Helping Us Absorb The Shock Of Reality

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 20.53.27

Raymond Williams work ‘Keywords’ is perhaps one of the great pioneering cultural studies text of our lifetime. There are not many works that can claim that. In it, Williams pointed out that the meaning and use of words is deeply influenced by and changes with our political, social and economic situations and needs. As Williams himself argued in the book:

“…[T]he air of massive impersonality which the Oxford Dictionary communicates is not so impersonal, so purely scholarly, or so free of active social and political values as might be supposed from its occasional use.”

Words matter. And how, when and who uses them matters profoundly. When it is a word used by Western media, one deeply implicated in upholding corporate, political and military interests, we should always keep Williams insight in mind. Hence, it is irresponsible, if not disingenuous, of any writing by a media critic or commentator when writing about the American / Western media (broadcast, print, digital, radio) to not acknowledge the existence of this political and corporate influence, and the ways in which it influences so much of what is shown and spoken about. It is also disingenuous not to acknowledged that using and manipulating the media today is a crucial goal of any political administration anywhere in the world. The reach and access of media is greater today than ever before, and its influence on opinions and ideas second only to the Church. Perhaps more so, but I do not wish to blaspheme. Hence, I am repeatedly dismayed at the persistent and consistent eraser by media critics and analysts of American and European journalism’s close relationship to political and corporate power. (Le Monde Diplomatique is an exception, reporting repeatedly on this close collaboration when it comes to French media.) So much has been written about this to be self-evident, but it is intentionally pushed aside in discussions about how news get produced, published, disseminated and discussed. From corporate and private ownership of major newspapers, to political influence and collusion with journalists and editors, we know well today how closely our media has become a propaganda machine.

So when I came across this essay titled “Should News Outlets Show Photographs of Terrorists?” by Fred Ritchen – a former photo editor at The New York Times and now a teacher at the International Center for Photography in New York, I was left confused by many of its positions. Details »

War As A Product

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 14.14.05

Militarism was thus being perpetuated at precisely the moment that it had become marginalised as a political program…[This was possible because of the]…spatial packaging of the underside of British modernity, in which Arabia figured as the last bastion of the world free from bourgeois convention, a place of honour and bravery (however mindless), of manly sportsmanship and perennial conflict…As Glubb put it, “Life in the desert is continuous guerrilla warfare,” and this meant striking hard and fast because that was the way of “Bedouin war.” “Not a moderate, but a maximum weight of bombs must be dropped” to maintain the native’s respect for airpower, insistend Flight Lieutenant Mackay. On his return home, General Haldane corroborated this truism about Arabs’ masochistic respect for “force, and force alone,” assuring audiences at the United Services Institute that though he had been “obliged t0 inflict a very severe lesson on the recalcitrant tribes, they bore me no resentment.” To them, Glubb elaborated, war was a ‘romantic excitement” whose production of “tragedies, bereavements, widows and orphans” was a “normal way of life,” “natural and inevitable.” Their taste for war was the source of their belief that they were “elites of the human race.” It would be a cultural offence not to bombard them with all the might of the empire (not least out of respect for the frequently invoked tribal principle of communal responsibility). Arnold Wilson confirmed for the Air Ministry that the problem was one of public perception, that Iraqis were used to a state of constant warfare, expected justice without kids gloves, had no patience with sentimental distinctions between combatants and noncombatants, and viewed air action as entirely “legitimate and proper.” “The natives of a lot of these tries love fighting for fighting’s sake,” Trenchard assured Parliament. “They have no objection to being killed.”  (Page 250)

Priya Satia Spies In Arabia: The Great War And The Cultural Foundations of Britian’s Covert Empire In The M.E. 

They are two individuals embedded deep inside America’s war machine. Ostensibly and formally introduced as ‘reporters’ for The New York Times, Helene Cooper and Adam Ferguson, we are told are “…aboard the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt in the Persian Gulf.” And they are supposed to be conducting journalism. The fact that instead they are producing propaganda pieces for the US military is rather difficult to avoid stating. I suppose in such a situation, where access to a major battle fleet has been arranged from negotiations between the highest levels of military command, and the highest levels of The New York Time’s corporate command, I can’t see either one being able to produce anything else. Details »

Old Wounds

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 21.15.09

Every single magazine we submitted our Haiti work to refused to publish it. In fact, they spent more time mocking our efforts to reveal a mostly unspoken aspect of the toppling and kidnapping of the democratically elected Haitian leader Jean-Bertrande Aristide in 1994. So it was with some pleasure to read this piece in The Public Archive that in fact echos so much of what we had been trying to argue and reveal.

