30 April 2013

Renaissance Photography Prize

I tend to take a reasonably dim view of prize competitions in photography or any other profession, including my own.  Most are thoroughly politicized, self-congratulatory in an unseemly way, and work primarily to reinforce tired conventions and practices.

That said,  not all competitions are the alike. And I recently received an email from Jo Caldwell, who works with the Renaissance Photography Prize. It seems like a terrifically worthy undertaking. Here is there short self-description. Note - the deadline is nigh!
The Renaissance Photography Prize is an international competition showcasing outstanding photography from emerging or established photographers.

Funds raised from entries are donated to support younger women with breast cancer.

Entering gives photographers the chance to have their work judged by some of the top names in the industry as well as being exhibited in London.

There are over £5,000 worth of prizes to be won and the winning series will be published in HotShoe Magazine.

The competition closes on 7 May 2013.

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Bruce Jackson

Convict with Sunglasses - Cummins Prison Farm, Texas (1972).
Photograph © Bruce Jackson.

Mother Jones is running this photo essay of work by Bruce Jackson - from a decades long project on prison farms in Texas and Arkansas.
P.S.: In the small world category, it seems that Jackson lives just down the road in Buffalo!

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26 April 2013

Two Ways of Discovering Reliable Information

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25 April 2013


The small town where August lives is in many ways a nice place. It is notorious, however, for having absurdly large numbers of kids who have not been immunized (some not fully, some not at all) against common childhood diseases. Indeed, the school his mom decided he should attend (with no consultation whatsoever from me) is apparently a magnet for families who are vaccine skeptics of one or another sort. Many of the parents seem not to care that common worries about putative links between immunizations and autism disorders are known to be totally bogus. They also seem oblivious to the fact that vaccines work effectively only when levels of immunized children reach a critical mass. (So their own decisions are putting other people's kids at risk too!) Today, a world summit aimed at insuring all kids can get the benefits of vaccines was convened in Abu Dhabi. Here is a testimonial from Desmond Tutu and here is another by Dr. Seth Berkley on why this is crucially important not just for communities but for individual children. And, of course, this is true not just in exotic 'developing' nations but, as this report and the marginal links make clear, in rich capitalist countries too!

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24 April 2013

David Levi Strauss on Tsarnaev Photos

At TIME David Levi Strauss offers this assessment of the way images were used in the hunt for suspects in the Marathon bombing.

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Uses of Photography - Mug Shots of the Shameless

An Interview with Bob Moses . . .

Brother Smiley and Doctor West speak with education and civil rights activist Bob Moses here ...

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22 April 2013

Tom Waits, Yet Again ...

Yet another creative collaboration with a photographer by Tom Waits. Check out this photo essay of joint work he's done with Anton Corbijn ....

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21 April 2013


"Zambia, 2010 ~ A view from a balloon in the Kafue National park. As the dawn breaks, the water in lakes and small rivers, still warm from the previous day’s sun, vaporizes and condenses to form strange and beautiful fog banks."

I have lifted this image from this slideshow at The New York Times.  Salgado is a genius. Newsflash, right?

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20 April 2013

Remembering Eric Hobsbawm

The Financial Times (ironically enough) has run this touching remembrance of Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm by his daughter Julia.
"We used to range widely in our chats in those ending years, discussing everything from gossip, which he loved, to the goings-on in the political world. He was always completely up to speed. He engaged in the lives of all of us, his two sons and his daughter, his nine grandchildren, and his young great-granddaughter. He always asked me avidly “How’s business?” during each visit, enjoying my tales from the front line of capitalism. He celebrated every entrepreneurial step forward but was always a bit anxious, leaving answerphone messages saying: “It’s Dad. Just checking in to see how you are. Don’t overdo it. Kiss, kiss.” My dad, the academic historian and giant of “the left”, and me, his degreeless, politically plural daughter who loves doing business. I never felt so close to him as towards the end."

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Lessons From Boston

I've been listening to the obsessive coverage of Boston on NPR this morning. And beyond the simultaneously necessary and platitudinous reminders that we should not react against any groups ("muslims") I wonder what lessons we might learn. None are on offer on Morning Edition.

There is no question, the marathon bombing was despicable. It is easy and proper to call it an act of terror.  A few of things, though.

First, those gun fundamentalists who think they are going to fight off the government when, as they fantasize, it decides to clamp down, are truly hallucinatory. Look at the mobilization of force against the Tsarnaev brothers. All those suburban patriots do not stand a chance. What other ways are there to defend democracy?

Second, Americans are so insulated that they fail to see that such terrorist acts are commonplace. (Susan grew up in Manchester, UK and her family still lives there. Think IRA.) That does not in any way excuse the Boston bombing. But just maybe, this episode should prompt us to see our commonalities with the rest of the world?

Third, mourning for those killed in the bombings and aiding those injured are appropriate responses. Dancing in the streets is not. The behavior of Bostonians last night was revolting.

