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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Against Whispering

Simon Norfolk.

I was so confident that I had written about his work on this blog that I even suggested to some of the students working with me on my Justice In Pakistan project to do a search on this, The Spinning Head, blog and take a look at his work. When they came back a few days later and pointed out that their search yielded no results I was surprised, and embarrassed. It was inconceivable that I have never discussed Norfolk’s work in all the years that I have been writing this blog. It was later that I realized that I had planned on writing about him, in particular his recent work in Afghanistan, and had decided to wait until after I had reviewed his latest project. And then I never got around to it. I want to fix this terribly oversight and write about his work now.

About two years ago I received an email from Simon that said:

I’m a big fan of your blog and in particular your thoughts about embedding in Afghanistan. Which was why I went and embedded in Afghanistan! I’d like to show you the results, it’s following in the footsteps of John Burke, a photographer who was there in 1880; can I mail you a copy of my book? Can you send me an address? I’d love to hear your thoughts, good or bad.

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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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