30 June 2009

Unger to Leave Minister's Post

Regular readers will know that I admire the work of Roberto Mangabeira Unger. According to this report in Reuters, Unger will be leaving his ministerial position in the Brazilian Cabinet.


27 June 2009

Different Trains

"Different Trains began because of my childhood four-day train trips across America between my divorced parents. There was also the American tradition of train songs: 'John Henry', 'Night Train', 'Soul Train', 'Chattanooga Choo Choo'. I got recordings of American and European trains. Then I started making recordings of my childhood nanny, Virginia, who accompanied me, and Mr Davis, a retired Pullman Porter from that era. I then realised these were the same years that Hitler was taking over Europe and killing every Jew he could find. So I went to sound archives of holocaust survivors speaking about what happened to them – and the trains they rode. Then I set myself a rule: don't change the pitch of the voices by using a computer. This was an homage from the living to the dead and I had to preserve the integrity of all the voices. So every time there is a new speaker, there is a different tempo and a different key. And that constraint forced me into coming up with a completely different musical work, one that both looked back to my earliest work with speech tape-loops, and forward to what I would do in the future with video artist Beryl Korot. If someone had suggested that I write 'a piece about the Holocaust' I'd have said 'absolutely no' – it's too enormous to presume to deal with. But, just as I was using the actual voices of my nanny and the Pullman Porter talking about their lives, I could use the actual voices of Holocaust survivors talking about their lives as well. This created a piece where the documentary reality and the musical reality become one and the same. And if it works – and I believe it does – that's why." ~ Steve Reich
* From The Guardian here.

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26 June 2009

Best Shots (77) ~ Martin Schreiber

(104) Martin Schreiber ~ Madonna, 1979 (24 June 2009).


Update: Talking About Diversity In Photo-Land

Earlier in the month I added my two cents to the discussion that the folks at PDN prompted by seating an all white jury in their annual distribution of awards and recognition. You can find relevant links in my earlier posts. Fortunately, the discussion has been taken up over at lightstalkers ~ go here if you're interested. I don't see much progress in the conversation, mostly lots of defensiveness, naive claims that 'what really counts is the work,' and so forth. But there are some insightful contributions and the fact that the topic of diversity is being discussed at all is, itself, a good thing.

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25 June 2009

Democratizing Arts Organizations?

I came across a couple of provocative recent columns [1] [2] by Barry Johnson (no relation) in The Oregonian. He first raises and then defends the notion that major arts organizations, many of which are struggling financially, ought to be opened up and democratized. I have to say that I'm pretty sympathetic to his arguments. Around Rochester, for instance, the boards of arts outfits tend to be filled with rich folks. They tend, in my estimation, to be exceedingly risk-averse in their programming. I don't think that convergence is coincidental. More generally, as I argued here in an earlier post, they tend to envision their role as guiding spaces of presentation rather than fostering spaces for creativity. In the former role they hope to tempt suburbanites to venture into the city for an evening or two each year. If they could help provide spaces for creativity they might not only energize the arts for audiences, they might contribute to the social and economic revitalization of the city.

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Malick Sidibé

Christmas Eve, 1963. Photograph © Malick Sidibé

According to this report in Agence France-Presse, Malian photographer Malick Sidibé has received the top prize at this year's PhotoEspana. Sidibé has won numerous awards and prizes
and is perhaps best known for his portraits. I think his work too is a standing counterexample to those who insist on forcing discussion of African photographers (and of photography about Africa more generally) into the dichotomy of optimism and pessimism. Where does
Sidibé's work, created over the course of several decades, fit?

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23 June 2009

Optimism & Pessimism ~ About Africa in Particular

At The Guardian yesterday Jonathan Jones published this provocative post on South African photographer Guy Tillim. Jones seems to start off contentiously:
"You won't often hear me call a photographer a genius. I think there's too much homage paid to an art that's basically just holding up a piece of machinery and pushing a button.

There are great photographs and great photographers. But far too much fuss is made now of average photographs by average artists. It's not so much a cult of the camera as of the run-of-the-mill."
But notice that, having denied the appellation"genius" to anyone engaged in so mechanical a process as "pushing a button," he then more or less immediately takes it back. The alternative would be to appear just plain silly and, of course, to deprive himself of a subject - namely Tillim. The problem is not with photography but with the art world and those who inhabit it as, regardless of medium, tends to push the mediocre work of "artists" in the cause of making a buck.

