12 October 2005

Facing Authority?

I managed to get down to NYC this past weekend and saw a number of exhibitions that I will write about over the next few days. One of the shows was at Aperture - "Nazar: Photographs from the Arab World". I had mentioned this show in earlier posts regarding the work of Issa Touma. A number of terrific photographers are included in the exhibition. Among them is Randa Shaath who is chief photographer at Al Ahram Weekly. Shaath has done a series entitled "Under the Same Sky: Rooftops in Cairo, 2002-2003," on the everyday life that she could see from her high-rise apartment but that remained invisible from street level. Here is one I lifted from the web:

© Randa Shaath

The striking feature of the image is the juxapositon between "traditional" goings-on and the proliferation of satellite dishes. These latter, or course, are just the same as those Touma captures in his cityscape of Aleppo, Syria. The brief catalogue entry that accompanies Shaath's photos reads as follows:

"In traditional Cairo the roof was the place for relaxation. Families grew plants, kept pigeons, or looked at the stars. After 1920 the roof took on a new funciton. With the arrival of the high-rise and apartment complexes the roof became the living quarters for cleaners and concierges. In the 1960s, after the fall of the monarchy and the nationalization of considerable private property, a wave of migrants came from the countryside to the city. In the hope of a better life they joined others from their families who already lived on the roofs of Cairo. A rank growth of shanties on roofs was the result."

Here is yet another of Shaath's photographs. This one - of a man watching television - prompted me to think about the relationship of individuals to political and cultural authorities and especially the ways that such relations unfold in private as opposed to public spaces.

© Randa Shaath

More specifically, this image brought to mind other, more directly confrontational and arguably "heroic" interactions. In my earlier post on Touma's "political landscape" I invoked Josef Koudelka's pictures of Czechs confronting Warsaw Pact tanks in Prague, 1968. Shaath's image brought to mind yet another, more recent, and so probably more widely known picture.

© Jeff Widener/AP

Again, the contrast between these anonymous men - one in the relative privacy of his home, the other quite literally in the public square - seems to reiterate my perplexities about how politics is embodied in events and how we can think about the latter.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim: you might want to see a forthcoming book from University Chicago Press entitled Icons of LIberal Democracy: Public Culture in the Age of Photojournalism. It features case studies of a number of iconic photos, including this one from Tiananmen square. It should be out at about this time in 2006.

13 October, 2005 09:13  

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