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 »

Oh Dear…Did I Just Shoot Myself In The Foot? Or The Chicago Sun-Times Arrives Where We Argued It Would

For the last few years some of the most influential voices in photojournalism have spent their time making a strong argument for the revolutionary possibilities of phone photography, and iPhone™ photography in particular. Some have referred to it as an entirely new way of experiencing the world, others have spoken about it as a new form a photography – quantum photography, and other ‘famous’ photographers have criticized those who have been arguing against the trend of using such software as Instagram™ and Hipstamatic™ – tools available for phone photography.  And others who repeatedly argued that today … everyone is a photographer.

On the other side, magazines and editors have repeated featured and celebrated the increasing use of the iPhone™ to produce serious photojournalism works. Some have called for us to accept an entirely new economics of the iPhone based photography approach. There was all the excitement about the use of an iPhone™ image on the cover of Time Magazine going so far as to argue:

If there was still any debate about whether serious photojournalism can take place in the context of camera phones and cutesy retro filters, it’s over now.

There were repeatedly publications of the work of the photojournalist Ben Lowy (see two examples here, and here ), and the work of Michael Christopher-Brown’s iPhone™ images even making into the haloed pages of National Geographic magazine – that holy grail of anyone pursuing serious photography and photojournalism. And the front page of the New York Times.

So it was with some surprise that the decision by the Chicago Sun-Times to fire its entire photography deparment and train their writers to use of devices like the iPhone to produce visual content for the newspaper. was met with anger, and confusion. Details »

A Short Interruption To Bring You This Party Political Broadcast Or The New York Times Lens Blog Flashes The Unsuspecting With Its Neo-Orientalism

Kiana Hayeri_s Photos of Young Iranian Immigrants - NYTimes.com_20130531-193647

[This post was edited to correct a mistake in references)

It was quite simply, but provocatively titled, Leaving Tehran And Restraints Behind and very, very simplistically – in fact I would argue, cartoonishly constructed and photographed. The entire story is produced at a level that I would expect from a high school photography class student, and the entire framework that it uses one I would expect from a member of a neo-conservative think tank what with her intellectual capacity of a high school metal shop attendant.

Bad Iran. Innocent Girl. Sadness. Desperation. Dreams of Western Freedom. The Departure. The Arrival Into The Free World. The Emancipation. The Freedom. The Happiness. Done. Details »

Taking A Different Road And Finding A Different Story

Rob Hornstra has always intrigued me. That is quite unusual because he is quite a well known figure in European photojournalism and more often than not this usually implies banality and conventionalism. But Hornstra is different. There is an iron-clad confidence and individuality about him and his work that constantly brings me back to him. He is yet another photographer whose aesthetic is alien to my own preferences, and yet I constantly seem to find myself looking at his work. Simon Norfolk, Joakim Eskilden, Carl De Keyzer and Alec Soth are some of the other names that make up a list of  of the photographers that continue to teach me new things, show me new ways of structuring photo projects, and pushing me to keep pushing my own work. Yet each of these, including Hornstra, maintains an aesthetic that I am not drawn to. It is the ideas, and the creative ways of weaving a story, that constantly pulls me back to their works. Now, with The Secret History of Khava Gaisanova Hornstra has done it again.

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Photojournalism, Advocacy And Eurocentrism – Part 3: A World Very Small

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!

A World Really Small

I’m generally in favor of interesting people in important subjects that they wouldn’t otherwise hear about (which this does), but I am strongly against simplifying things for advocacy purposes (coltan in electronics is only an issue in other countries because it is outsiders connection to the conflict – there are many other things that people fight over – land, cows, petrol, fishing rights, for example – that have nothing to do with the world market and so advocacy groups don’t focus on them)

Ben Rawlence, author of Radio Congo:Signals of Hope In Africa’s Deadliest War, in a personal email exchange

The previous post focused on the role of the NGO in the communities they work in and this should be better understood. This post focuses on the factors that can limit the world view of an NGO that if thoughtlessly adopted by the photographer can seriously imepede meaningful acts of advocacy and change.

The world as seen from the gated, guarded and high-security compound of an international aid organization is a very small one. The view from within it is prioritized around the issues, objectives and goals of the aid organization itself, and that these, more likely than not, are quite far removed from the social, political, cultural and economic complexities that inform conflicts or catastrophes like famine, pestilence or disease. In fact, one could argue that an unthinking reliance on the NGO or aid organization can limit a photographer’s understanding not only about the reality of the issue she is covering, but also about how best to go about advocating for change. Details »

Photojournalism, Advocacy And Eurocentrism – Part 2: Angel Of Mercy, Have Mercy!

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

Angel Of Mercy, Have Mercy!

[I am]…against portraying aid agencies as unmitigated agents of good. They play a complicated role: sometimes important but we shouldn’t set them up as stock characters who are ‘goodies’

Ben Rawlence, author of Radio Congo: Signals of Hope In Africa’s Deadliest War, in a personal email exchange discussing the video game Zero Hour: Congo. 21/04/2013


Aid is a very emotional thing and it’s very difficult to be rational if you are confronted with those pictures of starving children. There’s always this micro picture of this one human life saved, but there’s also a macro picture that we don’t often get presented about damage that aid can do and about the political and military agendas behind aid operations and behind donors. Aid is not necessarily choosing the weakest and the poorest on this earth. Most of the time it is sort of an our own agendas, and I believe it is the duty of journalists to expose that and to make it known to the public.

Linda Polman, in a radio interview with Marco Werman, October 2011

There is a strange modern phenomenon where advocates of new technology innovations often continue to rely on some very old fashioned models of thought. This can be clearly seen in these discussions about the video game Zero Hour: Congo – it is positioned as a cutting edge and innovative attempt at advocacy, and yet retains within in some rather conventional, populist ideas about how the world works.

