“What we need is a critique of visual culture that is alert to the power of images for good and evil and that is capable of discriminating the variety and historical specificity of their uses.”
- W.J.T. Mitchell. Picture Theory (1994).
25 May 2013
Visualizing Suburban Poverty in the US
This is an illegible version of this data graphic from the distinctly middle of the road Brookings Institution depicting the explosive growth of poverty in American suburbs. It reflects research done by Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube, also published by Brookings (here). If you go to the first link above you can find a eyesight ready version of the graphic.
Politically, this is the sort of political economic shift that might sustain metropolitan reform in places like Monroe County where I live and where until pretty recently the city was disproportionately poor and minority and the suburbs likewise relatively well off and white. Hope springs eternal?
For many years I've pretty regularly made special trips to the Detroit Institute of the Arts from my teaching gig in Ann Arbor. Not only is it egregiously anti-democratic to have Detroit under the thumb of an appointed emergency manager, but this dispute over whether the City can sell the collection at the DIA to pay off debt suggests just why anyone in that position is bound to have a myopic view of what is "good" for the City. Selling off art is an inestimably bad idea.
I have posted here numerous times on Daniel Hernández-Salazar, a Guatemalan photographer whose work I admire very much. Today the Lens blog at The New York Times ran this post on his photographs of the recent trial of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. Hernández-Salazar was instrumental in documenting both the crimes of the regime and the subsequent popular politics of recovery and remembrance. It bears noting that the decades of repression in Guatemala were underwritten by the U.S. ... And it is a major accomplishment that Ríos Montt was convicted and sentenced to 80 years in prison for his deeds.
This map shows the distribution of population by race in Rochester derived from 2010 census figures. Red dots = Whites, Blue dots = Blacks. You can find analogous maps of other American cities here; many of those map Asian and Hispanic populations as well.* While compelling visually the reality they reveal is not pretty. For some analysis look here.
_________ P.S.: "Red is White, Blue is Black, Green is Asian, Orange is Hispanic, Yellow is Other, and each dot is 25 residents." The designer here, by the way, is Eric Fischer.
Just in time for the Image Ethics symposium at Northwestern comes this discussion at Spiegel Online on the ethics of post-production enhancement of images. I have said this here before: this is not a new issue. If you watch the documentary War Photographer, for instance, you see Nachtwey and his photo editors engaged in extended, detailed discussions about how to adjust the lighting in the image I've lifted above as they prepare it for publication. I think too much of this trades on the philosophically naive idea that photographs simply record; that should be replaced with a serious discussion of how photography is used to communicate and, then, about the institutional entities (agencies, foundations, media outlets, etc.) that structure such communication.
Image Ethics: Professional Photojournalism and Public Commentary in the New Media Environment
Later this week I head to Chicago (actually Evanston) for a talk at this workshop. If you are in the area it should be lively. The initial impetus for this discussion was an "award winning" photo essay on Rochester by Paolo Pellegrin that I've posted on here several times. Thanks to Robert Hariman for organizing the event and inviting me!
Image Ethics; Professional Photojournalism and
Public Commentary in the New Media Environment
Northwestern University - School of Communication Alice Kaplan Seminar Room (Kresge 2-370), Saturday - 11 May, 9am to 4pm
This symposium will be devoted to analysis of the images and commentary in an online debate following the exposé at BagNewsNotes of a photograph from Paolo Pellegrin’s award-winning series, “The Crescent.”"
Presenters include Michael Shaw, the publisher of BagNewsNotes, as well as Meg Handler, James Johnson, Jens Kjeldsen, Peter Meyers, and Joseph Rodriquez.
To encourage robust discussions, attendees are encouraged to read the relevant online postings postings and accompanying comments in advance to the symposium (links below).
The history of the - I would say foundational - African American contributions to American musical culture are fraught with politics, economics and race. I have written here several times about how the organizers of the local RIJF have more or less totally failed to navigate that troubled intersection. More on that topic before long. At the moment I want to call attention to the fracas brewing around the efforts of SONY to resuscitate the Okeh Record label. Here is critic Nate Chien at The New York Times, trumpeter Nicholas Peyton at his own blog, and twoofferings from critic John Murph at The Atlantic. Given the history of the label - which recorded an impressive list of Black artists back to at least Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five in the 1920s - the SONY execs seem to have blown their re-launch completely. All of their newly released recordings are by white musicians. In the face of criticism their reaction is defensive and dismissive (of Peyton especially). The bottom line, it seems to me, is that SONY wants to make money. Like the producers of the RIJF their execs see the big market in white audiences. And they have pitched their initial offerings to that audience. Perhaps they will in fact remedy that over time. I am doubtful.
I recommend this brief essay on game theory and its uses by Ariel Rubinstein from Frankfurter Allgemeine. Not only does he hit the nail on the head, but he extends his comments to the aims of Universities.
Consider this example of an interesting and admirable use of a hardly unambiguously attractive technology. This campaign against child abuse by the ANAR Foundation is useful (but not flawless). But can you imagine all sorts of less well-meaning outfits who'd like to surreptitiously communicate with kids?
I tend to take a reasonably dim view of prize competitions in photography or any other profession, including my own. Most are thoroughly politicized, self-congratulatory in an unseemly way, and work primarily to reinforce tired conventions and practices.
That said, not all competitions are the alike. And I recently received an email from Jo Caldwell, who works with the Renaissance Photography Prize. It seems like a terrifically worthy undertaking. Here is there short self-description. Note - the deadline is nigh!
The Renaissance Photography Prize is an international competition showcasing outstanding photography from emerging or established photographers. Funds raised from entries are donated to support younger women with breast cancer.
Entering gives photographers the chance to have their work judged by some of the top names in the industry as well as being exhibited in London.
There are over £5,000 worth of prizes to be won and the winning series will be published in HotShoe Magazine.
Mother Jones is running this photo essay of work by Bruce Jackson - from a decades long project on prison farms in Texas and Arkansas.
__________ P.S.: In the small world category, it seems that Jackson lives just down the road in Buffalo!
The small town where August lives is in many ways a nice place. It is notorious, however, for having absurdly large numbers of kids who have not been immunized (some not fully, some not at all) against common childhood diseases. Indeed, the school his mom decided he should attend (with no consultation whatsoever from me) is apparently a magnet for families who are vaccine skeptics of one or another sort. Many of the parents seem not to care that common worries about putative links between immunizations and autism disorders are known to be totally bogus. They also seem oblivious to the fact that vaccines work effectively only when levels of immunized children reach a critical mass. (So their own decisions are putting other people's kids at risk too!) Today, a world summit aimed at insuring all kids can get the benefits of vaccines was convened in Abu Dhabi. Here is a testimonial from Desmond Tutu and here is another by Dr. Seth Berkley on why this is crucially important not just for communities but for individual children. And, of course, this is true not just in exotic 'developing' nations but, as this report and the marginal links make clear, in rich capitalist countries too!
"Zambia, 2010 ~ A view from a balloon in the Kafue National park. As the dawn breaks, the water in lakes and small rivers, still warm from the previous day’s sun, vaporizes and condenses to form strange and beautiful fog banks."
I have lifted this image from this slideshow at The New York Times. Salgado is a genius. Newsflash, right?
The Financial Times (ironically enough) has run this touching remembrance of Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm by his daughter Julia.
used to range widely in our chats in those ending years, discussing
everything from gossip, which he loved, to the goings-on in the
political world. He was always completely up to speed. He engaged in the
lives of all of us, his two sons and his daughter, his nine
grandchildren, and his young great-granddaughter. He always asked me
avidly “How’s business?” during each visit, enjoying my tales from the
front line of capitalism. He celebrated every entrepreneurial step
forward but was always a bit anxious, leaving answerphone messages
saying: “It’s Dad. Just checking in to see how you are. Don’t overdo it.