O.K., let's not use the word "genius." How about talented, insightful, or whatever. Tillim is indeed a terrific photographer. The portraits to which Jones links are pretty ominous. And here Jones really raises some important issues. There has been a push recently to decry "Afro-Pessimism" [1] [2] and how it informs the conventions that frame too much of how photographers depict events and conditions on vast, variegated African continent. It seems fair enough to complain that we too often get predictable images of tragedy, violence, deprivation, and chaos and little more. But it also seems fair to insist that there is too much of such such things across Africa and, as Jones intimates, ignoring them does not make them go away.
"Tillim is a South African photographer whose work is at once a report on contemporary Africa and an artistic image of it. His pictures deliver the shock of classic photojournalism as he traverses the continent, visiting crisis zones such as the Democratic Republic of Congo or, on his home ground, downtown Jo'burg. But they are at the same time chosen and composed images. Tillim photographs Africa in a way that communicates ambivalent and disturbing ideas and perceptions; every one of his pictures is at the same time a record of something seen and something he seems to have thought about for a long time.

Tillim is a provocative artist. At a time when art museums in the rich world often seem to want to create a fictionalised modern Africa – as if by celebrating something that does not exist it can be brought into being – he portrays a continent in chaos. His portraits of child soldiers are particularly scary. In his recent body of work, Avenue Patrice Lumumba, he documents buildings whose modernist idealism dates from the early years of African independence. Today these buildings are in various states of decay and transformation. It is not an optimistic series.

But I don't think Tillim is a dubious gloater over misery and poverty. He is a truth-teller. And it's in telling the truth - directly or indirectly, prosaically or poetically - that photography discovers its artistic power."
The most obvious problem in this discussion, I think, is that it is cast in dichotomous terms ~ optimism or pessimism. I don't think this dichotomy captures Tillim's work. Nor does it capture the work of other terrific African photographers such as David Goldblatt, Andrew Esiebo, Phillip Cartland, Santu Mofokeng or others whom I've commented on here in the past. Nor does it capture the work of non-African photographers who have depicted the continent ~ James Nachtwey, Robert Lyons, Sebastiao Slagado, Ron Haviv and so on. Even when such photographers depict tragedy, violence, deprivation, and chaos, they hardly do so because they think such conditions are irremediable. If they did they would be either wasting their time, or playing the role of voyeur in which critics like Sontag notoriously cast them. If the latter interpretation (or some variation on it) were not so common, it would be too obviously shallow to merit a response.

A second problem is that in thinking of the problems Africans confront and the accomplishments of which they can boast the parties to this disagreement reduce the role of photography to how this or that photographer is representing one or another truth. What about thinking of a conversation among photographers - one that does not rely solely on textless images, which I think is a hackneyed conceit of the profession - as though a picture (or set of pictures) speaks for itself? Different photographers might bring different perspectives and talents to bear on the continent. And we might recognize that there is way more in "Africa" than any one photographer might capture. So we could tack back and forth between the work of the many talented and insightful folks who are working there.

A third problem is related to the last. Photography does not simply depict reality; it does not simply capture some pre-existing "truth." It can also be transformative and prefigurative. And while Jones is no doubt correct to say that we cannot simply bring something into being by celebrating our aspirations (a form of dangerous wishful thinking that does not take the travails off real people seriously), he is way to harsh in his judgement. Why? Because photography can also play a role in prefigurative role in social and political change. It cannot accomplish such change on its own. But it can enter into movements for change and hold out possibilities that will motivate actors and animate movements. Call me naive or utopian. Want an example? Think of Josef Koudleka's (anonymous) photographs of Prague in 1968. Did they stop the Soviet brutality? No. Could they? No. But they entered into the politics of oppositions across Eastern Europe and came back to haunt the Soviets. I am sure you can think of other examples. Chuck your pessimism and cynicism overboard.

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So Long, Kodachrome

Sharbat Gula, Afghan Girl, at Nasir Bagh refugee camp
near Peshawar, Pakistan, 1984. Photograph © Steve McCurry.

