30 September 2007

Back on the field ...

Well, yesterday was a really nice day. My oldest son Douglas, played his first College lacrosse game. Actually, it was just a scrimmage against a group of alumni from Nazareth College, the school he is attending here in Rochester. The game was part of a recruiting weekend for players who are still in high school and whom the coach is trying to attract to Nazareth. But, nevertheless, Doug is back out on the field which I know makes him happy. He got quite a bit of playing time and had a nice assist. So he has broken the ice, so to speak.

Doug is wearing number 23 which is the number that his brother Jeff wore last year. One of the seniors on the Nazareth team, Matt Aloi, who had worn that number until yesterday gave up his claim on it so that Doug could wear it. That is the sort of thing that makes me think Doug chose the right team to play for. Thanks Matt!

All day yesterday I kept imagining how happy Jeff would've been to see Doug out on the field at Nazareth. Both boys went to summer camps there from a young age. And both would go over and play on the fields there (which is very close to their Mom's house), imagining what it would be like to really play for the College team. I couldn't be prouder of Douglas. Maybe only Jeffrey could be.

Labels: , ,

Chris Jordan

"Talking to Americans about consumerism is like talking to someone
with an alcohol problem. Our culture is in deep denial about what we
are doing to our planet, to the people of other nations, and the
people of the future. And maybe the biggest tragedy of all is that we
are in denial about how our consumer lifestyle is sapping
our own spirits. We are slowly killing ourselves, and we all feel it.
We know we are somehow getting screwed, that all this stuff
isn’t really satisfying, that we have lost something sacred that
is related to the very core of our selves. But still we don’t act."
~ Chris Jordan

"Prison Uniforms, 2007"*

My friend Susan pointed out that while I was in England last week, Bill Moyers ran a brief, interesting segment on Chris Jordan. Among the links on the Moyers page is one to this terrific interview from earlier this year, conducted by Joerg Colberg and subsequently published in Orion. I lifted the opening quote for Joerg's interview.

"Prison Uniforms, 2007" (Detail)

Several things struck me as extremely interesting about Jordan's comments on the increasingly "critical" stance he adopts in his work.

The first is that he came to recognize and indeed embrace (at one point he refers to himself as an "activist") this critical perspective only slowly and, at least initially, somewhat reluctantly. I have to say that the Moyers interview reveals a quite striking transformation in Jordan's self-conception.

Second, in this respect it seems Jordan affords a useful comparison to, say, Ed Burtynsky, about whom I have posted before (e.g., [1] [2] [3]). This is true too, it seems to me, in terms of their overlapping themes and styles (i.e., large print size, striking colors, etc.).

Finally, and this is something that I find intriguing, is his contrast between the aggregates he shows in his photographs and those we might capture in statistics. This contrast s a fairly common but typically under-argued theme (see, for instance the running contrast in David Levi Strauss's Between the Eyes) in discussions of photography. I am not prepared here to explore it at length, but will put it on my agenda and start keeping track of citations.

Having say all that, the piece I have lifted here makes a nice commentary on the way we dispose not simply of cell phones or circuit boards and other consumer waste, but how we dispose (or seek to) of human lives. It is part of an exhibition entitled "Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait" showing in Los Angeles through late October.


*According to Jordan's web site work is "10x23 feet in six vertical panels. Depicts 2.3 million folded prison uniforms, equal to the number of Americans incarcerated in 2005." In the Moyers interview he is quite clear that this number is outrageous and that it far outstrips (both in absolute and relative terms) the comparative numbers from even those repressive regimes that we in the U.S. constantly criticize. For more on this matter see this earlier post.

P.S.: It seems to me that Jordan's work stands as something of an indictment of the recent preoccupation in the American media regarding the environmental degradation occurring in China. Of course, we whould not let the Chinese off the hook. But Jordan's various pieces bring home the extent to which we are creating envornmanetal mayhem ourselves. But we should also follow Jordan and start loking at home too. (I have in mind the multi-part story ~"Choking on Growth " [1] [2] ~ that The New York Times has run recently.)

[Both images in this post © Chris Jordan.]


29 September 2007

Considering Larry Craig

© CPimages/AP Photo/Matt Cilley

This morning on npr's Weekend Edition, host Scott Simon offered this probing and sensitive commentary on the predicament of Senator Larry Craig finds himself because his own personal conflicts are caught in a broader set of complex, repressive social and political hypocrisies.

28 September 2007

With a Leica, "a photograph sounds like a kiss."

I am wholly unschooled in the technical side of photography ~ as opposed to just substantially unschooled in other matters having to do with the enterprise of making photos. So I found this essay, Anthony Lane's "Candid Camera: The Cult of Lieca" from The New Yorker (24 September 07) entertaining and helpfully insightful. So, there is a technical reason for the sound a Leica makes when the shutter is clicked. [Image : "Leica advertising from 1935, when the camera was widely in use by Europeans."]

Celebrity T&A in PETA Campaigns

The folks at PETA have launched a couple new media campaigns featuring Dita Von Teese pushing animal birth control for pets and Alicia Silverstone languidly peddling vegetarianism. The Silverstone spread - the text of which is all about me, me, me - strikes me as the sort of narcissism that makes vegetarianism shade so easily into unbearable moralism. I've never heard of Von Teese, but the message that we can and ought to subject animals to surgery in order to protect our own moralistic sensibilities strikes me as counterintuitive. At least we might have been given an argument? On top of those complaints, this use of celebrity and, especially, tits and ass, in what must be an effort to make the cause "sexy!" and "fabulous!" just reminds me of the shallowness of other recent attempts to be fashionably political. Naked women are just a means here, a means to sell something to an audience.

P.S.: (Added a short while later.) A helpful comment by Rachel Hawthorn prompts me to offer a clarification. On PETA.org we learn "People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), with more than 1.6 million members and supporters, is the largest animal rights organization in the world" (stress added). This suggests that the PETA-folk conceptualize "ethical" in a rights-based way. My perplexity is about how performing pre-emptive surgery on an animal is compatible with its presumptive rights (to, say, bodily integrity or freedom from pain ... ). Here is more from PETA.org:
"Why Animal Rights?

Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?

* Animals Are Not Ours to Eat
* Animals Are Not Ours to Wear
* Animals Are Not Ours to Experiment On
* Animals Are Not Ours to Use for Entertainment
* Animals Are Not Ours to Abuse in Any Way"
The thrust of this list is that animals are not ours for the purposes mentioned. Why then is it our decision to intervene in animal lives for surgical purposes? It is not obvious that we have a right to perform surgery on any animal in order to prevent the possible or even likely future suffering of other animals.

So, even aside from the sexist advertising campaign, I don't find the underlying justification on offer here at all persuasive.

Labels: , , ,

"Art for Life's Sake"

It is useful, I think, to recall the lengths to which some will go, the risks they will undertake, for the sake of others who are and remain relative strangers. This is especially true in a time like ours when military service seems to exhaust the possibilities of "commitment." So, here is a story from Ha'aretz on Hungarians, faculty and students around the Open School of Art in Budapest, who undertook to rescue Jews from the Nazi's. The group was informal ~ loosely coordinated and transitory ~ and its activities have only of late been brought to light.

27 September 2007

Middle East Report #244 (Fall 07)

Among her many talents, Michelle Woodward, who keeps the excellent blog photo beirut is the photo editor at Middle East Report. She has posted on the latest issue, and especially on its photographic aspects, here. I reccommend not only the magazine but Michelle's insightful reflections on the ethical and political difficulties that she sees in the ways that photographers represent members of "refugee" populations.

Coincidently, The New York Times ran an opinion piece today on the scandalous record the U.S. is establishing regarding Iraqis displaced by our war. It reads, in part:

"Many are restarting in Sweden. Between January and
August this year, Sweden took in 12,259 Iraqis fleeing
their decomposing country. It expects 20,000 for all of
2007. By contrast, in the same January-August period,
the United States admitted 685 refugees, according to
State Department figures.

The numbers bear closer scrutiny. In January, Sweden
admitted 1,500 Iraqis, compared to 15 that entered the
United States. In April, the respective numbers were
1,421 and 1; in May, 1,367 and 1; and in
August 1,469 and 529.

True, the Iraqis in Sweden are asylum-seekers, whereas
those reaching these shores have refugee status conferred
by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. But the
numbers — representing the bulk of the Iraqis getting into
a country of nine million and another of 300 million —
are no less of an indictment for that."

Since there wull be readers who consider The Times unreliably liberal let's try Voice of America for another perspective on the refugee problem our war is creating:

"The International Organization for Migration says more
than 2.25 million people are displaced within Iraq and
another two million Iraqis have sought refuge in other
countries, most in neighboring Syria and Jordan.

The International Organization for Migration says
most Iraqis are fleeing their homes because of
sectarian violence carried out by militias and insurgents.
It says 88 percent of the displaced say they were
targeted because of their religious or sectarian identity."

And lest we in the U.S. feel uniquely burdened with guilt, The Guardian reports that Amnesty International is criticizing Great Britain, our partner in the coalition of the willingly misguided, for a similarly pathetic record on admitting Iraqi refugees fleeing the fiasco to which they (the British) have contributed. The story starts by observing that "Britain has forcibly returned more Iraqis than any other European nation and is not doing enough to help Iraq's neighbours cope with the largest population movement in the Middle East since Palestinians were displaced after the creation of Israel in 1948." And we all know how well that earlier displacement has turned out! Having been driven out of Europe (and elsewhere) by murderous anti-semitism the Jews established Israel and, in the process displaced Palestinians who have as yet to find anything resembling an adequate home.

So, let's really go out on a limb here: The long term consequences of Bush's disasterous war will not be pretty.
P.S.: I want to recommend that you spend some time at photo beirut. Michelle is smart and a talented photographer. I myself am especially partial to the work she is doing on graffiti and posters.


Durham Conference (Again) ~ D.J. Clark & Picturing the Majority World

Among the highlights of the Conference from my perspective was a presentation by David Clark a remarkable, thoughtful documentary photographer who talked about his experience in the field, especially in the context of his efforts to heighten the reflexiveness among his profession. You can find some of the themes that David took up in a paper of his: "The Production of a Contemporary Famine Image: The image economy, indigenous photographers and the case of Mechanic Philipos." Journal of International Development 16, 1-12 (2004). David was among the organizers in the Imaging Famine exhibition project about which I posted here very early on. But, as his web page makes clear, he is involved in a wide variety of photographic and educational projects in England, China, and elsewhere. He was extremely impressive as a person and speaker. Among the locations that David mentioned in his talk is majorityworld.com which is an organization dedicated to the promotion of work by photographers indigenous to the developing world. According to their web page: "Majority World is a new global initiative founded through the collaboration of The Drik Picture Library of Bangladesh and KijijiVision in the UK to champion the cause of indigenous photographers from the developing world and the global South - the Majority World!"

Labels: ,

26 September 2007

Enthusiasms (11) ~ Steve Earle

This evening on the way home I stopped off at The Record Archive to buy the new CD from Steve Earle as a belated birthday present for my co-conspirator Susan. The disc ~ Washington Square Serenade ~ marks a move from Nashville to NYC. Judging from the pictures, Steve is compensating on his chin for what is receding on the crown; beyond that the music is realy quite fine. That is what counts. As Susan says, it is a good sign when you like the first track. The rest are good too. There is nothing here perhaps to rival, say, "Copperhead Road" or "Hardcore Troubador" or "You're Still Standing There." But none of us are young anymore. That is OK and it is early to judge for certain. Earle tacks back and forth between songs of struggle and hardship and songs of love and longing more or less effortlessly. That ~ in addition to his obvious, wonderful facility with lyrics ~has always been one of his strengths. On this disc Earle wrote (or co-wrote) all the tunes with the exception of this Tom Waits cover:

Way Down in the Hole

When you walk through the garden
you gotta watch your back.
Well I beg your pardon
walk the straight and narrow track.
If you walk with Jesus
he's gonna save your soul.
You gotta keep the devil
way down in the hole.

