31 December 2006

Happy New Year!

Well, in a couple of hours I plan to head out to the Rochester location of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que which, despite its faux juke joint decor, simply is a terrific place. In what otherwise is a quite moribund urban downtown, the Dino offers people one of the few reasons they have to be out and about. The folks (both staff & patrons) are friendly, the food is very, very good and tonight, as they typically do on New Year's Eve, they've booked Joe Beard, who is a great local blues man. Joe not only puts on a great show, he is an extremely nice man as well. He is a pretty well-kept secret since he rarely tours, having stayed in Rochester to raise a family (including his son Chris Beard, who is himself an accomplished performer). Joe has these three CDs out on Audioquest (in addition to at least one out of print CD on Kingsnake Records).

This typically is a night for a bit of reflection and a hopeful look ahead. I am looking forward to a bit of both this evening, the first driven by Joe's blues, the second by the city sponsored fireworks overhead at midnight. Happy New Year!

PS: (Added 1/1/07). Joe did not disappoint. He played and sang supurbly and soon enough had folks dancing and laughing and having a great time. You really should check out his albums. A couple of things about the venue. When I say that Dino BBQ is faux Juke Joint, I suspect you know what I mean. But having spent my graduate school days on the south side of Chicago and having spent too many late, late evenings over the years there at Teresa's and the Checkerboard Lounge (now both long defunct, I believe) it is faux. I do not believe in authenticity as a criterion of assessment - in instances like this it might be a synonym for decrcepitude - but neither Teresa's nor the Checkberboard needed to dress themselves up to persuade you they were a good place to enjoy yourself. A final thing, I really like the Dinosaur because it is a live music venue where I do not single-handedly raise the average age of the patrons when I walk through the door. And we in the older set still recall how to have fun!

PS2: There is a relatively new Dinosaur BBQ (0nly their third) in Harlem on W 131st Street. Give it a try if you are in the NYC vicinity. I'd like to see the local folks make good in the big city.


Daylight #5

Daylight Magazine is one of the very best photo magazines around. I discovered it last winter and posted about it then. (The only competition to Daylight in my view is PRIVATE about which I've also posted here before [1] [2] [3].) The folks at Daylight have just put out their fifth issue on the theme "Global Commodities" which the editors introduce like this: "Although it is individual effort that makes the international marketplace possible, the human aspect of global trade is often overlooked. To address this cultural myopia, this edition of Daylight examines the people involved with the production and trade of a number of global commodities." It includes work by Adam Broomberg, Oliver Chanarin, Ali Chraibi, Kadir van Lohuizen, Heidi Schumann, Allan Sekula, elin o’Hara slavick, Ian Teh, Heinrich Voelkel, and Michael Wolf.

What makes this publication so good? Well, first off it is not simply a vehicle for advertisements - in fact it is ad-free. Second it is extremely well designed. Third, the editors establish a substantive theme for each issue and pursue it nicely. Finally, the images in the magazine are accompanied by brief, useful text - the editors have overcome the conceit that pictures speak for themselves. (All these things are true too, if in slightly different ways, of PRIVATE.) You should track down a copy - in fact, since each issue appears in a limited pressing, you ought to consider subscribing (it is relatively cheap). It is crucially important, I think, to support endeavors like Daylight.
PS: Apropos my final comment, if you happen to be in the NYC vicinity, there will be a fundraising/release party for this issue on the evening of January 8th. You can find details on the Daylight web page.

PS2: You should know that the magazine is but one project of the Daylight Community Arts Foundation which also has undertken initiatives to introduce photography as a tool of community empowerment in a variety of places including the West Bank, Baghdad, New Orleans, Harlem, Akwassasne Mohawk Reservation as well as locations in Kenya, Laos, Columbia, and Guatemala.


30 December 2006

Ways of Picturing Our Mercenaries

The late Leon Golub (1922-2004) made a series of very large paintings entitled "Mercenaries" of which the one posted here is No. IV. At the risk of draining Golub's work of its force entirely, I want to invoke a famous dead white male political theorist, Jean Jacques Rousseau whose best known work is surely The Social Contract (1762). Rousseau is famous for having located sovereignty in "the people" and for insisting that such sovereignty is inalienable. I think he is wrong about many, many things and that subsequent democratic theory has been led astray by, for instance, his talk about the general will and by his contractarian approach more generally. That said, he does provide one of my favorite observations. Here is how Rousseau begins Book III, Chapter 15:

"As soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather serve with their money than with their persons, the State is not far from its fall. When it is necessary to march out to war, they pay troops and stay at home: when it is necessary to meet in council, they name deputies and stay at home. By reason of idleness and money, they end by having soldiers to enslave their country and representatives to sell it."

Golub's paintings lend a sort of visceral feeling to Rousseau's warning. More recently, other artists have focused on the surge in "marketized security" in an equally powerful but more analytical fashion. I refer to the "Privatization of War" project created by Lize Mogel and Dario Azzellini in which they literally map the connections between Private Military Contractors (PMCs) in the U.S. and various sites and events in Columbia and Iraq.

You can find an interview with Mogel, whose work seems extraordinarily interesting, here (I lifted this image from the interview page).

It turns out that Private Military Contracting is an enormous business - according to Mogel & Azzellini, worldwide governments spent $200 Billion (US) on such services annually. I will close with two comments. First, a bit of self promotion. The journal I edit for the American Political Science Association recently published a very smart paper that highlights how the rise of marketized security will effect the ways we understand international relations. Second, although - as Mogel explains in the interview I've linked to - Iraq and Columbia are proving grounds for the use of PMCs, our own Department of Homeland Security reportedly dispatched mercenaries to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. So these outfits are not used solely in far-away lands, they may be coming very soon to a disaster near you.

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The Right to Take Pictures (Repeat)

I have been reading about the legal risks that people take when making art in the streets. It seemed appropriate to re-post some information on the Right to Take Pictures that I noted a while back.

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Brought to you by Friends of William Blake (& their friends): A Strategy for Ending the War in Iraq

We are on the verge of a New Year and our country still is debating how best to prosecute or not the debacle the Bush Administration has created in Iraq. The options seem to run the gamut from sending a large infusion of troops to beginning a gradual withdrawal to (for a few lonely voices) leaving Iraq more or less immediately and totally. For a thoughtful lament about the inability or unwillingness of American liberals to endorse this last strategy I recommend this post by J.M. Tyree over at 3 Quarks Daily (which, along with Crooked Timber is the best blog going).

