An image from Northern Iraq that I made back in 2005 while working on a story about the struggle of Iraq’s Assyrian Christian community, appears this week on the poster of a new film by Daniel Lombroso about the region’s oldest Christian community. Back in 2005 I had argued that the invasion and occupation of Iraq had bought no respite to a community that had been targeted under the Saddam Hussein regime, and that all pretense to the contrary, the so-called ‘liberation’ of Iraq was about to create even more miseries and difficulties for the very people we claimed we were there to ‘liberate’.
Contradicting my own recent post (see The Lure of The Ephemeral), our travels across South Asia investigating the prevalence of fistula amongst women in South Asia is being posted regularly on Instagram and Facebook. Its not your usual set of UN feeds, so enjoy it while it lasts. We are wrapping up our work here, and moving on to Pakistan soon.
A few friends and fellow photographers have stepped away from Instagram and other social media platforms for their work. In fact, I too have not posted on any social media platform for a while because of a nagging sense that by constantly feeding a structure of information dissemination that relied on the ‘likes’ of random strangers (a large number of whom seem to be prepubescent or barely adolescent boys and girls), i was being dragged away from a more considered, and measured way of working. There was this realization that at some point feeding the beast become more important than patiently producing the work, and that any and all measure of its success and its relevance becomes reduced to ‘# of followers’ or ‘likes’. In fact, I remember distinctly a couple of major editors criticizing my work in Pakistan for not being ‘accessible’ enough, and for being too difficult. They were concerned that I had no ‘social media’ strategy, and wondered what I was going to do to bring tens of thousands of followers to my site. The fact was that I wasn’t really even interested in that. In fact, there is a distinct intent in my works to be difficult, and demanding. I design these projects to be hard to view, and engage with. They are never meant for a vast audience, and I can’t even see the value of the audience of ‘social media’ that I am being told I need to pursue. Details »
But geopolitical reality was much messier than he’d assumed. It ignited a bleak cynicism in his worldview…In addition to learning about the difficult prospects for weak, independent states, he also discovered how such countries are populated: It often included ethnic cleansing and forced deportations…While Mr. Mahon is glad to be getting his work recognized, which was his original motivation, his perspective on these issues has shifted significantly. In a world of increased globalization, and the potential marginalization of the idea of the nation-state, he came to believe that the war, poverty and isolation experienced in these countries was not worth the trouble.
Not worth the trouble. And with those three words Mr. Mahon, a photojournalist wearing the respectability of a Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting grant, dismisses the political, economic, and social histories and struggles of the people that he apparently spent nearly 8 years trying to document and represent. And one is left with the question, which perhaps may never have occurred to Mr. Mahon, if he bothered to ask the people who are in fact fighting for something – rightly or wrongly, if they believed it was worth the trouble, the sacrifices and the severe consequences? One is left to wonder with what arrogance, narcissism and disdain does a man travel to document the societies that clearly live under tremendous political, military and economic threat and fragility, and then proceed to simply erase all these broader realities and judge them lacking? Details »
I walked into the New Museum’s Here And Elsewhere exhibit recently. A major presentation of contemporary art from the Middle East. Much of it is quite predictable, some of it is downright amateurish, a few terribly is derivative and horribly scarred by the pretensions of modern Western contemporary art discourse. Some was quite disappointing as it desperately attempted to, as pointed out by one critic, that it “..takes our attention away from the political subject and draws it toward the artist’s techniques.” – a statement that I would use as a criticism of a work of art, but in fact was offered by way of praise by the writer. There are however moments of it that are luminous. For example, the gorgeous set of studio photography works from Hashem El-Madani.
Still possibly the most amazing photographer I have ever seen. Alex Webb continues to confound even as he continues to create incredibly complex new work. There is an intelligence at work, and an incisive intellectual and creative insight. There is also the magnificent single-mindedness of it all – a love of repetition and a commitment to experimenting. Its beautiful work and it continues to inspire me. And it is also a powerful rejoinder to anyone claiming that today everyone is a photographer. This is photography – deliberate, concentrated, precise, complex and intentional. All else is picture taking. Details »
Vico’s The New Science is everywhere a reminder that scholars hide, overlook or mistreat the gross physical evidence of human activity, including their own.
Edward Said, Reflections On Exile, page 86)
…in the progress of nations negroes have shown less capacity for self-government than any other race of people. No independent government of any form has ever been successful in their hands. On the contrary whenever they have been left to their own devices they have shown an instant tendency to lapse into barbarism.
President Andrew Johnson (quoted in Amy Kaplan’s The Anarchy of Empire In The Making Of U.S. Culture, page 83)
The American photographer Pete Muller’s is working on a long-term project called Rethinking The Enemy: Men, Masculinity And Violence, that he claims attempts to:
…understand the causes of male-perpetrated violence,”
He explains that he is:
…working around the hypothesis that when men are not able to achieve what are often rigid standards of what makes successful manhood, they become extremely anxious and volatile, and they will revert to dangerous and violent behaviour in order to try to assert themselves as men.
This project has received considerable attention and support, not the least from the Open Society Initiative for South Africa, and he has produced work for the International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict. It has recently been featured on Time Magazine’s Lightbox blog, The New York Times Lens blog and various other sites. It is clearly a work that is garnering considerable support and attention, even resulting in Pete Muller rubbing shoulders with celebrities, and diplomats.
I wonder if PIna ever made the additions and elaborations I felt were missing in his New York Times Lens blog discussion about this work. Some months ago I had argued that (see:http://www.asimrafiqui.com/tsh/2014/01/30/musings-and-confusions-january-30-2014/):
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.
The Lens blog discussion never bought this issue up. It basically erased from the discussion only the most significant imperial player in the region. The American influence, collusion and interference in the politics, society, and economy of Latin American countries was at its height at the very moment that the Argentinian government was busily disappearing and murdering thousands. I challenged Pina – a man who clearly understands the region and must clearly know the history. As I pointed out challenging the New York Times Len blog editors that: Details »