Recycling Myths To Remember A War

You cannot report a war from the front lines. You can only report a battle. Ducking under fire, scared for your life, beholden to the largess and tolerance of the military forces you are traveling with, denuded of context, obsessed with the immediate action unfolding in front of you, while constantly keeping an eye over your shoulder for the ‘enemy’, riddled with panic, fear, doubt, and worry a reporter on the front line struggles to keep up with unfolding events. Like watching a movie, she is unable to see and think simultaneously – she can merely report the immediate, the literal, as it unfolds in front of her. And an embedded reporter is in an even worse position – trapped not only physically, but also ideologically and with the constant fear of being ‘locked’ out if she fails to tow the line.

But wars are not merely the combat and journalism isn’t only about reporting the battles. In fact, when it comes to wars, one could safely argue that the battles are the least interesting pieces of information, and the most misleading. They tell us nothing about how we got into the war, the broader social, political, economic, cultural and individual devastation they unleash, the millions of lives of ‘the enemy’ that are torn asunder, the suffering of those left in the wake of the war machine and the festering and degrading realities that emerge as a result of the occupations and repressions that necessarily follow.

The focus on the battles distracts from the war itself – its reasons, its objectives, and lets be honest, its real consequences for those who were trampled under it. And certainly when it comes to wars of choice, those that our leaders led us into on the basis of lies, journalists have to accept that the front line is in fact the worst place to report as it is most distant from where one can make the inquiries and investigations, understand the realities and histories, that went to make the war, and that plague the came in the aftermath.

But of course, photographers need ‘action’ and ‘events’, and the medium cannot comprehend many of these complexities is then left documenting only the most obvious, and literal manifestations of a conflict – the violence itself. But violence tells us nothing, nor does it really tell the story of a war. As was evidenced by most all the photo slide shows that recently appeared to ‘commemorate’ the 10th anniverary of the American attack on Iraq. Most all simply focused on the battles, the soldiers, the weaponry, the casualties – the front line where truth is in fact practically impossible to find. Details »

The Collaborator

I started to write because I could not find a writer.

Or at least that is how I have explained this shift from simply making photographers, to producing works that now rely as much on writing as they do on making images. My three years of work in India, The Idea of India, and the recent work in Pakistan, Justice in Pakistan, are a result of a longing to add complexity and depth to my works. After hoping for years to meet – fortuitously or intentionally, someone who would put into fabulous text the ideas I was trying to capture through images, I realized that I may never find the kind of collaborator that so many others I know have some how found. Details »

Fabricated Histories, Celebrated Photographers And A New Frontier For The Embedded Photographer

Time Magazine’s Lightbox photography blog had a rather bizarre story earlier today. Titled Real Photographer, Fake War: Jonathan Olley and Zero Dark Thirty, it focused on the film studio photography work of photographer Jonathan Olley who once also happened to have worked as a news photographer in some conflict zones. What seemed to have attracted the Lightbox photo editor’s interest was the easy parallel between the fact that Mr. Olley had once covered real conflict and today covered staged conflicts for Hollywood directors.

What however caught my interest was this statement:

The film, from Academy Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow, traces the hunt for Osama bin Laden through the career of one female American intelligence officer, played by Jessica Chastain. While the film has received criticism —from politicians and the military, not to mention historians who challenge the film portrayal of events— the virulence of the critiques may fairly reflect how realistic the movie is presented.