One problem is that such policy debates are carried on largely by folks with hardly a stake in the the matter. Of course, they have political stakes and mostly are engaged in ideological crusades or electoral butt-covering. But they have no real personal stake in the question of how long we have troops on the line in Iraq. Very few of their sons and daughters are (with perhaps a few exceptions) not in harm's way. According to press reports, in 2003 of the 535 members of Congress, seven (7!) had a child doing military service in Iraq. I doubt the number has increased in the interim. And, as is common knowledge, none of the principals in BushCo bothered to march off to war given the opportunity. (On this see, for instance, these two items in The Nation [1] [2].) The same apparently is true of the incoming Republican class in Congress [*]. I have ranted about this sort of hypocrisy before and will resist the urge to kick that dog again. The point is that there is no cost to our politicians and policy makers. It is unlikely that they will go home and prevail upon their kids to enlist.

Perhaps the most effective way to influence this debate is to address a more important group, namely the kids who are being pressured by military recruiters to sign up for service. One important policy component would be to advocate for programs that allow kids to finance higher education of various sorts without joining, say ROTC. But a more immediate tactic is to address the kids themselves about the dangers; in other words treat them with respect, as adults who face a crucially important decision. Here I suggest a project conceived by the collective Friends of William Blake. They have created The New Yorkers' Guide to Military Recruitment and along with collaborators Visual Resistance and Sabrina Jones launched a Brown Bag Project aimed at young men and women in neighborhoods targeted by military recruiters.

This projecct is located in "the five boroughs," but it may be even more crucial to start such undertakings in the hinterlands. For instance, in Western New York cities like Utica, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo (to say nothing of smaller towns and rural areas) have incredible levels of economic insecurity for young men and women. And the most basic information about the war - say casualty numbers - is not readily available. For example, as I have mentioned here before, our local newspaper The Democrat & Chronicle does not run the casualty figures. Fortunately the City Paper not only publishes the figures each week, but has been covering the labor struggles going on at the Gannett operated D&C. I don't want to get too far off the track here; the point is that desperate kids with little if any unbiased information are being pressured by military recruiters. Start the New Year right. I encourage you to, at a minimum, support the Brown Bag Project financially - send some cash. Beyond that, think about how you might extend the project or something like it to the place where you live. It is hard to wage a war if there are no soldiers to fight it.


29 December 2006

Questions prompted by Roberto Unger

This afternoon I picked up a copy of Roberto Unger's What Should The Left Propose? (Verso, 2005) in large part because I sympathize with the experimentalism he endorses with respect to political-economic institutions. This is a theme that emerges directly from American pragmatism of the sort I find especially persuasive. In any case, at the start of the book Unger writes the following: "The great European social theorists ... indentified the internal dynamics of societies - the revelation of inescapabale conflicts and missed opportunities - as the proximate cause of their transformation. These thinkers were mistaken. War and economic collapse have been the chief levers of change; catastrophe - unforeseen and uncontrolled - has served as the midwife of reform. The task of imagination is to do the work of crisis without crisis."

I think this is an extremely interesting point. We need not adjudicate the empirical question - namely whether catastrophe has underwritten more political-economic reform than has the workings of scoial dynmamics or one or another sort - in order to appreciate the potentially expansive role Unger accords imagination in politics. He takes a very Deweyian view of education as, essentially a training of the imagination. But even so, if we also acknowledge that, like our other "mental" capacities, imagination does not take place 'in our heads,' relying instead on a set of prosthetic devices, then it seems apparent that there is a rather large role in Unger's political project for photography as well as other visual arts.

At this point I will send readers back to one of my very first posts here where I discuss Patrick Maynard's claim that photography is best understood as a technology, one that allows us to not only see things but to imagine ourselves doing so. Unger suggests that we ought to be able to substitute imagining alternatives for having to come up with them as a way of pulling our collective butts out of the fire. Of course, he puts the point much more gracefully. He hopes to "loosen the dependence of change on calamity; and to design institutions and discourses that organize and facilitate their own revision." Invoking an historical case, he continues: "Franklin Roosevelt had war and economic collapse as his allies in the project of reform. It should be possible to be changed without being ruined."

If we confront a surfeit of images of calamity and catastrophe, perhaps we might use them as a substitute for the real thing. Perhaps they might serve as a basis from which to imagine alternatives to the political and economic and social arrangements that sustain such disasters. (Recall, for instance, the finding by Amartya Sen that famine results not from an absolute lack of food but from systems of property rights that differentially distribute access to such food as is available.) Are there other ways that we might use photography for such political purposes? If so, would extant photographic conventions enable or hinder any such potential efforts?

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28 December 2006

Stieglitz & His Ironic Legacy (2)

Lewis Hine. "Young Russian Jewess, Ellis Island." New York, 1905.

Lewis Hine. "Icarus atop Empire State Building." New York, 1931.

Since Lewis Hine provided the foil against which Stieglitz asserted the claim to "art" for his chosen work, I thought it might be helpful to post a couple of images from Hine (Both © The Estate of Lewis Hine.) As Trachtenberg points out, it is difficult to see such images as objective reports devoid of aesthetic strategy or compostitional concerns. As he also points out Stieglitz and his accolytes (and those who have since insised on the art-documentary dichotmomy) were more concerned with "institutional recognition" than with the cogency of their categorization. And in this, since they were preoccupied with making photography into Art, they turned out to be "aesthetic conservatives."

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Alfred Stieglitz and his ironic legacy

I am putting together the syllabus for a course on "Art & Politics" that I will teach in the spring term here in Rochester. I’ve been reading a bunch of things and frankly find it mostly way too opaque for even pretty smart junior and senior undergraduates at a fairly selective college. So the task has been a struggle and a revelation.

Among the things I am planning to assign is an essay by Martha Rosler that appeared in Artforum (September 2004). Now, as far as I can tell this journal basically is a vehicle for gallery advertisements, a sort of "art world" Cosmopolitan or Vogue. The ratio of advertisements to text or image is extremely high and much of the art or analysis that does actually appear makes "shallow" seem kind. In any case, in the 9/2004 issue the editors went out on a limb and commissioned both essays and art from a number of interesting folks for a special section on "The Art of Politics." Unsurprisingly, the editors admitted their own "deep seated resistance"to the notion that art and politics might somehow go be mutually illuminating, let alone closely related. Rosler's essay is interesting generally, but for my purposes here is especially so because she levels the following, accurate criticism: "Electronic art forms have offered a moment of activism .... and often provided sophisticated political analysis, available online, of course. ... Activists and hacktivists have stepped into the space vacated by video, whose expansively utopian and activist potential has been depoliticized, as "video art," much like photography before it, was removed from wide public address by its incarceration in museum mausoleums and collectors’ cabinets."