He's got the fire and the fury
at his command.
Well you don't have to worry
if you hold on to Jesus hand.
We'll all be safe from Satan
when the thunder rolls.
Just gotta help me keep the devil
way down in the hole.

All the angels sing about Jesus' mighty sword
and they'll shield you with their wings
and keep you close to the lord.
Don't pay heed to temptation
for his hands are so cold.
You gotta help me keep the devil
way down in the hole.

Labels: , , ,

Reflections on Burma, Democracy & Faith

"For what is the faith of democracy in the role of consultation,
of conference,
of persuasion, of discussion, in the formation of
public opinion, which is the
long run self-corrective, except
faith in the capacity of the intelligence of the
man to respond with commonsense to the free play of facts
and ideas
which are secured by effective guarantees
of free inquiry, free assembly,
and free communication? I
am willing to leave to upholders of totalitarian
states of
the right and the left the view that faith in the capacities
intelligence is utopian." ~ John Dewey

A group of monks sit in protest after being halted
by riot police and military officials as they headed
towards the Shwedagon pagoda.
Photograph: STR/Reuters.

Riot police block a monk's path to the Shwedagon
pagoda in Rangoon. Photograph: Stringer/Reuters.

I do not consider myself a religious man, having had any illusions regarding divinity and holiness beaten out of me in the course of a half-dozen years in Catholic schools. My support for the opposition among Burmese monks and others stems not from faith in God, but from faith in democracy. I admire the courage the monks are displaying and identify with their commitment to democratic reform. Is that enough to restore something of my faith in religious conviction? I tend to agree with Richard Rorty's assessment of the role of religious leadership in politics. Here is Rorty in an interview:

"Whether the possibility of rearing new Martin Luther Kings is worth
the risk of rearing new Jerry Falwells is a matter of risk management.
To my mind the advantage of getting rid of the Falwells is worth the
risk of getting rid of the Kings. But I have no knock-down argument
to bring to bear. I suspect that the continued existence of the churches
is, by and large, more of a danger than a help to the rise of a
global democratic society."

The prevalence of religious intolerance and fanaticism throughout the contemporary world seems, to me, to represent a standing hindrance to the operation of democratic practices and institutions since the latter truly require a commitment to fallibilism, the idea that even our most deeply held and cherished commitments will turn out to be false or mistaken. It may turn out that my own faith in democracy is mistaken. To the best of my knowledge, no religious faith embraces such a basic commitment to un-certainty.

Labels: , , ,

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

Early last summer I wrote a couple of posts, here and here, that raised issues of sequencing of photographs. In The New York Times today you can find this long, fair-minded, detailed essay attempt to determine the sequencing issues surrounding the famous image James Fenton made of the 'Valley of the Shado of Death' during the Crimean War. The published version appears above, but there also is a second version shown below.

Roger Fenton. Valley of The Shadow of Death (Two Versions).
Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center,
The University of Texas at Austin.

Note the difference is that in the published version the landscape, especiallly the road, is strewn with cannon balls. This has led to charges that Fenton had manipulated the image by spreading the cannon balls about to enhance the effect of his photograph. One prominent proponent of this view is Susan Sontag, but she invokes others in making her case. (For another example, see my post on this essay by Geoff Dyer from The Guardian.) The author of The Times essay, film-maker Errol Morris, pursues the matter resolutely and seems skeptical of the Sontag, et. al. view. In so doing he raises several crucial matters:

(1) How should we understand the possibility of photographic manipulation as an historical phenomenon. In other words, are photo-shop, etc. qualitatively different threats to photographic veracity?

(2) How should we understand the intimate relationship between photographers or other journalists and the (often military) organizations with whom they work?

(3) What is the role of intention in the making of photographs? In our subsequent assessments of them? (The leads to a considerably less pressing matter regarding the 'bravery' or whatever of photographers. I am not terribly interested in questions of character in that sense.)

While he seems skeptical of those who deride Fenton, Morris ends this installment inconclusively and leaves readers with a challenge: "I would like to propose a contest to the Times’ readership — an invitation to order the photographs and to propose reasons why they must be in that order. Anything is fair game. Any kind of evidence may be considered, and I will discuss the solutions in a followup article. Good luck!"

P.S.: This essay is one of a series that Morris is publishing in The Times.

Labels: , , ,

25 September 2007

Best Shots (12)

(30) Taryn Simon. It was kind of scary ...
Detail from Cryopreservation Unit, Cryonics Institute,
Clinton Township, Michigan. (20 September 07).
© 2007 Taryn Simon / Courtesy Steidl.


Durham Conference

Yesterday I returned to Rochester from a quick foray to England. The conference in Durham was really was quite fascinating. Among the things I learned was how different the ways I think about photography are than is typical among folks with, say, Art History or Literature backgrounds. I suppose that is no surprise, but the exchange was quite a lot of fun. The amount of extremely detailed knowledge of particular photographers or movements that the other participants could put on display was truly impressive.

One of the true pleasures was having the chance to meet and have a drink or several with some bloggers with whom I've exchanged ideas and thoughts, in particular Brenda and Lucy (and the inimitable Captain, too!). Lucy is the person who brought the new Steve Meisel spread to my attention (THANKS Lucy!).

Thanks very much to the conference organizers: Andrea Noble, Ed Welch & Jonathan Long who did a superb job of bringing together smart people and keeping the trains running on time.


24 September 2007

Daylight #6 ~ The Atomic Issue

The sixth issue features photographic portfolios by: Harold Edgerton, Robert Del Tredici, Carole Gallagher, Chris McCaw, Pierpaolo Mittica, Jürgen Nefzger, Simon Roberts, Richard Ross, Paul Shambroom, Ramin Talaie, Hiroshi Watanabe, and Yosuke Yamahata


PRIVATE #38 (Autumn 2007) ~ Stories From the USA

Alan Chin, Hurricane Katrina: New Orleans; Boogie, New York – just like any other city; Brenda Ann Kenneally, Upstate girls; Bruce Gilden, Hell’s Kitchen; Christopher Anderson, Mardi Gras in New Orleans; Darcy Padilla, Pine Ridge; Indian Reservation; Ed Kashi, Wounded Vets; Edmund Leveckis, Loneliness; Marc Asnin, The “BIG A” Winter Horse Racing; Maura Sullivan, Selected Stories; Philip Stake, Jon and Jackie; Radcliffe Roye, The So-journ, Robb Kendrick: Faces of the West; Robert Yager, Playing With Fire

Eve Jones, Kari Edwards, Kelly Ann Malone, Laurence Overmire, Maria Lupinacci, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Melanie Simms, Robert Stevens, Steven Manchester, Taylor Graham.