Humanitarian and aid organizations have come under some severe scrutiny recently. This fact seems to have escaped many photojournalists who continue to speak about and represent such organizations in the most naive, and un-informed way. The scrutiny of the operations, behavior and influence of the massive industry called international humanitarian aid is absolutely crucial, and people are slowly beginning to bring a much needed critical eye to these organizations. There is no doubt that the sheer financial scale and political influence of humanitarian organizations makes is critical for us to understand and scrutinize how they drive policy, affect society and determine popular public perception about their works and about the regions they operate in. The recent criticism and push-back against Amnesty International’s campaign in support of the NATO occupation of Afghanistan was an example of how the inner workings of the organization were bought to the public and the closer relationship of its current leadership to the American political establishment was revealed. It was a clear reminder that journalists can’t just get into bed with aid and humanitarian organizations, but must act as watchdogs against their practices and prejudices. Details »

Photojournalism, Advocacy And Eurocentrism – Part 1: There Is No Other But Us

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

There Is No Other But Us

The Congolese is missing. The world created in the video game Zero Hour: Congo is based around a very clear and specific set of actors, none of which are Congolese unless they are ‘victims’. As Marcus explains:

The characters in the game would be based on people in the field: doctors, nurses, aid workers, journalists, photographers, child soldiers.

There is an surprising absence of ‘the other’ – the Congolese as an agent, an actor, and as responsible and engaged. This is now a comon argument, and one that I too have written about before (see one example here), but the fact that this erasure continues requires that I begin by addressing it again. There are no Congolese who are writers of their own history, agents of their own politics, definers of their own futures. It seems somewhat irresponsible to produce a product to educate a market segment called ‘Grassroots Electronic Users’ (I wonder what MBA came up with this one?), and not even have them deal with a reality more complicated than found in a typical comic book. In fact, this limited but popular world view is right out of Hollywood movies like Blood Diamond, The Constant Gardener, or any number of other features that show us the European as the agent of change, and action, and the force that allows the African (or some ‘Other’) to ‘discover’, ‘find’, ‘achieve’, and ‘become’. Details »

Photojournalism, Advocacy & Eurocentrism: An Introduction Or A Post With 17,000 Words Is Mercifully Broken Up Into Smaller Pieces

…Since 1945, the decolonization of Asia and Africa, plus the sharply accentuated political consciousness of the non-European world everywhere, has affected the world of knowledge just as much as it has affected the politics of the world-system. One major such difference, today and indeed for some thirty years now at least, is that the “Eurocentrism” of social science has been under attack, severe attack. The attack is of course fundamentally justified, and there is no question that, if social science is to make any progress in the twenty-first century, it must overcome the Eurocentric heritage which has distorted its analyses and its capacity to deal with the problems of the contemporary world.

(I Wallerstein, Eurocentrism and its Avatars: The Dilemmas of Social Science New Left Review, Issue 226, November-December 1997

Around the colonized there has grown a whole vocabulary of phrases, each in its own way reinforcing the dreadful secondariness of people who, in V.S. Naipaul’s derisive characterization, are condemned only to use a telephone, never to invent it. Thus the status of colonized people has been fixed in zones of dependency and peripherality, stigmatized in the designation of underdeveloped, less-developed, developing states, ruled by a superior, developed, or metropolitan colonized who was theoretically posited as a categorically antithetical overlord.…Thus to be one of the colonized is potentially to be a great many different, but inferior, things, in many different places, at many different times.

Edward Said, ‘Representing The Colonized: Anthropology’s Interlocutors’, Reflections On Exile: And Other Essays, Page 294

The characters in the game would be based on people in the field: doctors, nurses, aid workers, journalists, photographers, child soldiers. NGOs would be involved in the game’s design so that the user is educated as well as entertained. These organizations could also benefit from revenues generated by the players, which could aid real world projects in specific places.

The photojournalist will hopefully be the link between the aid/NGO world and the people who are impacted by the conflict. They will be able to go behind rebel lines to see the use of child soldiers and to report on the violence, displacement, and desperate health situation. In this way, the photojournalist will be the eyes for the game “world.”

(The photojournalist Marcus Bleasdale, talking about his new video game venture Zero Hour: Congo, described as ‘…an immersive game based on the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo’)

Marcus Bleasdale is perhaps amongst the world’s most well known photojournalists. His near twelve year work on the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has won him international recognition, awards from most all photojournalism competition of note and various foundation grants. A member of the famous VII photo agency, he represents for many, the finest in the tradition of concerned photography. Marcus has dedicated the better part of his career to the conflict in the DRC, and has extended his work with an extensive set of engagements with both human rights organizations, international media and international bodies such as the United Nations. As he describes it himself, his aim has been to make people: Details »

Documentary Photography As Voice: First Pakistan Workshop: June 23rd to 27th 2013

Workshop Poster (small)

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Ideas, Inspirations and Still A Time For Dreaming


Sitting this morning in Lahore I am dreaming of Africa, of borders, and of other things that distract.

Ben Rawlence’s book Radio Congo: Signals of Hope From Africa’s Deadliest War arrived in the mail today. I had met Ben in New York some weeks ago at a dinner sponsored by the Open Society Institute. Ben is an Open Society Fellow this year and working on a new book about life in the Dadaab refugee camp in Somali. While speaking to him I mentioned that I was now living in Kigali, Rwanda, and was soon on my way to shoot a short assignment in Eastern Congo. Ben graciously offered to send me a copy of this work – a personal journey to the fabled city of Manono in Eastern Congo. The journey by foot, bike, and boat becomes a meditation on the history of the region, colonialism, the post-colonial dreams and the nightmares that replaced them, and about a new world emerging from a history that looks chaotic, but has its own trajectory and logic.

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