Open See – Another Jim Goldberg Scream

Open See: Jim Goldberg

Open See: Jim Goldberg

I love Jim Goldberg’s work. His new book is fabulous and best of all, complicated. Jim continues to employ his seemingly random photographic methods using all sorts of different formats, borrowed images and even scratching and writing on the photographs themselves. Details »

Yes, Your Taste In Music Sucks Or What MTV Erases!

That can either be me talking about you, or your judgment of what I listen to these days. So enjoy it regardless!

The Carolina Chocolate Drops are an old style, talented, string band carrying on the tradition of some of the greatest string musicians from North and South Carolina. Tell me that Rhiannon Giddens voice isn’t simply hair raising!

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India As Fiction

I don’t have an exhaustive list – Indian literature is just too extensive and too diverse. I also have not read her writers in anything other than English and Urdu. That may still not represent a significant portion of India’s literary output. But India loves her books – anyone going to Kerala or walking into cafes in Calcutta will know what I mean. Details »

What To Bring…Some Thoughts On Preparing For The India Workshop

I had wanted to put together a well thought out, rigorously professional list of things to bring to India. I have been trying to do just that for a couple of days now. But each time I do the list just seems completely artificial and pointless. We are all different, and have different preferences. We all know what we have to have with us to make our photographs, and to be comfortable while working and resting. Clothes, toiletries, something fun to read, a couple of notebooks and a pen (preferably a fountain pen – more on that later!), a good pair of slippers. What else does a photographer need? Josef Koudelka famously said that 2 shirts and 2 pants are more than necessary and then its just a matter of going. Perhaps a bit ascetic, but he sets the bar for the minimum required. Details »

Wrapping Photographers Into The Packaging of War

They took the New York Times on a war tour. The Battle For Pakistan it was called when the magazine finally published the photographs their boys had so carefully constructed and bought back. They had all the elements that would suggest valor, fear, desperate battles, the struggle of ‘a state’ against an unseen but clearly fearsome enemy. Though to my eye it appeared to be a lot of pictures of Pakistani soldiers ‘posing’ – the kinds of pictures I know these soldiers often pose for whenever I have had to photograph them. They know the routine – it is a veritable war zone cat walk, Pakistan’s Next Top Soldier! There are ‘buckets’ of IEDs, emptied villages, men behind bars wearing their self incriminating, evidence acceptable in our modern courts of war, skull caps and beards. The Battle For Pakistan, a nation of 170 million, with a cultural and ethnic diversity that baffles most, was apparently being fought against a few hundred men with outdated guns and plastic buckets IEDs! Details »

What I Learnt From My Students & How It Was Not What I Had Planned On Teaching Them!

Earlier this year I taught a 1-week photography workshop in Dubai. I am not fond that city, and deliberately avoid going there for as long as I can remember. It has something to do with an early childhood memory of seeing poor Pakistani laborers being beaten with sticks by security police at the Dubai International Airport. I have since associated feelings of anger and sorrow with that town. But the workshop was being organized by a good friend and I could not say no. Details »

Panic Not! Ira Glass To The Rescue

After reading some of the recent posts focusing on the divergent and/or contradictory demands of academic and photographic project objectives, I thought that it would be useful for you all to step back and reconsider things.

Ira Glass. This American Life. A brilliant story teller. An amazing journalist. An inspiration to many. My friend Zoriah reminded me that perhaps the students should hear him talk about creative story telling and how the best of them actually work. He himself has written a post about Ira Glass on his blog. Details »

Where The Head Spun: Sunday, 12th July 2009

This week has been busy with some writings on The Idea of India photo project, but I did manage to come across some fascinating stuff:

Ikea Is As Bad A Wal-Mart; A piece in Salon magazine that reviews Ellen Ruppel Shell’s book Cheap.

Yes, it is our consumer habits that are driving these climate changes – the degradation of the soil, the cutting of forests, the polluting of the oceans, the exploitation of human labor in china and mexico, to name just two places, is all for the sake of our cheap consumer goods.  We may prefer to avoid this fact by trying to simply shop ‘green’, but shopping, and repeateded, frequent cycles of shopping are in fact why the problems are emerging. Details »

The Shock Of Gaza Or Salvaging Something From What Was Nearly Nothing

A few days after arriving in Gaza last January, I posted the following piece on the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting’s Untold Stories blog site dedicated to the Gaza project that writer Elliott Woods and I were working on. I think it fairly captures what was going on in my head during that time.

On the Getty Images archive you can type in ‘Gaza Destroyed’ and retrieve over 5,500 images to select from.  If you run the query ‘Gaza Funerals’ you will get back over 7,000 images.  I was unable to check the Corbis archives because at the time of writing this entry their site was undergoing maintenance.  But I am confident that I would find a similarly large number of images for both the queries above. Details »

How We Refused To Embed With Britney Spears!

I woke up this morning and read the following piece of news:

“Sweden’s four national newspapers, Aftonbladet, Expressen, Dagens Nyheter and Svenska Dagbladet boycotting Britney Spears concert at the Globe July 13. The organizer needs to press photographers must sign a contract that gives her the copyright to the images, and the right to decide which images may be published. ‘If they do not tear the contract we will not shoot,’ says DN’s image manager Roger Turesson.”

And I soon wafted into a day-dream that took me back to the world in late 2002 as the final touches were being put on the US military journalist embed program, and this announcement hit the front pages of a oh-so-imaginary-but-courageous New York Times:

“America’s four national newspapers, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribue are boycotting George Bush’s  Gulf War to be held in 2003. The organizers of this event demand that press photographers sign a contract that gives them [the organizers] the right to decide which images may be published and what, if anything, they will be allowed to document. ‘If they do not tear the contract we will not shoot,’ says New York Times photo editor Jane ‘battlefield” Schmoe.”