The final part of Rosler’s lament, at least, seems to me pretty persuasive. So, we can count among the consequences of the concerted effort by Alfred Stieglitz and his acolytes (abetted by others) to dichotomize photography into "art" and "documentary" at least two rather large difficulties. First we operate with a caricature of documentary practice (which too many documentary photographers have bought wholesale) as unconcerned with aesthetic matters and focused exclusively on objective fact. Second, we are complicit in the practice of consigning photographic "art," including what by any account would occupy the documentary category, to the institutional black hole of the art world. (When I say 'we' I include myself - check out the list of "photographic locations" in my side bar. Conventions are very difficult to resist!) This predicament generates even further ironies as, for example, The Documentary Photography Project of the Soros Foundation offers "distribution grants" in hopes that photographers might collaborate with others to generate "innovative, nontraditional methods to present their work to specific audiences to stimulate constructive social change." In short, Soros wants to pay to wrench photography out of the grasp of the museums and galleries and collectors.

[Footnote: You may think it unfair to blame poor Alfred for all this. Here I am working from the historical analysis of Alan Trachtenberg's wonderful Reading American Photographs where he busts Stieglitz for his self-promoting efforts to establish this invidious dichotomy.]

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27 December 2006

New Essays: Solnit & Levi Strauss

I think Rebecca Solnit and David Levi Strauss are among the very best critics of photography writing today. That will come as no surprise if you've read previous posts. I want to call your attention to a recent, short essay by each. Solnit offers a (somewhat fictitious) retrospective on the year 2006 from the vantage point of 2025. You can find her "View from the Future" at The Nation. Levi Strauss has an essay "Magic & Images/ Images & Magic" in The Brooklyn Rail in which he provides some background on his current research regarding why we invest images (especially photographs) with credibility.

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26 December 2006

Semezdin Mehmedinović

Semezdin Mehmedinović is an ex-patriot Bosnian poet and writer to whose work I'd like to call your attention. He has, to the best of my knowledge, two books in English from City Lights Books - one Sarajavo Blues (1998) and the other Nine Alexandrias (2003). Both are translated by Ammiel Alcalay. The latter consists of poems composed largely on a cross-America train trip that Mehmedinović took after arriving in the U.S. as a political refugee in 1996. Here, though I want to comment on his earlier book, written, as the title implies when he and his family were "displaced" in Sarajevo while it was under siege during the Bosnian war. For readers of the blog the interesting thing (beyond the obvious - terrific first person writing by someone experiencing war's horror) is that he repeatedly discusses the role of photographers during that period. In this regard you might check at least the following of his pieces: "Curfew," "Fires," "Milomir Kovačević," "Photographers," "Bernard-Henri Levy," and "Massacre." Mehmedinović continually and pointedly distinguishes between the view of the war purveyed by the international media and the perspectives of "local" photographers (e..g., Kemal Hadžić, Milomir Kovačević, Mladen Pikulić). You can find the work of the latter, among other locals, in Leslie Fratkin, ed. Sarajevo Self Portrait (Umbrage Editions, 2001), which appears to be out of print now that war is over in the Balkans.

Writing in "Fires" about a particularly harrowing experience of photographer Kemal Hadžić, Mehmedinović characterizes the "heretical impulse" of artists in wartime. I will not give away the circumstances. But he writes of the need to "fulfill that passionate artistic desire of distilling wild beauty from the spectacle of death." Mehmedinović continues: "The artist's need to venture into the unknown is risky, but it is precisely upon this impulse that the power of art is based." Find the book and see for yourself how this one turns out.

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25 December 2006

My Three Sons

From the left are my sons Jeffrey (14), Douglas (17) and myself, holding August (10 months). This was taken at our local Diner where we went for a "last supper" a week ago on the night before August's mom, for reasons many of which escape me, took him off to live in Oregon. I am not exactly Fred MacMurray, and there is no creepy Uncle Charlie about, but these are my three sons. They are each wonderful. My thanks go out to the anonymous diner who offered to take our picture. Merry Christmas everyone!

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24 December 2006

Project Row House

It is Christmas Eve. Two of my sons, Doug & Jeff just phoned me to say they are on their way over to the house for dinner (which is in the oven). My youngest son August is spending his first Christmas Eve with his mother and grandparents in Eugene, Oregon. He will be here tomorrow evening. The boys are my joy. I came close to simply writing about them tonight. But I also want to write about something hopeful out there in the world; after all this is the world in which they are coming of age. So I will go ahead and write about a sign of hope. This post is for Doug, Jeff, & August.

Let's begin with a passage from Dewey's Art & Experience:
"Works of art that are not remote from common life, that are widely enjoyed in a community are signs of a unified collective life. But they are also marvelous aids in the creation of such a life. The remaking of the material of experience in the act of expression is not an isolated event confined to the artist and a person here and there who happens to enjoy the work. In the degree in which art exercises its office, it is also a remaking of the experience of the community in the direction of greater order and unity."
This passage came to my mind because my friend Susan Orr called my attention to this article from The New York Times (17 December 06) reporting on a truly inspiring development taking place largely outside, and more or less directly challenging, the familiar institutions of the elite "art world." Despite that locus, The Times reporter Michael Kimmelman suggests that Project Row House "may be the most impressive and visionary public art project in the country." From the sound of things, I would tend to agree. The project, founded in 1993 by artist Rick Lowe and still coordinated by him, aims to defend and extend social and cultural traditions in Houston's African American Community. In describing the venture Kimmelman refers to Joseph Beuys' "enlarged conception of Art,” which aims to integrate art and life, to tap the creative aspirations and capacities of each individual. I don't know much about Beuys (but intend to find out more). Kimmelman also might have invoked pragmatists like Dewey for whom art and experience were inseparable. In answer to the question "Is the work Mr. Lowe and his collaborators are doing art?" Dewey might respond: "the work of art has a unique quality ... that of clarifying and concentrating meanings contained in scattered and weakened ways in the material of other experiences." This, it seems to me, affords the basis for an indisputably affirmative answer.

Regardless of its sources, Mr. Lowe's vision should provide hope well beyond Houston's Third Ward. I will close by citing an appropriate remark from Rebecca Solnit's wonderful Hope in the Dark:
"Problems are our work; we deal with them in order to survive or to improve the world, and so facing them is better than turning away from them, than burying them and denying them. To face problems can be an act of hope, but only if you remember that they're not all there is."