Kiss, kiss.” My dad, the academic historian and giant of “the left”,
and me, his degreeless, politically plural daughter who loves doing
business. I never felt so close to him as towards the end."
I've been listening to the obsessive coverage of Boston on NPR this morning. And beyond the simultaneously necessary and platitudinous reminders that we should not react against any groups ("muslims") I wonder what lessons we might learn. None are on offer on Morning Edition.
There is no question, the marathon bombing was despicable. It is easy and proper to call it an act of terror. A few of things, though.
First, those gun fundamentalists who think they are going to fight off the government when, as they fantasize, it decides to clamp down, are truly hallucinatory. Look at the mobilization of force against the Tsarnaev brothers. All those suburban patriots do not stand a chance. What other ways are there to defend democracy?
Second, Americans are so insulated that they fail to see that such terrorist acts are commonplace. (Susan grew up in Manchester, UK and her family still lives there. Think IRA.) That does not in any way excuse the Boston bombing. But just maybe, this episode should prompt us to see our commonalities with the rest of the world?
Third, mourning for those killed in the bombings and aiding those injured are appropriate responses. Dancing in the streets is not. The behavior of Bostonians last night was revolting.
Finally, the younger Tsarnaev is a US citizen and has not forfeited that status or the rights that come with it. Recognizing that is a first step toward defending democracy.
I came across this photo of basketball star Brittany Griner here and find it really striking. I also saw Griner - more or less speechless - upon being picked first in the WNBA draft. What a seemingly down to earth young woman. And, if only we had this headline for male athletes or, more generally, when one's sexuality were not headline worthy in the first place!
Yet another fine advert underscoring the idiocy of gun rights fundamentalists and their political minions in Congress. And, before critics bellow about the second amendment, let's recall all of the restrictions on first amendment rights - speech and assembly especially - that they willingly tolerate every single day. Rights are not absolute. Since it is important to leaven one's frustration and anger with humor, here is a terrific send-up of our intrepid leaders in the Senate.
Well, the latest "scandal" among economists is that the research on which austerity policies is predicated has been pretty much completely deflated. That research (claiming to establish that deficits slow economic growth in the longish term) was produced by economists in Cambridge [Carmen Reinhart (Maryland) and Kenneth Rogoff (Harvard)] and corrected - more like demolished - on reexamination by pinkos from down the Turnpike in Amherst [Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash, and Robert Pollin of the University of Massachusetts].* You can find a summary of the debate here.
"They [Herndon/Ash/Pollin] find that three main issues stand out. First, Reinhart and Rogoff
selectively exclude years of high debt and average growth. Second, they
use a debatable method to weight the countries. Third, there also
appears to be a coding error that excludes high-debt and average-growth
countries. All three bias in favor of their result, and without them you
don't get their controversial result."
And, beyond the pedestrian errors, there is the issue of taking correlation to imply causation. This point is central to the additional commentary here and here and here at Paul Krugman's blog. He concludes his first post by extending the point beyond the economists to the policy-makers who accepted the research without question:
"If true, this is embarrassing and worse for R-R [Reinhart and Rogoff]. But the really guilty
parties here are all the people who seized on a disputed research
result, knowing nothing about the research, because it said what they
wanted to hear."
Krugman, though, is being too generous by half, at least, since Rogoff himself peddled the disputed findings in public. That said, you can find further reflections on the matter of how policy makers and their mouthpieces in the press embraced the Reinhart-Rogoff position by Peter Frase here at Jacobin. The point? This is a technical debate but one with crucially important political implications.
* Please note:This debate speaks highly of social science research insofar as it includes (or ought to) a built in impetus for critical re-assessment of findings and criticism of both results and policies premised upon them.
P.S.: More discussion here regarding the policy implications. One matter I would like to note is that many mainstreameconomists seem to have simply accepted the Reinhart.Rogoff results. It is plausible to suggest that Herndon/Ash/Pollin stand outside the mainstream - and hence represent an example of the importance of intellectual pluralism.
“The photographs really didn’t have any of the effect that I had
hoped they would. . . . I was hoping to prevent the war. And of course, there was no reaction.
The war started, 100,000 to 200,000 people were killed on all sides and
several million more became refugees." ~ Ron Haviv
One lesson of Rebecca Solnit's book Hope in the Dark comes in the form of a warning: do not prejudge success or failure. I have explored this theme here and here before. This post on Ron Haviv's work at Lens is a terrific reminder of the incredibly important, unintended, unforeseen impact photography can have. It also is a reminder that the moralization of photography is a mistake - after all, one of Haviv's images (lifted above) plays a central role in Susan Sontag's despairing stance in Regarding the Pain of Others. The photographs, on their own, cannot have the sorts of impact Haviv wants, they can only do so when they are taken up and used for this or that purpose by people engaged in political practices or occupying institutions. And that transforms Haviv's ethical predicaments (whether to snap these pictures despite being forbidden to do so, whether to testify in court) into a political problem.
I really could care less about Anthony Weiner - or any of the other similarly "disgraced" members of the NY Congressional delegation over the past few years. Like me and many others, these people have personal foibles. That does not make them heinous. But neither does it mean that an orchestrated media campaign is sufficient to restore some presumed privilege or right to a place in public life. Weiner is best known for a personal train wreck; how does he parley that into political office? Why not get a job, be thankful that you have a smart, talented, attractive woman in your life - despite your best efforts - and a sweet son to raise? That would be a great life.
What initially caught my eye here and made me pay attention to this story - in which The Times is playing its duly appointed role in Weiner's PR campaign - is that the editors have placed Huma Abedin center stage in the cover photo. And, of course, who better to document this blurring of personal and public than Elinor Carucci, a photographer who is a master of that fatuous genre.
Regular readers will know that I think David Levi Strauss arguably is the best critic writing today. Well, let's not put him on the spot; let's just say I find it really difficult to identify a more insightful critic. I also have found the time to disparage the assessments of Ken Johnson who writes on art, and photography in particular, for The New York Times. I will not rehearse my compliments or criticisms here.
Late last year Johnson published a couple of pieces - you can find them here and here - that generated an uproar among artists and critics. Recently, Levi Strauss published this reply to those pieces in Art in America. And here is Johnson's response. I will come back to this fracas. But it is worth noting the controversy.
Over the past week or so, UofR (once again) has been in the press due to the moronic behavior of Steve Landsburg. I noted the fracas here. This morning the University noted that Landsburg has issued an apology.
"I am both sad and sorry that my recent blog post has
distressed so many people so deeply, both on campus and off. I am
particularly sad because many readers got the impression that I was
endorsing rape, while my intent was to say exactly the opposite—namely
that the horror of rape is so great that we should rethink accepted
principles of policy analysis that might sometimes minimize that horror.
This is not the place to rehash those issues, but interested readers
might want to look at the follow-up post where I tried to say things
more clearly. I very much wish I'd said them more clearly in the first
place, and I do very much regret having caused any unnecessary offense."
I have on several occasions posted about FEMEN, a group of young feminists whose protests against sex trafficking and human rights violations are in many ways admirable. Well, al Jezeera has run this report on an initiative "Muslimah Pride Day" organized in response to FEMEN's "Topless Jihad Day." The disagreement here raises all sorts of important issues. There is much hyperbole (as is evident in the comment thread on the al Jazeera story) getting in the way. And I am not especially well situated to comment at the moment. But it surely is important to note the debate.
__________ Update: And here at The New York Times is a report on the dire circumstances that Amina, the Tunisian Femen activist finds herself in.
Update 2 (9 April):A reply to critics by Femen's Inna Shevchenko - here.