I rarely comment on technical aspects of photography, since I don't know much about them and there are lots of other places to read about such things. But this story also has local resonance in Rochester, where I live and work. Kodachrome is no more. You can find the story here and here and here among other places. As the story in The Guardian notes, one of the most famous pictures in contemporary photography - Steve McCurry's "Afghan Girl" (1985) - was made with Kodachrome. What is interesting about that photo, however, is less how it was made than the uses to which it subsequently has been put. In that regard I highly recommend the essay "Cover to Cover: The Life Cycle of an Image in Contemporary Visual Culture" by Holly Edwards. You can find it in the terrific book she co-edited - Beautiful Suffering ~ Photography & the Traffic in Pain. And, of course, our current path in Afghanistan may well provide McCurry's image with renewed relevance.

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22 June 2009


I've been keeping this blog since late September 2005. It has been fun, interesting (to me, at least) and a source of sanity amidst some really difficult times. I appreciate the visitors and (nearly all) of those who leave comments, but never really thought of anything like recognition. This post on the "Camera Club" blog over at The Guardian site recommends my blog. Thanks Guy! I would add that the company is quite good. It is quite nice to be included on the list.


21 June 2009

Statement on Iran

Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of former president Ali Akbar Hashemi
, attended a rally for Mir Hussein Moussavi. Iranian state
television reported on Sunday that Ms. Hashemi and four other
members of the family had been arrested.
Photograph/Caption: New York Times.

By all accounts the political situation in Iran has become increasingly dire. At The Atlantic, Andrew Sullivan has posted a statement that "defeated" reform candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi issued yesterday. From the perspective of Western liberals (to say nothing of progressives) it is complicated. Having said that there is no reason to remain silent in the face of government repression in Iran.

Political theorist Ramin Jahanbegloo has had his share of confrontational interactions with the theocrats in Iran [1] [2] [3]. You can view an interview with him regarding the Iranian election and subsequent events at ResetDOC. Here is a statement for which Jahanbegloo is soliciting support (it is being circulated by various folks here in the U.S.):

"Dear friends and colleagues,

Ramin Jahanbegloo, an Iranian-Canadian intellectual, has sent us this statement, asking us to solicit the signatures of our editors and writers. Both of us have signed it and urge you to do so. We plan on posting the letter and the names of signatories on our website, and Ramin also plans to send the statement to the New York Times and various other news sources.

If you would like to be added to the list of signatories, please respond to this email or email David Marcus at marcus@dissentmagazine.org

-Michael Walzer and Michael Kazin

We, the undersigned scholars, academics and writers around the world, are concerned about the human rights crisis in Iran. We request the United Nations to condemn the current coup d’état and support Iranians in their demand for a fair and democratic election. Deeply worried by the reports of Iranian paramilitary groups and security forces firing upon and arresting peaceful civilian demonstrators, we demand that the international community act now to prevent further violence and bloodshed. We call on the government of Iran to respect and uphold the right to peaceful protest. We call upon democratic institutions and organizations around the world to condemn government-sponsored violence against peaceful Iranian protestors. We also call on governments around the world to ask the UN Secretary General, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Human Rights Council to appoint a UN special commission to monitor the post-election situation in Iran and to inform the Security Council about the arbitrary arrest and detention of student activists and leading reformists in Iran."

You can find insightful analyses on the general situation in Iran at Dissent, openDemocracy, and MERIP Online. Of course, events are quickly outrunning these general assessments.


19 June 2009

At What Cost ~ Human Trafficking, Forced Labor, Child Labor

I would like to call attention to this project, entitled "At What Cost ~ Human Trafficking, Forced Labor, Child Labor," scheduled to begin touring in 2010. It is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, on a substantive level it addresses a set of themes that I have taken up here since the outset (e.g., 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9) and that are excruciatingly important. Second, it involves a prominent political theorist Thomas Pogge who has contributed one of several essays that are part of the project (I have not yet read or even acquired it). Finally, and importantly for present purposes, it raises a set of theoretical questions - actually seems to make a set of unfortunate, but conventional, assumptions about - the uses of photography. Here is some text from the project web page:
Global Forced Labor
The Statistics
949,000 in Asia Pacific
1,320,000 in Latin America and the Caribbean
660,000 in Sub-Saharan Africa
260,000 in Middle East and North Africa
210,000 in transitional countries
360,000 in industrialized countries
12,300,000 in all
Almost half of them children
International Labour Organization, 2005

The Stories
Mark Kwadwo is 5 years old.
He was sold to a fisherman in Kete Krachi, Ghana.
Instead of having a childhood, he works each day scooping water from a leaky boat while he is hungry and scared.
Mark cannot swim.
New York Times, 10.29.06

One story can change the world.