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23 December 2006

Photography and Popular Empowerment

"The Great Chartist Meeting, 10 April 1848," W.E. Kilburn. Daguerreotype. The Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
As part of my thesis back in the day I wrote abut Chartism as a workers movement seeking political redress (in terms of suffrage and pariliamentary representation) for economic hardship and dislocation. There is a terrific but apparently out of print book on the subject by Dorothy Thompson - The Chartists: Popular Politics in Industrial Revolution (Pantheon, 1984). It turns out that not only was this the first mass movement of workers, but also that it was accompanied by photographs. So, when Susan Sontag rightly says that, as a matter of its historical genesis, photography has been intimately implicated with war, it seems that her observation is partial. Photography also seems to be intimately implicated in the struggle for popular empowerment - at least it would be interesting to explore that thesis. As a first step I recommend an essay by Christian Nold "Legible Mob." In Making Things Public. Ed. Bruno Latour & Peter Weibel. (MIT Press, 2005). This vollume is huge (1000 pages) and a bit difficult to grasp (physically and intellectually) but it is intriguing. In his essay Nold talks not just about the image shown here, but about the (usually contested) contemporary practice of estimating the size "crowds" at political protests and the ways various parties to such debates use photography for that purpose. (For recent examples see this post and this one too.)


22 December 2006

"Great Works of Art are Thugs" (2)

I posted yesterday on this quote from Simon Schama for whom the use of art is to unsettle our established perceptins and judgements rather than to placate or sooth us. All day this has bugged me a bit, not because I disagree, but because it seemed so obvious. And I knew I'd seen others make the same, or at least a very similar, claim. Eventually, I recalled this remark by John Dewey (1927): "The function of art has always been to break through the crust of conventionalized and routine consciousness." This seems to me to be largely correct, even if more or less completely un-Marxist in the sense that it doesn't assume that the function of art is somehow (usually unspecified however vigorously asserted) to sustain the established political-economic order. So perhaps the Schama view seems innovative insofar as we are under the sway of some sort of functionalist view (of whcih Marxism is only one version) of social arrangements?

PS: [Added later that same day] And here is a remark from James Baldwin (1962) that I might've used instead of the Dewey. For Baldwin the artist is an "incorrigible disturber of the peace" ironically because she is responsible. As he explains:

"A society must assume that it is stable, but the artist must know, and he must let us know, that there is nothing stable under heaven. ... The artist cannot and must not take anything for granted, but must drive to the heart of every answer and expose the quesiton the answer hides.
... I am really trying to make clear the nature of the artist's responsibility to his society. The peculiar nature of that responsibility is that he never cease warring with it, for its sake and his own. For the truth, in spite of appearnaces and all our hopes, is that everything is always changing and the measure of our maturity as nations and as men is ow well prepared we are to meet these changes and, further, to use them for our health."

All this talk of responsibility and maturity and health surely will make the postmodernists among us sit up and take notice. But the point here is that, again, Schama's broad point about the function of art being to unsettle taken for granted expectations and judgements hardly is a new one.

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21 December 2006

Enrique Metinides

In The New York Tines today there is a report by Michael Kimmelman on an exhibition at the Anton Kern Gallery (NYC) of work by Mexican photographer Enrique Metinides. The pictures deal almost exclusively with random and "senseless" death and violence and suffering. The first of the images here (both © Enrique Metinides) shows the bad ending of a training flight that killed both student and instructor. The second records the grief of men at an undisclosed tragedy. And these are hardly among the most gory and graphic of his photographs.

What are we to make of this work? It brings to mind a criticism that Susan Sontag leveled at Diane Arbus.
"Arbus photographs people in various degrees of unconscious or unaware relation to their pain, their ugliness. This necessarily limits what kinds of horrors she might have been drawn to photograph; it excludes sufferers who presumably know they are suffering, like victims of accidents, wars, famines, and political persecutions. Arbus would never have taken pictures of accidents, events that break into life; she specialized in slow-motion private smashups, most of which had been going on since the subject’s birth."
Sontag faults Arbus for rendering "history and politics irrelevant," for remaining resolutely "not interested in ethical journalism," for "concentrating on victims, on the unfortunate - but without the compassionate purpose that such a subject is expected to serve." Well, compassion is perhaps not the appropriate motivation for a political project. But what of Metinides' lifelong project of recording accidents and personal tragedy? There is no sense in which it is political. Is it ethical? Kimmelman claims that "sometimes" the photographs register compassion, but "not too much." So, if ethics centrally involves compassion (a contestable claim) it hardly is ethical either.

Some time back I posted on a short essay by Susie Linfield in which she asks about the market for pictures of atrocity. She has in mind photographs of war and famine and other large scale, man-made disasters. And she wonders aloud what would prompt someone to buy and own such an image. Here the question presses itself even harder insofar as Metinides records the random and arbitrary things that befall individuals - car crashes and accidents and so forth. What would prompt someone to buy and own graphic images of such fatalities? These are not Arbus' images "slow-motion, private smashups," they reveal the excruciating outcome of real time catastrophes, making certain they are put on public display, depriving those involved, alive or dead, of privacy and solitude and whatever dignity that might afford them. Why would someone choose to buy such an image? Why would someone spend a lifetime recording them? I am perplexed.

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"Great Works of Art are Thugs"

You may find this npr report interesting. In it, "... writer and art historian Simon Schama ... concludes, great works of art are thugs that force us to see the world in new ways, whose purpose isn't to soothe but to unsettle. " The discussion is based on Schama's new book The Power of Art (Harper Collins/Ecco Press). Thanks to John Measor for the tip!

20 December 2006


Some readers may find this announcement relevant. The award is given to photographers who have done pro bono work for non-profit/public service clients during the past year. There are two categories - professional and student. The deadlines for submissions are in January. Soooo..... good luck!

19 December 2006

Enthusiasms (5) - David Hidalgo

For the past several days I have been listening to three albums from the mid-to-late 1990s that centrally feature David Hidalgo, one of the principals in Los Lobos . The first two are by a quartet called Latin Playboys in which Hidalgo is joined by Louie Perez, Tchad Blake and Mitchell Froom. The endeavor has been described aptly as "a twisted and avant-garde take on roots music" but in each case all compositions are by Hidalgo and his long-time Los Lobos-mate Perez. The tunes are edgy, dissonant, angular and pretty much off-kilter.

The third record is a duet between Hidalgo and Mike Halby. This one is much more of a blues record with arrangements that are so spare and languid that they verge at times on the altogether somnambulant. With one exception (a Jr. Parker cover), all the tunes are written by the two muscians. This is a wonderful record.