There He Goes Again - Steve Landsburg Plays the Fool
"The one lesson I most want my students to learn is this: You can’t just say anything.
It’s important to care about making sense. So I find it particularly
galling when people violate this rule while presenting themselves to the
public as economists." ~ Steve Landsburg
Last year Steve Landsburg, a faculty member in our Economics Department*, created a minor media fracas by channeling Rush Limbaugh's bigoted comments about Sandra Fluke. I commented here several times on Landsburg's sophomoric behavior.
Well, Landsburg is at it again. A short while ago he offered up this more or less incoherent blog post, which he has followed up with this typically condescending and dismissive set of rationalizations. Having offered up a conceptually flawed 'thought experiment' - one that any reasonable person would see not as intellectually intrepid but just inflammatory - Steve seems to opt for the standard 'I've been misunderstood' defense. And he then blames his audience for misunderstanding. Interesting, among the lessons I try to get students to embrace is that if someone misunderstands an argument I advance or point I make, the fault is likely mine, not theirs. The basic presumption, in other words that the burden falls on me to be clear. Not so for Landsburg, apparently.
But let's focus on substance for a moment. When I say Landsburg's initial post is conceptually flawed I have in mind such elementary matters as failing to differentiate intentional from unintentional consequences, failing to see that rape is an act of power from which perpetrators derive 'psychic' benefits, failing to differentiate between the impact of ideas and physical assault, failing to see that in a democracy even erroneous or odd views get weighed in decision-making processes ... The post is not just offensive in its juvenile provocations, it is a mess. I would give my undergraduates maybe a C- if they submitted it in a course.
The episode has, predictably enough, now made a splash in the press - look here, here, here, here, here, for instance. Much of the publicity is critical (mocking, even) and was initiated because some outraged students alerted The Gawker. All this criticism - public, mostly reasoned - is wholly appropriate. What is inappropriate is calling for his censure (as this on-line petition does) or disrupting Landsburg's classes. The best way to respond is to argue back in public - whether by showing just how flawed Landsburg's views are or by symbolic collective actions like this:
In this video from fall 2011 the Chancellor at UC Davis - who had whined that she felt threatened by peacefully protesting students - is shamed quite effectively. This is an episode of collective disapproval, no threat, no mayhem, simple shame mobilized to great effect.
I opened this post with a quote from another blog post by Landsburg. I think it is a lesson he needs to learn himself before imparting it to students. His posturing, his attempts at provocation, are truly embarrassing not just to the university but to himself.
Landsburg can say whatever he likes, however ignorant or offensive. But he has no expectation that anyone will treat he or his ideas seriously. He has to expect that others will respond - with arguments, mockery or silence. I hope he gets what he deserves in that regard.
___________ *Please note: Landsburg is hardly an intellectual heavyweight. He is an nontenured faculty member, hired because our 'real' economists think teaching undergraduates is beneath them. His writing is mostly journalistic - a sort of poor man's freakonomics. There is nothing wrong with that. But it is a mistake to think his ideas carry immense weight on campus or anywhere else.
Local Event - Jeanne Theoharis on Rosa Parks ... TODAY!
This afternoon at 4:30 at the Welles-Brown Room of the UofR Library the Douglass Leadership House is presenting a talk by Jeanne Theoharis (CUNY Brooklyn College). The title of the talk is "More Than Tired: Debunking the Myth of Mrs. Rosa Parks." Event details here.
At The Guardian, Sean O'Hagan has this nice column on a series of portraits - published as The Grey Line - that Jo Metson Scott has made of Iraq vets who have come out publicly against the war and the policies that sustained it.
Today August and I drive down from the bay area to LA where we'll collect Susan. Tomorrow we head down to San Diego for a trip to LEGO Land. Like most such joints, this one is a massive marketing scheme. But August loves LEGO. And it is better than many of the other things he might be (or become) obsessed with, right? In any case, the company lately has aimed to expand marketing to girls with the requisite pink and purple blocks and figures. But while that is hardly the only way to recruit girls, it sure is the most gendered way. And LEGO knows better.
This advert from the 1980s has popped up on my FB news feed lately.* And among the things it suggests is that not only girls, but boys like my own, would benefit immeasurably from a less blue and pink color scheme. August is 7, attends a hippy public charter school (his mom's unilateral decision) and, when I ask him, cannot name a single girl in his class. That is not all due to LEGO, of course, but they are part of the larger problem. How did LEGO get from the latter advert to the pink/purple assault at the top of the post?
* Note that even this sweet, talented girl wears purple sneakers.
Today I came across this commentary at Mother Jones, something of a review of Hesitating Beauty by Joshua Lutz. This seems like a touching, harrowing depiction of Lutz's mother and her mental illness. And, I suspect it is a brave book too.
"The Priority of Democracy is the result of a long and productive partnership between two serious and seriously smart scholars. Much in the book will be familiar to readers who have been following the article trail of these two over the last 20 years. But nothing to my knowledge puts it all together into a full theory of democracy like this book. Unlike so many books these days, it is not a collection of their greatest hits marketed as a coherent whole. It is a real book that benefits from being read from beginning to end." ~ Simone Chambers, Perspectives on Politics 11(1), March 2013, pages 289-91.
What Do Prizes Do for Photography? Encourage clichés and carelessness.
Here is a nice report* on the impact (perversion?) of photography by the various "prizes" that denizens of the photo world bestow on one another. It raises a bucket full of interesting questions. One thing I'd like to suggest - a lot of the hand wringing about "post production" adjustments to the raw image are way overblown. Nothing new: for starters, go watch War Photographer, the bio-documentary on James Nachtwey. He spends lots and lots of time on film talking to folks in the "post production" stream and adjusting the lighting and so forth in his images.
What I find more troubling is the topic of clichés, the tired conventions that the prize competitions simply encourage:
“Also: this is World Press Photo. A place which year after year
provides a rather predictable vision of the world which, in a sort of
self-castigating or suicidal mode, fits perfectly in a dwindling and
whining editorial market. . . .
Perpetuating an ailing system. It’s not that the photographs aren’t any good. It is
that pre-formatted vision of the world I have difficulties with." ~ John Vink
Last year I leveled precisely this criticism of the World Press Photo overall winner    and I have raised similar complaints in the past as well .
And, of course, I also think that the fracas over Paolo Pellegrin's visit to Rochester this year     raises important questions about the relationship between images and text, and between photographers and locations that the various prize-giving outfits - to say nothing of the photographers, editors, and so on - ought to attend to.
* Thanks to Loret Steinberg for calling this to my attention.
Local (sort of) Event ~ Susan Meiselas at Syracuse University
If you are interested in photography and its uses, in politics, or in the intersection of those domains you should get to Syracuse this Tuesday evening to here Susan Meiselas. You can find details of the event here at the blog of Light Work, one of the organizations who is sponsoring her visit. I cannot make it, because I will be teaching. But I will say - as I have here many, many times already - that Meiselas is among the most creative photographers working today. Go if you can.
Last month I noticed this OpEd at The New York Times, noting the prospects that former Guatemalan dictator (read U.S. surrogate, alum of the School of the Americas, etc.) General Efraín Ríos Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity. Over the course of three decades an estimated 200,000 Guatemalans were killed by various military regimes; a vastly disproportionate number of the victims were indigenous peoples. The crimes have been documented by multiple inquiries . Now The Timesreports the trial is set to commence this week. What is that saying about the 'arch of the moral universe?' The ex-dictator actually seems to be caught in the vagaries of practical political bargaining between the current Guatemalan government and the Obama administration. But that is close enough. It is lesson enough that the powerful cannot arrange for protection in perpetuity.
“Reading Wisława Szymborska's words gave me many ideas and insights. Meeting her and interacting with her poetry also gave impetus to this music, which I would like to dedicate, respectfully, to her memory.”