AT WHAT COST ~ Human Trafficking/Forced Labor/Child Labor will be a traveling, outdoor exhibition designed to bring public, official, and mainstream media attention to the global crisis of human trafficking and labor abuse towards children and adults. In focusing on the tragically commonplace occurrence of abusive practices in the production of goods and the provision of services by international workers of all ages and ethnicities, the exhibition will present the portraits and stories of ten individuals who have experienced these atrocities.

The project, told in photographs and recorded voices, will focus on the individual exp
eriences of ten people who have been forced to work under abusive conditions in such industries as agriculture, mining, seafood production, domestic service, sexual services, and textile fabrication. Individuals will share not only their images but their stories, which listeners can both read and hear as they connect with the portraits before them. By focusing on the individual story, rather than statistics about these abuses, viewers will be able to identify with those impacted and are more likely to follow through with their own personal support towards abolishing such practices.

Launching in 2010 with a tour of international academic centers the exhibition team will work with venues to create rich programming around each of the issues explored.

In the instance of Mark Kwadwo an individual story in a newspaper prompted a woman thousands of miles away to provide the funding to rescue him from slavery. At a larger scale these stories can allow us, as a society, to abolish slavery.”
The efforts and intentions of the people involved in this project seem admirable and in some ways (e.g., the incorporation of text and voices and music) innovative.* But the undertaking does prompt deep skepticism in me. Here are a set of what seem to me to be pretty obvious questions:

First, the project seems to assume that statistics are simply useless or boring or impenetrable or intimidating or something. And so the "individual stories" are opposed to statistics. How about finding creative ways to convey the statistics and to incorporate them into the project? This is a theme about which I have posted repeatedly. The practices that this project calls our attention to are precisely not simply a series of individual predicaments; they are complex, large-scale aggregate, dare I say political problems. If we hope to remedy them we need to see and grasp their true nature.

Second, the project seems to assume that a focus on individuals caught in the network of despicable labor practices will motivate audiences (or at least some members of audiences) who view their portraits to do something toward "abolishing such practices." But motivate how? To do what? In concert with whom? Perhaps the project staff have answers to theses questions - or some of them, at least - but it is unclear at the moment what they have in mind.

Third, the example that the text does give is of one individual providing relief to one other individual. Admirable perhaps. But, the efforts of wealthy westerners to buy individuals out of slavery can indeed have perverse consequences. If traffickers suspect there is real money - of the sort that rich philanthropists can offer - in the market for slaves they have increased incentive to take more slaves for purposes of selling them.

Finally, how precisely are we to make the transition from an individual moral or political response to despicable practices to a political movement that might eliminate or markedly curtail them? This returns us to the questions I raised at #2 above. For what the individual story changed was the life of a boy (singular) and, as important as that is, that does not change the world.

Perhaps I am being overly critical - especially since I've not seen the exhibition or read the texts. We'll see.
* You can find a list of the individuals involved on the project web page. The project is being coordinated by Artworks with design by de.Mo.

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18 June 2009

Elegy for a Bookstore

At the beginning of next week I will start my annual summer teaching gig in Ann Arbor. It is in many ways a nice town, (if not quite as special as many of its denizens seem to imagine. In particular it has, over the years been overrun by the same chain stores and restaurants that you can find in virtually every other city college town in the U.S.. This has meant, really, the demise of what is unique about the place. Two years ago I noted the demise of Schoolkids Records and just a few months back, I'd commented on the difficulties that the folks at Shaman Drum Books were experiencing. Well, I just read this post by Anna Clark at Isak that Shaman Drum will close at the end of this month. It means that I will need to find something else to do to decompress after teaching since I typically would spend some time browsing the shelves and spending money at Shaman Drum. It means too the town is now dominated by Borders and Barnes & Noble both of which are distinctly limited in their offerings of serious fare (especially non-fiction). This is sad news. It hastens the already rapid cultural homogenization in Ann Arbor.

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Hey Rush Limbaugh, Meet Some of Your Bigoted Fellow Republicans!

