We Reserve The Right To Be Boorish And Bombastic And You Have The Right To Stand Up And Walk Away

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Bruce Gilden does a ‘photo review’. As I watched this video I could not help but wonder whether Gilden realizes that the producers of Vice are excitedly setting him up to perform a Gilden-pantomine act: boorish, rude, obnoxious, mocking, denigrating, dismissive as only Gilden can be. And as if on cue, Gilden delivers. Certainly one of the signs of the death of a person, or an artist, is when s/he ends up simply performing her/himself. We love a spectacle, as much as we love looking at an accident, and Gilden delivers.

I find listening to Gilden tiresome. As I watched this video (thanks to A Photo Editor blog), I had to fight back thoughts about his sexist and misogynist comments and instead think more about the sheer structure and framework for this ridiculous parody of a what should have been a review. As he droned on and on – combining his pointless and knee-jerk opinions with a combination of generalizations about Arabs/ Rocks, oral sex, demeaning statements about women’s bodies and other nonsense (Aside: Shelby and Fernando’s point out in their piece Short Skirts And Niqab Ban: On Sexuality And The Secular Body that: ‘Man hails woman into being: “Feminine identity depend[s] on male desire; male desire depend[s] on visual stimulation.” Seduction and the male gaze are therefore key to subjectivation: the visual appreciation of women’s faces and bodies brings women into being as women, just as the ability to see women’s faces and bodies brings men into being as men.’), I was reminded of Nietzsche’s mocking of Kant’s definition of the beautiful.

In his work The Genealogy of Morals Nietzsche point out that:

…I wish to underline is that Kant, like all philosophers, instead of envisaging the aesthetic problem from the point of view of the artist (the creator), considered art and the beautiful purely from that of the ‘spectator’ and unconsciously introduced the ‘spectator’ into the concept ‘beautiful’. It would not have been so bad if this ‘spectator’ had at least been sufficiently familiar to the philosophers of beauty – namely as a great personal fact and experience, as an abundance of vivid authentic experiences, desires, surprises and delights in the realm of the beautiful! But I fear that the reverse has always been the case; and so they have offered us, from the beginning, definitions in which, as in Kant’s famous definition of the beautiful, a lack of any refined first-hand experiences reposes in the shape of a fat worm of error.!

(From Genealogy of Morals)

As Agamben goes on to elaborate:

The experience of art that is described in these words (above) is in no way an aesthetic for Nietzsche. On the contrary: the point is precisely to purify the concept of ‘beauty’ by filtering out the sensory involvement of the spectator, and thus to consider art from the point of view of its creator. This purification takes place as a reversal of the traditional perspective on the work of art: the aesthetic dimension – the sensible apprehension of the beautiful object on the part of the spectator – is replaced by a creative experience of the artists who sees in his work only the promise of happiness.

(From The Man Without Content, from which the above Nietzsche quote is taken)

The complete primacy of the spectator’s measure of the aesthetic, and the absolute negation of the creator. This is photography critique in summary. These sorts of photo reviews were par-for-the-course at Visa Pour L’image and one of the reasons why I stopped going. The sheer narcissism, arrogance, obnoxiousness and very often uncouth rudeness of ‘reviewers’ was dismaying to witness. I remember dozens of occasions overhearing the insanely ridiculous and humiliating comments being made by ‘famous’ photographers and editors to young photographers who had come to them for feedback and advice. Instead, what they got was humiliation and abuse. It was as if insecure and egotistical editors and photographers – basking in their self-generated spotlights, unable to find meaning or value in their own jobs, took it out on the young photographers who were too sacred or too weak to respond. I would listen to editors mock them for their personality, humiliate them for their mistakes, laugh in their faces, carelessly throw prints around, rudely cut them off if they tried to explain, and always offer what has today become the most nonsensical, anti-intellectual statement in photography – ‘the photograph must speak for itself’.

The latter is basically nothing other than a way for an editor to dominate the photographer – her voice, her vision, her goals, her ideas, and her perspectives. It is a way for an editor to negate the authorship of the creator of a work, and impose upon it his / her own impression, however ignorant they may be. It is an act of violence against the creator of the work, and an essential tool in establishing the hierarchy of power that all editors wish to maintain against the photographer. It leads the hilariously illogical and embarrassing situation where a basically little read, little traveled and careerist editor sits and lectures a photographer – one who has been in the field and actually has the real-world experience of a situation, to lambasted and critique.