Unfortunately, neither of these side projects seems active at present. This is too bad because, while I really like Los Lobos, it seems that Hidalgo has considerably more up his sleeve than the latin inflected rock & roll of the larger band can easily accommodate.

P.S.: For previous "Enthusiasms" see [1] [2] [3] [4]

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18 December 2006

The Political Uses of the Sublime

This afternoon I've been moving bunches of books to and fro in the house and, in the process, discovered this one which I bought a year or so ago and then never actually read. It is Natural Visions: The Power of Images in American Environmental Reform (University of Chicago Press), written by historian Finis Dunaway.

The book explores what its subtitle announces over the first seven decades of the 20th Century. Dunaway attributes the power of images to the efforts of environmentalists to establish and re-establish connections between nature and the sublime, the sense of overwhelming awe and wonder. More specifically, he focuses on the "political uses of the sublime" in three different periods. For the Progressives the sublime was "romantic" and photographers like Herbert Gleason (1855-1937) focused on majestic mountains, thundering falls and towering cliffs. During the New Deal the sublime became "catastrophic" in the face of destructive floods and droughts. In the post-WWII era the sublime shifted yet again in the sense that photographers like Eliot Porter (1901–1990) sought to induce "a sense of surprise and wonder" among viewers not just in the panoramic manner of Ansel Adams (1902-84) but in response to much more intimate scenes.

For me, Dunaway's thesis has terrific resonance. He calls into question the conventional distinction between the aesthetic strategies of landscape photography and the purposes of "documentary," especially the endeavor by various "art" photographers over the course of seventy years to place "the camera in the service of politics hoping that images could galvanize concern for their reform efforts at the national level." One might question whether environmentalists have adopted effective strategies, but one can hardly deny their aims. Once again, adhering too tightly to conventional dichotomies leads us astray when we try to assess the uses of photography.

17 December 2006

What Liberal Media?

I tire of hearing right-wingers complain about the liberal media. On npr the conservative Andrew Sullian is seemingly the only homosexual anyone knows. Forget Fox, all the talking heads shows on American TV and Radio regularly run with participants ranging to the (far) right from somewhere just that side of center. And The Washington Post had this lovely eulogy to Augusto Pinochet last week, Compare what the the hardly liberal Economist had to say about the butcher.

16 December 2006

Reprieves in Florida & California

Well, what if it only took 27 minutes for a condemned person to die of lethal injection? How about 19 minutes? Or 16? Officials in Florida are concerned (sort of) because of yet another botched execution in the state. So, the Governor has (what else?) appointed a commission to study the matter. You will recall that they've already had big problems in Florida with their earlier mode of execution - the electric chair. It seems that one condemned man took nearly 34 minutes to die after being injected with the lethal three drug cocktail . And a judge in California has placed a moratorium on further executions by lethal injection in that state pending a repair to the methods used. He is sort of concerned too. (As The Guardian reports: "The state has had a moratorium on executions since February. "Implementation of lethal injection is broken" in California, said US district judge Jeremy Fogel in his ruling. But he added: "It can be fixed."") You can read The New York Times report here.

Anti-death penalty activists are encouraged by these decisions. But this is really a rear guard action. There is little doubt that even if it does not violate the Constitution in principle, public execution is cruel and unusual (although too common) in practice. What method is used to kill someone may seem to be pretty far to the right of the decimal point. But if no method passes Constitutional muster then the practice is not allowable.

There is also plenty of evidence that systematic discrepancies exist in sentencing generally and in the imposition of the death penalty in particular. The occupants of death row are disproportionately poor, minority or both. Why do you suppose that might be? Meanwhile, Jeffrey Skilling, who ruined thousnads of people's lives is at a country club prison in Minnesota. Moreover if we insist, like the Supreme Court does, on looking not at aggregate patterns but only at individual cases, it is clear that there are many many cases where reasonable doubt exists as to whether the "right man" has been sentenced for the relevant crime. What is broken is the system of criminal justice. Can it be fixed?

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Bill Henson - Untitled

Australian photographer Bill Henson (b 1955) is perhaps best known for his crepuscular images of young people, mostly women/girls and mostly in one or anaother state of undress. His subjects have a sort of vacant and depraved look and the lighting contributes to that sense. I find that part of his work interesting enough but not really all that exciting - sort of like David Lynch with a still camera, I guess.

Having said all that, I came across three in a series Untitled 2005/2006 - they are Nos. 33, 35, & 37. Many of the other images in the series are more typical of his work. But I find these three especially ominous, as though the hugh ships were looming up out of the gloom unexpectedly and unavoidably. I've not seen the original primts but they are quite large (127x180 cm = approx 4x6 feet) and I suspect the impression must be even greater then.

All three photographs © Bill Henson


15 December 2006


The are some things that are best colored red - like the deep red of rhubarb stalks. I am not a fan of rhubarb; it is not that I dislike it so much as that I have memories of eating fairly large quantities with sugar on childhood visits with my cousins. Of course, while we were really after the sugar, rubarb is quite fiberous - so you can imagine the outcome. Having offered too much informaiton, though, I will say that the red of rubabrb in a pie is very bright and enticing. It differs quite a lot from another of my favorites - the color of plums.

Andrew Esiebo

One of the photographers featured in the new issue of PRIVATE is Nigerian photojournalist Andrew Esiebo who provides a series of photograhs from Lagos, including this image of a billboard. The sales pitch, while humorous, also is serious.


PS: On the seriousness of closing "the sanitation gap" between the developing and developed world see, for instance, this 2002 report - Disease Control Priorities in Developing Countries - from the Disease Control Priority Project, "a joint effort of the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank, and the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH)." (Quoted phrases are from this press release.)

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14 December 2006

American Photo Notices Innovative Bloggers

Here is this announcement from American Photo naming Photography Innovators for 2006 ; of particular intterest is that they are recognizing innovative photography blogs, including Jeorg Colberg at Conscientious. This is well-deserved recognition for a very nice blog.

Political Hope

"The Day Latvia. Declared Itself Independent, 04.05.1990" © Uldis Breidis

I know hardly anything about what has happened in Latvia in the past decade and a half, but I came across this image just know and think it captures political hope and expectation and solidarity that is sorely lacking much of the time here in the U.S.; so this is a picture for inspiration.

Finding European Photography Museums

I recently discovered the web page for Huis Marseille Museum for Photography in Amsterdam. They have this very usefuul map detailing a large number of photography museums across Europe - from Dublin to Madrid to Thessaloniki to Moscow to Stockholm. When you click on the red circles a link emerges to the web page of the photo insititutions in the relevant city.

