The Shahrazade/El-Madani Studio Collection At New Museum, New York City

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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.

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Still Beautiful After All These Years…

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 »

Rethinking Africa Or How Not To Talk About Your Africa Photo Project

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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. 

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João Pina’s Condor Project & The Questions Of History

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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 »

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 »

The Bagram Prisoner Campaign At Brown University’s Watson Institute

The exhibition is a purely digital one. However, it is accompanied by perhaps one of the first video interviews I have ever given – Professor Zamindar was very convincing, and only the second time I have spoken extensively about the idea behind the project called Law & Disorder: A People’s History of the Law In Pakistan. The Watson Institute website will feature the video and other information about the work in the coming days. The previous extensive interview, also done by a trusted friend, was featured on dvafoto and can be found here.

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How Alain de Botton plays safe with the news | Jonathan Cook’s Blog

Because real events in much of the world, especially the developing parts of it, reveal the ugliness of the west’s pursuit of its interests, the real job of foreign reporters is to equivocate and obfuscate – in fact, to betray the truth. “Presentation” is not concerned with clarity and generating interest, as De Botton assumes; it is designed to conceal the true goals of western foreign policy.

via How Alain de Botton plays safe with the news | Jonathan Cook’s Blog.

Jonathan Cook once again takes on this strange habit most of us have of making excuses for mainstream media’s mediocrity, but without ever confronting the real political and economic forces that explain it. Instead, there is a propensity to lay the blame on individuals and departments, and to claim that this is mostly a question of the pursuit of the market or the quick sensationalist sale.

Jonathan Cook argues instead that it is part of the plan – the obfuscations and confusions that are ingrained in the way news is reported, particularly foreign news, is part of its design. It is meant to veil the hidden hand of Western political and economic interests and instead present the world, and our actions there, under the mask of ‘human rights’ or ‘violations of international law’ or ‘asiatic despotism’ or other such legalistic or culturalist explanation.

What is erased is our involvement, and hence, our reason for the interest. At any one time there are only certain news stories, conflicts, or pathologies that capture the media’s attention. The question then is, why? What drives a certain prioritization, and what drives it away. Why Darfur at a certain time, and then why not Darfur today?

Photojournalism has kept silent on this front, choosing instead to engage in vacuous and trivial debates about social media platforms, digital cameras and other such nonsense. It has revealed itself to not be a serious journalistic enterprise by refusing to engage with the serious questions of journalism in our time. Photojournalists seem to be unaware of the role they play in the priorities and structures of imperialism, nationalism and corporation interests. In fact, with only pictures to offer, they are the perfect foils for an attempt to reduce a complex political and social issue to a series of hysterical and simplistic generalizations, whether cultural or other.

There is a debate and a discussion completely absent from photojournalism and I remain confused why this is so. There isn’t a photojournalism festival, competition, reward, community, or secret society, that seems to be prepared to take itself seriously and engage in the hard questions of power and news, politics and media, corporatization and political agendas, imperialism and capitalism etc. and how photojournalism has been a hand-maiden to it, or cab be a means of understanding and questioning it.

PND Online June 2014 Issue And My Short Piece on Hackathons…Not Mincing Any Words!

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You can read the entire piece online by clicking on the image above, or on this link here.

The Bagram Prisoner Campaign & The Parsons School Of Design – A Exhibition May 14th – 23rd 2014

Some months ago I was approached by the designer Ammar Belal who wanted to see if I would be open to a collaboration with him. Ammar had attended a panel discussion with me, Saadia Toor, and Sarah Belal (his sister), at the Open Society in New York and seen the portraits I had made of the families of the prisoners being held at Bagram Detention Center in Bagram. Ammar was moved by the arguments we made, and affected by the stories of the families themselves. In a discussion we had soon afterwards it was clear that he had been shaken out of his world of high fashion and design and compelled to turn his attention to an injustice that he had been aware of, thanks to his sister’s work, but until then had remained unconcerned about. Details »

Not A Part Of It, Nor Safe In It – A New York City I Cannot Recognize

New York is proving to be a strange place to try to work. And for reasons I had not expected. There is an atmosphere of deep fear and suspicion that is casting a pall over the lives and communities I am working with and completely transforming the very idea I have had of this city. Over the last week I have been visiting places – communities and homes there, where I have felt as if I have left the United States of America I once recognized and arrived in a land where the citizens cow in fear, remain silent out of suspicion, constantly look over their shoulders to see who may be watching, refuse to express any opinions, and simply want to disappear. It is a post-surveillance state America and it is all around me, except that I – for the moment enjoying the privileges of a bourgeois life, have simply not noticed that there are possibly hundreds of thousands of people in the greater New York area who cannot live as carefree and as casually as I do here. Details »

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