You can put this one into the 'definitely something to look forward to' category. I've posted here numerous times about poet Wisława Szymborska; I've also posted about trumpeter Tomasz Stańko. The album is due out from ECM this week. Stańko is a wonderfully understated musician who tends to gather really talented young collaborators.
This is Why the Govenment is so Intent on Prosecuting Bradley Manning
"For over a year The Guardian has been trying to contact Steele, 68, to ask him about his role during the Iraq war as US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld's personal envoy to Iraq's
Special Police Commandos: a fearsome paramilitary force that ran a
secret network of detention centres across the country – where those
suspected of rebelling against the US-led invasion were tortured for
On the 10th anniversary of the Iraq invasion the
allegations of American links to the units that eventually accelerated
Iraq's descent into civil war cast the US occupation in a new and even
more controversial light. The investigation was sparked over a year ago
by millions of classified US military documents dumped onto the internet and their mysterious references to US soldiers ordered to ignore torture. Private Bradley Manning, 25, is facing a 20-year sentence, accused of leaking military secrets."
This cartoon is from The Economist (look here). And it comes out just in time to accompany these stories from The Guardian further implicating Don Rumsfeld and other BushCo higher-ups in crimes against humanity    . Apparently, Rumsfeld sent "Colonel James Steele, a retired special forces" officer to Iraq to coordinate Shia' paramilitaries to fight Sunni resistance to the U.S. invasion. The paramilitaries served as death squads, and operated torture centers, all under the supervision of and with funding provided by Steele reported to Rumsfeld. We know who Rumsfeld reported to. It is alleged that Steele's collaborator Colonel James Coffman (ret) reported on their activities directly to David Petreaus. No "bad apples" excuse here. As the passage I've lifted above makes clear The Guardian reports are grounded in the documents disseminated by Bradley Manning. No wonder the Obama administration is so intent on prosecuting him.
My two boys Doug and August are terrific. They are much alike - feet on the ground, thoughtful, a bit cautious. Their brother Jeff was not. This morning I heard this song on the radio and it reminded me of Jeffrey so much: "he did not know he could not fly and so he did." Jeffrey definitely trusted his cape. I am missing him a lot today.
Some of the most affecting images I have seen emerge from the work of photographers and artists who are coming to terms with the legacy of authoritarian terror in various Latin American countries.
I've posted about this work here and here numerous times. With the election of the new pope - Francis I or the Cardinal formerly known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio - today, we confront another deeply troubling aspect of official Catholicism - it's complicity with that authoritarian politics across the continent, but specifically in Argentina.
This undated picture popped up on my FB news feed. It is - according to the Portuguese source, Indignados Lisboa, "Foto do novo Papa Francisco I ao lado do ditador argentino Videla." Jorge Rafael Videla was head of the Military Junta that terrorized Argentina from 1976 though 1981. I mentioned him here most recently last summer when he and some of his minions were convicted for some of their more horrendous offenses (like stealing babies from people whom they had tortured, then murdered and selling them).
In this picture Videla is accompanied by, you guessed it, Jorge Mario Bergoglio!* The image is symbolic of the interactions between the Church hierarchy and the murderous junta during Argentina's 'dirty war.' There is no real news in this - here is a report from this afternoon and here, for instance, is a report fromseveral years ago, both in The Guardian. What is shameful is that the church hierarchy apparently deems it all irrelevant.
* It reminds me of the embarrassing photo of Don Rumsfeld,
who under George W Bush supervised the invasion of Iraq, shaking hands
two decades earlier with Saddam Hussein. At the time Rumsfeld had been in a functionary for
Ronald Reagan (that great supporter of Latin American dictators) who was supplying Hussein with arms.
The United States is, rather shamelessly, renouncing whatever claim it might have had to status as a democracy. Politics is becoming more and more a family affair. Last week we had Rand Paul enjoying his 15 minutes. Here we have "P" Bush planning a move for public office in Texas. And here we have yet another young Kennedy running (like "P") for . . . whatever might happen to come open. No experience needed. No demonstrated aptitude or ability. No commitment to politics beyond keeping the family name in play. Where is Chelsea Clinton?
Several years ago I noted that my (still, unfortunately, virtual) friend Beth Wilson had curated this exhibition focused on Maggie Sherwood and her Floating Foundation for Photography. Well, Beth has just done this interview - "Of Her Time & Way Ahead: Beth Wilson on Maggie Sherwood."
I am getting ready for my annual summer teaching stint in Ann Arbor. Over the past few years the local ecology in that particular "College town" has seriously deteriorated in multiple ways - mostly due to the collapse of independent book and record stores. I've noted that decline here - often in an unflattering comparison with Rochester! But the collapse has been accompanied by the transformation of the downtown into a mall-like experience - all chained up. Well, here is a sign of hope - the imminent opening of Literati Bookstore. I'll drop by on my first day in town.
Yesterday, I posted here about the recent briefs filed by the Obama Department of Justice supporting the rights of photographers with respect to recording law enforcement officers as they do their jobs. This is not an idle matter. Need an example? Consider this instance, reported at The Village Voice, in which an Occupy activist has been acquitted on the basis of video evidence that contradicted the official version of events provided by the NYPD and taken up by prosecutors. And here is a follow up report, also at The Voice, about the vanishingly small probability that the relevant officers will be prosecuted for making-shit-up in the line of duty.
Stéphane Hessel has died. Hessel was a survivor of the camps, a veteran of anti-Nazi resistance, contributed to writing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and, more recently, author of a notorious pamphlet "A Time for Outrage." There is a report here at The New York Times and one here at The Guardian. Somehow I missed them when they appeared.
In his increasingly desperate effort to make the Obama administration look progressive, my former student Conor Reynolds sent me this link from Politico. (;->)
U.S. weighs in favor of right to record police
By Tal Kopan
3/8/13 9:59 AM EST
The Justice Department is urging a court to affirm individuals’ rights to record police under the First Amendment, filing a statement of interest in support of a journalist suing over his arrest while photographing Maryland officers.
In the statement filed this week in a federal court in Maryland, the Justice Department argues that not only do individuals have a First Amendment right to record officers publicly doing their duties, they also have Fourth and 14th Amendment rights protecting them from having those recordings seized without a warrant or due process. The DOJ urges the court to uphold these rights and to reject a motion to dismiss from Montgomery Co. in Garcia v. Montgomery Co., a case that has implications for an increasing crop of litigation on the subject in the era of ubiquitous smartphones.
“The United States is concerned that discretionary charges, such as disorderly conduct, loitering, disturbing the peace and resisting arrest, are all too easily used to curtail expressive conduct or retaliate against individuals for exercising their First Amendment rights. … Core First Amendment conduct, such as recording a police officer performing duties on a public street, cannot be the sole basis for such charges,” wrote the DOJ Civil Rights Division.
In June 2011, Mannie Garcia, a White House and Senate-credentialed photojournalist, took pictures of two police officers from the Montgomery County Police Department as they were arresting two men, concerned that they might be using excessive force. According to the complaint, he began taking pictures from 30 feet away, then moved back to 100 feet after police shined a spotlight at him. The only interaction Garcia had with the officers was declaring he was a member of the press and he was only in possession of a camera.
The complaint states that police placed dragged Garcia to the police car, put him in handcuffs, threw him to the ground by kicking his feet out from under him, taunted him, threatened to arrest his wife if she came too close and took his camera. While they had his camera, he saw police take out the battery and video card, the latter of which he said was never returned. The complaint also denies that Garcia in any way resisted arrest.