13 December 2006

Planet of Slums

This book by Mike Davis offers a (not entirely) apocalyptic counterpoint to the new issue of PRIVATE I mentioned in the previous post. It connects well too with some of the work in Sebastiao Salgado's Migrations project as well as to work by Andre Cypriano (about which I've posted before).

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12 December 2006


This is the third issue of PRIVATE I've gotten (off the news stand) and I am pretty sure I want to subscribe. It is consistently the best photography magazine I've seen. Not glossy or filled with sales pitches. Just thematic subjects explored in images paired with brief literary texts. This is an extremely thought provoking publication. The title of the issue should be self explanatory. There are photo-essays on Berlin, Bombay, Buenos Aires, Johannesburg, Kiev, Lagos, Moscow, Naples, New Delhi, New York, Paris, San Francisco, Shangai, Sydney, Teheran, Tokyo.

In this issue you can find work by PHOTOGRAPHERS: Adam Cohen (New York); Andreas Pein (Berlin); Andreas Seibert (Tokyo); Andrew Esiebo (Lagos); Andrew Tshabangu (Johannesburg); Cyrus Cornut (Tehran); Franck Boutonnet (Buenos Aires); Gennady Minchenko (Kiev); Grégoire Eloy (Paris); Igor Mukhin (Moscow); Joerg Boethling (Bombay); Marc Bonneville (Moscow); Salah Benacer (Paris); Tamara Voninski (Sydney); Victor Cobo (San Francisco); Viktor Suvorov (Kiev); Wang Yaodong (Shanghai); Warren Clarke (Delhi); Xesus Vila CalviZo (Paris); Aniello Barone (Naples). And you can find poetry and prose from WRITERS: Pierre-François Moreau; Azza El Wakeel; Changming Yuan; Dimitris P. Kraniotis; Gian Paolo Guerini; Mong-Lan; Usha Kishore; Üzeyir Lokman Çayci - texts in English, Italian, French, Greek, Turkish and Arabic.

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Gender Equality and the Welfare of Children

Open Democracy reports here on the release of the annual UNICEF Report - The State of the World's Children, 2007 which focuses on the crucial importance of gender equality for the welfare of children. The punchline of the report is that if you want to enhance the welfare of children, you should work to empower their mothers. According to the press release, the report recommends seven crucial ways of promoting gender equality: [1] Abolish school fees and invest in girls’ education; [2] Invest government funding in gender equality; [3] Enact legislation to create a level playing field for women, and to prevent and respond to domestic violence as well as gender-based violence in conflict; [4] Ensure women’s participation in politics;
[5] Involve women’s grassroots organizations early on in policy development; [6] Engage men and boys so the importance of gender equality can be understood by all; [7] Improve research and data on gender issues, which are critical if progress is to be made.

11 December 2006

Pinochet Again

Yesterday, as I was posting about the dead dictator Augusto Pinochet, my mind went almost immediately to this image, made by photojournalist David Burnett inside the National Stadium in Santiago in September 1973. The armed forces used the Stadium to hold supporters of the deposed President Salvador Allende whom they'd rounded up in the days following the coup d'etat.

I first saw this photo in a much larger reproduction on pages 58-9 of the book UnderExposed edited by Colin Jacobson (Vision On/Index on Censorship, 2002). Burnett captures the young man in the center looking directly into the camera and the look in his eyes is arresting. Unfortunately, this does not come across in this smaller reproduction which is the only one I could find on the web. But the image raises obvious questions. Did this man end up among the "disappeared?" Did he end up among the tortured or imprisoned or exiled?

FSA:The American Vision

I was looking through this new book - Gilles Mora and Beverly Brannan. FSA:The American Vision (New York, Harry Abrams) - at the bookstore yesterday. It is a nice, fairly comprehensive compendium with many lesser known images by a large number of well known photographers, including Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Russell Lee, Ben Shahn, Carl Mydans, Arthur Rothstein, Marion Post Walcott, and Gordon Parks. I also noticed that you can buy it for $53 US from Amazon ,while it is listed at $85 US on the cover. So, I may decide to use Amazon rather than the local bookseller on this one. Or maybe I will simply bite the bullett.

One of the interesting things about the FSA photographers, as I have mentioned here several times before [1] [2] [3] [4], is the predicament they raise in their work of relating to government agencies and assignments and agendas. I admire the work of many of the photographers associated with the FSA, but the admiration is hardly unambivalent. What if their liberal-left leaning politics were different? Would I still admire the images they made? What if their politics had been more transparent? What if their politics had been more consistently leftist rather than liberal? (If only we had something like New Deal Liberalism as a live option today! And if only that liberalism had been less thoroughly anti-socialist.)

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10 December 2006

He may Have Been a Brutal Dictator and Sponsor of Terrorism on American Soil, But He was OUR Man in Santiago

Augusto Pinochet, shown (center) in this Associated Press photograph from 1973, shortly after the September 11 coup d'etat he orchestrated against the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende, is dead. Read the press reports here and here and here.

According to reports Pinochet died of heart failure, but that seems quite implausible to me since it presumes he had a heart in the first place. Pinochet was a Dictator. He was guilty of crimes against humanity. He sponsored terrorist attacks in several countries including the United States. He is also was the darling of American Conservatives and Free-Market Ideologues. In the wake of his coup, which was actively supported by the Nixon Administration, 3000+ Chileans were execcuted or disappeared, an estimated 30,000 were tortured, and as many as 100,000 were forced into exile.

"Success" & "Failure": Words with No Meaning in Washington (2)

"“We feel great urgency to protect the American people from another 9/11 or a 9/11 times two or three,” Mr. Rumsfeld said on Saturday, in remarks that were posted on the Defense Department’s Web site, in the Anbar province west of Baghdad. “At the same time, we need to have the patience to see this task through to success,” he said. “The consequences of failure are unacceptable.” ...

The “men and women in uniform believe in what they are doing, they know it’s important, they know it’s worth the cost and in some cases the tears,” he said. “And they are convinced they can succeed and that our country can prevail. But only if we don’t lose our will.” ...

Mr. Rumsfeld has continued to counsel patience, saying in a farewell speech to employees at the Pentagon on Friday that to “pull out precipitously and inject that instability into the situation there” would be ”a terrible mistake.” ..."

These are passages from a story in today's New York Times; I've bolded some words and phrases that the adminsitration seems to simply not grasp. Like Bush and his other minions Rumsfeld continues to dissemble, trade on fear, and prevaricate and no one seems to call him on it.