Details »

Photographers In The World Or Looking At The Picture Outside Of The Frame

Writing hagiography is I suppose the easiest, most reactionary thing to do. Supported by the myth of Magnum, a myth that may once have had some weight, but today relies largely on recycled cliches about the agency’s role and impact, the writer can just easily close thought, avoid analysis. And this is what is offered to us here in a piece in The Independent called ‘Young Magnum: The Hotshots Ready To Take Their Place In History’.  Though remains unclear to me why any of these four photographers are the ‘hot shots’ they are labelled to be – probably only because they are Magnum nominees and that associated guarantees your seriousness and lavish praise. Be that as it may, – these are subjective opinions, what really confuses me is the consistent presentation of photography and photographers by depoliticizing their work by de-contextualizing it. Details »

Repost: This Land Called Gaza – A Love and A Curse

This post was originally written in the aftermath of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in 2008 / 2009. As Israel threatens to once again invade the territory, its determination to incite violence and provoke reactions remains unrecognized and unreported by our media. Some important correctives can be found here, here and here. This is, as it was the first time around, for my friends in Gaza.

Location: Jabaliya refugee camp, Gaza City. 2009


“And what projects are you working on at the moment?”

“An exhibition…and…I’m working on the completion of a new book, something very close to my heart.”

“What’s it about?”

“The Palestinians.”

There was a rather long silence…my friend looked at me with a slightly sad smile, and said “Sure, why not! But don’t you think the subject’s a bit dated? Look, I’ve taken photographs of the Palestinians too, especially in the refugee camps…its really sad! But these days, who’s interested in people who eat off the ground with their hands? And then there’s all that terrorism…I’d have thought you’d be better off using your energy and capabilities on something more worthwhile!”

Swiss photographer Jean Mohr describes a conversation with a friend.(1) Details »

The False Eye: Photojournalism, War Photography And The Myopia Of Critism

Let me get right to the point – Photography curators and editors refuse to acknowledge, examine and critically analyse the fundamental and at times definitive influences that the institutions of production have on the kinds of war photographs that are made, and the perspectives that are adopted in them. There seems to be a collusion between these ‘gatekeepers’ of the craft, to never raise the question about the publications the war photographer was on assignment for, the editorial prejudices of that publication, the proclivities and prejudices of the market into which the particular war photographer was aiming her work at, and the broader political and cultural baggage which the photographer carried with her to the work. Details »

The Justice In Pakistan Project Begins….

This is the official announcement of the start of the Justice in Pakistan project.

The website above is a project work in progress website and it will reveal the unfolding and evolution of the project over the course of the next twelve months. I have recently arrived in Lahore and made a small studio and base of operations here. And I will admit that I am quite overwhelmed by the task I have set for myself, but at the same time I am quite certain that it will result in a unique work. Details »

Personal Thoughts And Something About Moving To Africa

Satisfied in wasting time in juvenile discussions about the ‘seriousness’ of Hipstamatic or Instagram while … avoiding any debates about the the historical, cultural, and social prejudices that underpin the craft, or even the legacy of a colonial forms of knowledge that continue to inform its form, photographers seem deeply disconnected from the very world they so claim to be documenting.

It has been difficult to write. I suppose that is stating the obvious given that this blog has been rather quiet for many weeks, if not months. I am not quite sure what the cause of this silence is. But I have been blocked. But this is a block that comes not from a lack of things to say and write, but from a sense of distance and disconnection from my perceived audience. Details »

Matt Lutton Takes burn Magazine’s Emerging Photographer Prize And None Too Soon!

From 'Only Unity' by Matt Lutton (All Rights Reserved)

It was a pleasant surprise to learn that Matt Lutton has been awarded the burn Magazine’s ‘Emerging Photographer’ award. The surprise came not from the fact that Matt won the grant, but that a work on a region long forgotten by mainstream media, received a recognition that it so deserves.  So when these two slide came up on the burn magazine page, I shouted with glee! Details »

Maggie Steber’s Rite Of Passage

Its been a long time since I last wrote on this blog. In fact, in a recent discussion with Prison Photography’s Pete Brook’s I even declared the blog near dead. But frankly I have not had the heart to shut it down because each time I do I find that someone is still reading it and insisting on discussing it with me. So it remains alive, though I do have to get back to writing more and speaking less. I seem to be making my arguments in person these days and avoiding putting down on the blog. Details »

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