In December 2011, Garcia was acquitted of disorderly conduct during a bench trial, and he subsequently filed a lawsuit against the officers and department. The Justice Department, echoing its position in another recent case, Sharp v. Baltimore City Police Dept, et al., filed in January 2012, urges the court to affirm individuals’ right to record police. “Both the location of Mr. Garcia’s photography, a public street, and the content of his photography, speech alleging government misconduct, lie at the center of the First Amendment,” the DOJ representatives wrote.
Additionally, while Garcia is a White House–credentialed journalist and alleges in his lawsuit that the county violated its policy toward the press during his arrest, Justice argues his status as a journalist has no bearing on his First Amendment rights. Both as a member of the press and as a member of the public, they argue, Garcia has a fundamental right to do what he did. Justice’s filing touches on a trend of cases nationwide. As personal recording equipment becomes more common in the era of smartphones and tablets, police-recording cases have cropped up around the country.
In Illinois, the American Civil Liberties Union recently won a challenge to a state law banning recording individuals without both parties’ consent, with a federal judge issuing a permanent ban on enforcing the law in regards to publicly recording officers after the Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge in the case.
In Washington, D.C., the police department last summer issued an order that its officers not interfere with people recording their public duties, echoing a similar memo issued by the city of Philadelphia, where another lawsuit has been filed challenging the arrest of a man who recorded police with his cellphone.
Federal appellate courts have upheld a First Amendment right to record police in cases including Glik v. Cunniffe in 2011, Smith v. Cummings in 2000 and Fordyce v. City of Seattle in 1995, all of which Justice cites in its statement in the Garcia case.
So, yesterday Rand Paul (R - Tenn) was nearly put up for canonization for having the temerity to confront the Obama administration on the potential use of drone attacks on US citizens on US soil. Paul's theatrics placed him in the limelight and rightly called the administration to account. Here are a couple of mostly unheralded performances that also deserve high praise. In each clip Elizabeth Warren (D - Mass) is questioning panels of "regulators" called to give testimony before the Senate Banking Committee. The first is from February 14th, the second is from today. In each instance her interlocutors find it extremely difficult - nearly impossible, in fact - to grasp the force of her questions. But note, that is not because she is inarticulate or unclear.The operative word is obtuse.
Look here for some indication of what rides on Warren's lines of questioning. And visit our friends at Occupy the SEC here for documentation of their efforts to address the issues.
"Hugo Chávez’s presidency (1999-2013) was characterized by a dramatic concentration of power and open disregard for basic human rights guarantees" (Human Rights Watch).
"Over the last fourteen years, Chávez has submitted himself and his agenda to fourteen national votes, winning thirteen of them by large margins, in polling deemed by Jimmy Carter to be “best in the world” out of the 92 elections that he has monitored. (It turns out it isn’t that difficult to have transparent elections: voters in Venezuela cast their ballot on an touch pad, which spits out a receipt they can check and then deposit in a box. At the end of the day, random polling stations are picked for ‘hot audits,’ to make sure the electronic and paper tallies add up). A case is made that this ballot-box proceduralism isn’t democratic, that Chávez dispenses patronage and dominates the media giving him an unfair advantage. But after the last presidential ballot—which Chávez won with the same percentage he did his first election yet with a greatly expanded electorate—even his opponents have admitted, despairingly, that a majority of Venezuelans liked, if not adored, the man. [. . .] Let’s set aside for a moment the question of whether Chavismo’s social-welfare programs will endure now that Chávez is gone and shelve the leftwing hope that out of rank-and-file activism a new, sustainable way of organizing society will emerge. The participatory democracy that took place in barrios, in workplaces and in the countryside over the last fourteen years was a value in itself, even if it doesn’t lead to a better world. There’s been great work done on the ground by scholars . . . on these social movements that, taken together, lead to the conclusion that Venezuela might be the most democratic country in the Western Hemisphere." (The Nation).
"Hugo Chávez Frias . . . was probably more demonized than any democratically elected president in world history. But he was repeatedly re-elected by wide margins, and will be mourned not only by Venezuelans but by many Latin Americans who appreciate what he did for the region" (CEPR).
"Without doubt, chavismo will outlive its founder. Many ordinary Venezuelans will look back on his rule with fondness. But his heirs will have to grapple with some intractable problems. Venezuela comes towards the bottom of just about every league table for good governance or economic competitiveness. For 14 years Venezuelans have been told that their problems were caused by somebody else—the United States or “the oligarchy”. Getting ahead has depended on political loyalty rather than merit. The mass enrolment of millions in “universities” that mainly impart propaganda have raised expectations that are almost bound to be dashed. [. . .] A majority of Venezuelans may eventually come to see that Mr Chávez squandered an extraordinary opportunity for his country, to use an unprecedented oil boom to equip it with world-class infrastructure and to provide the best education and health services money can buy. But this lesson will come the hard way, and there is no guarantee that it will be learned" (The Economist).
"This is an important difference between the classical and radical populist eras. Juan Perón and his cohorts co-opted a rising Left. Chávez has seemingly resurrected one and has at times struggled to keep up with the forces he helped unleash. The Bolivarian Circles represent with exquisite precision the ethos of the Revolution: These community councils were organized in an attempt to bury the state deep into civil society, to bypass potentially hostile local elected officials and to dole out patronage directly from the center. But they are, as Nikolas Kosloff puts it, at once “anti-democratic, creating a kind of vertical dependency around the cult figure of Chávez” and simultaneously creating a real terrain of democratic deliberation" (In These Times).
"He wrote, he read, and mostly he spoke. Hugo Chávez, whose death has been announced, was devoted to the word. He spoke publicly an average of 40 hours per week. As president, he didn't hold regular cabinet meetings; he'd bring the many to a weekly meeting, broadcast live on radio and television. Aló, Presidente, the programme in which policies were outlined and discussed, had no time limits, no script and no teleprompter. The facts speak for themselves: the percentage of households in poverty fell from 55% in 1995 to 26.4% in 2009. When Chávez was sworn into office unemployment was 15%, in June 2009 it was 7.8%. Compare that to current unemployment figures in Europe. In that period Chávez won 56% of the vote in 1998, 60% in 2000, survived a coup d'état in 2002, got over 7m votes in 2006 and secured 54.4% of the vote last October. He was a rare thing, almost incomprehensible to those in the US and Europe who continue to see the world through the Manichean prism of the cold war: an avowed Marxist who was also an avowed democrat. To those who think the expression of the masses should have limited or no place in the serious business of politics all the talking and goings on in Chávez's meetings were anathema, proof that he was both fake and a populist. But to the people who tuned in and participated en masse, it was politics and true democracy not only for the sophisticated, the propertied or the lettered" (The Guardian).
"What is left, instead, after Chávez? A gaping hole for the millions of
Venezuelans and other Latin Americans, mostly poor, who viewed him as a
hero and a patron, someone who “cared” for them in a way that no
political leader in Latin America in recent memory ever had. For them,
now, there will be a despair and an anxiety that there really will be no
one else like him to come along, not with as big a heart and as radical
a spirit, for the foreseeable future. And they are probably right. But
it’s also Chávism that has not yet delivered. Chávez’s anointed
successor, Maduro, will undoubtedly try to carry on the revolution, but
the country’s untended economic and social ills are mounting, and it
seems likely that, in the not so distant future, any Venezuelan despair
about their leader’s loss will extend to the unfinished revolution he
left behind" (The New Yorker).
__________ Update: Here are a couple of other provocative commentaries on Chávez. The first - "The Achievements of Hugo Chávez" - is from Counterpunch and documents the medical/health dimensions of contemporary Venezuela; the second, by a smart young political theorist Diego von Vacano, who is concerned with how we ought to conceptualize Chávez's politics.
This past week The New York Times Magazine included this photo essay (above) from northern Norway by Simon Norfolk and this one (below) from Brazil by Massimo Vitali. Each photographer is pretty remarkable - in the sense of having a distinctive eye on the world - and the contrast in substantive preoccupations is pretty interesting.
