26 February 2006

Local chronicles of natural disaster.

Here is a story form the Guardian Unlimited about a "relief" organization that distributes disposable cameras to people who have survived disaster - in this case the 2003 earthquake in Bam, Iran. The organization is called "Picture People" and they are supported financially by the British Council and Kodak - which of course is now the second largest employer here in Rochester, having this year fallen behind the University of Rochester.

My initial reaction was, "you've got to be kidding!" - given all the devastation, wouldn't the money being allocated to this enterprise be better spent in providing "necessities." In such situations what is necessary? Sure, food, medical supplies, shelter and so forth are crucial. But it also is necessary for people to make sense of what has happened ot them and photography provides a tool for them to do that. In many respects this project resembles "Here is New York: A Democracy of Photographs" the exhibition and book that emerged from and built upon the outpouring of images made by New Yorkers in direct aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It is especially important not to think that manking sense of the world is a luxury for those in the developing world and an obvious, expected activity for we more privileged residents of wealthy nations.

A final point. There is a lot of talk in critical discussions of "photographs of agony," to use John Berger's phrase, about the ways professional photographers depict suffering and devastation. It would be useful to compare the amatuer work mentioned here (amd perhaps other similar work about which I am unaware) to the work of professionals. How do local populations use photography? How does the way they use it compare across different dimensions to the the ways professional photographers depict similar subjects? How has the former work been influenced by exposure ot the latter work? What might the professionals learn form the amateurs?

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