My Love For You Will Last…For As Long As You Are of Value

Neoliberalist subjectivity, then, is about bringing a mentality of “winning” to every aspect of life — every little thing is a performance, a contest — while being forever discontented with the fruits of such success. The winning and losing is mediated by metrics, which induce one to assent to more invasive surveillance. The surveillance merely assures an audience for one’s performances and makes sure they are evaluated, given meaning. The metrics also overlay a veneer of objectivity to the endless evaluative process — numbers masquerade as a general equivalent. Neoliberal subjects want to “win” by amassing the most “human capital” across all the various dimensions of their lives, and they are invited to participate in the processes that harvest that capital as way of proving to themselves that it ever existed.

Internal exile — I think that’s well-put, and that the similarity….

Isn’t this the reality behind our obsession with social-media? Behind all that fine discourse of Instagram/SocialMe/Facebook’s transformative possibilities for photographer – most all of which remain for the moment nothing more than a mirage – is this lurking fear that somehow by not participating, we are at risk of failing. Though no one seems to know what it is that we fear to fail at, or why we even believe we would. All are swept into the frenzy by a debate that insists that irrelevance and obscurity awaits those who wait. Perhaps what rankles, and confuses, most is the ‘all or nothing’ nature of all these pronouncements. Neoliberalism is a politics of fear. You are with us, or against us. A fear that compels individuals to then rush, trampling others along the way, towards the imaginary utopia that never quite seems to arrive. It is a politics that reduces everything to have meaning only if it has meaning to the self. Details »

Where The Wild Things Are!

The Pashtun of Waziristan, Pakistan has today become an avatar for violence, terrorism, rebellion, guerrilla warfare and other things deviant and vile. There is however a long heritage of depicting these people of the tribal regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan as genetically prone to violence and culturally prone to resistance to ‘civilised’ politics. This prejudice informs any and all writing about them, their history and the wars being waged in their backyards. From British colonial ear shenanigans – given the pretty-cute euphemism of ‘The Great Game’ to veil the fact that the White man’s ‘games’ are the brown man’s death sentence, genocide, pillage, massacre, mass murder, refugee crisis etc. to current American imperial wars in the region, the people of this region have been seen as nothing more than ‘barbaric’,and  ‘fundamentalist’ and continue to be spoken about with the worst of Orientalist and colonialist simplicities one can imagine – tribal, unconquerable, rebellious, and lawless. Where the British colonialist left off, their ancestors in the American political and academic establishment and the Pakistani post-colonialist structure have continued.

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Can non-Europeans think, and if so, can the non-European be allowed to speak?

Hamid Dabashi makes an argument that should have been made much earlier. So indeed, why are all the incredible voices emerging from South Asia, China, Africa and elsewhere always and consistently missing from any discussion about philosophy and society? 

Can non-Europeans think? – Opinion – Al Jazeera English.

As Dabashi argues:

Why is European philosophy “philosophy”, but African philosophy ethnophilosophy, the way Indian music is ethnomusic – an ethnographic logic that is based on the very same reasoning that if you were to go to the New York Museum of Natural History (popularised in Shawn Levy’s Night at the Museum [2006]), you only see animals and non-white peoples and their cultures featured inside glass cages, but no cage is in sight for white people and their cultures – they just get to stroll through the isles and enjoy the power and ability of looking at taxidermic Yaks, cave dwellers, elephants, Eskimos, buffalo, Native Americans, etc, all in a single winding row…..

The question of Eurocentricism is now entirely blase. Of course Europeans are Eurocentric and see the world from their vantage point, and why should they not? They are the inheritors of multiple (now defunct) empires and they still carry within them the phantom hubris of those empires and they think their particular philosophy is “philosophy” and their particular thinking is “thinking”, and everything else is – as the great European philosopher Immanuel Levinas was wont of saying – “dancing”.

Anyone who has read a modicum of writers from Asia and Africa will remain stunned at the ignorance of European thought. It is an ignorance that also colors and taints so much of journalist and photojournalistic works where entire generations of thinkers – philosophers, historians, intellectuals, writers, poets, activists and what have you, are completely missing. Its as if these regions and those people simply do not think, write, argue, debate, challenge, inform, and illuminate. It is as if we here have nothing to learn from them there. Or dare I say, as if we here may only be able to get it right by listening to those others there. Details »

Listening Only To Those We Recognise As Us

Lewis Bush of the Disphotic blog asks:

Why is a documentary on a foreign war correspondent, who had the choice to pack up and leave but decided to stay, and died as a consequences, considered more important, compelling or appealing than a documentary about a resident who had no choice but stay and die? Is it some how more tragic, the loss of life more poignant, for that fact that the deaths of Hondros and Hetherington, and so many others, appear so completely unnecessary? Even in our cynical age is there still some latent appeal in that old romantic idea of dying for a cause and what are the implications of this in an atmosphere that seems to be becoming increasingly dangerous for journalists? Profoundly disturbing ones I think.