As Jemima Pierre writes:

The second occupation began June 2004 and was established under the pretext of “stabilizing” Haiti after the U.S.-sponsored ouster of the country’s democratically elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide. During the 2003 “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” France, Canada, and the US hatched a plot to overthrow Aristide. The following February their plan was implemented. Aristide was kidnapped by US marines and sent to a military base in the Central African Republic. US President George W. Bush announced afterwards that he was sending US forces to Haiti to “help stabilize the country.” As Peter Hallward documents, the invading “Franco-American” force targeted and killed Aristide supporters, installed a puppet Prime Minister, and enabled the formation of a paramilitary force that organized anti-Aristide death squads. The United Nations, then led by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, then cleaned up. According to Hallward, UN Security Council voted unanimously on April 29, 2003 to send, “an 8,300-strong UN Stabilization Force from 1 June, under the leadership of Lula’s Brazil.”

Writer Malcolm Garcia and I had travelled – at our own expense and based on our own research, to Port Au Prince to document the targeting and killing of Lavalas activists and Aristided supporters under cover of a UN mission, and with the support and collusion of the USA and France. Details »

What Can’t Be Discussed Or How Photojournalism Disconnected Itself From Its Own Reality

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 5.32.00 pm

These are the discussions the photojournalism industry – from editors, to award winning photographers – refuse to engage in. I have already written about the many ways in which manipulated and doctored photography has been for the last some decades been a core part of photojournalism. I have argued that the competitions assiduously avoid speaking about this, and continue to waste time and energy on trivial issues of ‘digital image manipulation’. Somewhere along the line, photo editors, and photojournalists, have convinced themselves that their only, and exclusive, purview is what lies within the frame – the aesthetic of the image. So they endlessly discuss the style, the grammar, the technical facets of frame / image only, but nothing more. Nothing can touch on the lies, manipulations, and doctoring that goes on beyond the frame. Details »

Is The Modern War Correspondent A Legitimate Target Of War?

War reporters are being killed. It should not come as a surprise given that mainstream journalists have been close participants in these wars. This is a harsh statement to make confronted as I am with the hideous acts being carried out against journalists. But I can’t help but see that those speaking about these killings – of American / European journalists, are carefully 1) avoiding speaking about how reporters and their embedded reporting were central to the American war machine, and 2) how media outlets are today the most important propaganda machinery for war, whether American, Israeli, French, Russian, Pakistani, and of course, ISIS.

We live in a world where media strategies are created alongside military strategies. Anyone who things otherwise is either intentionally ignorant or deliberately deflecting facts. No major military – and not even the Taliban, or ISIS or any non-state actor, ignores the centrality of media, and the role of journalists and photojournalists, in communicating and selling wars. And when for decades Western reporters continue to embed with American and British invasion forces, they leave themselves open to being targeted as genuine and legitimate targets of violence. Details »

The Photojournalist As A Victim Of Ideology

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 10.20.18

The New York Times Sunday Magazine joins the game of re-writing the war. The New York Times efforts – through the use of its correspondents and pundits, to obfuscate and outright distort this latest Israeli initiated and unnecessary mass slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza (with over 550 documented deaths of children alone, a war crime for which the entire Israeli political establishment should be held accountable and prosecuted if something such as ‘international law’ was real and concrete), are well-known and well document. (See http://www.fair.org/blog/2014/08/22/how-the-new-york-times-twists-gaza/ and more).

Now the magazine also gets into the game, sending two talented by voiceless photographers to the region, to create an absolutely false ‘balance’ between 2000 actual dead, 100,000 or more actually displaced, entire neighborhoods erased, infrastructure destroyed and the ‘..tension, sorrow and, at moments, great alarm.’ of the Israelis.

Details »

The Shot That Almost Killed Them But The Nonsense That Always Kills Me

The narcissism is staggering. The infantile posturing simply terrifying to witness. These are the people we have sent out into the world to report on it. Confused, lost, and reduced to simply making pictures that sell, for stories that are edited thousands of miles away, it is perhaps unsurprising to see that not a single person in this list of ‘luminaries’ has anything to say about any of the communities, and conflicts they covered. These series of articles – and we see them every few weeks – perpetuate a false understanding and a false ideal. And these photographers are all willing participants in this game.  Details »

Media Lens – The Great White ‘Nope’ – Genevieve Jacobs, Paul Mason and Alain De Botton

Photojournalistm’s obsession with ‘presentation’ – the singular conviction that new tools, toys, social media platform, greater use of graphics, cooler website designs or multi-media, are the answer to the problems of their craft, reflects an ideology that erases corporate owner and political influence.

This argument was taken up in this excellent piece about journalism, and the ideological blinkers that remain in place not on journalists, but also those writing about journalism.

Media Lens – The Great White ‘Nope’ – Genevieve Jacobs, Paul Mason and Alain De Botton.