So, Rush Limbaugh, notoriously perceptive observer of American racial relations, has pronounced that racism is largely imaginary in the U.S.; and he infers that African-Americans and Latinos have simply been misled politically. Why? Because the Democrats, after all these years, have not been able to eliminate racism. The moral of the story is that racial minorities in the U.S. really ought to support Republicans. That would solve the problem of racism (which, recall, really is all in the imagination in the first place). Get it?

Yes, I think that the African-American and Latino population in the U.S. should embrace the Republicans. They might be especially interested in chatting with South Carolina Republican Rusty DePass who recently likened a Gorilla that escaped from a zoo to Michelle Obama's ancestors. Or, maybe they could have coffee and discuss politics with Sherri Goforth (who works for Republican State Senator from Tennessee Dianne Black) who emailed this "Historical Keepsake Photo" - depicting all 44 U.S. Presidents - to a list of her fellow Republicans.

Sure, these are small-minded right-wingers acting badly. And there surely are more substantial things to worry about in politics these days than their petty bigotry. But Sherri and Rusty are probably quite close to the median Republican voter on racial matters too. The implications for Limbaugh's diagnosis are pretty clear. It hardly takes much imagination to figure that one out.

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17 June 2009

Best Shots (76) ~ Doug DuBois

(103) Doug Dubois ~ Lartigue redux, 2004 (18 June 2009).


At the Margins The Times Acknowledges the Already Marginalized

... in this essay by Barbara Ehrenreich; since the poor are mostly invisible in "normal" times, why dwell on their predicament in "hard" times. After all, we are supposed to feel badly about the affluent who are laid low, not for those who've been poor and struggling all along.

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16 June 2009

My Whereabouts

I have been remiss about posting for the past few weeks because I've been spending time with August. His mom, her lawyer and the court connived (and that is a polite description) to insure that he does not get to spend much time with me or his brother or, say, my parents. And his mom has gone out of her way to interfere even with the limited time I am allocated by the draconian legal agreement. Instead of pondering the perverse psychological make-up that compels her to act out, I prefer to cherish the days we do actually get to spend together. We have been swimming a lot, eating hot dogs and ice cream with abandon, watching the despicable Lakers win the championship, playing with the dogs, spending time with his big brother Doug, and generally having a swell time - all that abetted by my love Susan. In any case, August will fly back across the continent with mommy dearest tomorrow. I miss him already. But I'm making plans too, for the next time we get to see one another.

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12 June 2009

Best Shots (75) ~ Thomas Ruff

(102) Thomas Ruff ~ Kyoto, Japan, 2002 (12 June 09).


10 June 2009

The PDN Folks Practice the Bureaucratic Two-Step

Well, the folks at PDN have issued this statement about the color-blindness I noted in my post the day before yesterday. I suppose one might think that is something. And it is. Only it is not at all clear what sort of "thing" it is. Here is the nugget from their mea culpa:
"Yesterday some blogs circulated a note about the fact that of the 24 judges of the 2009 PDN Photo Annual contest, all of them are white. It's a valid point, and one that everyone who works on PDN’s contests has given a lot of thought. While the lack of any judges of color wasn’t intentional, it is regrettable. Thanks to the huge number of entries it draws from around the world, the Photo Annual offers us our best opportunity to see a wide range of work from different perspectives. We should make sure our judges represent a wide range of perspectives as well."
Not bad, huh? Actually, no; this is pretty lame. First, of course, Stan Banos had raised the issue with PDN way before "yesterday." So this generally glacial response conveys a certain, shall we say, lack of enthusiasm for dealing with a pretty amazingly bad judgement.

Second, the passive voice is sooooo useful when you want to deflect responsibility. No one actually did anything! So there is no need for anyone to be responsible. And, of course, there is no need to specify any steps that any specific person ("everyone who works on PDN's contests " hardly is a viable locus of decision-making) might take to avoid similar situations in the future. Eventually the statement gets around to an active sentence (the final one in the paragraph) but by then we readers have been so dulled by ass-covering-bureaucracy-speak that it is hard to notice. And, even there, there is no assignable person who will make sure that the problem is corrected in future years. The statement is signed by Holly Hughes who edits PDN. She doesn't take responsibility. Nor does she identify those who will. She just gives us the royal "we."

