This post was originally written in response to France’s decision to ban the burqa but many of its arguments find new relevance in the aftermath of Anders Behring Breivik’s massacre of over 90 Norwegians. Many of my arguments are also echoed in a recent piece written by Remi Nilson, editor of the Norwegian edition of Le Monde Diplomatique, called “Why Norway?“
It is not about the burqa. And it’s not even about the dignity of the woman. Neither the French, nor the Dutch will admit it. But we have to look past the hysteriato attempt to understand what lies behind it.
Aaron Vincent Elkaim’s project on Morocco’s Jewish heritage immediately caught my attention not because of the photographs, but because of words that underpin the ideas and ideals of the project. These words immediately suggested a photographer of considerable intelligence and courage, and willing to accept and understand histories that today lie buried under propaganda, lies and sheer hypocrisy.
From The Series 'Jewish Morocco' By Aaron Vincent Elkaim
Every year at this time of the year my mind turns towards man’s creation of the calendar. Some months ago I came a fascinating discussion about the issue of measuring time in Jack Goody’s wonderful, if dense work, Theft Of History. I share with you here the paragraphs that I looked up last night as the clock struck midnight and signaled that finally 2010, a year that has tested me in ways I had never imagined, has passed and that I can look forward to new possibilities in 2011.
The very calculation of time in the past, and of the present to, as been appropriate by the west. The dates on which history depends are measured before and after the birth of Christ. The recognition of other eras, relating to the Hegira, to the Hebrew or to the Chinese New Year, is relegated to the margins of historical scholarship and of international usage…
…The monopolization of time takes place not only with the all-inclusive era, that defined by the birth of Christ, but also with the everyday reckoning of years, months, and weeks. The year itself is a partly arbitrary division. We use the sidereal cycle, others a sequence of twelve lunar periods. It is a choice of a more or less conventional kind. In both systems the beginning of the year, that is, the New Year, is quite arbitrary. There is, in fact, nothing more ‘logical’ about the sidereal year which Europeans use than about the lunar reckoning of Islamic and Buddhist countries. In is the same with the European division into months. The choice is between arbitrary years or arbitrary months. Our months have little to do with the moon, indeed the lunar months of Islam are definitely more ‘logical’. There is a problem for every calendrical system of integrating star or seasonal years with lunar months. In Islam the year is adjusted to the months; in Christianity the reverse holds. In oral cultural both the seasonable count and the moon count can operate independently, but writing forces a kind of compromise.
The week of seven days is the most arbitrary unit of them all. In Africa one finds the equivalent of a ‘week’ of three, four, five, or six days, with markets to correspond. In China it was ten days. Societies felt the need for some regular division smaller than a month for frequent cyclical activities such as local markets, as distinct from annual fairs. The duration of these units is completely conventional. The notion of a day and a night clearly corresponds to our everyday experience but once again the further subdivisions into hours and minutes exists only on our clicks and in our minds; they are quite arbitrary.
Goody, J (2006) The Theft Of History Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Page 14, 15, & 16
Have a wonderful New Year, where ever you may be, and when ever it may actually arrive in your life.
And for the conventional; A lovely 2011 to you all.
WikiLeaks Mirror Site DIY
A Public Service Message From The Spinning Head: Instructions for mirroring WikiLeaks and fighting crime.
I went back to this talk by Arundhati Roy, as I have done many times since it was first given back in 2002. Arundhati Roy is once again in the cross-hairs of the cheerleaders of our modernity, accused of being a narcissist and a seditious traitor. What she has retained is her consistency of principals, her clear sighted commitment to the idea of humanity and arguing for an equal humanity. This talk is from 2002, but listening to it again I am reminded of her intellectual trajectory and the consistency with which she has applied it to the many issues and causes she has spoken out against.
In these dark and dangerous times, a welcome reminder of what it is that we are arguing for in the first place.