Meisel really is porcine ...

Well, I am sitting in Manchester airport waiting for USAirways to get its act together. I had a great time at the "Locating Photography" conference in Durham, about which more later.

Turns out that the fashionistas are up to their tired misogynistic tricks. Vogue Italia has once again opened it pages to the completely tasteless Steve Meisel for a photo-spread "Make Love Not War." You can find the slideshow here. Basically, Meisel presents the women here as hookers - expensively dressed, perhaps, but hookers nonetheless. This is hardly "extraordinary" given that it reflects the basic values of fashion photography as an enterprise. I've lifted a couple of samples (below) you can find the remainder of this fine work here.

P.S.: (Added 27 September): You can find my comments on Meisel's earlier blunders here and here.


Labels: , ,

18 September 2007

Off to England

Tomorrow I leave for what I hope will be an exciting conference at Durham University. The conference - called "Locating Photography" - is the first such affair that I've attended. The program announcement is here. In any case I am unsure how much I will be posting between now and next Tuesday.

Free Speech on Campus

Here is a report from The New York Times on an episode at the University of Florida in Gainesville in which a student is shocked with a taser for speaking in a public forum where Senator John Kerry was the speaker. The kid is a jerk, so what? Last I knew, that is not a criminal offense.

The police are out of control on this - regardless of whatever "procedure" they claim to be following. The young man is grabbed by multiple officers and ultimately attacked with a potentially lethal weapon ~ simply for speaking. And, most pathetically, Kerry does worse than nothing, you can hear him cracking jokes from the podium as the police brutalize the student. You can watch the video here on the Huffington Post. (Thanks to Stan Banos for bringing this to my attention.)

Our Mercenaries (Again)

Main Entry: 1mer·ce·nary
Pronunciation: 'm&r-s&-"ner-E, -ne-rE
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural -nar·ies
Etymology: Middle English, from Latin mercenarius, irregular from merced-, merces wages --more at MERCY
: one that serves merely for wages; especially : a soldier hired into foreign service

The folks who fancy themselves "private military contractors" apparently don't like the word mercenary. I do suppose I can see their point; it sounds so, well so cheap and unprincipled. And the 'pmc' types might have a point since they are not being paid by a foreign power even if they are providing foreign service. Regardless, it turns out that for every regular service man or woman in Iraq there also is one mercenary. This is a matter that has not come up in recent Congressional discussions about policy in Iraq. Not only are we mired in a disaster there, but we have not been able to raise enough personnel to actually prosecute the war. This too is a consequence of the BushCo "policy." Our mercenaries get paid better than our servicemen and women.

I have posted on this matter several times before [1] [2] [3]. Events seem to be overtaking the BushCo reliance on mercenaries. According to various news sources, a group of Blackwater employees providing security of a U.S. State Department convoy have shot and killed a large number of Iraqis, including civilians. You can find The New York Times report here. Of course, the claim will be self-defense. Who knows? The Iraqi government has suddenly found its voice and is complaining loud and clear about this latest episode (it is not the first). Now the U.S. Secretary of State apparently is groveling to try to prevent the Iraqis from demanding the expulsion of the Black water mercenaries. That would create real problems for the Bush Administration. But the irony is that the State Department is so heholden to their own mercenaries is obvious. And the reality is that the Blackwater personnel apparently cannot be held accountable. Ooops!


17 September 2007

Giving "Theory" A Bad Name

I came across this book ~ James Elkins, ed. Photography Theory (Routledge, 2007) ~ and bought it mostly as a truly revealing example of how completely useless what passes for "theory" in the humanities really has become - lots of name-dropping of (mostly) dead European theorists, an interminable discussion of "indexicality," and what seems to be an unshakable ability on the part of nearly every participant to talk past everyone else. According to the blurb on the publisher's web page:

"Photography Theory presents forty of the world's most active art historians and theorists, including [... names withheld to spare the guilty the embarrassment that is their due (JJ) ...] in animated debate on the nature of photography."

The book springs from a session of "The Art Seminar" which Elkins convenes. If this installment is any indication, the seminar is a conclave of windbags.

PS: (Added 9/18/07) Since some readers think I am being uncharitable, here is Elkins himself summarizing the extended seminar discussion of “indexicality” and then hoping to make a silk purse from the proverbial sow’s ear: “... I sense that there have been as many dead ends as arguments in our conversation. I don’t mean that’s a sign of failure: I take it as symptomatic ...” (155).

How is a dead end not a failure in a conversation? It is not that the participants do not reach consensus that is not a plausible or desirable aim. Their interaction does not rise to the level of an argument where, by definition participants engage one another's views in a critical, direct, open-minded way.

Of what are the dead ends symptomatic? Elkins never says. I’ve offered my assessment above.


"Offensive" Comics

Listening to npr this afternoon as I drove into the office, I heard a story about how the editors at The Washington Post had refused to run this installment (26 August) of the comic strip Opus
for fear of "offending" Muslims. The Ombudsman for The Post fortunately called the editors on the carpet for their decision. I cannot say how sick I am of this sort of insane over-senstivity on the part of both the press and various religious and political groups. But in this instance the entire episode seems to have been driven by a mix of paternalism and paranoia on the part of The Post editorial staff.


16 September 2007

What is the Matter With Conservatives?