In their criticism of Alain De Bottom’s new book The News: A User Manual, they point out:

De Botton really is arguing that ‘presentational techniques’ should be a key focus for media reformers, who need to deal with the fact that ‘no one is particularly interested’ in news. (p.98)

The solution, then, ‘is to push so-called serious outlets into learning to present information in ways that can properly engage audiences. It is too easy to claim that serious things must be, and can almost afford to be, a bit boring….

…Key problems with the media are thus identified: they don’t try hard enough to be interesting, they’re too boring, they’re too focused on negative events – a desperately superficial and misguided analysis.

The entire onus is placed on presentation, and on the individuals (editors, writers, photographers etc.). This is a classic example of confusion and obfuscation because it refuses to recognize the institutions that own, operate and influence media and journalism – corporations that own them, economic interests that finance them (advertisers and other corporations), and governments that use them for political agendas and dissemination of ideologies (capitalism, free-markets, invasions, wars, etc.) behind moral and legal language. Or, to put it more succintly:

Like the endless promotion of wars in Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, perhaps – including the Guardian and Independent’s tireless advocacy for the West’s supposed ‘responsibility to protect’ – despite the clear disfavour of readers and viewers. In fact, the financial needs of newspapers mean that they cannot afford to advance ideas which fail to find favour with the 1 per cent, and above all the 0.1 per cent, which owns and controls them.

Yet again, most all this is also missing in photojournalism’s debate with itself. Instead, what we have been offered is not a honest debate about the way media institutions are operating, or the restrictions of embedded journalism, or the cozy relationship with corporate power, or the ways in which news is angled to reflect government or our political and imperial interests, but instead on presentation toys: Instagram, other social media, multi-media techniques, etc. etc.

Is the debate going to widen? Is there a festival, a school, a panel or even a group of photojournalists who will come together to explore these critical questions, and re-examine their own works to see what now needs to be done differently?

 

Against Whispering

Simon Norfolk.

I was so confident that I had written about his work on this blog that I even suggested to some of the students working with me on my Justice In Pakistan project to do a search on this, The Spinning Head, blog and take a look at his work. When they came back a few days later and pointed out that their search yielded no results I was surprised, and embarrassed. It was inconceivable that I have never discussed Norfolk’s work in all the years that I have been writing this blog. It was later that I realized that I had planned on writing about him, in particular his recent work in Afghanistan, and had decided to wait until after I had reviewed his latest project. And then I never got around to it. I want to fix this terribly oversight and write about his work now.

About two years ago I received an email from Simon that said:

I’m a big fan of your blog and in particular your thoughts about embedding in Afghanistan. Which was why I went and embedded in Afghanistan! I’d like to show you the results, it’s following in the footsteps of John Burke, a photographer who was there in 1880; can I mail you a copy of my book? Can you send me an address? I’d love to hear your thoughts, good or bad.

Details »

Recycling Myths To Remember A War

You cannot report a war from the front lines. You can only report a battle. Ducking under fire, scared for your life, beholden to the largess and tolerance of the military forces you are traveling with, denuded of context, obsessed with the immediate action unfolding in front of you, while constantly keeping an eye over your shoulder for the ‘enemy’, riddled with panic, fear, doubt, and worry a reporter on the front line struggles to keep up with unfolding events. Like watching a movie, she is unable to see and think simultaneously – she can merely report the immediate, the literal, as it unfolds in front of her. And an embedded reporter is in an even worse position – trapped not only physically, but also ideologically and with the constant fear of being ‘locked’ out if she fails to tow the line.

But wars are not merely the combat and journalism isn’t only about reporting the battles. In fact, when it comes to wars, one could safely argue that the battles are the least interesting pieces of information, and the most misleading. They tell us nothing about how we got into the war, the broader social, political, economic, cultural and individual devastation they unleash, the millions of lives of ‘the enemy’ that are torn asunder, the suffering of those left in the wake of the war machine and the festering and degrading realities that emerge as a result of the occupations and repressions that necessarily follow.

The focus on the battles distracts from the war itself – its reasons, its objectives, and lets be honest, its real consequences for those who were trampled under it. And certainly when it comes to wars of choice, those that our leaders led us into on the basis of lies, journalists have to accept that the front line is in fact the worst place to report as it is most distant from where one can make the inquiries and investigations, understand the realities and histories, that went to make the war, and that plague the came in the aftermath.

But of course, photographers need ‘action’ and ‘events’, and the medium cannot comprehend many of these complexities is then left documenting only the most obvious, and literal manifestations of a conflict – the violence itself. But violence tells us nothing, nor does it really tell the story of a war. As was evidenced by most all the photo slide shows that recently appeared to ‘commemorate’ the 10th anniverary of the American attack on Iraq. Most all simply focused on the battles, the soldiers, the weaponry, the casualties – the front line where truth is in fact practically impossible to find. Details »

Bad Behavior has blocked 61 access attempts in the last 7 days.