On that note I was listening to the insipid Diane Rehm on npr Friday. She allowed (without any challenge whatsoever) Joseph Curl a flunky from The Washington Times to defend the performance of the press corps on this matter. He claimed in response to a caller that reporters had all along been pressing BushCo hard on what it might mean to succeed or prevail or win or whatever in Iraq. I guess we all must've missed the intrepid reporters pressing the really difficult questions. I have to say that on her weekly news round-up Rehm's guests typically occupy points on the political spectrum from slightly right of center through the more or less lunatic right (like reporters from The Washington Times and mouthpieces from the Heritage Foundation or American Enterprise Institute). And she also regularly cuts off callers who raise the issue of her pandering to such right-wing voices.


09 December 2006

Cameo Appearance

Among the conventions of "documentary" photography, whether used in an effort to convey suffering or dignity or beauty or calamity or whatever, is a more or less relentless focus on some individual. My own sense is that that convention is, for various reasons, politically dis-abling. I will not rehearse the reasons here. (If you are interested see the link in the sidebar to my paper "The Arithmetic of Comapssion.") But I read this poem tonight that pushes me to worry about whether violating that convention might not render individual suffering or beauty or dignity or calamity or whatever invisible or ineffable.

Cameo Appearance
by Charles Simic

I had a small, nonspeaking part
In a bloody epic. I was one of the
Bombed and fleeing humanity.
In the distance our great leader
Crowed like a rooster from a balcony,
Or was it a great actor
Impersonating our great leader?

That’s me there, I said to the kiddies.
I’m squeezed between the man
With two bandaged hands raised
And the old woman with her mouth open
As if she were showing us a tooth

That hurts badly. The hundred times
I rewound the tape, not once
Could they catch sight of me
In that huge gray crowd,
That was like any other gray crowd.

Trot off to bed, I said finally.
I know I was there. One take
Is all they had time for.
We ran, and the planes grazed our hair,
And then they were no more
As we stood dazed in the burning city,
But, of course, they didn’t film that.

© Charles Simic. From The Voice at 3:00 A.M.
(Harcourt, 2003), page 97.
PS: My worry is compounded by Simic's review of Sontag's Regarding the Pain of Others for the NYRB ["Archives of Horror" Volume 50, #7 (1 May 2003)] which I recalled after writing this post. In his conclusion, Simic (who himself was born in Belgrade) remarks that:

"Sontag is a moralist, as anyone who thinks about violence against the innocent is liable to become. The time she spent in Sarajevo under fire gives her the authority. Most of us don't understand what people go through, she writes. True, we only have photographs. Even if they are only tokens, they still perform a vital function, Sontag insists. They certainly do for me. Like the one by Gilles Peress I saw some years ago ... where we see a man in a morgue approach three stretchers with bodies lying on them and cover his face as he recognizes a friend or a relative. The morgue attendant is expressionless as he stands watching.

Men and women who find themselves in such circumstances, one says to oneself, do not have the luxury of patronizing reality. Such photographs preserve, however tenuously, the mark of some person's suffering in the great mass of faceless and anonymous victims. We ought to be grateful to Susan Sontag for reminding us of this. If photography is a form of knowledge, writing about it with critical discernment and passion, as she does, is bound to make trouble for every variety of intellectual and moral smugness."

Peress is indeed an unflinching witness (as you will see if you track down his work on the unhelpful Magnum site.) You can find the morgue pictures to which (I suspect) Simic is referring here and here. (I'd have uploaded them directly but Blogger is being characteristically dysfunctional tonight.) They indeed depict heart-wrenching anguish and pain. But they render either the dead or the living less anonymous. Perhaps there is a caption accompanying these images in Farewell to Bosnia, but I am willing to bet it names neither casualties nor survivors. Sontag, in fact, was highly, sometimes quite unfairly, critical of photographers whom she felt rendered suffering anonymous or abstract. And her criticisms evidence a species of quite distasteful moralism that, I think, was not just unwarrented, but counter-productive. For Sontag wields the alleged "authority" that Simic attributes to her in ways that are hardly more attractive or admirable or politically useful than the smugness of those who would turn a blind eye to large scale, humanly created suffering and pain. In the end, then, while Simic's poem gives me pause (precisely because it eschews Sontag's moralism), he doesn't quite persuade me.

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08 December 2006

"Atesh!" ("Fire!")

Here is a story from the Wall Street Journal revealing the identity of a photographer Jahangir Razmi (above) who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1980 for this photograph, which he took following the Iranian Revolution:

“Firing Squad in Iran, 1979"

The photograph, which shows Iranian troops executing Kurds after a summary trial, is one of a series of 70 images that Razmi produced. It was initialaly published in the newspaper Ettela'at in Tehran. At the time Razmi's name was not noted for fear that the regime would retaliate against him. My understanding is that this is the only instance in which a Pulitzer was awarded anonymously.


PS: Here is a further political question. Apparently standard policy at the WSJ is that only subscribers have access to full text articles. However, they have waived that requirement in this instance according to this blogger. What might motivate this editorial decision given the current political relationship between Iran anad the U.S.? While the news staff at the WSJ is regularly lauded as excellent, their editorial staff is equally well noted for being very rightward leaning. Just curious.

PS2: Given this story it is perhaps appropriate to call attention to the political travails of journalists and photographers. A good place to start is Reporters Without Borders. Coincidently, yesterday the Committee to Protect Journalists issued this press release - "Internet fuels rise in number of jailed journalists: CPJ census also finds more held without charge or due process."


07 December 2006

"Success" & "Failure": Words with No Meaning in Washington

This is an extract from The New York Times report on the joint Bush-Blair news conference today at which they addressed the newly released Iraq Study Group Report:

"While the Iraq Study Group’s report described the situation in Iraq as “grave and deteriorating,” the president described it as “unsettling.” But when a British reporter asked him whether his description showed that he was “still in denial about how bad things are in Iraq,” Mr. Bush made his feelings clear.

“Make no mistake about it, I understand how tough it is, sir. I talk to the families” of those who have died. “I also believe we’re going to succeed. I believe we’ll prevail,” he said. “One way to assure failure is just to quit, is not to adjust, and say it’s just not worth it,” he added. “If we were to fail, that failed policy will come to hurt generations of Americans in the future.”

Mr. Blair did not sharply diverge from the president’s analysis. He said the report held important points to pursue: the need for the coalition to bolster the Iraqi government, for regional powers to play a greater role, and for Israeli-Palestinian peace to be actively pursued, to ease one of the most acute irritants in the region.