There are few, if any editors, who have the confidence and the sheer intelligence to see a photographer’s work, and to explore its motivations and authorship before offering perspectives, critiques and comments. Magdalena Herrera (then at National Geographic France, now at GEO France) was perhaps one of three editors I can name who actually engaged with a photographer’s work – intellectually, politically, creatively and structurally, and were able to speak in intelligent and generous ways. But they remain few and far between. Most often what we get is this mocking, dismissive, denigrating and demeaning (Gilden throws in sexism, and cultural essentialist to further establish his generally boorish credentials even further), discussions that often leave people simply confused and distraught.

I don’t see the point of it at all. A useless video other than to be reminded what is so wrong with this entire industry and how it refuses to get its head out of its a** and evolve a better, more intelligent and more inspiring way to speak about work and about the photographers who risk it all to go out and produce stories – however good or bad – and deserve a respectful and meaningful engagement around their work.

Photographers should refuse to be subjected to this. Please just stand up and walk out. No matter what, no matter how inexperienced or experience, a photographer you are, you do not deserve this mocking, humiliating treatment. There are plenty of amazing, talented and brilliant photographers and editors who will give you critical and much needed feedback while also respecting your dignity and authorship. Stand up and walk away.

A Coalition, A War, And The Gift That Keeps On Giving

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In what can only be called a ‘coalition of the bought’, one that includes some of the best military dictatorships and some of the most retrograde societies in the Middle East, we have launched into yet another illegal, unauthorized war in the region.

The US has launched, with the support of perhaps one of the most vile coalitions put together – filled with nations that behead people as a form of ‘law’ – to go after a group that beheads people as a form of military tactic. To say nothing about the fact that the UN has been reduced to a mouthpiece uttering nonsense about ‘humanitarian crisis’ as a way to hide its collusion and its complete abandonment of its charter and responsibility. No resolution has been even considered to sanction this entire ridiculous, ultimately useless campaign. No debate. No discussion. Not even an attempt at a fake ‘consensus’. Of course, the pusillanimous US Congress was entirely by-passed – such an inconvenience this bloody democratic structure of our Republic that it is best avoided completely, and is sucking on green-colored lollipops given to it by the corporations. Details »

Like Cowards They Act In The Dark Of Night And Law

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Parons MFA Series: #4

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Parsons MFA Series: #3

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The Parsons MFA Series: #2

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The Parsons MFA Series: #1

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Are The Animals The Ones Looking In?

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Human zoos. Someone actually thought this is a good idea, and a whole host of others concurred and celebrated it. The Edindurgh Festival certainly thinks so.

Apparently we just can’t get enough of this stuff. I wrote about it some months ago in a piece for Warscapes Magazine when something similar first appeared in Norway and was widely celebrated. There is something fabulously vile and callous about a bunch of white people going about recreating these criminal enterprises under the pretense of ‘education’ or ‘experience’ or even ‘art’. The very fact that they can re-create these displays reflects the vast differentials of political, economic and cultural power that still scars our engagement with Africa and other people of ‘the lesser kind’. Read my piece below.

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False Pearls For Real Swine

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This is the sort of cultural-whitewash that the West desperately clings to, and the appeasing ‘others’ desperately offer. The entire concocted narrative of ‘cultural understanding’ and ‘cultural exchange’ carefully elides the hard and obvious ugliness of crass political, economic and military reality that has defined the relationship of the Middle East to European colonial powers and more recently American imperial control. The Aga Khan would do better than to offer sops to a discourse that serves in fact the interest of political power, and continues to negate the struggles of people have been trampled with impunity and with extreme violence at the hands of this so-called ‘Western world’

The Aga Khan is quoted as saying:

One of the lessons we have learned in recent years is that the world of Islam and the Western world need to work together much more effectively at building mutual understanding – especially as these cultures interact and intermingle more actively,” commented His Highness Aga Khan. “We hope that this museum will contribute to a better understanding of the peoples of Islam in all of their religious, ethnic, linguistic and social diversity.