I have been accused of naivete, and stupidity by those in positions of ‘power’ at magazines and newspapers for constantly harping on this.

Today, with memories that do not go beyond the 24 hour news cycle, editors justify their decisions to continue to ’embed’ their reporters with the arguments like ‘there is no other way to do it – its too dangerous otherwise’. They fail to realize that this is precisely what the embed program hoped to achieve beyond its simple control of the ‘image’ of the war.

We live in the very house we built!

(UPDATE: 25th July 2009: NBC’s new prime-time titilation is called The Wanted that unites ‘special operations’ operatives with self-declared ‘journalists’ to hunt down what they describe – without evidence, right to defense, process of law, right to counsel, a fair trial and a full hearing of course, are the world’s most dangerous ‘terrorists’. Where they get this list is easily guessed at. But, my point is underlined by such lunatic programming – our ‘journalists’, our ‘military’, our ‘intelligence’ and our ‘government’ continue to conflate. and continue to loose credibility. we are not even pretending any more!)

By getting in to bed with one of the belligerents we asked our journalists and photojournalists to participate in acts of war. The Iraqi and Afghani has been dehumanized but can we for a moment imagine what it must look like from the hell they are standing and looking from?

Dressed as toy soldiers in camouflage our reporters/photographers are seen strutting around in US military camps, sitting inside US army Humvees during patrols, chatting it up with US army personnel as civilian bodies lay shredded all around, sharing meals with those who break through doors and threaten families, walking away with soldiers as they humiliate and drag men to prisons, sharing sleeping quarters with those who torture them, and speaking fluently the language of the pillager and occupier.

That is, as pure and simple collaborators with what are illegal, and brutal wars of occupation and pillage.

Is it any wonder then that it is ‘too dangerous’ to cover it from outside the embed?

I will add that real reporters have covered the war in Iraq from outside the ‘voice over’ of the US military. Urban Hamid and Dahr Jamal come to mind, and also the group of young photographers who took considerable risks to produce independent stories from the country and the war and horror that was bestowed on her by our leaders.

I will also add that there are those who did embed, and came back with stories and images that spoke beyond what they were intended to do. Chris Hondros comes to mind, Zoriah and also Ashley Gilbertson to name a few. But these are exceptions that reveal ways that individuals have attempted to get something more out of a bad situation. They are all unique characters, not easily usurped by others and their work beyond Iraq continues to confirm this. I am sure that there are others, but again, these are people working ‘against’ the strictures of the embed program and allowing themselves to think beyond what is being shown.

And perhaps in a great irony, I remember an Iraq photojournalist telling me that it was the ordinary soldiers that were most keen on helping him see the things the Army did not want us to see – they helped him and encouraged him to photograph the insanity of war perhaps in the hope that the images could stop their involvement in this madness!

It can be done, it has been done by more and it is the only and the right way to report these wars. But it takes commitment and a willingness to understand why we are ‘reporters’ and ‘photojournalists’ in the first place.

It can still be done.

The newspapers can still come together and finally refuse to participate in the embed program and possibly even pool their financial resources to allay costs. Imagine if tomorrow all reporters simply refused, announced that they were going to arrive independent of military cover and start to work to establish an independent presence inside Iraq and Afghanistan and make the investments to rebuild trust and credibility with them, and with us here in the USA.

We need to rebuild our commitment to journalism and in particular in the eyes and minds of the people who are dying for ‘our protection’ and our supposedly sacrosanct ‘way of life’!

Newspapers and news agencies around the world have in fact organized boycotts on a number of occasions.  A little research shows however that they mostly tend to be aimed at pop stars, and sporting organizers. There was a slightly annoying incident with the National Football League some years ago, another with the Indian IPL cricket leage and then another with the football World Cup, and another with the Australian Cricket Board. I believe that the band ColdPlay was also the target of a threat of an organized boycott.

If we can confront the power of Britney, why not then the US military?

UPDATES: Some pieces that I came across that highlight the situation in Afghanistan a little better include Escalation Scam by Norman Soloman and a review by Ann Jones of the HBO film Fixer called Everything That Happens in Afghanistan Is Based on Lies or Illusions. I also found the hilarious but vividly revealing blog site for freelance reporter P.J.Tobia who is reporting the daily realities of Kabul and other places he visits.

NOTE: I realize that this boycott, like any against a pop star or a sports league, is less about ethics and standards and more about money. Rights to images determines of who gets the financial benefits of the images. However, the same argument can also be made for why American newspapers so eagerly jumped into bed with the US military; there was just more money to be made. It is easier to give people what they want than to adhere to the ethical obligations of your profession. Journalism is not just a business but, much like health care, also a public good. It is why profiteering by medical insurance companies or health care companies, so repulses us. Remember the Hippocratic Oath? We believe in the sanctity of the profession and its ethics reflect the ethics of our society; we care for all and it is just. It is what defines a civilized and developed society. Journalism is similarly – a public good and has priorities and responsibilities that go beyond money making. It has to balance profits with professional responsibility to serve the public. So yes, of course, embedding was easy and profitable and every one was doing it and it was going to be a huge seller since the nation was drunk of mindless patriotism that demanded blood and soon. We wanted pictures of heroes and liberators, not questions about the immorality and illegality of the wars, the fake intelligence reports, the lies at the UN or about ‘yellow’ cake and so on and so forth. I know all this. I still remain naive, and stupid, and idealistic and believe that regardless of the market share value improvement, it was the wrong decision and one that continues to hurt the newspapers and us as a society and a now-struggling democracy.)