I think the guy has many smart things to say. He also has one of the most peculiar presentational styles I've encountered. But in this format he makes his point and gets out. I guess I wonder what it would be like to be an undergrad who wandered in to his course unawares.
Hey! Yeah You! Wanna Buy a Bridge? ~ Marina Abramović Has One to Sell You
This clip has popped up on You Tube and has made its way onto my FB news feed a couple of times lately. As I have said here several times before, I find Abramović unbearably self-indulgent and manipulative. I think this performance in particular was an invitation to total passivity on the part of those who 'sat' with her. Here is the caption that accompanies the various postings I've seen:
"Marina Abramović and Ulay started an intense love story in the 70s,
performing art out of the van they lived in. When they felt the
relationship had run its course, they decided to walk the Great Wall of
China, each from one end, meeting for one last big hug in the middle
and never seeing each other again. In 2010, Marina performed ‘The Artist
Is Present’, a minute of silence with each stranger who sat in front of
her. Ulay arrived without her knowing it and this is what happened."
Right. If you truly think that this magical appearance of Ulay the former lover was unscripted, I have a bridge to sell you. After all, this is a couple who transformed their break-up into a performance piece. And Abramović was, after all, filming the putatively spontaneous encounters for posterity.
Since early last month Dhaka, Bangladesh has been beset by massive, peaceful, public protests. You can find coverage of the events and the sordid political history that has generated the ongoing protests at The Guardian     and, succinctly, in this Op-Ed by Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam from yesterday's New York Times.* I have posted on Alam and his work here several times in the past.
I lifted the image above from this series, also published at The Times* and did so for two reasons. The first is to suggest how Alam manages to depict a singularly troubling feature of the protests by indirection. The Shahbagh crowds are calling for the execution of individuals found guilty by a war crimes tribunal in Dhaka. That is problematic for advocates of justice and human rights who denounce the persistent use of official violence in Bangladesh. But, secondly, Alam's image also underscores the precipitating role photography has played in the protests. And in so doing, we can grasp, why the crowds calling for justice also clamor for death.
Here is the offending photograph, followed by some explanation taken from the first of The Guardian reports I link to above:
"It all began with a victory sign. When Abdul Quader Mollah, assistant secretary-general of Bangladesh's Jamaat-e-Islami party, emerged from the supreme court on the afternoon of Tuesday 4 February, he turned to the press waiting outside, smiled, and made a victory sign. An odd reaction for a man just sentenced to life in prison.
Mollah smiled because for him, a man convicted of beheading a poet, raping an 11-year-old girl and shooting 344 people during the 1971 Bangladesh war of independence – charges that have earned him the nickname the Butcher of Mirpur – the life sentence came as a surprise. Earlier this month, a fellow accused, Abul Kalam Azad, who is reputed to have fled to Pakistan, was sentenced to death in absentia.
When Mollah emerged from the courthouse, a group of online activists and bloggers assembled to protest against the verdict, demanding that Mollah, like Azad, be given the death sentence. They set up camp in Shahbag, an intersection at the heart of Dhaka, near the university campus, and staged a small sit-in. They collected a few donations and ordered khichuri (a mixture of rice and lentils) to keep them going through the night. Word spread on Facebook and Twitter. The next day, a few news channels began covering their protest. By the end of the week, they had managed to put together the biggest mass demonstration the country has seen in 20 years.
[. . .]
In addition to the perceived inadequacy of the sentence is an abiding anxiety about the way it will be carried out. It is ingrained in the public imagination that justice always takes second place to political expediency. Mollah knows that if his party or its allies were to come to power again, he would almost certainly be freed. That is why the protesters at Shahbag are calling for his death: it is the only way they can be sure the episode will come to an end."
So, the apparent perversity of insisting on death as a token of justice perhaps is understandable. The issue - as Alam also make plain in his essay - is one of deserved punishment and lack of official credibility. It also raises issues of prudence, since supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami have begun to demonstrate their own displeasure at the proceedings and verdicts. The daunting political problem then, seems to be to create a way to sustain the hope that the Shahbagh protesters hold out, without reverting to violence and execution.**
* You can find the text of the Op-Ed integrated with the images here at Alam's blog.
** Update:In this regard you might also read this more extended analysis of events in Bangladesh by Nadine Murshid atThe Economic & Political Weekly,
There were, according to the news reports, warm feelings all around at the unveiling of a memorial statue for Rosa Parks at the U.S. Capitol. My sense is that - as is so often the case - the politicos and journalists all are honoring a sanitized version of whomever they are anointing as hero. In this case, it is important to recall something of the actual Rosa Parks and the radical politics she espoused over many, many years.
Susan and I have this Op-Ed in the City Newspaper (Rochester) this week on the importance and limits of minimum wage reform. Here it is:
Partisanship, poverty, and paychecks Guest Commentary
Susan Orr and James Johnson
In his State of the Union address, President Obama issued a
challenge: "Tonight, let's declare that in the wealthiest nation on
earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and
raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour." On this he finds support
from Governor Cuomo, who proposes increasing the New York State minimum
wage because, among other things, it "reduces poverty."
Conservatives, of course, reject these proposed increases. Raising
the minimum wage, they insist, will kill jobs, especially low-wage jobs.
Commentator David Brooks made this claim on PBS immediately following
the State of the Union address.
And House Speaker John Boehner quickly tried to puncture the
president's proposal: "When you raise the price of employment, guess
what happens? You get less of it. At a time when American people are
asking, 'Where are the jobs?' why would we want to make it harder for
small employers to hire people?" Brooks and Boehner are pushing familiar
talking points: minimum-wage legislation has negative consequences and
there are better ways to address poverty.
As is frequently the case, our politicians and media analysts are
roundly mistaken. Consider the conservative reaction. Economists have
great difficulty establishing any significant negative relation between
modest increases in the minimum wage and declines in employment levels.
Moreover, the common claim that low-wage workers are typically
teenagers or are working part time – and so not "really" poor – is
misleading. Projections conducted by the Economic Policy Institute
regarding the impact of a higher federal minimum wage suggest a vast
majority of those affected would be over 20. A majority would be women.
Most would be working full time. And nearly 30 percent of those affected
would be parents.
Finally, conservatives often insist that targeted programs like the
Earned Income Tax Credit are a better way to alleviate poverty than
minimum wage legislation. This too is debatable. On the one hand, such
tax policies largely represent a hidden subsidy to employers who are
spared the burden of paying reasonable wages. On the other hand, they
might actually dampen wages because employers assume, often erroneously,
that their workers will be eligible for a tax break. For that reason
tax credits are better understood as complementing rather than replacing
minimum wage legislation.
If conservative skepticism seems merely to mask basic resistance to
government intervention, the Democratic case is overly optimistic. The
federal poverty level for a family of four was $23,050 for 2012.
Imagine, as President Obama suggests, we increase the federal minimum
wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour. That means a full-time minimum wage
worker would earn a gross annual income of $18,720. If she lives on her
own, this would sustain her above the federal poverty level for
individuals. But if the worker has a family, it obviously falls well
Our point is not that the president and governor are wrong to
recommend raising the minimum wage. Doing so, even to the levels being
proposed, can make many people better off. But doing so is quite
unlikely to propel many households out of poverty.
This hardly is an abstract complaint. It is directly relevant to
Rochester where, in 2011, the overall poverty rate stood at over 29
percent and where just over 43 percent of all children lived in poverty.
Raising the minimum wage can go some way to mitigating economic
hardship in the city. But it would be only a start. It is the least we
Susan Orr is assistant professor of political science at SUNY College
at Brockport. James Johnson is professor of political science at the
University of Rochester. They live in Hamlin.