Try this instead:
"I failed to consider how an all white panel of judges might effect the perception of, to say nothing of the outcomes to, our contests. This oversight is a departure from our past practice. Since I recognize that theses choices have impact on the lives and careers of individuals and on the fortunes of organizations, I regret this failure. In the future I plan to do X, Y, Z to insure that our panels are not simply composed of accomplished individuals but are diverse as well. That will include making sure that there is a specific person on staff here at PDN whose job it is to scrutinize our internal practices."
Unfortunately the remainder of the statement is even less confidence inspiring.
"Past judges of PDN photo contests have included African-Americans, Latinos and Asians who work as photo editors, art directors, web designers and educators. We didn’t choose them out of tokenism. (Yesterday when we were reading the blog comments about this issue, PDN Custom Media Project Manager John Gimenez, who works with the judges during the judging process, noted that he usually doesn’t know the race of the judges until they send him their head shots, and by then the judging is done.) We don’t like to put the same judges through this grueling task too often, and the lack of diversity in the photo community as a whole means that it requires effort to compose a diverse panel year after year. But it is an effort that’s worth making. "
First, I will take the PDN folks at their word. It is great that past panels have been more diverse than the monochromatic one they put together this year. And it is great too (if we can judge by Mr. Gimenez's surname) that they even have something of an ethnically diverse staff. Your subtlety has not been lost Ms. Highes. But, I read this paragraph as an admission that any past diversity was more or less accidental. Even Mr. Gimenez didn't know the composition of the panel he was working with until he saw their head shots! Well, that is wholly beside the point, really. Is Mr. Gimenez responsible in any way for selecting the panels or for identifying in advance rosters of individuals who might be solicited to serve as a judge? If the profession is so bereft of accomplished men and women of color, one would think that whomever put the panels together would have been taking great care to try to insure a diverse group of judges. There is no indication that that has been the case. I have no confidence, based on this statement from PDN that anything will actually change. Do you?
P.S.: In a related matter, yesterday PDN published this interesting interview with Miriam Romais on "Confronting the Photo Industry's Lack of Diversity." In her statement Ms. Hughes explicitly states that "our interview with Romais was not spurred by questions about PDN’s own commitment to diversity. " Of course not. The interview had been in the works for some time. But are we to believe it is wholly conincidental that PDN managed to finally respond to Stan Banos on the very same day that it published the interview? I was born at night, but not last night!

The interview is insightful. It addresses the scope of the difficulty that confronts not only photography but most professions. But it does two things in the current context. First, it allows the PDN folks to divert attention from a quite specific problem - the composition of their panel of judges - by pointing to a broader, undeniably troubling, pattern. Second, given that the interview has been in the works for so long, it makes one wonder why the PDN folks could not look in the mirror and see the specific ways they were contributing to the overall pattern by neglecting diversity in their panel of judges.

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08 June 2009

The "All White Jury" at PDN

Life here in bucolic Western NY has been unusually wacky lately. So I am late calling attention to this matter. But the inimitable Stan Banos has pointed out something odd about the emperor's new suit. And he has rightly chastised me for not speaking out too. Stan has (now repeatedly) pointed out the exclusively Caucasian character of panels of winners and judges at PDN (Photo District News). Most recently he has pointed out - here - that the panel of 24 judges that named the "players" in the 2009 PDN Photo Annual is completely, totally, without exception white folks ~ an "all white jury" as he named it. Stan's observation has been taken up by a number of bloggers - David White and Benjamin Chesterton at duckrabbit have offered a $1K bounty for anyone who can rationalize the pattern Stan observed, and Pete Brook at Prison Photography, Rob Haggart at A Photo Editor have been egging everyone on. Good.

The issue here is not quotas or tokens. The issue is change. Sure, one can lament (even sincerely so) the disproportionately small numbers of racial and ethnic minorities in any field of endeavor. (As an academic, this is a standard lament.) Photography is not alone in that. But in part the problem is to find ways to alter that state of the world. And hand wringing is not enough. Having people of color* in positions of influence when prizes are decided upon, grants awarded, short lists compiled, photo-spreads assigned, shows mounted, Kudos bestowed, and so forth is a good place to start. For those are the very people who are more likely (I suspect) to notice the otherwise invisible - the young, the aspiring, the overlooked or obscure.** And, as I have mentioned here before, there are good systematic reasons to claim that diversity contributes to better decision-making in groups and organizations period.

