21 February 2009

Spectre of Hope

“There are only two services that images can offer the afflicted. One
is to find the story that expresses the truth of their affliction. The
second is to find the words that can give resonance, through the crust
of external circumstances, to the cry that is always inaudible:
‘Why am I being hurt?’” ~ Simone Weil

Earlier this week I watched Spectre of Hope a relatively short film that was released in 2001. It consists of a conversation between Sebastião Salgado and John Berger and is set primarily in the kitchen of Berger's house in the French countryside. They are talking about Salgado's Migrations project. In the course of the conversation Berger reads passages from various writers including the one from Simone Weil above. The two men are pretty remarkable. There is not much else to say. However, one comment that Salgado makes barely half-way through the course of the conversation is extremely provocative. He has just noted that the displaced people he has photographed are in transition ~ having been forced out of a more or less stable life, they are actively seeking another stable existence. Then he says:
"And I don't believe they need any compassion. If the person looking at my pictures only feels compassion, I will believe that I have failed completely.”
What he hopes to do, instead, is prompt viewers to think, to understand that there may be solutions to, remedies for, the dire circumstances the people he depicts inhabit. And that, of course, is not a matter of compassion and the gestures it prompts, but of politics.
You can find a partial transcript of the conversation here: “A Tragedy the Size of the Planet,” The Guardian (G2), 28 May 2001.

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