While the study group’s report held out almost no hope that the coalition could still achieve a military victory, Mr. Bush disagreed.

“I believe we’ll prevail,” he said. Of his talks with Mr. Blair, he said, “We agree that victory in Iraq is important.”"

This exchange prompts me to ask out loud what I think pretty much every time I hear Bush talk about Iraq. Just what would constitute "success"? What would it mean to "prevail"? What would it mean to "fail" - especially given the prospect that he will simply not recognize our current "failed policy"? Has Bush or any of his minions actually thought about what it might mean "to adjust"?

Bush's words are vacuous, simple mantras that he repeats to try to keep his supporters in line. He surely cannot hope to persuade skeptics. And where, by the way, are the press and the democrats as Bush goes on and on and on talking like this. Ask him what he can conceivably be talking about. Please. Someone.

Leonard Freed (1929-2006)

Today The Guardian ran this obituary for documentary photographer Leaonard Freed. Here is the obituary from The New York Times. Freed was a member of the Magnum photo agency and well know for his images of the civil rights movement in the United States. Here are a couple of examaples of his work.

“Harlem, New York, U.S.A.” (1963)

Martin Luther King, Jr. In A Motorcade Is Thronged By Supporters, Baltimore, Oct. 31, 1965


PS: Added 12/10/06. You might want to check out this tribute to Freed that his colleagues at Magnum have added to their web site.

03 December 2006



02 December 2006

Photography: A Very Short Introduction (2)

I posted a while back about this new book by Steve Edwards and wanted to come back to it having had a chance to actually read it more closely. Edwards does what I think is a wonderful job of subverting the dichotomies that animate too many critical assessments of photography. In particular he more or less thoroughly undermines the dichotomy between "art" and "documentary" modes of photographic practice. This may seem odd on first reading since he actually uses the distinction to structure the opening chapters of the book. His aim, though, seems to me to be to establish just how difficult it is in practice to draw the distinction in any wholly convincing way. Edwards generallly supports a view that I find compelling, namely that we are best off when we ask what use some distinction is. What is the point of drawing it? What are the consequences of doing so? And who exactly is doing the drawing?

Sometimes, of course, the answers to such questions will not be obvious. Indeed, we may use photography, or some interpretation of the enterprise, in conventional ways that make it difficult to ask, let alone answer them. And conventions often appear to simply be "natural," to reside in the make-up of things. Edwards is especially insightful on this. As he notes:

"At the heart of any criticisms of photographic realism is the idea that apparatus embodies conventions and assumptions about picturing. While the consequences of the staged, manipulated, or mocked up image are readily apparent, recognizing the deep conventions underpinning the apparatus can be less straightforward. However, these conventions are no less important for serious understanding of photographs; if anything, the relative invisibility of these determining assumptions makes them more worthy of attention and more insidious in their effects."

The "art" versus "documentary" dichotomy is an obvious example here. So too, as he points out, are assumptions about perspective and linearity, and natural vision and framing, and so forth. But there are other conventions underpinning photographic practice that he (unsurprisingly for an admittedly "very short" book) doesn't touch on namely aversions to aestheticizing pain and suffering, the more or less relentless pursuit of closeness, or focus on individuals. Each of these are entangled with the "picture" versus "document" dichotomy that Edwards works so hard to contextualize and thereby challenge.


01 December 2006

World AIDS Day, 2006

I want to mark World AIDS Day in several ways. The first is to recall the early politics of AIDS in the US. Here I recommend this book AIDS DEMOGRAPHICS by my colleague here at Rochester Douglas Crimp (along with Adam Rolston). First published in 1990, it is now, unfortunately, out of print. If you are interested in visual politics and the uses of photography I urge you to track it down. I assign it in my freshman seminar and find that the history it chronicles - the way ACT UP New York created strategies to render the ongoing epidemic visible - can help inspire students to think about how they might use their (often considerable) talents for critical political purposes.

This now familiar graphic is among those crafted early on by members of ACTUP New York (actually by a precursor group that worked cooperatively with them). The message it conveys remains powerful. In that respect, I want, second, I want to call attention to the UNAIDS web page where you can locate information on the toll the global AIDS/HIV edpidemic continues to take.

Finally, a bit of promotion for a journal I edit for the American Political Sccience Association called Perspectives on Politics. The December issue (Volume 4, #4) should be out soon - not exactly "on the newwsstands" but surely in a local college library. It contains a short symposium co-edited by Meredith Weiss and Michael Bosia to mark the 25th Anniversary of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In my editorial introduction I write:

"The issue opens, by design, with ... a symposium entitled "25 Years at the Margins: The Global Politics of HIV/AIDS." I say ‘by design’ because the symposium is intended to commemorate the initial scientific documentation of the HIV virus in 1981. However, our aim in publishing, and indeed in leading off with, the symposium is not simply to commemorate. Whether explicitly or implicitly all of the contributions to the symposium also remonstrate with the discipline and its intellectual priorities. As Andrea Densham points out in her introduction, with a handful of prominent exceptions, political scientists largely have neglected the comparative, domestic, and international politics of HIV/AIDS. The remaining four contributions make no claim to be comprehensive but aim instead to indicate the scope and scale of the ongoing AIDS epidemic and some of its political causes and consequences across a diverse array of cases - France, South Africa, Brazil, Barbados, Malaysia and Singapore. By implication the contributors highlight too the scope and scale of our neglect.

Upon reading the penultimate version of the symposium I considered the possibility that this charge might perhaps be overstated. As far as I have been able to ascertain, it is not. A quick search on JSTOR and the Social Science Citation Index suggests that with only extremely rare exceptions, over the past quarter century none of the top dozen or so general or specialized journals in the discipline or its primary sub-fields have published so much as a single research article directly addressing the politics of HIV/AIDS. I am sure that that claim will be challenged but I also am confident that any correction I might be compelled to make will be marginal. The exceptions, if any might be found, will prove the rule. It is crucial to add that we political scientists cannot simply plead ignorance or irrelevance here, since as long ago as 1992 Kenneth Sherrill, Carolyn Somerville and Robert Bailey had indicated quite forcefully "What Political Science is Missing By Not Studying AIDS" (PS: Political Science & Politics 25(4):688-93). Having said all that, I implore you not to read this symposium simply as an indictment. That would be a mistake. The contributors to the symposium are extending an invitation, one imploring that we focus our intellectual energies and research skills on what indisputably remains a very urgent set of political problems. I urge political scientists to accept the invitation. Indeed, the pages of Perspectives on Politics would provide a perfect forum for the results that such inquiry might generate."

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