And, by the way, Pete Brook suggests that the pattern Stan observed is "passive racism." I tend to disagree. Why? Because Stan had already called their attention to the matter - in a letter to the editor that they published last year. This seems like more or less conscious indifference on the part of the folks at PDN. And if the members of the jury - this goes for each and every one of the 24 members - sat around a table (or, if they didn't meet physically, even simply looked down the list of names) and did not recognize and object to the obviously monochromatic composition of the group, are we to suppose that they simply failed to notice? If they did why should we want their judgment on anything ? Perhaps worst of all, thus far no one from PDN or the jury seems to have the gumption to even address the issue. Could it be that they simply and truly do not give a shit?
* Before all the resentful cries arise, need I say accomplished people of color? Let's grant that there are plenty of mediocre white guys in positions of influence across the professions, photography included. We surely don't want to replicate that state of affairs. I am not suggesting having African-American or Hispanic or Asian members on the jury just because they are of whatever particular variety they happen to be. I am suggesting that accomplishment - as photographer, editor, curator, gallery owner, or whatever - can be your first filter and race, ethnicity, gender and so forth a second.

** Sonia Sotomayor is right about that with respect to judges more generally.

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06 June 2009

Picture Me

"Cameras at the end of the runway" ~ still from Picture Me.

It has been a while since I posted on the vacuousness and exploitation of fashion photography and the photographers who traffic in it. Today I came across this review/interview of a new documentary Picture Me by model turned filmmaker Sarah Ziff in The Guardian. Are you surprised?

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"A Place Weeping"

. . . reflections on Gaza by John Berger is here . . . from the Summer '09 issue of Threepenny Review (via Woods Lot).

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05 June 2009

Recording Climate Change

A very deep layer of ice covered the Imja glacier in the
1950s (top photo). Over the next 50 years, small meltwater
ponds continued to grow and merge, and by the mid 1970s
had formed the Imja lake. By 2007, the lake had grown to
around 1km long. Photograph: Erwin Schneider/Alton
Byers/The Mountain Institute.

These images provide a pretty striking contrast. They accompanied this story in The Guardian.

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Local Event ~ Hot Blues for the Homeless (2009)

This is (at least) the third installment of this event [1] [2] ~ a worthy effort without doubt. It is part of an ongoing tribute to Rochester resident Son House with proceeds going to the Catholic Family Center's Francis Center shelter for the homeless. This year the line up includes a group of local musicians - most notably Joe Beard - and, from out of town, the inimitable John Hammond. The performances are scheduled for this Sunday, June 7th (4:00-9:00 pm) at Water Street Music Hall, located at 204 N. Water Street, Rochester. Tickets are available via the hot blues web page, ticketmaster, or at several local establishments - the Bop Shop, Abilene, Record Archive, and Mercury Posters. Advance concert tickets cost $15 or $20 at the door. Both the concert and a June 7 guitar workshop featuring Fred Vine costs $25.

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04 June 2009

Best Shots (74) ~ Joel Meyerowitz

(101) Joel Meyerowitz ~ "This was the corner of 59th Street and
Madison Avenue in New York, one day in 1974 or 1975"
(4 June 2009).


Terrorism on the American Right

The murder of Dr. George Tiller, a physician who was willing to insure that the legal right of women to abortion is not simply lip service, is not a tragedy. It is a crime. It is a crime sustained by right wing theocratic ideology. And it is a reflection of an extreme asymmetry in American politics. In the "debate over abortion, as Katha Pollitt succinctly notes: "Only one side wants to force women to live by its so-called morality, and only one side murders and bombs to make its point. Only one side has a terrorist wing." Just so.


03 June 2009

Remembering Tiananmen

Bodies of dead civilians lie among mangled bicycles near Beijing's
Tiananmen Square, 4 June 1989. Photograph: AP

Typically discussion of the 1989 events at Tiananmen Square focus on this photograph of defiance. We rarely see images depicting victims of of the brutal suppression of the opposition. The Guardian recently ran this image along with this recollection of the protests by writer Ma Jian and this slide show. And, of course, there have been a good many stories about how the Chinese government is shutting down communications in anticipation of the anniversary of the suppression of the protests. Speak up.
P.S.: Today at Lens the newish photo blog at The New York Times, Patrick Witty posted this series of four variations on the iconic image of the man in the white shirt carrying shopping bags in a standoff with tanks at Tiananmen Square. Witty contacted the four photographers - Charlie Cole, Stuart Franklin, Jeff Widener, and Arthur Tsang Hin Wah - and solicited their recollections of the event. Witty's post also links to this PBS/Frontline episode on the the event. You might also see the chapter that Robert Hariman & John Lucaites devote to the "tank man" photo in their No Caption Needed.

