History Is Another Planet

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Eliza Griswold pens an entirely farcical and ahistorical piece for – of course, the New York Times. And though it is now becoming tiresome to point out how ridiculously, amateurish this newspaper has become a shill for war and propaganda, it still remains critical to continue to point it out. There are still too many people who take this publication seriously, and repeat its arguments thoughtlessly. This in fact was the key point that Glenn Greenwald made in a critical take-down of The New York Times recent, stenographic piece on the Edward Snowden leaks. Details »

A Stubborn Refusal

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My continued disdain dismissal of most all photojournalists working on ‘immigration’ stories begins with this simple fact outlined in this excellent article titled The Story Behind The Stories, where author Rodney Benson argues that:

The complexity of the international causes of migration cannot be easily expressed as a melodrama. And mentioning them is ideologically sensitive: it suggests there could be something wrong about an economic system that most politicians — and journalists — take for granted. From the early 1970s to the mid-2000s — a time of neoliberal globalisation and bloody conflicts in Central America manipulated by the US — immigration stories that mentioned international causes fell from 30% to 12% in leading US papers. To their credit, French newspapers in the 2000s, just as in the 1970s, mentioned the global angle in 33% of their immigration news stories, mostly because of the greater prominence of anti-globalisation sentiment in French intellectual and political culture. Yet, too often, both French and US media fail to give the full picture on immigration. Their focus on emotion, and on individual stories, diverts attention from the fundamental political issues, and leaves the way open for the simplistic “solutions” advocated by the far right.

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What’s Water?

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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.  Details »

Joao Pina Speaks And Sets The Record Straight

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It is rare to have a photographer speak back to you. I can’t say how thrilled I was to receive a carefully written email from the Argentinian Portuguese (thank you Ziyah Gafic!) photographer Joao Pina some months ago in response to my criticism of The New York Times Lens Blog piece about his project CONDOR.  The original piece, titled Exposing The Legacy Of Operation Condor, which appeared on June 24, 2014, in fact very obviously elided the deep American collaboration and support (financial, intelligence, political and possibly even in weaponry), for the operations that shattered the political and civic resistance landscape in a number of Latin American countries.

In my original piece I had argued that:

An important photo project, but if you are going to speak about Operation Condor, you cannot, and must not, remain silent about the American collaboration and acquiescence in the campaign. It is important to remember that six nations were involved in this campaign, and they were American allies, not the least of which was Pinochet’s Chile. The US was well aware of the mass disappearances and killings that were taking place, and it did not merely stand aside, but also provided technical and other assistance to our allies while it was all taking place.

adding further that:

Photojournalists have to confront history and speak honestly. It is not enough to simply make strong photographs. It is not enough to compartmentalise history into conveniently acceptable and polite packages. I don’t know if Pina will say more in his own words and in his own pages, but I hope that he will see that the New York Times is not the place to offer the complete story of Operation Condor.

And in fact, Joao Pina has said a lot more, and very explicitly too. I learned this through an email I received from Joao Pina some weeks after I wrote my criticism, where he very carefully and with great civility, set me straight on the matter. Details »

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

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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 »

On Things Shown And Those Hidden – The Travails Of World Press Photo

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What ails World Press Photo? Well, if you were to read the online comments, and the public statements being made by representatives and spokespersons of WPP, you would think that the only issue that matters is the now seriously tiresome, circular and self-righteous arguments around ‘image manipulation’. Here is a system (which also includes other competitions like POYI for example), that remains silent, and in fact in collusion with, the image manipulations of state-sanctioned, military enforced, ’embedded’ photojournalism, and yet wails endlessly about ‘digital’ manipulation.

When compared to the fact that corporate and embedded photo/journalism has been one of the ugly handmaidens to our recent wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Chad, Mali, Somalia, Pakistan’s Waziristan regions and more, I find it egregiously silly, if not entirely infantile, that manipulations that led to the deaths, destruction, occupation, torture, and more, are quietly ignored, but digital manipulations that are largely irrelevant and silly, garner all the outrage. We get so upset that Paul Hansen edited his image, while remain silent about the structural reasons for the deaths of the children that his image actually showed! Details »

How To Read In France

I question (a) its (Western liberal discourse’s) assumption that ‘religion’ is the major threat to the principles of tolerance and democracy; (b) its part in constructing “an Islamic enemy”; (c) its privileging of the fate of literary authors (and media persons) as against other victims of cruelty; (d) its sacralization of the principles of Freedom of Speech. In brief, I question the assumption that the people who attack these literary authors (and media persons) are part of the larger forces that threaten Modernity itself.

Talal Asad, Europe Against Islam: Islam In Europe 1997

Few are still willing to provide a context, so here is some.”Je Suis Charlie” could just as well be “Je Suis Charles” – here I am referring to the bigoted French interior minister from 1986-1988 Charles Pasqua whose immigration policies were so harsh – as he himself argued, waxing beautifully racist and stupid at the same time: “we will terrorize the terrorists”, that even the UN had to speak up and issue a severe reprimand.

