The Evolution In Photo Project Design Continues – New Challenges And Some Obstacles

I have had to step away from things. I am still exhausted from the discussions in New York, and their implications. These trips always leave me excited but also overwhelmed. In some ways the new projects have been clarified, in others ways they have become more demanding. Some days I am ready to sit and write prodigiously, and on other days I just want to retreat from the tasks ahead. At this moment, I am in the retreat phase. But, some transformations are taking place as I wrote in my last post. The new image – text structure is being worked on and it has simplified much, and offered new possibilities for future works. Details »

Redesigns, Rethinks and Restarts Or A Small Evolution In Photo Project Design

Each time I come to New York I wonder why I have come. Each time I leave the city, I leave wondering why I hadn’t come earlier. I get tired of being there, but no other city clears my mind, and adjusts my focus. And once again discussions and dialogues with friends in New York have helped inspire some new ideas for the coming year. A quick summary and I will write more as some of these things are still running around in my head:

First, a re-structuring of the Pakistan justice work. I finally figured out how to re-write the texts and connect them more explicitly to the images. This is something that I have wanted to do for some time but wasn’t quite sure how to go about it. Or perhaps I just had not given it enough thought. But now there is a re-design in the work. It is not a web-site redesign, but an information structure re-design. Details »

People Just Like Us, Voices Just Like Our Own Or Our Interlocutors And Their World

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 »

The Moral And Intellectual Cowardice Of Josef Koudelka

I wanted to give this post a gentler title. I wanted to do that because I have been an admirer of Koudelka’s work for years, considering his book Gypsies to be one of the most important influences in pushing me to become a photographer. For me he has always been the photographer famous for his independence of thought, his personal moral and political integrity and his public reputation as a man whose works embody a moral and social conscience. So it was shocking to read his recent interview in the New York Times Lens blog about his work on the Israeli wall that scars the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza (Koudelka only documented as far as I know the wall as it exists in the West Bank). To find that this otherwise intelligent individual, with enough intellectual and emotional independence to come to an honest conclusion about what is taking place in the West Bank, choses to hide behind an apolitical and frankly cowardly language of ‘environment’ and ‘its too complex’ was staggering to confront. It was down right shameful to read. Details »

Speaking In New York At The Open Society Institute: Ungrievable Lives & Unintended Consequences: Pakistan, US and “War On Terror”

This panel with Sarah Belal, Director of Justice Project Pakistan, author and academic Saadia Toor (author of the excellent new book The State of Islam: Culture and Cold War Politics in Pakistan, and Open Society Fellow Asim Rafiqui, will examine the human costs of the “war on terror” for Pakistanis and its implications for the rule of law, governance, and justice in Pakistan. Details »

Bagram: The Other Guantanamo Campaign Website

The Bagram prisoner campaign website is now up, and we will continue to post new stories and new legal and other documents at the site in the coming weeks. The full report put together by JPP can also be found on the site – it is worth a read. We have separated its key recommendations section for easier access and reading. Details »

Speaking Out On Behalf Of The Forgotten: Bagram: The Other Guantanamo Washington D.C. & New York @ The Fridge Gallery 12 September 2013

I have already written about this work – the last three months spent traveling across Pakistan to meet with and photograph the families of the men who remain trapped in America’s other dark prison – Bagram. 40 pakistan men, some who have been there for over 11 years, have been thrown into this dark hole and are being held illegally, indefinitely and unjustly. These men are the detritus of the great ‘War Against Terror’, the forgotten hundreds who languish in prisons and torture centers across the globe and our thirst for revenge remains unsatiated. Today it is politics and not evidence of crimes, that keeps the men imprisoned there. Details »

Searching For Subtle Stories In A Land Of Absolute Truths

People are often confused when I tell them that I do not really know what I am doing.