'I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient
to acknowledge what everyone knows:
the Iraq war is largely about oil.'
~ Alan Greenspan

According to The Guardian, this passage appears in the imminent Greenspan memoire. I suppose we ought to be grateful that someone is saying what everyone thinks. So, what is wrong with this admission? Well, what Greenspan laments is not that BushCo went to war for oil, but that it is "politically inconvenient" to say so out loud. Next thing you know, the knuckle-draggers on the right will be blaming the Iraq fiasco on the "liberals" because, if only the administration hadn't had to worry about admitting what it really is up to they wouldn't have had to lie about it and then spin in circles trying to make sense of the lies. Of course, that still wouldn't have made the war any less of a fiasco. It would only make it plain why we'd gotten ourselves into the current mess in the first place.

N.B.: The same Guardian story reports on this poll conducted by the British company ORB that estimates the war-related death toll for Iraqi civilians at "1,220,580 deaths since the invasion in 2003."

Labels: ,

15 September 2007

Media Politics: Trying to Change the Subject

Well, Republicans apparently have their panties all in a knot about the advertisement that moveon.org ran in The New York Times last Monday. The advertisement, a larger version of which you can see here, criticized General Pertraeus for presenting a wildly inaccurate account of conditions "on the ground" in Iraq. There are a number of things to mention about all this.

The first thing is the sheer hypocricy of right-wingers whining when someone's military service and "character" are called into question. Remember how right-wingers questioned John Kerry's Viet Nam war service? How about Max Cleland? (All of that is especially despicable given the by now tiredly familiar story about how none of the architects of our Iraq policy availed themselves of the opportunity for active duty military service.)

The second thing is that Petraeus was selling a policy that is, charitably put, bullshit. He was in on the design of the surge and is recommending a troop "reduction" that, after roughly 18 months of surging, would reduce our forces only to pre-surge levels. That is a shell game. He ran it for the administration. He also, purportedly, ran it out of his own political ambitions.

The third thing is that it hardly is unprecedented for BushCo to send an "honorable" military man out to sell its policies in ways that hardly are straightforward. Can you spell C-o-l-i-n P-o-w-e-l-l? Rhymes with Petraeus, no?

Fourth, moveon.org cites sources for each claim in the advert on their web page. Republicans may not like the ad, but they might argue back with reasons and evidence. That could be tricky though, given BushCo's own report to Congress yesterday that called into question the extent of both military and political "progress" in Iraq.

Finally, what is at issue here is not what some liberal advocacy group says about the fiasco in Iraq but the actual fiasco. Since they cannot really talk about the dismal situation BushCo have created in Iraq, the right wants to change the subject.

My advice? Keep your eye on the ball. That means telling the right-wingers to stop whining and telling the administration (as well as the spinelsss Democrats) to end the war.

Labels: , , ,

14 September 2007

Beauty & Photographs of Suffering (Once More, This Time with a Pinch of Presumptuousness)

It has been some time since I have posted on the seemingly vexed topic of beauty and photography, especially the use of beauty in photography of suffering and the varieties of cruelty and mayhem that give rise to it. I return to the topic today because I just read an essay at openDemocracy by Mai Ghoussoub. The essay, entitled "Beirut and Contradiction: Reading the World Press Photo Award" focuses on this now well-known image by Spencer Platt which won the WPF Award for 2006. The essay was first published in oD shortly after the award was announced last February and was republished last month.

World Press Photo of the Year 2006 ~ Young Lebanese drive through
a devastated neighborhood of South Beirut, 15 August
© Spencer Platt, Getty Images

While Ghoussoub concedes that the prize was "well-deserved," she also finds the photograph quite thoroughly disturbing. Here is what she says about this "beautiful" photograph of "beautiful" young people surveying the rubble left behind by Israeli attacks last summer.

"I am certain that Spencer Platt's picture which won
the World Press Photo prize for 2006 looked disturbing
and even repellent to most viewers at first glance. I
admit that it bothered me when I first saw it on my
screen. But I also admit that I kept on looking at it.
What was it that intrigued me in this picture despite
my unexplained revulsion? Why did I feel that I had
to write about what I saw in the picture? ...

I believe that the photo is stunning in the metaphor
it creates about war photography. It tells us about
the voyeurism of the photographer, of the act of
taking photos in tragic situations: if there is a
contradiction, it is in the encounter between
art, beauty and tragedy. ...

Here is an image, a mirror of the self, an inverted
gaze shot impulsively or in "cold blood" by the
photographer/artist. The act of taking a picture ...
is mirrored and seen through the woman whose face
is strained and body tilted while taking a picture of the
same devastation from the seat of the red car. Did
the photographer question his own behavior by showing
the voyeurism of another person, a non-professional?
Is he saying that the voyeur's need to witness human
misery and affliction, and to let others see it
through their eyes, is in all of us?"

I have to say that I find this all too common line of criticism perplexing. Of course, having been born in Beirut, Ghoussoub has a much closer identification with the city and its residents than do I and very nearly all Americans. But I do not see why the beauty that Platt captures even in such a dire situation is objectionable. And I surely do not find the criticism of the young man and women in the car persuasive at all. Imagine the young woman capturing the devastation with a cell phone camera. Perhaps there are others - her family or friends, nearby or in some far-away place like London - who might not quite believe the damage, or who could not imagine it or who, even though locals, could not, from fear or otherwise, bring themselves to travel the city so openly. Might she not be snapping pictures to share with those others? The charge of voyeurism is, I think, remarkably presumptuous and uncharitable. Can Ghoussoub presume to know what these young people are doing or why they had come to witness the post-bombing mayhem and carnage?

That leaves the worries about beautifying tragedy and hardship and suffering. This afternoon I happened to be reading an interview with Alfredo Jaar who addressed similar sorts of criticisms that have been leveled at his own work, especially his Rwanda projects. Jaar responds to the sorts of criticism that Ghoussoub articulates in this way:

"In a way, the question is: are we allowed as artists
to create art out of suffering? Or should we let these
tragedies sink into invisibility? Why can't I resist
their invisibility in the media and offer my own
reading, my own image, my own outrage, my own
accusations about this tragic situation? To create
these works is not only to put Rwanda on the map,
but is also in a modest way to express solidarity, to
create, as I did, a memorial to the victims of genocide
in Rwanda. Now, how many gestures of solidarity have
you seen? How many memorials to Rwanda have you
seen? This is a memorial to one million people.
What is this worth?"