I am a political theorist with neither experience as, nor any real aspiration to be, a photographer. My interest is in the task Mitchell identifies in the passage I quote in the header. It remains, in my estimation, woefully neglected.
Now that the FTC has promulgated rules requiring full disclosure of any possible conflicts of interest, I feel obliged to note that I generally write about photography, books, recordings, and so on that I have paid for myself; if I ever do receive 'complimentary' copies of such works and then write about them, I will state that in the post. Having said that, my judgments about particular publications, (journalistic, artistic, or musical) works, or views are just that - judgments - if you take what I say as an "endorsement," that is your interpretation and you can act on it (or not) as you please. I'd say "caveat emptor!" but you are not actually buying anything here, so it is hard to see any basis for complaint.
"Help Kick Start United in Anger: A History of ACT UP ~ This is a Great Project and God Forbid that they Don't Have to Count Pennies!
"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." ~ Dorothea Lange
"Photography is nothing - it's life that interests me." ~ Henri Cartier-Bresson
"Photos always seem to exist as sort of stuffy, unnecessary antiques that we put in a drawer — unless we take them out, put them in current dialogue, and give them relevance." ~ Mark Klett
"The job of the photographer, in my view, is not to catalogue indisputable fact but to try to be coherent about intuition and hope. This is not to say that he is unconcerned with the truth." ~ Robert Adams
"Light, then, .... is indeed a wonderful instrument ..." ~ Mark Rothko
In Thinking About Photography Here Is The Problem, Or Part Of It, At Least
"What the modern means of reproduction have done is destroy the authority of art and to remove it - or rather, to remove the images which they reproduce - from any preserve. For the first time ever, images of art have become ephemeral, ubiquitous, insubstantial, available, valueless, free. They surround us the way language surrounds us. [. . .]
The art of the past no longer exists as it once did. It's authority is lost. In its place there is a language of images. What matters now is who uses that language for what purpose." ~ John Berger
"[P]hotographs depend for their meaning on networks of authority. The image supplies little in itself. What counts is its use and the power to fix a particular interpretation of the events, objects or people depicted. Some people, and especially some institutions, have much more clout in this processs than others do." ~ Steve Edwards
"The first question must always be: Who is using this photograph, and to what end?" ~ David Levi Strauss
"By contrast, almost all writing about photography in our times tends to begin with the alleged nature of the product rather than with its production and use." ~ Patrick Maynard
"The Arithmetic of Compassion: Rethinking the Politics of Photography" British Journal of Political Science (2011)
"Review of Mark Reinhardt, et. al Beautiful Suffering: Photography & the Traffic in Pain" Journal of Politics (2007)
Assorted Artists, Authors, Thinkers, Provocateurs
"Apolitical art and artless politics are the fruit of a divide-and- conquer strategy that weakens both; art and politics ignite each other and need each other." ~ Rebecca Solnit
"... hard and fast categories ... tend to be instruments used by the victors." ~ Václav Havel (1986)
"The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude." ~ George Orwell (1946)
"Can it still be controversial to say that an apparently disengaged poetics may also speak a political language - of self-enclosed complacency, passivity, opportunism, false neutrality . . . ?" ~ Adrienne Rich (2006)
"I think art always is political, one way or another. That is, on purpose or by default." ~ Allan Sekula (2005)
“Those who say that art should not propagate doctrines usually refer to doctrines that are opposed to their own.” ~ Jorge Luis Borges (1952)
"My position is that you cannot work towards peace being peaceful. If the peace is to be one where everybody’s quiet and doesn’t open up ... share what’s unspeakable ... offer unsolicited criticism ... defend others’ rights to speak and encourage discourse — that peace is worth nothing. It reminds me of the kind of peace that was secured in my old country under the Communist regime. That is the death of democracy. That might have consequences as bad as war—bloody war and conflict. So, to prevent the world from bloody conflict, we must sustain a certain kind of adversarial life in which we are struggling with our problems in public." ~ Krzysztof Wodiczko
“I am interested in a political art, that is to say an art of ambiguity, contradiction, uncompleted gestures, and uncertain endings; an art (and a politics) in which optimism is kept in check and nihilism at bay.” ~ William Kentridge (1998)
"The function of art has always been to break through the crust of conventionalized and routine consciousness." ~ John Dewey (1927)
Paris Review: Is it a concern to effect social change with your plays?
August Wilson: I don’t write particularly to effect social change. I believe writing can do that, but that’s not why I write. I work as an artist. All art is political in the sense that it serves someone’s politics. Here in America whites have a particular view of blacks. I think my plays offer them a different way to look at black Americans. For instance, in Fences they see a garbage man, a person they don’t really look at, although they see a garbage man every day. By looking at Troy’s life, white people find out that the content of this black garbage man’s life is affected by the same things—love, honor, beauty, betrayal, duty. Recognizing that these things are as much part of his life as theirs can affect how they think about and deal with black people in their lives.
Paris Review: How would that same play, Fences, affect a black audience?
August Wilson: Blacks see the content of their lives being elevated into art. They don’t always know that it is possible, and it’s important for them to know that.
New Corporate Friendly Postal Regulations Threaten Independent Media
NEWS ABOUT RIGHTS OF PHOTOGRAPHERS IN NYC
News, Comment, Letters & Arts- And I surely do not mean "fair and balanced"!
"Most of all photography is probably an instrument for showing things, a device for displaying them." - Urs Stahel
"The most political decision you make is where you direct people's eyes. In other words, what you show people, day in and day out, is political. . . . And the most politically indoctrinating thing you can do to a human being is to show her, every day, that there can be no change." ~ Wim Wenders
"Democracy is a proposal (rarely realised) about decision making; it has little to do with election campaigns. Its promise is that political decisions be made after, and in the light of, consultation with the governed. This is dependent upon the governed being adequately informed about the issues in question, and upon the decision makers having the capacity and will to listen and take account of what they have heard. Democracy should not be confused with the “freedom” of binary choices, the publication of opinion polls or the crowding of people into statistics. These are its pretense.
Today the fundamental decisions, which effect the unnecessary pain increasingly suffered across the planet, have been and are taken unilaterally without any open consultation or participation." ~ John Berger
Inclusion, Exclusion & the Politics of Photography
"I have said that a photograph bears witness to a human choice being exercised. The choice is not between photographing x and y, but between photographing at x moment or y moment. . . . What varies is the intensity with which we are made aware of the poles of absence and presence. Between these two poles photography finds its proper meaning. ... A photograph, while recording what has been seen, always and by its nature refers to what is not seen. It isolates, preserves and presents a moment taken from a continuum. ... Hence the necessity of our understanding a weapon we can use and which can be used against us." ~ John Berger
Photography Magazines, Etcetera - Print and OnLine
If We Use Photography to Help us Think, How Should We Understand the Processes of Thinking?
"605. One of the most dangerous ideas for a philosopher is, oddly enough, that we think with or in our heads.
606. The idea of thinking as a process in the head, in a completely enclosed space, gives him something occult.
607. Is thinking a specific organic process of the mind, so to speak - as it were chewing and digesting in the mind? Can we replace it by an inorganic process that fulfills the same end, as it were a prosthetic apparatus for thinking? How should we have to imagine a prosthetic organ of thought?" ~ Ludwig Wittgenstein
"If one takes the view ... that human mental activity depends for its full expression upon being linked to a cultural tool kit - a set of prosthetic devices, so to speak - then we are well advised when studying mental activity to take into account the tools employed in that activity." ~ Jerome Bruner
"...[H]uman thought is basically both social and public - ... its natural habitat is the house yard, the marketplace, and the town square. Thinking consists not of 'happenings in the head' (though happenings there and elsewhere are necessary for it to occur) but of a traffic in what have been called by G.H. Mead and others, significant symbols - words for the most part but also gestures, drawings, musical sounds, mechanical devices like clocks, or natural objects like jewels - anything, in fact, that is disengaged from its mere actuality and used to impose meaning on experience. From the point of view of any particular individual, such symbols are largely given. ... While she lives she uses them, or some of them, sometimes deliberately and with care, most often spontaneously and with ease, but always with the same end in view: to put a construction upon the events through which she lives, to orient herself within 'the ongoing course of experienced things,' to adopt a vivid phrase of Johns Dewey's." ~ Clifford Geertz
Electronic Frontier Foundation: Support Bloggers' Rights
Resources For Bloggers Needing Anonymity
"Just the Facts Ma'am"?