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02 June 2009

The Visual Economy of HIV/AIDS

In my last post, I mentioned David Campbell, a political scientist who has done what I consider path breaking work exploring the intersection of politics and photography. One of the earliest posts I wrote here was about the project Imaging Famine of which David was among the principal architects. I have noted his work again several times, most recently calling attention to his web page and blog, which you can find here. Among the important features of David's work is his creative use of the Internet. Well, I just discovered another project that David has undertaken, namely this web page on The Visual Economy of HIV/AIDS. This page, like the one that accompanied the Imaging Famine exhibition, is an incredibly useful resource and an exemplar of how academics might use the web to disseminate research.

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01 June 2009

Symposium: The Aesthetics of Catastrophe

Today I received an email announcing this symposium scheduled for this Friday in Evanston. If you are in the Chicago area you should definitely attend. David Campbell, Robert Lyons and Aric Mayer are all terrific,(read talented and smart). And Bob Hariman, the organizer is all of those things too!

Symposium: The Aesthetics of Catastrophe
Northwestern University
Friday, June 5, 2009
Annie May Swift Hall Auditorium

This symposium addresses questions of visual representation and public advocacy as they are evident in contemporary economic, environmental, and political disasters. Events such as floods, fires, terrorism, and genocide generate heightened media coverage, compelling images, and questions about the limits of photographic representation of events that involve massive disruption and loss. In the US, a series of disasters including 9/11, Katrina, and the economic crash have pushed photojournalists and media scholars alike to ask whether the available conventions for documentary witness need to be extended or reworked. This symposium provides images and arguments dedicated to provoking and guiding extended discussion of topics such as the violent image, visual fragmentation and political distribution, emergency status and citizenship, and the iconography of a “catastrophile” society.

9:00 – Coffee

9:30 – Ann Larabee, Michigan State University, “Brownfields, Ghostboxes, and Orange Xs: Reading Disaster and Catastrophe in the Urban Landscape”

10:45 – Robert Lyons, Photographer, “Intimate Enemy: Images and Voices of the Rwandan Genocide”

1:00 – David Campbell, Durham University, UK, “Constructed Visibility: Photographing the Catastrophe of Gaza”

2:15 – Aric Mayer, Photographer, “Representing the Unrepresentable: Disaster, Suffering, and Locating the Political in the Viewer-Image Exchange”

3:30 – Lane Relyea, Northwestern University, “From Spectacle to Database: On the Changed Status of Debris and Fragmented Subjectivity in Recent Art Culture”

4:45 – Reception
Free and open to the public. Organized by Robert Hariman. Sponsored by the Program in Rhetoric and Public Culture, the Center for Global Culture and Communication, the School of Communication, and the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, Northwestern University. For more information, please contact Patrick Wade at wpatrickwade@gmail.com.


Blind Subjects

" . . . photographs echo photographs . . ." ~ Susan Sontag

Andrea Islas Garcia, farmer, blind from cataracts, Beunavista 1998. Photograph © Marco A. Cruz

According to this story in The Globe and Mail (Toronto), Mexican photographer Marco Antonio Cruz has won the Grange Prize due largely to a set of work on blindness. The work is indeed striking. Of course, Cruz is hardly the first photographer to have focused on this subject. Geoff Dyer begins his The Ongoing Moment [1] [2] [3] [4] with an extended reflection on the myriad renowned photographers - Lewis Hine, Paul Strand, Walker Evans, Andre Kertesz, Ben Shahn, August Sander, Bruce Davidson, Gary Winograd, Phillip-Lorca diCorcia - who've made remarkable images of blind persons. Dyer suggests:
The blind subject is the objective corollary of the photographer's longed-for invisibility. It comes as no surprise therefore - the logic of the medium seems almost to demand it - that so many photographers have made pictures of the blind (13).
One of the first posts I made here took up this claim that photographers aspire - in fact or in the ideal - to be invisible. I continue to think the claim is mistaken. Indeed, I am not sure how it could be credible. For all that, Dyer's book is really smart. And Cruz's work continues many of the themes he raises.

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