We have to question this ‘clash of culture’ nonsense. In particular, those confronting the so-called ‘West’ have to do so with intellectual and moral courage, and not with mealy-mouthed niceties about ‘mutual understanding’. Asking the occupied, the displaced, the invaded to create ‘mutual understanding’ with their oppressors is to strengthen the hand of the oppressor, and to erase the history, politics and sensibility of the oppressed.

These fraudulent ‘cultural’ events and institutions are part and parcel of a process of erasure of the politics of ‘the other’. They are a close partner in the structure of thought want to bifurcate a human political force in to ‘good’ and ‘bad’ muslims – a false construction that reduces people into either ‘collaborator’ or ‘terrorist’ dichotomies and negates any possibility of complex political and other engagement. The Aga Khan is walking the wrong path, and in fact, strengthening the hand of those who are determined to wage war, to steal, to use violence for base, material political and economic goals.

These institutions are also a clear reflection of the weakness of those who wish desperately to be invited to the dining room of power – a need to bend over and beg for crumbs by pleasing the masters, and offering them soft, pointless, depoliticized trinkets that will somehow convince them that ‘we’ are worthy. From a discourse about ‘Islam is a religion of peace’ (who gives a shit if it is or not ? why is that never asked about any other faith, including capitalist secularism? how is this even relevant in the face of the dogs of war unleashed in the region for decades?), to these over blown museums desperate to show that ‘we’ are worthy and that ‘we’ are ‘civilized’…as if somehow the wars, and the violence is nothing more than a ‘misunderstanding’!

Ridiculous!

This is a moment of hard, clear, measured and honest political engagement and confrontation. This is a moment to speak truths to power. To confront it not with apologetics, but with evidence, with rights, with demands, with law and with strength. This is not about ‘mutual understanding’ – go ask that to of family whose sons were tortured and raped to death in Abu Gharaib, or a child whose family was torn to shred by a wayward drone, or to any of the millions affected by our invasions in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Somalia etc, or even any one of the families whose sons and husbands were entrapped in fake terrorism cases and had their lives torn apart. Ask them for ‘mutual understanding’ and to bring their trinkets of civilisation to the fine and peace loving people of the West to convince them that they are worthy of not being killed. Then see how inane and irrelevant all this sounds.

These projects simply entrench arrogance, and repeat – as Partha Chatterjee as argued, a derivative discourse of imperial power. The elide political facts and military realities. They avoid asking the hard questions and offering the clear evidence. They prefer to dwell into ‘culturalist’ narratives, somethign that suits those who in fact make their decisions on specific power and political goals. They never accuse, they never question, they never critique, they never refuse, and they never dissent. This sort of game cannot continue. A political dissent is needed if we are even pretend we are in spaces that are democratic and open. In fact, a radical political dissent, as writer Arun Kundnani has commented in a recent interview:

I think terrorism is the product of closing down political space, political engagement and political participation,” he says “So, think about the end of 19th century when you had anarchist bombers. All of them were veterans of Paris communes. A moment of political defeat gives rise to terrorism, such as the IRA in Northern Ireland. They start to get involved in violence when the civil rights movement, non-violent movement are suppressed, right? Similarly, the African National Congress turned to campaign of bombing and sabotage once the peaceful attempt to fight apartheid was suppressed. So this is the pattern you see. If that is right then creating opportunities for people to advance their political agendas through non-violent means is actually the best way of reducing the risk of terrorism.

We need not museums to imagined histories or ‘past’ civility, but podiums to express our radical political voices and fulfill our participation and our rights as citizens of our societies.

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Please Don’t Say That Because You Sound Like A Bigot Or Fondation Carmignac’s Colonial Discourse

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The theme for this year’s grant proposal call is described as follows:

The theme selected for the sixth edition is “Lawless areas in France”. This year, once again, the Carmignac Foundation wishes to support and promote an investigative photography project in territories away from the media spotlight by focusing on France and specifically on areas becoming so-called “lawless areas” – political, legal or socio-economic no man’s land subject to deregulation – where the authority of the French Republic is challenged.

Is this the new discourse around marginalized and ostracized communities in France? Is this wording for the award this year a massive collection of euphemisms about African, Muslim, Algerian, poor, immigrant, and migrant communities in France? Details »

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