I think this challenge places the burden back on Ghoussoub and those whom she echoes. Perhaps it is too much to say that Platt might've been expressing solidarity with the young people of Beirut. But his image raises a question that, as the father of teenage sons, I automatically asked myself when I saw this picture. Why do these young people have to live through this? Shouldn't their youth (and that of their contemporaries elsewhere, including Israel) be without this sort of fear and care and anxiety? Perhaps that is naive. The clean clothes and shiny car that capture Ghoussoub's attention are hardly compensation for living in a war zone. And, as it turns out, the kids in the car actually lived in the neighborhood and had returned to survey the damage to their home.

Labels: , ,

13 September 2007


I had posted last spring on a forthcoming collection of essays by John Berger, hoping that it might afford a good summer read. Well, Hold Everything Dear: Dispatches on Survival and Resistance (Pantheon) has finally appeared, just in time for the rush of the new academic term. Most of the essays are dated from the past half dozen or so years. (Irritatingly, there are no acknowledgements to indicate the original places of publication.)

Only the final essay ~ "Looking Carefully: Two Women Photographers" ~ deals directly and at length with photography. The women in question, with neither of whom I am familiar, are Ahlam Shibli and Jitka Hanzlová. I will try to post on their work in due time. At the moment, I want instead to call attention to a short passage from another essay, "The Chorus in Our Heads or Pier Paolo Pasolini." I really do not know much at all about Pasolini. Berger's essay, dated 2006, is a response to a 1962 movie, entitled Le Rabbia (Rage), that Pasolini composed from newsreel footage and that was never actually released at the time.

Here is Berger's lament, prompted by watching Rage; it seems especially timely given the onslaught of political "persuasion" to which we've been subjected this week.

“The film lasts only an hour, an hour that was fashioned,
measured, edited forty years ago. And it is in such
contrast to the news commentaries we watch and the
information fed to us now, that when the hour is over,
you tell yourself that it is not only animal and plant species
which are being destroyed and made extinct today, but also a
set of our human priorities. The latter are systematically
sprayed, not with pesticides, but with ethicides -
agents that kill ethics and therefore any
notion of history and justice.

Particularly targeted are those of our priorities which have
evolved from the human need for sharing, bequeathing,
consoling, mourning and hoping. And the ethicides are
sprayed night and day by the mass news media.

The ethicides are perhaps less effective, less speedy than
the controllers hoped, but they have succeeded in
burying and covering up the imaginative space that
any central public forum represents and requires.”

This passage brought to mind a convergence of stories this week. The first was the release by the World Conservation Union of its Red List of endangered species. The second was the reception of general Petraeus in the mainstream media and the Congress (see, e.g., [1] [2] [3] ). It is undeniable that plant and animal species are endangered. As Berger suggests, so too are our priorities and the spaces where we might articulate them.

Labels: , , ,

Best Shots (11)

Here is the latest installment of this useful series from Leo Benedcitus at The Guardian; this week it is Francine Winham who picked a shot of trumpter Dizzy Gillespie. Since the specific image is not reproduced with the story (at least the on-line version), I am unsure which she is referring to. So here are two possibilities.

(29) Francine Winham ~ Dizzy Gillespie, Newport, 1965 ~
(13 September 07)


12 September 2007

“Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” - Joe Zawinul (1932 -2007)

Pianist Joe Zawinul, likely best known for leading Weather Report, has died of cancer at age 75. I was never a fan of the WR sorts of fusion. But Zawinul contributed to jazz in other ways, playing, for instance with Dinah Washington and Cannonball Adderly before joining Miles Davis, himself on the precipice of fusion. You can find the obituary from The New York Times here.

Labels: , ,

September 11, Here & Elsewhere

It is difficult to know what to write on the anniversary of a condemnable event. Last year I wrote this post. It seems to me the impulse should be to commemorate the dead and those they left behind by committing ourselves to some show of solidarity with those many people around the world from whom politically animated violence has taken loved ones. This photo from The Guardian seems to do just that. I post it not to castigate those who supported the Pinochet regime and its well-documented crimes (although it does do that too) but as a reminder of those around the world who mourn. We here in the U.S. are among them.

"Santiago, Chile : A woman holds a picture of a missing relative and
places red
carnations at the Morande door of the La Moneda
presidential palace on the
anniversary of the 1973 coup by
General Augusto Pinochet in 1973 against
Salvador Allende"
Photograph: © Ian Salas/EPA

PS: (Added later that same day.) I've come across a couple of blog references [1] [2] to this short essay by Howard Zinn that seem appropriate here. I do not always agree with Zinn's views on politics, but often find his willingness to remind us of the complexities and ironies of American history useful. While I recommend the entire thing, the closing passage in Zinn's essay seems especially relevant:

"When our government, our media, and our institutions of higher learning select certain events for remembering and ignore others, we have the responsibility to supply the missing information. Just telling untold truths has a powerful effect, for people with ordinary common sense may then begin asking themselves and others: What shall we do?"


11 September 2007

Self-Portraits (2)

Self-Portrait ~ Ilse Bing (1931)

Some time ago I posted several self-portraits by female photographers. This evening I came across this one at wood's lot so I am shamelssly adding it to my earlier bunch. Thanks Mark.


Petraeus - "I don't know, actually ..."

Well, General Petraeus has provided W with the cover he needs. According to this story in The Guardian, our self-proclaimed decider basically plans to adopt the recommendations that Petraeus has spelled out. Of course, the General apparently has no idea whether those recommendations will contribute to our national security or not. That may seem unfair, but consider the following which I lifted from a short report by David Corn over at The Nation:

"During his second day of appearances on Capitol Hill, Petraeus this afternoon appeared before the Senate armed services committee. Fortified with charts and graphs, he presented the same we're-on-the-right-course pitch he delivered to the House armed services and foreign affairs committees (on Monday) and to the Senate foreign relations committee (this morning). During the Q&A round at the armed services committee, Senator John Warner, the Virginia Republican who used to chair the committee and who has called for beginning a disengagement in Iraq, took a few sharp (albeit respectful) jabs at Petraeus, noting that one intelligence report after another has said that political reconciliation in Iraq could be a bridge too far. He then asked Petraeus a pointed question: "Do you feel that [Iraq war] is making America safer"?

