreements have been signed between the Senegalese government and the EU for the 2014-2019 period.

It enables the EU to fish for 14,000 tonnes of fish a year in Senegalese waters in exchange for 15 million euros ($16.75 million) in compensation."

These criminally unjust and exploitative trade deals are destroying local economies and undermining local governance. And if you think this is a 'sovereign' arrangement between a Senegalese government and the EU, then you are again wrong. Deeply indebted states like Senegal are beholden to International Financial Institutions and unable to make critical social and political policy decisions without prioritising the interests of the lenders. This is a simple fact that has been documented repeated by the likes of Wendy Brown, Saskia Sassen, Joseph Steiglitz and even Jeffery Sachs who has come around to seeing the connections after many decades faltering around in racist 'development model' theories.

So,

Four: The very NGOs that give tiny handouts to selected 'good Senegalese' individuals, are also the forum made up of the power elite that maintain and sustain global capitalism, global trade arrangements, global economic ideologies and the movement of global profits and raw resources (fish, in this case), entirely towards Europe. Anyone claiming that 'colonialism' is dead ignores the fact that colonialism wasn't just about military of administrative control. It was also very much about economic networks, social control, ideologies and power arrangements. Much of those arrangements have survived the test of 'independence', as documented well by the likes of Laura Ann Stolar and others.

It is now the height of irresponsibility and frankly racist disregard that photojournalists can continue to produce 'human' stories about immigrants and refugees, but never be moved to speak out against the policies of their own countries – whether it is war, or trade or other, that are creating these massive waves of people fleeing death and starvation. It is the height of cowardice that photojournalists are unable to connect the dots, desperate as they are to sell their shoddy wares to shoddy publications – publications that are a core part of the nationalist and corporate capitalist infrastructure and have an interest in hiding these connections, while standing on podiums speaking lyrically about 'human suffering' and 'justice'. It is inexplicable that these vividly obvious inter-connections are not the focus of more projects, more writings and more photographs by photojournalists, who still seem to insist on waiting on the 'death side' of the story to make their banal pictures.

Institutions like World Press Photo, and other European 'journalism' groups, seem to encourage these simplistic and limited narratives by awarded these simplistic and limited narratives. Not just that, but publications like the New York Times, and major photo agencies like Magnum, collaborate in the obfuscation of these issues by producing 'fabulous' multi-media pieces that use a language and framing that hides these connections, that refuse to face our agency in this suffering, and worse, refuse to hold our political leaders accountable for our continued role in the suffering of the millions. We seem to think that they are 'starving' and 'fleeing' from 'there' because we are all so beautiful and everyone wants to come live in our pretty garden cities. And yet we fail to see that the garden is grown over the blood of the very people we are not imprisoning, torturing and killing.

This is a Masterclass in photojournalism. No, it isn't about how your images should look more like those of Alex Majoli or Steve McCurry. It is about how you need to learn to think, and to make connections. It is about how you need to reject these narratives that create 'empathy' and work through 'pathos'. It is about producing works that do not fit the pages of a mainstream publications, that do not succumb to the false seductions of photo awards. Today, we are no longer absolved from our responsibility as citizens and as responsible individuals. These connections, these deprivations, our role in global suffering and as the main cause of human suffering, is right there for all to see. It is shocking to me that European photojournalists continue to work as if they are apart, in a bubble, unrelated to very horrors they head out to document.

This little, useless article, is a brilliant study on how we are encouraged to frame suffering, and how are told to make invisible the causes. The same people who are the beneficiaries of unjust trade and repressive economic arrangements, are the ones giving out crumbs to suffering 'African's while garlanding themselves as 'humanitarian' and 'concerned' labels.

The trillions in profits and wealth that flow to Europe, and the hundreds of millions of deaths and displacements that are imposed on Africa and other regions, are intimately connected. To pretend not to speak about this, to pretend that it does not exist, to practice a concerned craft in ignorance, to encourage that ignorance for the sake of a photo essay publication, or a chance to 'dance' with a photo editor, is shameful and frankly, beneath contempt.

These are not new revelations. In 2005 Le Monde Diplomatique wrote the following about European trade agreements and so-called 'climate refugees' in Bangladesh:

"THE hamlet of Baro Ari in the Khulna region of southwest Bangladesh is lost in the reaches of the Ganges. It is difficult to find, and yet globalisation has already arrived there, along with its unique market opportunity, shrimps and prawns. Local bigwigs opened the dykes of polders in 2000, flooding with salt water land that belonged to poor farmers. With the connivance of a corrupt police force, they then transformed the drowned land into lucrative crustacean farms."

(http://kit.mondediplo.com/spip.php?article4228)

Our work isn't just photographs. Our work speaks to truths that cost people lives. Our work isn't just a career. It has consequences for the living because our work creates the narratives that can justify war, collude in death, or resist it. Too many young photojournalists and most all 'famous' photojournalists seem not to understand how they and their works can be easily 'weaponised', and gleefully gloat and brag about their images despite the political and military exploitation of theses images to serve death and destruction.

This article is a Masterclass. Read it again. See how it is done. See how we must, at all costs, start to do it differently.

I Am Not A Racist, Though I Am In Agreement With Them


This may be how our new racists speak – veiling their bigoted, essentialist xenophobia behind a carefully crafted language that displaces their racism onto unnamed others, while subtly agreeing with then. As in this terrifyingly national and ‘clash of civilisation’ qualifying paragraphs:
“Today’s Western nationalists argue, also plausibly, that many European distinctives are unlikely to survive if nation-states are weak, mass immigration constant, Christianity and Judaism replaced by indifferentism and Islam, and young elites educated as global citizens without knowing their own home.

This nationalist argument comes in racist forms, but it need not be the white nationalism that Trump’s liberal critics read into his speech. It can just be a species of conservatism, which prefers to conduct cultural exchange carefully and forge new societies slowly, lest stability suffer, memory fail and important things be lost.”

…”conduct cultural exchange carefully”… indeed, one wishes the europeans had thought of that when they raped and pillaged their way across the world to becoming slave traders, colonisers and genocidiares!

or when they pillaged their way across afghanistan, iraq, libya, somalia, vietnam, to name just a few.

strangely, a few darkies at our doors from nations we rape provoke these insipid op-eds, while the millions of darkies we slaughter and murder, whose homes and lives we rent asunder, seem not to pique our concern. 

careful cultural exchange is a lovely concern. 

this modern day racism is now smack in the pages of The New York Times. we should not be surprised given this paper’s long history of Islamophobic bigotry and anti-Black equality positions over the decades. It isn’t an overt racism, which is what makes it complex to see – it is, like this Op/Ed, veiled behind sweeping essentialism and caricatures that deny the hybridity of our actual lives, that utilises Orientalist and racist presumptions and generalisations voiced in polite and ‘managerial’ language of ‘progress’ and ‘tolerance’ and ‘balance’ and ‘moderation’.

Read this piece again, but shred the moderation embodied in it. It is a crassly nationalist, xenophobic scream that uses the worst of cultural essentialism, birth rate bigotry and anti-immigrant hate but does it with supreme politeness.

The New York Times – its editors continue to demonstrate their moral emptiness, their intellectual shallowness and their ethical indifference. From hiring racist, climate-change deniers, to retaining war monger pundits, to shilling their pages to Christian fundamentalist White Supremacist, this is not a paper of record, but increasingly a rag of ridiculousness!

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