George Osodi – The Niger Delta / The Kings Of Nigeria

George Osodi_Kings of Nigeria - Artscape - Al Jazeera English_20130510-112327

I am enjoying this new series that Al-Jazeera is running – Artscape: The New African Photographers. Its not just it is a sheer pleasure to hear new and different voices in photography – the European and American obsession with a few handful of the same old voices, largely selected by bored editors from agencies such as Magnun, VII or Noor etc, becoming quite tiresome and banal. It was simply lovely to hear Osodi talk about his work, about how he began it, and how he sees and understands the issues that he is trying to represent.

 

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The Subjectivity Of It All

Photojournalism remains a deeply subjective craft – the act, the craft, the technique, the entire business enterprise (from stories selected, assigned, produced, photographed, published, produced, awarded etc.) relies on a series of subjective choices and prioritization. That is, photojournalism, much like any journalism, is fundamentally a human act of exploration, investigation, articulation, documentation, explanation, argumentation, and presentation (not necessarily in that order) and carries within it, as in all human enterprises, a series of human choices, selections, eliminations and and prioritization. And hence, carries within it the fundamental characteristics of all human and humanistic knowledge and endeavors, and that as Edward Said argued:, we can:.

…acquire philosophy and knowledge, it is true, but the basic unsatisfactory fallibility of the human mind persists nonetheless. So there is always something radically incomplete, insufficient, provisional, and arguable about humanistic knowledge that…gives the whole idea of humanism a tragic flaw that is constitutive to it and cannot be removed.

(Said, Edward Humanism And Democratic Criticism, Page 11-12)

Every serious, responsible photojournalist who steps into the world to report and say something about it works to mitigate the problem of human fallibility by proceeding with a determination to report issue fairly, and to document and communicate their findings honestly, comprehensively and ethically. That is, the only thing that allows us to take any photojournalism project seriously is the belief that the reporter has carried out her task with a dedication to these principles. It is also one of the reasons why mainstream news outlets remain so critical to the process – they offer the reputation and trust that allows us to take any reporting from the field seriously.

Ironically, this is the one aspect of photojournalism that news photography and photojournalism contests do not focus on. In fact, there is a near absolute focus on the aesthetics of an image, and little or no focus on evaluating the veracity, accuracy, reliability, and rigor of a photojournalism story. Most of the controversies that emerge during the photo competition season tend to center around issues of aesthetics, as when a number of people voiced concern that Paul Hansen’s World Press Photo competition winning image was over manipulated or adjusted differently for the competition than from when it first ran in the newspaper. Each year, at the end of the major photojournalism competition season, we see a whole host of these complaints and concerns being expressed, with many people expressing outrage at the level of image processing, and adjustment in various winning images. In fact, the only reason an ethics controversy occurred this year was because of a group of bloggers and researchers directly and indirectly invovled with the story produced by Paolo Pellegrin cried foul. Details »

On How Not To Speak About Photojournalism Or Anyone Notice We Are Still Human?

In his book Humanism and Democratic Criticism Edward Said writes about a writer’s congress convened in New York by The Nation magazine. The congress organizers left open the question of who was a writer and why he or she was qualified to attend. As Said tells it, literally hundreds of people turned up at the event, crowding up the room to ‘…almost to the ceiling.’ Soon a debate ensued about the definition of a writer in order to help select members to a writers union and to determine who could vote in the congress. I let Said’s word tell us what followed:

Not much occured in the way of reduced and manageable numbers: the hearteningly large mass of people simply remained immense and unwieldly since it was quite clear that everyone who came as a writer…stayed on as a writer…

I remember clearly that at one point someone sensibly suggested that we should adopt what is said to be the Soviet position on defining a writer, that is, a writer is someone who says that he or she is a writer. And I think that is where matters seem to have rested…

And so there we have it – a writer is someone who says that he or she is a writer. In a world with near ubiquitous access to a computer, the Internet, language and grammar, practically everyone is a writer and can string together a series of sentences to justify that claim. But Edward Said offers this anecdote to build his argument that in fact, not everyone is a writer / intellectual (in his original piece, he conflates those two). and though never offers a clear set of criteria, there follows a paragraph that I believe captures his argument for the need for a differentiation. He argues that:

To answer the question of why, in this and other similar contexts [on discussing why people, despite massive repression, continue to fight] individuals and groups prefer writing and speaking to silence, is equivalent to specifying what the intellectual and writer confront in the public sphere. What I mean is that the existence of individuals or groups seeking social justice and economic equality, who understand that freedom must include the right to a whole range of choices affording cultural, political, intellectual, and economic development…will lead one to a desire for articulation as opposed to silence. This is the functional idiom of the writer / intellectual vocation. The intellectual therefore stands in a position to make possible and further the formulation of these expectations and wishes.

What is striking about this argument is its focus on the individual’s sense of responsibility. The fact that Said places at center stage a set of human aspirations and ideals – equality, freedom, and justice, to differentiate those who have the tools and technology to write, and those who are writers. And I would argue, that it is such a set of human aspirations and ideals that raises one from being merely a photographer, to being a photojournalist. Details »

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.

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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 »

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