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 »

Photojournalism, Advocacy And Eurocentrism – Part 5: The Burden Of Proof And An Inconclusive Conclusion

Please read my introduction post Photojournaliam, Advocacy And Eurocentrism: An Introduction before continuing reading the post here.

Part 1 of this 5-part series is here: Photojournaliam, Advocacy And Eurocentrism – Part 1: There Is No Other But Us

Part 2 of this 5-part series if here: Photojournaliam, Advocacy And Eurocentrism – Part 2: Angel of Mercy, Have Mercy!

Part 3 of this 5-part series if here: Photojournaliam, Advocacy And Eurocentrism – Part 3: A World Very Small.

Part 4 of this 5-part series if here: Photojournaliam, Advocacy And Eurocentrism – Part 3: Witness To The World.

The Burden Of Proof

I have been a witness, and these pictures are my testimony. The events I have recorded should not be forgotten and must not be repeated

James Nachtwey, a Time Magazine contract photographer for the last 29 years.


We’ve made the mistake of resenting business people. Government response to HIV has been nothing less than shameful, genocidal in some countries. The business community has stepped in, providing research, providing retroviral drugs because they can see that if they don’t do something their labour force is history. They’re making a practical business decision which has lead to an improved understanding of humanistic values. I want to work with that community, so I’ve been working with the Global Business Coalition, an organisation that includes the 400 most powerful companies in the world. I also work with government think tanks.

Brent Stirton, interview with the British Journal of Photography, 7 September 2008

Photojournalism has always claimed for itself a humanitarian and socially concerned imperative. Photojournalism is perhaps one of the few endeavors that is always being asked to justify itself and its practitioners are constantly in the search of, or claiming, motivations and intentions that go beyond the creation of the practice’s artifacts: photographs, recorded / written / oral testimonies, and/or individual experiences. That is, photojournalists are expected to explain the human, social and political value of their work if they are to be taken seriously as ‘photojournalists’. Many speak like prophets while doggedly remaining employed by corporate media, and as a result, locked into the assumptions and priorities of a corporate, neoliberal world order. It can not only seriously distort their reading of history, but trap them in ways of thinking that seem very appropriate from the comfortable confines of the corporate boardroom. This pressure to ‘justify’ comes at the silencing of the personal and the human with a rare photojournalism arguing that her work is simply a pursuit of the creative, a need to satisfy a personal curiosity, a desire to express a point of view, or even just the desire to be published. The photojournalist, or concerned photographer, must almost always speak in moral and humanitarian voice, always be ‘in the service of the other’ – giving voice to the voiceless, a witness, a spokesperson against human suffering – a prophet. Details »

Photojournalism, Advocacy And Eurocentrism – Part 4: Witness To The World

Please read my introduction post Photojournaliam, Advocacy And Eurocentrism: An Introduction before continuing reading the post here.

Part 1 of this 5-part series is here: Photojournaliam, Advocacy And Eurocentrism – Part 1: There Is No Other But Us

Part 2 of this 5-part series if here: Photojournaliam, Advocacy And Eurocentrism – Part 2: Angel of Mercy, Have Mercy!

Part 3 of this 5-part series if here: Photojournaliam, Advocacy And Eurocentrism – Part 3: A World Very Small.

Witness To The World

We should admit…that power produces knowledge (and simply by encouraging it because it serves or by applying it because it is useful); that power and knowledge directly imply one another; that there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitution at the same time power relations. These ‘power-knowledge relations are to be analyzed, there, not on the basis of a subject of knowledge who is or is not free in relations to the power system, but, on the contrary, the subject who knows, the objects to be known and the modalities of knowledge must be regarded as so many efforts of these fundamental implications of power-knowledge and their historical transformations. In short, it is not the activity of the subject of knowledge that produces a corpus of knowledge, useful or resistant to power, but power-knowledge, the processes and struggles that traverse it and which it is made up, that determines the forms and possible domains of knowledge.

Michel Foucault, Discipline & Punish, Page 28


It is a myth that refuses to die – the photojournalist as individual hero. The myth is renewed repeatedly each year in dozens of books, newspaper and magazine articles, exhibitions, and public statements by members of the photojournalism community including the photojournalists themselves – individual photographers spend consider effort on projecting an image of themselves as the last heroes of our times. We love our heroes and it has always perplexed me why this myth is so essential to the West for it does not exist in the same intensity elsewhere. The idea of the ‘witness to suffering’ clearly has a pedigree in Europe’s civilizing mission and sense of moral responsibility towards the world’s lesser people. So much of what still passes for photojournalist work retains within it the ethics and ethos of the white man’s burden. The photojournalist – the moral voice, the visual outrage, the photographic conscience as embodied in the public rhetoric of the near-saint-like James Nachtwey or Time Hetherington, is quite a sight to behold. And the photographer’s own sense of their righteous mission, and the allure of their swagger is in itself quite interesting. This was captured beautifully in a statement that founder Karim Ben Khelifa made, arguing that photojournalists had a certain allure, and that:

We have a romanticism around our profession. We realized that our work isn’t the end product, but how we got to it. This is what we expect to monetize.

The photojournalist as the individual hero – the myth underpins most all articles and exhibitions that feature photojournalism and war photography. Details »

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