It seems that photographers are expected to speak about their works and stories with greater clarity and conviction than I am often able to muster. This becomes especially problematic when I am out in the field and working on what can only be described as an intuition desperately trying to evolve into an idea, and be born as a photo project. People think that I am working on ‘a project’, when in fact all I am doing is following an instinct, fully aware that it may amount to nothing. I have done this a number of times in the past, and at times returned with nothing more than contact sheets, a smaller bank account, and unforgettable, and inevitably retrospect, invaluable experiences and insights. A couple of times these trips have yielded a major project, such as the speculative one I made to Ayodhya, India in 2008. Nevertheless these seemingly aimless trips are perhaps the most exciting thing I do as a photographer. And I am on one now, at this moment, in Bosnia’s Drina Valley. Details »

Documentary Film: The Photographer from Riga

A documentary worth watching, a photographer worth respecting. I am increasingly drawn to such simple, pure works – without artifice, without pretensions, without that desperate hint at bravado, cool or edginess that taints so much for what passes for documentary photography and photojournalism today. In fact, Inta Ruka’s technique may be a harbinger of what is to come – a cleansing of all the flash, dash, glitz and photo-shopped trickery that has ruined the purity of the craft. Details »

Trying To Make Sense Of Pakistan

Our despair is a result of our lack of a sense of history. You have to understand that we have arrived where we are as a nation as a result of specific historical choices, and understanding the reasons for those choices can help us make the future. It is absolutely crucial to retain this sense of history, and to see Pakistan and Pakistanis as agents of their own history.

Ayesha Jalal speaking at the Lahore Literary Festival, Lahore 2013

 

Pakistan is pulsating with social and political movements that have no direct electoral vehicle – farmers, factory workers and fisherfolk do not sit idle, waiting to be recruited into the Taliban or into the military. Activists such as Baba Jan Hunzai from Gilgit sit in jail because they threaten the consensus, while the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (led by Mohammad Ali Shah) continues its protests over access to the Puran Dhoro waterway in southern Sindh. Akbar Ali Kamboh, Babar Shafiq Randhawa, Fazal Elahi, Rana Riaz Ahmed Muhammad Aslam Malik and Asghar Ali Ansari languish in jail for their roles in the Faisalabad power-loom workers strike of 2010, while women in Larkana went after officials at the Benazir Income Support Program for their condescension and corruption. None of these people venture into Rashid’s book. This is why the book is suffocating, why Pakistan seems in a hopeless situation. Rashid seems to have lost his faith in the capacity of the Pakistani people to effect change through their struggles.

Vijay Prashad, from a review of Ahmed Rashid’s Pakistan On The Brink

The way in which…the liberal obsession with the ‘Taliban’ feeds into the military’s project of a neoliberal security state is reflected in the proliferation of ‘security talk’, that is, the tendency to couch the very real grievances and issues of the Pakistani people in the language of security, and specifically in terms of combating ‘Islamist militancy’…Needless to say, this equation between deprivation and religious extremism/militancy dehumanizes the poorest and the most vulnerable….

What the liberal discourse reveals is a profound dissociation from – and even a distaste for – ordinary Pakistanis and their lives, hopes, dreams and struggles, reflecting in the abandonment of mass political work…

Saadia Toor , The State of Islam: Culture and Cold War Politics In Pakistan Pluto Press, 2011

It is difficult for me to talk in public about my personal projects. This is not because they are unduly complicated but because I fear to honestly speak about them and reveal the doubts, uncertainties and many prayers for luck and chance that underpin them. More often than not I do not know what it is that I am exploring, but only that I hope to find something that will educate me, inform me, and in some way, change me. I have questions I begin with, but no clear path to anything that may resemble an answer. These long term works, whether in India and now in Pakistan, are not based on any concrete hypothesis, or agenda, or righteous certainty but are little more than the one man’s rummaging through society, its inhabitants and asking some questions to learn a few things.

Unfortunately, that is not how a photographer is supposed to speak. Details »

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