There is talk that many…[war]…films are anti-war, that the message is war is inhumane…but actualy,…war films are all pro-war, no matter what the supposed message, what Kubrick or Coppola or Stone intended. Mr and Mrs. Johnson in Omaha or San Francisco or Manhattan will watch the films and weep…but Corporal Johnson at Camp Pendleton…and Lance Corporal Swofford at 29 Palms Marine Corps Base watch the same films and are excited by them, because the magic brutality of the films celebrates the terrible and despicable beauty of their fighting skills. Fight, rape, war, pillage, burn. Filmic images of death and carnage are pornography for the military man; with film you are stroking his cock, ticking his balls with a pink feather of history, getting him ready for his real First Fuck. It doesn’t matter how many Mr. and Mrs Johnsons are antiwar – the actual killers who know how to use the weapons are not.
From Anthony Swofford’s Jarhead
I would argue that so-called anti-war photography has failed as well. Of course we would not know that from the frequency with which it is celebrated, exhibited, awarded and worshipped. But as Swofford so brilliantly points out, those who celebrate it, or claim to be anti-war, are not doing the constant, endless, seemingly infinite killing. A killing that now consumes trillions of dollars of tax-payer’s money, and that seems to be the only thing in this devastating economic downturn that does not seem to be on the downturn. Details »
I came across a rather disturbing report recently (thanks to Wronging Rights) released by the Nordic African Institute of the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA). Titled The Complexity of Violence: A critical analysis of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) it is a critical examination of how crimes of sexual violence in the Congo are depicted, documented and reported on. Specifically the report challenges the prioritized focus on sexual violence, as something ‘abnormal’ and different from other forms of violence, and the undue and highly publicized attention given to it by international health, aid and media organizations. Details »
A surprising and exciting set of images from Karl de Keyzer, a photographer whose work has always challenged and fascinated me, particularly since he produced the wonderful God Inc. Now come a set of images of the Congo that are lovely for their sharp contrast to the conventional ‘dark Africa’ depictions of the pathologies and struggles there.
What I particularly love about this work is that it challenges you to examine the photographs and think about a country we know has suffered through decades of colonial exploitation, post-colonial wars, economic exploitation and the traps of the Cold War itself.
Here in de Keyzer’s photographs is a far more complex, but human story of a people living with consequences of politics, power, and trauma that continues to affect their lives and that they continue to struggle against and overcome. I am not sure how far de Keyzer will go with his work but these pictures suggest a photographer willing to confront the consequences on Congo’s modernity of a history that is not too far in the past and in fact is very much responsible for the current wars and deaths and bloodshed.
Connections, links, continuities and consequences are the new challenge for photographer. The use of photography to take us towards realizations of history, society, politics, power and exploitation. This work suggests possibilities of completeness and I look forward to seeing how far de Keyzer goes in the book that is soon to be published based on this set of images.
Photographer Marco Vernaschi has gotten himself into quicksand, and taken the otherwise respectable Pulitzer Center On Crisis Reporting with him. And all I can think about are the forces, commercial and personal, that compel individuals to transgress boundaries of common decency, and institutions that celebrate these by publishing them.
Marco Vernaschi recently published a piece on the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting’s Untold Stories site about child sacrifice rituals in Uganda. When I first saw the piece I was left unmoved and frankly uninterested. The writing itself was uninteresting, and the photography – black and white pictures stylized, manipulated and otherwise manufactured to suggest ‘menace’, ‘evil darkness’, and ‘nightmares’, seemed only to be the latest in a long heritage of photographers trawling Africa for their piece of the continent’s apparently rich buffet table of the ‘demonic’, ‘diabolical’, ‘devilish’, ‘maniacal’ and otherwise deranged and deviant.
What in fact did surprise me about the work was that the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting was supporting and funding it. The work, and the photographer, just seemed a bit too over-the-top, too sensationalist and titillating and hence incongruent with so much of the rest of what the Pulitzer Center typically sponsored and supported. But I just dismissed my response as uninformed and moved on. Details »