Petraeus paused before responding. He then said: "I believe this is indeed the best course of action to achieve our objectives in Iraq."

That was, of course, a non-answer. And Warner wasn't going to let the general dodge the bullet. He repeated the question: "Does the [Iraq war] make America safer?"

Petraeus replied, "I don't know, actually. I have not sat down and sorted in my own mind."

Don't know? Is it possible that the war is not making the United States safer? Petraeus went on to note that he has "taken into account" the war's impact on the U.S. military and that it's his job to recommend to the president the best course for reaching "the objectives of the policy" in Iraq. Yet he did not say that the Iraq war is essential to the national security of the United States. Warner did not press the general any further on this point. The senator's time was up."

You can watch the exchange here. Note that the question, seemingly a real softball, was posed by a military friendly Republican Senator not some pinko college professor like me. One of my anonymous commentors has offered this perceptive proposal in response to one of my earlier posts:

"Here's a crazy idea: how about you admit you don't know
what the fuck you're talking about when it comes to Iraq
and let the men and women who are there on the ground
and know what's going on do their jobs."

Well, the good General seems to have no idea whether the Iraq fiasco is making us safer or not. He is too busy doing his job to have such thoughts. He is busy trying to justify the "mission," the irreparably flawed policy he has been charged with implementing. The fact that that policy itself is completely and utterly indefensible simply is not at issue for him. That is why we should not allow military officers to make policy. It is why the hearings this past couple of days are a farce. What we need is some justification for continuing the BushCo policy in Iraq. Heck, we could use some plausible account of why they started the war in the first place! There are good reasons to insist on civilian control of the military. This exchange is a very, very pointed example of why it is crucial. If the man in charge of matters "on the ground" in Iraq - and he surely is a smart, articulate, dedicated man - cannot make up his mind whether or not the policy he is implementing is contributing to our national security, why should we here at home support that policy? End the War!

Labels: , ,

10 September 2007

Solidarity (20)

Nine men died as a result of the collapse at the Crandall Canyon mine over a month ago - six miners trapped in the mine and three men who were killed trying to rescue them. According to the Salt Lake Tribune they were remembered in Huntington, Utah at a community-wide memorial service yesterday. I have been posting images of mines and miners for some time in solidarity with these men, their families, friends and neighbors. This will be the last post in the series.

The Tribune report offers the following brief sketches of these men. It seems appropriate to end this vigil by naming them again.

"* Kerry Allred, nicknamed Flash, a few days shy of his 35th wedding anniversary with Bessie, a guitar-playing man who loved NASCAR before it was cool.
* Don Erickson, a great husband to Nelda, father of three, grandfather of nine, who loved the great outdoors and cracking jokes.
* Luis Alonso Hernandez, who met his wife when they were 8. They fell in love while bowling, going to the beach and dancing.
* Juan Carlos Payan, who loved cars and loved to drive fast, went to the gym frequently and sent money back to Mexico for his siblings' education.
* Brandon Phillips, who leaves behind a 5-year-old "daddy's boy" and loved to hunt, fish, camp and snowboard.
* Manuel Sanchez, an "honest, hard-working" man who gave his family a good home and was a friend to many.
* Dale "Bird" Black, golfer extraordinaire who hunted everything you could get a license for and rode machines like a 16-year-old boy.
* Brandon Kimber, attentive father except when it came to changing poopy diapers, and a guy who loved fixing his dad's truck.
* Gary Jensen, who gave his all to his community as a mine-rescue team member, emergency medical technician and kids' sports coach."

Labels: ,

General David Petraeus - BS upon BS

Well, David Petraeus is about to begin testifying before a joint committee in the House of Representatives. He will testify before a joint committee in the Senate tomorrow. The press is trying to make it seem as though there is some possibility that he might ssuggest anything other than staying the course. What a joke! Let's recall that Petraeus himself suggested the "surge." So, in order for Petraeu to admit that things are not going reasonably well in military terms he'd have to admit to a pretty major mistake. Let's also see how Ambassador Crocker is recieved by the legislators since there is little evidence of political progress. And this is a political problem.

Having said all that, it is absolutely scandalous that these hearings are taking place on the anniversary of 9/11. The tacit mesage is that somehow what is happening in Iraq has something to do with the terrorist attacks six years ago. That is clearly bullshit. How are the democrats letting this happen?

Labels: , ,

09 September 2007

Consuming the American Landscape

This evening I came across the work of John Ganis (b. 1951) who has been working to document the environmental depradations that we've visited on the American landscape. In 2003 he published a book entitled Consuming the American Landscape (Dewi Lewis Publishing) from which I've lifted the images in this post. A couple years back his work was included in a multi-photographer exhibition called Imaging a Shattering Earth that still is touring. You can find more of Ganis's work here.

Landfill Interior, near Milford, Michigan, 1987

Edge of a Landfill, Oklahoma, 1989

Site of a Federal Timber Sale, Willamette National Forest, Oregon, 1997

EPA Cleanup Site, Noranda Mine, Colorado, 1998

Clear Cut in the Hoh Valley, Olympic National Forest, Washington, 1997

Alaska Pipeline, North of Valdez, Alaska, 2001

[All Images in this Post © John Ganis]

Labels: ,

08 September 2007

Interesting new MFA program in NYC

Now here is an exciting development. David Levi Strauss, about whom I have posted numerous times, has assumed leadership of a new Master of Fine Arts program in Art Criticism and Writing at the School for Visual Arts in NYC.


Art of Jazz 2007-2008

Unlike Rochester, where exhibitions and programming at the Memorial Art Gallery rarely rise above the insipid, Buffalo has the terrific Albright-Knox Gallery. Among the things that AK does every year is host the Art of Jazz series. While the program is not uniformly interesting, it tends to book interesting performers and sometimes, brings truly wonderful folks to the area.

