From Headman To Hitman

Another photographer turns up at another recently manufactured ‘traditional’ culture, and produces yet another set of racist, reductive and entirely fake 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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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’.

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Scratching At My Skin

“I have been stereotyped: my life and lived experiences negated by photo editors in the USA in particular. My editors in the USA in particular. I am nothing but my ethnicity, a man from my country of my birth 42 years ago. My name marks me as a ‘Muslim’, my ethnicity marks me as a ‘South Asian’, my birth marks me for work within the confines of the geography of the country of my birth. My birth on an unexceptional day in Karachi nearly 42 years ago was of greater interest and relevance than the nearly 18 years I spent studying, working, learning, and becoming in the United States of America (a country of which I am a citizen). I am the ‘Pakistani’ photographer and never allowed to be anything else, or asked to be elsewhere.”

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Still Speaking For The Others, But At Least Doing It Honestly

Ben Ehrenreich wrote perhaps one of the best pieces about the Palestinian resistance struggle in the town of Bilin in the West Bank against Israel’s hideous and inhumane apartheid wall. He was also the guy I quoted in a piece I wrote on Western photojournalism’s obsessive Eurocentrism when it comes to reporting on Brown and Black societies.

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A Rainbow Prohibition

Anastasia Taylor-Lind wants more diversity in the photojournalism industry. and has penned an argument that is conventional, unimaginative and banal. She continues the long practice of confusing a lack of diversity in mainstream Western / European photojournalism as only about ethnic, nationalist, or gender. That is, about ‘mixing it up’ and creating the right optics of diversity, much like we see in college posters, or television ads with their token ‘people of colour’ thrown in. What is completely left out is politics.

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War As A Product

The two individuals, introduced to us as ‘reporters’ for The New York Times, Helene Cooper and Adam Ferguson, and who are “…aboard the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt in the Persian Gulf.” are apparently conducting journalism. But it is near impossible to see how they could be doing anything other than producing propaganda pieces for the US war machine. Embedded with US military forces on an aircraft carrier battle group in the middle of the Persian Gulf, where access can only be achieved through careful negotiations and agreements 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. But of course, the New York Times would have you believe otherwise. 

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What’s Water?

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

David Foster Wallace, Whats’ Water?

We love the myth of the individual crusader. And we love it even more when the crusaders convinces us, or his/her arguments are presented as if, there is no one else but the individual. National Geographic stories are very explicitly neoliberal in this regard: there is no government, there are no policies, there is no corporation, no labor, no collectivity and hence, there is no accountability for political and corporate power and interests. The selling of the myth that only individuals exist, and the re-painting of the social and economic collapse of a city as something that has nothing to do with policy choices (of government, of corporations and the two in collusion) is ideological. All this is washed away by feel good stories of resilience because demanding accountability from your elected officials, and struggling for social and economic support goes against our current neoliberal fantasy world of individuals as personal value agents alone.

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Where The Wild Things Are!

The Pashtun of Waziristan, Pakistan has today become an avatar for violence, terrorism, rebellion, guerrilla warfare and other things deviant and vile. There is however a long heritage of depicting these people of the tribal regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan as genetically prone to violence and culturally prone to resistance to ‘civilised’ politics. This prejudice informs any and all writing about them, their history and the wars being waged in their backyards. From British colonial ear shenanigans – given the pretty-cute euphemism of ‘The Great Game’ to veil the fact that the White man’s ‘games’ are the brown man’s death sentence, genocide, pillage, massacre, mass murder, refugee crisis etc. to current American imperial wars in the region, the people of this region have been seen as nothing more than ‘barbaric’,and  ‘fundamentalist’ and continue to be spoken about with the worst of Orientalist and colonialist simplicities one can imagine – tribal, unconquerable, rebellious, and lawless. Where the British colonialist left off, their ancestors in the American political and academic establishment and the Pakistani post-colonialist structure have continued.

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Can non-Europeans think, and if so, can the non-European be allowed to speak?

Hamid Dabashi makes an argument that should have been made much earlier. So indeed, why are all the incredible voices emerging from South Asia, China, Africa and elsewhere always and consistently missing from any discussion about philosophy and society? 

Can non-Europeans think? – Opinion – Al Jazeera English.

As Dabashi argues:

Why is European philosophy “philosophy”, but African philosophy ethnophilosophy, the way Indian music is ethnomusic – an ethnographic logic that is based on the very same reasoning that if you were to go to the New York Museum of Natural History (popularised in Shawn Levy’s Night at the Museum [2006]), you only see animals and non-white peoples and their cultures featured inside glass cages, but no cage is in sight for white people and their cultures – they just get to stroll through the isles and enjoy the power and ability of looking at taxidermic Yaks, cave dwellers, elephants, Eskimos, buffalo, Native Americans, etc, all in a single winding row…..

The question of Eurocentricism is now entirely blase. Of course Europeans are Eurocentric and see the world from their vantage point, and why should they not? They are the inheritors of multiple (now defunct) empires and they still carry within them the phantom hubris of those empires and they think their particular philosophy is “philosophy” and their particular thinking is “thinking”, and everything else is – as the great European philosopher Immanuel Levinas was wont of saying – “dancing”.

Anyone who has read a modicum of writers from Asia and Africa will remain stunned at the ignorance of European thought. It is an ignorance that also colors and taints so much of journalist and photojournalistic works where entire generations of thinkers – philosophers, historians, intellectuals, writers, poets, activists and what have you, are completely missing. Its as if these regions and those people simply do not think, write, argue, debate, challenge, inform, and illuminate. It is as if we here have nothing to learn from them there. Or dare I say, as if we here may only be able to get it right by listening to those others there. Details »

Listening Only To Those We Recognise As Us

Lewis Bush of the Disphotic blog asks:

Why is a documentary on a foreign war correspondent, who had the choice to pack up and leave but decided to stay, and died as a consequences, considered more important, compelling or appealing than a documentary about a resident who had no choice but stay and die? Is it some how more tragic, the loss of life more poignant, for that fact that the deaths of Hondros and Hetherington, and so many others, appear so completely unnecessary? Even in our cynical age is there still some latent appeal in that old romantic idea of dying for a cause and what are the implications of this in an atmosphere that seems to be becoming increasingly dangerous for journalists? Profoundly disturbing ones I think.

He steps into a debate that has not-quite-raged within the community of photojournalists because apparently they are all too busy discussing Instagram or the latest Hipstamatic film-type or some other such ‘innovation’. Lewis Bush is speaking about recent announcements about documentary films about Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, two photojournalists who were killed during the recent Libya war. But the fact remains that our consumer / media saturated societies needs people like itself to help it make sense of the world. It needs the ‘white’ interlocutor to not only protect us from the diversity of perspectives and seemingly incomprehensible views of ‘the other’, but to also assure us that all is well in the world because someone like ‘us’ is out there reporting on it, and telling us how to think and respond to it.  Details »