He steps into a debate that has not-quite-raged within the community of photojournalists because apparently they are all too busy discussing Instagram or the latest Hipstamatic film-type or some other such ‘innovation’. Lewis Bush is speaking about recent announcements about documentary films about Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, two photojournalists who were killed during the recent Libya war. But the fact remains that our consumer / media saturated societies needs people like itself to help it make sense of the world. It needs the ‘white’ interlocutor to not only protect us from the diversity of perspectives and seemingly incomprehensible views of ‘the other’, but to also assure us that all is well in the world because someone like ‘us’ is out there reporting on it, and telling us how to think and respond to it.  Details »

Congressional Disappearences And Drone Victim Appearences

They–Rafeeq, Zubair, and Nabeela–travelled all the way from North Waziristan to give testimony to the US Congress about the devastation and suffering caused in their communities by the American and Pakistani drone attacks. It was the first time that victims of drone attacks were “permitted” to actually stand face-to-face with those defining and defending the war policies in the region and speak about the consequences of their decisions.

But no one turned up to listen.

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Searching For Ghosts

They are ghosts, and I have spent nearly two months trying to find a trace of them. They are the 33 Pakistani men who remain imprisoned, without charge or evidence, by the Americans at the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan. Many have not been see or heard by anyone other than their immediate families – they are periodically granted carefully censored telephone and internet video call access, for over 11 years. The prisoners are off limits to the public, the press and the legal community. These men have been silenced, their faces have been erased, the details of their incarceration beyond the eyes, ears and interest of a now compliant and cowed American and Pakistani media. Until 2012 their own government refused to recognize most of them as citizens of Pakistan.

They are the ghosts, and I have spent two months traveling across Pakistan trying to learn something, anything, about them. Details »

Trying To Make Sense Of Pakistan

It is difficult for me to talk in public about my personal projects. This is not because they are unduly complicated but because I fear to honestly speak about them and reveal the doubts, uncertainties and many prayers for luck and chance that underpin them. More often than not I do not know what it is that I am exploring, but only that I hope to find something that will educate me, inform me, and in some way, change me. I have questions I begin with, but no clear path to anything that may resemble an answer. These long term works, whether in India and now in Pakistan, are not based on any concrete hypothesis, or agenda, or righteous certainty but are little more than the one man’s rummaging through society, its inhabitants and asking some questions to learn a few things.

Unfortunately, that is not how a photographer is supposed to speak.

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Yet Again, Saving Brown Women From Brown Men

It is simply, but provocatively titled, Leaving Tehran And Restraints Behind and very, very simplistically – in fact I would argue, cartoonishly constructed and photographed. The entire photo essay is produced at a level that I would expect from a high school photography class student. Its reductive, cartoonish sequencing and linearity unworthy of even the worst of a racist, neo-conservative American think tank. 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.

What we are witnessing here is a narrative constructive so banal, infantile and frankly idiotic, that it could only be used to tell us about a people we have already been convinced are inhuman, barbaric and unworthy. It is a photo essay that would be laughed out of class, but thanks to the New York Times, it received a publishing credit thanks to the ever obedient James Estrin. Unsurprising, given the low standards and racist tropes this publication has provided to help reduce Iran, its people, and its complex and vivid cultural and historical worlds to a caricature.

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Proudly Speaking Out On Behalf Of ‘Terrorists’

This essay was written as an introduction to my earliest attempts to produce a photographic work on the victims of America’s wars. Focusing on the communities living on the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) or Khyber Pukhtunkhwa (KP) as it is today called, it was a small attempt to speak out against the wars we had manufactured, and the millions of lives we were destroying. It was my first photographic dissent against what was unfolding. Written in the fall of 2011, it accompanied a few grant proposals I put together for this work. And whereas those attempts failed, this work, these communities, remain a part of my more recent and broader project in Pakistan tentatively titled Justice In Pakistan for which I did finally secure some much needed funding.

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Why American Corruption Is A Problem of Genetics

The New York Times Lens Blog ran a rather interesting set of images earlier today. Titled An X-Ray Of Russian Corruption it featured that fine work of (presumably) Russian photographer Misha Friedman. It purports to be a study of the various ways in which corruption has contorted the social, civic, political and industrial life of Russia. But just as I was getting ready to parse through an interesting set of images, I was struck by the text, written by one Jesse Newman, which seemed to transform the images from being a photographer’s imaginative exploration of the failures of the Russia state, into something far more insidious. Jesse Newman, the writer, claimed that:

Mishsa Friedman is training his camera on what seems like a common train in his national genetic code. Corruption

And that is how racism becomes normalised. 

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