Labels: , ,

Solidarity (19)

"This photo may be from the Pardee & Curtin #4 on Point Mt. (W Virginia), around early-mid 1950's. My father Earl Nicholson is along the right side,looking off to the right, behind the guy with the pipe in his mouth. My grandfather (James Robinson, mom's dad) is sitting high up, in the middle at the rear, with a cigarette in his mouth. Both, now deceased, lived in Webster Springs." ~ Mike Nicholson

Labels: ,

06 September 2007


~ ~ ~ 100K Visitors ~ ~ ~

Well, according to the Sitemeter located in the side bar there now have been more than 100,000 visits to the blog since I started writing in late September two years ago. This is a conservative count insofar as the ClustrMap folks tell me that I've had roughly 112K since just late July '06! Regardless of what the exact number of visitors has been, that is a heck of a lot more readers than I'd ever have expected. Thanks for stoppping by! The only downside is that I now owe Susan another dollar.


Best Shots (10)

Multiple narratives ... detail of Mikhael Subotzky's best shot.
Photograph: © Mikhael Subotsky, Magnum

(28) Mikhael Subotsky "Mallies Family, Beaufort West, South Africa" (6 September 07)

Labels: , , ,

On Scantily Clad Celebs

Maggie Gyllenhaal © Alice Hawkins

The Guardian today ran this column by Kira Cochrane about the travails stardom imposes on talented women. The column, entitled "Too Much to Bare" specifically laments the fact that otherwise intelligent and talented women seem compelled to expose themselves in order to have any chance of market success. Among the women Cochrane discusses is the truly terrific actresss Maggie Gyllenhaal who has recently appeared in this spread (pun intended) of photographs in The Daily Mail clad only in various underthings. Here is Cochrane:

“I think what I find so incredibly discomfiting about these
pictures is their suggestion that, no matter how talented a
woman is, how many plaudits she has received, how
intelligent her reputation, ... at the end of the day, if she
wants to stay in the public eye, if she wants the
magazine covers and the leading roles, she has to be
willing to reduce herself to tits and arse.”

It is hard to disagree. Cochrane raises all sorts of questions about celebrity and prudishness and responsibility and compulsion that I think are important and worth discussing. The picture is not black and white. But neither is it pretty. Among the questions one might ask is whether it is only the obvious talent and intelligence of the women Cochrane discusses (and I have qualms about whether, say, Jennifer Anniston fits either category) that should make us squeamish when they are reduced "to tits and arse." Perhaps that is the price of celebrity; and if it is too high couldn't the women involved live and work just like the rest of us? I am not persuaded. But the implication of Cochrane's view seems to be that we would have less to object to if "ordinary" women (to say nothing of the various emaciated and vacant fashion models) were so reduced.


05 September 2007

Labor, Poetry, Politics and Uncertainty

Among the attractions of living in Rochester is the film series screened ain the Dryden Theater at the George Eastman House and sponsored by the Rochester Labor Council. The series has been held since 1989 and once again has a strong line-up which you can find here. I highly recommend the series.

Coincidently, I was reading this morning one among the lectures contained in a new book - Nobel Lectures: From the Literature Laureates, 1986 to 2006 (New Press) - whose title is self-explanatory. I was reading "The Poet and the World," the lecture Wislawa Szymborska delivered upon receiving the 1996 Nobel Prize for Literature. If you visit here regularly you will probably know that Szymborska is perhaps my favorite poet [1] [2] [3] (rivaled probably only by her late countryman Zbigniew Herbert).

In any case, it is important, I think, to neither denigrate nor romanticize labor (let alone labor unions). In her lecture Szymborska comments on the way that "inspiration" or its absence connects work and poetry and politics in unexpected ways.

“There is, has been, and will always be a certain group of
people whom inspiration visits. It's made up of all those who've
consciously chosen their calling and do their job with love
and imagination. It may include doctors, teachers, gardeners -
and I could list a hundred more professions. Their work becomes
one continuous adventure as long as they manage to keep
discovering new challenges in it. Difficulties and setbacks never
quell their curiosity. A swarm of new questions emerges from
every problem they solve. Whatever inspiration is, it's
born from a continuous "I don't know."

There aren't many such people. Most of the earth's inhabitants
work to get by. They work because they have to. They didn't
pick this or that kind of job out of passion; the circumstances of
their lives did the choosing for them. Loveless work, boring
work, work valued only because others haven't got even that
much, however loveless and boring - this is one of the
harshest human miseries. And there's no sign that coming
centuries will produce any changes for the better as
far as this goes.

And so, though I may deny poets their monopoly on inspiration,
I still place them in a select group of Fortune's darlings.

At this point, though, certain doubts may arise in my audience.
All sorts of torturers, dictators, fanatics, and demagogues
struggling for power by way of a few loudly shouted slogans
also enjoy their jobs, and they too perform their duties with
inventive fervor. Well, yes, but they "know." They know,
and whatever they know is enough for them once and for all.
They don't want to find out about anything else, since
that might diminish their arguments' force. And any
knowledge that doesn't lead to new questions quickly
dies out: it fails to maintain the temperature required
for sustaining life. In the most extreme cases, cases
well known from ancient and modern
history, it even poses a lethal threat to society.

This is why I value that little phrase "I don't know" so highly.”

I find Szymborska's basic observation - that for different reasons and with different consequences, both the politically powerful and the laboring masses typically are deprived of the necessary sources of inspiration - remarkably provocative. The difference between tyrants and the oppressed, of course, revolves around the hardly insignificant matter of responsibility. The remedy for their predicament, I suppose, is to stop treating inspiration and its sources as luxury goods; to rearrange political-economic insitutions and social practices in such a way that the powerful are compelled to be less certain and self-assured (or, in the words of Amos Oz [1] [2] [3] [4], less "fanatical") and those who work from necessity might enjoy wider opportunities to exercise their own manifest creativity and ingenuity less under force of necessity and more in response to the priviledges of uncertainty and the possibilities it contains.

Labels: , ,