Don’t Look Back

You could say that this piece is about the present, and about the city as experienced by the photographer today. You could argue that one need not always resort to historical realities, or trace the threads of memory when the focus is in the here and now. But, the past is not dead. It’s not even past.  If I can quote a son of the South.

This is how you white-wash (so to say!) America’s cruel, brutal, racist history – write an entire piece about a Southern town, one that still celebrates its ‘civil war’ history, one that was once the center of Georgia’s cotton trade a.k.a. slave plantations and at the heart of America’s cotton trade – so powerfully, and painfully described in Walter Johnson’s River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom, and never once mention any of this definitive and critical history. 

Monroe in fact is a fantastic example of how slave owning, slave trading, plantation economy regions of America re-cast themselves as ‘historical’ destinations and ‘antique’ markets, in the process cleaning the blood and tears of a history that is very recent, and the scars still clear. I do not know the photographer’s intentions, I can certainly read and understand the way The New York Times presented this work, and the narratives it so sweetly hid behind euphemisms.

I do find it bizarre that the New York Times can run an entire pieces about a town in the South, at a moment in our history when White Supremacy is in political power, finding its voice back in the public and media sphere, acting out its bigoted impulses through violence and policies, and targeting the Black / Brown and other lives in the country, and never once mention that towns cruel and violent past. A past mind you that isn’t gone, and whose legacies and consequences can most likely still be seen and experienced had this photographer bothered to look. For example, nearly 50% of the Black population of this town lives in poverty. Why is that?

So what is the ‘common ground’ that we are told about in the title of this piece? What does that refer to? What do I say to a town that takes pride in civil war re-enactments? When they celebrate their ‘Heritage Day’ at the William Harris Homestead (Plantation), do they remember that he was a slave owner? And what is this ‘heritage’ that they celebrate? Do they see that as a war of liberation? Do they celebrate the bravery of their ancestors? Do they remember the ‘good old’ days because they remind them of their achievements and heritage, a heritage that for half the population of the city is one of degradation, humiliation, slaughter and abuse?

These issue matter. History matters. If we are in any way to understand our present predicaments, our current struggles, and those who speak back to the system demanding justice and equality, dignity and respect, then history matters. A writers and editors at the premier newspaper in the country should at the very least be conscious of this responsibility, and should know well that in a moment in time of rising racist and bigoted divisions, you just cannot elide truths and legacies that define and determine the very social, cultural, architectural, and political legacies of Southern towns and cities and states. You cannot.

This project is described in ways that suggest that the writer is entirely blind to the hard realities of the place. Here are the writer’s words:

“Her black-and-white project, “Hometown: A Documentary of Monroe, Georgia,” makes it clear that this is no dispassionate portrait, but a loving, clear-eyed view from inside, sort of. Monroe is the photographer’s adopted hometown. She moved there some 20 years ago after marrying a native son whose family runs one of the oldest and largest Hereford cattle ranches in Walton County. Her son and daughter were born there. They attend their father’s high school and church, and claim roots in town that go back several generations.”

Would those be slave owning, and profiteering cotton farming generations? Or when the writer says:

“She fell for the racially diverse town that refused to die along with the cotton industry. “

Really? Is this the ‘clear sightedness’ we now celebrate? This is what slavery and Jim Crow are now described as – racially diverse? And what about the hard, concrete poverty based dividing lines that define the town? Are they entirely invisible? Have we forgotten that it was only in the 1970s that civil rights were legally won in this country? That was just yesterday. Have we forgotten that at this very moment ‘racial diversity’ is precisely what is under assault, and what we had hoped we had outgrown i.e. institutional racism and White Supremacist celebrations and sense of national entitlement, is once again being worn and spoken about with pride?

We have longer descriptions of the iPhone which this work was produced with, than anything that speaks to the blood soaked history of this town. The former gets paragraphs, the latter not a single word! Remarkable. The bizarre obsession with technical toys, and programmatic and willed silence of uncomfortable American truths (slavery, occupations, wars, torture, renditions, etc.), is simply inexplicable. Or perhaps not. America is a myth. The New York Times is a core generator of those myths.

This is an egregious lack of history, or any sense of responsibility or even connectedness to our present reality. It is pieces like these, perhaps even projects like these (though I have no idea what the full breath and scope of her work is), that really shock me in their feigned ignorance of the challenges and dangers so many of us are facing today, and have faced for decades. It is this staggering disconnect, this arrogant repose of White comfort, that can still surprise me. It is this easy confidence that you can write an essay like this, produce a work like this, and never be questioned for your ignorance or willed erasure of histories that define and determine our lives today.

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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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