Repost: This Land Called Gaza – A Love and A Curse

This post was originally written in the aftermath of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in 2008 / 2009. As Israel threatens to once again invade the territory, its determination to incite violence and provoke reactions remains unrecognized and unreported by our media. Some important correctives can be found here, here and here. This is, as it was the first time around, for my friends in Gaza.

Location: Jabaliya refugee camp, Gaza City. 2009

 

“And what projects are you working on at the moment?”

“An exhibition…and…I’m working on the completion of a new book, something very close to my heart.”

“What’s it about?”

“The Palestinians.”

There was a rather long silence…my friend looked at me with a slightly sad smile, and said “Sure, why not! But don’t you think the subject’s a bit dated? Look, I’ve taken photographs of the Palestinians too, especially in the refugee camps…its really sad! But these days, who’s interested in people who eat off the ground with their hands? And then there’s all that terrorism…I’d have thought you’d be better off using your energy and capabilities on something more worthwhile!”

Swiss photographer Jean Mohr describes a conversation with a friend.(1) Details »

The Most Beautiful Girl They’ve Seen Or The Embedded Photojournalist Gets Picked Up!

Creative Common Copyright Fab34

I have argued this again and again, and have been reviled and criticized for it again and again. And yet, nothing produced by any of the many number of reporters and photojournalists who have chosen to embed with the US military in Iraq or Afghanistan has convinced me to change my mind that embedded journalism is many things but never journalism. Details »

Sticking Our Head In The Sand Or We Just Liked Afghanistan Better When The Soviet’s Were Raping It

Larry Towell is looking for money for a new project in Afghanistan and has placed his request on Kickstarter. This would all have been fine had it not been for the fact that he is doing the wrong project.

Larry Towell has been an inspiration, one of the first photographers whose works compelled me to come to photography. So it is with great disappointment that I read his description of what he intends to do in Afghanistan.

The opening sentence from his project description, a project called Crisis In Afghanistan, left me stunned:

For 30 years, Afghanistan has known only civil war.

No it has not. Details »

Going Back To Go Forward Or Why A Book May Hold The Secret To A New Photographic Adventure

It was once quite fashionable amongst photojournalists to argue that ‘too much information’ about a situation, conflict, region, culture, society, subject or story could confuse and damage a photographic work. I remember at least a handful of interviews with ‘major’ photographers where they each claimed that they went into situations and stories such that they were not ‘influenced’ by readings and open to the experiences and inspirations from actual experience. I always felt that this was yet another weak attempt to veil what can only be described as intellectual laziness behind the obfuscating language of ‘the creative process’. It was quite obvious that the works being produced from complex socio-economic environments were riddled with simplicities, banal clichés and a frankly egregious and irresponsible disconnect from the broader social, political, economic and cultural factors that defined the nature of the ‘social pathology’ the photographers were focusing on. Details »

Tony Judt Passes Away

Tony Judt has passed away.

What first bought me to Tony Judt’s works was a paragraph from a remarkable (for an American audience) piece he wrote in the New York Review of Books called Israel: The Alternative. The specific paragraph that struck me vividly was this one:

The problem with Israel, in short, is not—as is sometimes suggested—that it is a European “enclave” in the Arab world; but rather that it arrived too late. It has imported a characteristically late-nineteenth-century separatist project into a world that has moved on, a world of individual rights, open frontiers, and international law. The very idea of a “Jewish state”—a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded—is rooted in another time and place. Israel, in short, is an anachronism.

A remarkably honest statement from a writer/intellectual who was once a Zionist, and volunteered as a member of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), to a vehement opponent of the policies of the state of Israel and its continued brutality of the Palestinians. He argued against the Iraq War (Bush’s Useful Idiots), defended the works of Mearsheimer & Walt about the Israeli Lobby (A Lobby Not A Conspiracy). And more recently, despite suffering from the debilitating Lou Gehrig’s disease, he penned some wonderful essays for the New York Review Of Books including some of my favorites like Night, Ill Fares The Land, What Is Living & What Is Dead In Social Democracy. He also appeared in an interesting Dutch documentary about the impact of the Israeli’ lobby on American foreign & Middle East policy.

It was a mere weeks ago that i finished his latest book, Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century, which was recently reissued in paperback. Over the months since I began this small blog, I have frequently referred to his words and works to underpin my own. Specifically, he was given intellectual weight and relevance to my mediocre thoughts in my pieces like The Strange Silence Of The Conscience, and Individualism vs. Individuality: A Photographer’s Work Reminds Us Of The Difference, and Broken Promise: Israel Known & Unknown.

May his soul rest in peace. Ameen.

The Spotlight Of Humanity Or How We Are Told To Look Only Where They Tell Us To Look


It is probably one of the most blatant uses of photography as propaganda that I have seen in a long time. And I am glad for it because it reveals explicitly how easily images can be put to the service of an agenda of power and entrenched interests. And how easily photographs can mislead if not ‘read’ carefully.’What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan’ the cover screams. The answer is made obvious. The shocking photograph closes the mind, numbs thought, distracts insight and silences protest.

If it were only so simple. If we were only so easily fooled. Details »

Hey Buddy, Hold That Execution While My Memory Card Reformats Or What Does It Take Before Something Can Be Called A Story

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 »

The Subtlest Cuts Are The Deepest Or Why Silence About History Continues To Deprive The Haitians Their Suffering

Its difficult to know how to react to this rather strange piece of writing that appeared in a recent issue of Time magazine. Written by the photojournalist James Nacthwey, and titled Haiti: Out of the Ruins, it appears to dance uncomfortably and rather desperately, between a poem and prose. I could not quite tell what it was, and I struggled to work through it. However, not being much of a writer myself, I acknowledge my inability to appreciate its complete poetic possibilities.

But what I could appreciate is what was left unsaid. I found the piece confusing because of a very simple, obvious and glaring omission; the role and influence of the United States of America in the creation of the very history this piece claims the Haitians continue to endure. Or more precisely:

They continue to endure their history — a crescendo of privation and hardship, matched by strength, pride and dignity. Their nation was born in the conquest of slavery; it has been shaped by poverty, struggle and faith.

Not quite. Details »

To Hear Or See An Haitian Once The Party Has Died Down

There is something terribly indecent about it and we have to be honest and acknowledge it.

The hoards of photographers and wanna-be photographers, most eyeing each other and copying each other so that they may not get ‘left behind’, that have descended on Haiti since the devastating earthquake there remind me why I have felt so alienated and disconnected from this entire craft. The specious justifications of ‘bearing witness’ or that ‘…news pictures help drive a response of aid’, just no longer ring true.

Rarely have so many people used so many clichés so repetitively to justify an act (the news photograph) so lacking in engagement for so long. Decades since photographers started using the language of ‘concerned photographer’, a new generation continues to parrot the same language, and continues to hide its real motivations – determined more by careerism, a pursuit of awards, or just plain bravado, behind a veil of moral, and messianic language of ‘bearing witness’, and ‘in the hope that it will change things’. I am hearing it all over again in Haiti and its driving me nuts! Details »

A Bit Of Word Play Fit For A King Or Regent Street