"Many persons seem to suppose that facts carry their meaning along with themselves on their face. Accumulate enough of them and their interpretation stares out at you. ... But ... no one is ever forced by just the collection of facts to accept a particular theory of their meaning, so long as one retains intact some other doctrine by which he can marshall them. Only when the facts are allowed free play for the suggestion of new points of view is any significant conversion of conviction as to meaning possible. ... In any event, social philosophy exhibits an immense gap between facts and doctrines." ~ John Dewey (1927)
"When the right-wing noise machine starts promoting another alleged scandal, you shouldn’t suspect that it’s fake — you should presume that it’s fake, until further evidence becomes available." ~ Paul Krugman (2010)
Dewey is Right, But So Is Krugman ~ It Is Good to Know if Someone is Simply Making Stuff Up!
"It's odd I suppose, ... but I have always had an aversion to the marriage of music and politics. Leaving the discussion of instrumental music aside, I have always admired songwriters, wished I could have been one myself. I love a song that tells a story, and when it tells of a man's suffering or a woman's hopelessness or dreams, one can certainly argue the case for political meaning, and in fact I would. But when people start telling me how to change the world over a G-major chord, that's when I generally leave the room. With all due respect, I always felt Joan Baez's 'I Dreamed I saw Joe Hill' was the moment in the movie 'Woodstock' to go out and get popcorn. It's a long movie after all. I was waiting for Sly and the Family Stone and I still am - "I want to take you higher - baby, baby, baby light my fire" - now there's a message!" ~ Wayne Horvitz
"Music speaks. It speaks in its own language differently to each of us. I believe in music as a contribution to the discussion about who we are and where we are headed. ... The unruly thing about music is that it demands its own meanings that are beyond any explanation. You might be able to decipher the nuts and bolts, but in the end, you can't unscramble the mystery of how music makes you feel. That's why I don't often write about my music. Words can so often obscure the feelings and the sense of music. Music is not an argument, it lives in its own universe and refuses to be pinned down." ~ Dave Douglas
" ... the questions a photographer raises may be more profound than the answers the medium permits." ~ Rebecca Solnit
"Because, you know, the photographs . . . are more a question than a reply." ~ Sebastião Salgado
"A picture can be an answer as well as a question but if you can't answer your question try to question your question. There are clever questions and stupid answers as well as stupid questions and clever answers. There can be questions without answers but no answers without questions." ~ Ernst Haas
Patronize Independent Purveyors of Books & Music - Help Maintain our Intellectual & Cultural Ecology - Nearly All These Places Take Orders OnLine
YOU WON'T EVER BE DECISIVE IN THE OUTCOME, BUT YOU CAN VOICE YOUR VIEWS AND CONTRIBUTE TO THE CACAPHONY ~ SO REGISTER, FIND A CANDIDATE, HOWEVER HOPELESS THEIR CHANCES, AND VOTE
Cool Designs and Other Things (More to Follow)
"The best art makes your head spin with questions. Perhaps this is the fundamental distinction between pure art and pure design. While great art makes you wonder, great design makes things clear." ~ John Maeda
"I don't bring an essentialist view to my background as a designer. But design gave me an opportunity to observe and learn about the social politics of production, distribution, and use. Use is very important." ~ Krzystof Wodiczko
“I don’t think it is the function of art to be pleasing. ... Art is not democratic.” ~ Richard Serra
"We may distinguish between two types of imaginative process: the one starts with the word and arrives at the visual image and the one starts with the visual image and arrives at its verbal expression." ~ Italo Calvino
"There is something embarrassing in ... the way in which, ... turning suffering into images, harsh and uncompromising though they are, ... wounds the shame we feel in the presence of the victims. For these victims are used to create something, works of art, that are thrown to the consumption of a world which destroyed them. The so-called artistic representation of the sheer physical pain of people beaten to the ground by rifle-butts contains, however remotely, the power to elicit enjoyment out of it. The moral of this art, not to forget for a single instant, slithers into the abyss of its opposite. The aesthetic principle of stylization ... makes an unthinkable fate appear to have had some meaning; it is transfigured, something of its horror removed. This alone does an injustice to the victims; yet no art which tried to evade them could confront the claims of justice." ~ T.W. Adorno
"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise." ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald
"A photograph is a moral decision taken in one eighth of a second, or one sixteenth, or one one-hundred-and-twenty-eighth. Snap your fingers; a snapshot's faster." ~ Salman Rushdie
"I cannot find any good use for the term postmodernism. ... I have no idea what is supposed to make a painting, or a novel, or a political attitude, "postmodern." ~ Richard Rorty
"The greatest obstacle to transforming the world is that we lack the clarity and imagination to conceive that it could be different." ~ Roberto Mangabeira Unger
"Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing." ~ Arundhati Roy
 "A limited imagination defends itself against recognizing the world as a system of connected vessels; it also is incapable of moving beyond the familiar."
 "Great numbers, however, cause particular difficulties for our imagination. As if we observe humanity in a way that is not permitted for humans, and allowed only to gods. ... In other words, they can think in categories of masses. A million people more, a million less - what difference does it make?" ~ Czeslaw Milosz
"Politics depends, to a great extent, on judging what is actual relative to what is possible. [. . .] However, we have an inherently weak grasp of what is 'possible' and most societies are not set up so as naturally to improve this, or to make us aware of possibilities we may have ignored or taken with insufficient seriousness." ~ Raymond Geuss
"Start doing the things you think should be done, and start being what you think society should become. Do you believe in free speech? Then speak freely. Do you love the truth? Then tell it. Do you believe in an open society? Then act in the open. Do you believe in a decent and humane society? Then behave decently and humanely." ~ Adam Michnik
Posts to this blog may contain images and excerpts for the use of which I have not sought prior authorization. Wherever possible I endeavor to provide credit and accurate attribution to authors, artists and copyright holders. All material on this blog is made available for the purpose of analysis and critique, as well as to advance the understanding of politics, political theory and the arts. The ‘fair use’ of such material is provided for under U.S. Copyright Law. In accordance with U.S. Code Title 17, Section 107, material on this site (along with credit links and attributions to original sources) is viewable for educational and intellectual purposes.
I allow comments on nearly all posts. In fact, I encourage comments and usually am happy to offer replies. That said, I will feel free to enforce standards of civility here.
I am completely willing to delete boorish comments ~ e.g., those involving name-calling, cursing, or that are generally disrespectful toward me or other readers. The same goes, especially, for various forms of bigotry. The same goes for comments that are not germane to the post or comment thread.
Except in very rare instances, I do not publish anonymous comments. Experience suggests that unless a reader is willing to identify himself and take responsibility for his views, he too often proves willing to act like an ass. (Apologies for the gendered language, but it seems appropriate in this context.) So, like boorish, anonymous is a more or less direct route to comment oblivion. Life is too short.
I treat this blog like I treat my living room. If you come here and act like an ass, I'll show you the door. And, as is true of my living room (& yours no doubt, too), I am the sole judge of what counts as acting like an ass. Fair warning.