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Thinking Inside The Box And Throwing Away The Key

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The solution to both problems was found in the wholesale concoction of a brand new terror threat that was branded “The Khorasan Group.” After spending weeks depicting ISIS as an unprecedented threat – too radical even for Al Qaeda! – administration officials suddenly began spoon-feeding their favorite media organizations and national security journalists tales of a secret group that was even scarier and more threatening than ISIS, one that posed a direct and immediate threat to the American Homeland. Seemingly out of nowhere, a new terror group was created in media lore.

And so we learn something we had suspected – that ‘terror’ threats are being manufactured, and justifications for more wars being created in the corridors of the White House and the Pentagon.

I was reminded of something that one of George W. Bush’s aides once said:

“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re [journalists / photojournalists] studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

In fact, I would go one step further: it isn’t a ‘reality’ but a staged performance that they create, and the journalists / photojournalists – unable to think or remember history, largely uninformed and critically weak, merely document. And sell it to the citizens of the Republic.

I have to write more about this phenomenon, particularly as it exists in the field of photojournalism. Nothing amputates history and compartmentalizes and a situation more effectively than a powerful photograph. One of the most effective uses of photography is the way in which is obscures broader political, social, economic and historical facts, and seduces the viewer into believing that only which is presented as a spectacle is what matters. It is the equivalent of a ‘sleight of hand’ that a magician uses to distract the viewer while using her other hand to set up the subterfuge that makes us believe we have just experienced something magical. The ability to compartmentalize, to reduce life, to just a tiny moment, is a propagandists wet dream – it freezes all else and highlights only that which is being shown. But what is insidious is that not only does the viewer get fooled (and curators and photography critics it appears!), but the photojournalists herself gets fooled. Instructed to capture a ‘humanitarian crisis’ – a neat ‘compartmentalization of a complex social and political reality, she ends up believing in the theatre she is performing in.

This compartmentalization was precisely the underlying foolishness that led to the rather embarrassing situation at Visa Pour L’image this year where photographer Yunghi Kim attempted to defend her misrepresentation of the aftermath of the Rwanda genocide as a ‘humanitarian crisis’ which was was sent to cover. Taken to task by a journalists for suggesting that the Hutus in refugee camps where there only as a humanitarian situation and not genocidiares fleeing in the face of a defeat.

Since her editors told her it was a humanitarian situation, she went and created the images, and the intellectual belief, that it was. That was the assignment, and she produced it. Those were the parameters, and she delivered to it. We have hundreds of examples of such ‘professionalism’ where photographers simply follow the requirements laid our for her, and deliver without really going past the mandate. The problem isn’t that Kim got the story wrong, or that her editors used it incorrectly, but the fact that despite knowing what the situation really was, and perhaps even seeing evidence of it on the ground, she chose to simply and without protest or insight, deliver it as it was needed. But for me, the problem lies elsewhere, and touches on the argument of manufactured realities.

What is perhaps shockingly egregious about the Kim situation is that despite the 20 years that have passed since that event, Kim never updated her understanding of the situation but merely repeated age old argument in her defense – even the captions were never updated. It was as if the photographer was intellectually frozen by the photographs and unable to update and mature her views. Or, that she never felt the need to since her work was celebrated, featured repeatedly, even given a New York Times stamp of approval i.e. it was labelled as the historical truth and then left at that. There was no need or necessity to think further than the double-page spreads and the editorial pat-on-the-back, as strong an affirmation of right and truth as most photojournalists seem to want to get. I will write more about this Visa / Kim fiasco at a later date. It encapsulates so much of what is wrong in the way photo stories are constructed, and produced. And what is missing in the photojournalists idea of herself. And lets be clear, there are plenty of ‘world class’ photojournalists who even now continue this myopic, compartmentalized work – recently demonstrated by many covering the Yazidi situation for example.

In the mean time, lets enjoy the fine, award winning work that will now flow from our ‘finest’ and ‘world class’ photojournalists shilling for the American propaganda machine and gleefully repeating non-facts, and non-reality for the public. But damn those photos are going to look incredibly amazing.

Please Don’t Say That Because You Sound Like A Bigot Or Fondation Carmignac’s Colonial Discourse

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The theme for this year’s grant proposal call is described as follows:

The theme selected for the sixth edition is “Lawless areas in France”. This year, once again, the Carmignac Foundation wishes to support and promote an investigative photography project in territories away from the media spotlight by focusing on France and specifically on areas becoming so-called “lawless areas” – political, legal or socio-economic no man’s land subject to deregulation – where the authority of the French Republic is challenged.

Is this the new discourse around marginalized and ostracized communities in France? Is this wording for the award this year a massive collection of euphemisms about African, Muslim, Algerian, poor, immigrant, and migrant communities in France? Details »

The Photojournalist As A Victim Of Ideology

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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.

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