Finally, the younger Tsarnaev is a US citizen and has not forfeited that status or the rights that come with it. Recognizing that is a first step toward defending democracy.

A couple of insightful reflections on similar themes: Rafia Zakaria "The Tragedies of Other Places," Guernica and Glenn Greenwald "What rights should Dzhokhar Tsarnaev get and why does it matter?" The Guardian.

Here and here and here are offerings from The New Yorker that bear reading as well.

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19 April 2013

Sports and Sexuality

I came across this photo of basketball star Brittany Griner here and find it really striking. I also saw Griner - more or less speechless - upon being picked first in the WNBA draft. What a seemingly down to earth young woman. And, if only we had this headline for male athletes or, more generally, when one's sexuality were not headline worthy in the first place!

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The Senate is Pathetic (2)

Yet another fine advert underscoring the idiocy of gun rights fundamentalists and their political minions in Congress. And, before critics bellow about the second amendment, let's recall all of the restrictions on first amendment rights - speech and assembly especially - that they willingly tolerate every single day. Rights are not absolute. Since it is important to leaven one's frustration and anger with humor, here is a terrific send-up of our intrepid leaders in the Senate.

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18 April 2013

Interviews with Jurgen Habermas and Phillipe Van Parijs ...

At The Global Journal here and here respectively . . .

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17 April 2013

The Senate is Pathetic

An appropriate advert given the craven behavior of these forty-five U.S. Senators this afternoon. You can find out about the banned book here.

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Austerity - Getting the Economics Right

Well, the latest "scandal" among economists is that the research on which austerity policies is predicated has been pretty much completely deflated. That research (claiming to establish that deficits slow economic growth in the longish term) was produced by economists in Cambridge [Carmen Reinhart (Maryland) and Kenneth Rogoff (Harvard)]  and corrected - more like demolished - on reexamination by pinkos from down the Turnpike in Amherst [Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash, and Robert Pollin of the University of Massachusetts].* You can find a summary of the debate here.
"They [Herndon/Ash/Pollin] find that three main issues stand out. First, Reinhart and Rogoff selectively exclude years of high debt and average growth. Second, they use a debatable method to weight the countries. Third, there also appears to be a coding error that excludes high-debt and average-growth countries. All three bias in favor of their result, and without them you don't get their controversial result."
And, beyond the pedestrian errors, there is the issue of taking correlation to imply causation. This point is central to the additional commentary here and here and here at Paul Krugman's blog. He concludes his first post by extending the point beyond the economists to the policy-makers who accepted the research without question:
"If true, this is embarrassing and worse for R-R [Reinhart and Rogoff]. But the really guilty parties here are all the people who seized on a disputed research result, knowing nothing about the research, because it said what they wanted to hear."
Krugman, though, is being too generous by half, at least, since Rogoff himself peddled the disputed findings in public.  That said, you can find further reflections on the matter of how policy makers and their mouthpieces in the press embraced the Reinhart-Rogoff position by Peter Frase here at Jacobin. The point? This is a technical debate but one with crucially important political implications.
* Please note: This debate speaks highly of social science research insofar as it includes (or ought to) a built in impetus for critical re-assessment of findings and criticism of both results and policies premised upon them.

P.S.: More discussion here regarding the policy implications. One matter I would like to note is that many mainstream economists seem to have simply accepted the Reinhart.Rogoff results. It is plausible to suggest that Herndon/Ash/Pollin stand outside the mainstream - and hence represent an example of the importance of intellectual pluralism.

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14 April 2013

What Counts as Success? That Depends ...

“The photographs really didn’t have any of the effect that I had hoped they would. . . . I was hoping to prevent the war. And of course, there was no reaction. The war started, 100,000 to 200,000 people were killed on all sides and several million more became refugees." ~ Ron Haviv

One lesson of Rebecca Solnit's book Hope in the Dark comes in the form of a warning: do not prejudge success or failure. I have explored this theme here and here before. This post on Ron Haviv's work at Lens is a terrific reminder of the incredibly important, unintended, unforeseen impact photography can have.  It also is a reminder that the moralization of photography is a mistake - after all, one of Haviv's images (lifted above) plays a central role in Susan Sontag's despairing stance in Regarding the Pain of Others.  The photographs, on their own, cannot have the sorts of impact Haviv wants, they can only do so when they are taken up and used for this or that purpose by people engaged in political practices or occupying institutions. And that transforms Haviv's ethical predicaments (whether to snap these pictures despite being forbidden to do so, whether to testify in court) into a political problem.

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13 April 2013

A Perfect Match ~ Anthony Weiner & Elinor Carucci

I really could care less about Anthony Weiner - or any of the other similarly "disgraced" members of the NY Congressional delegation over the past few years. Like me and many others, these people have personal foibles. That does not make them heinous. But neither does it mean that an orchestrated media campaign is sufficient to restore some presumed privilege or right to a place in public life. Weiner is best known for a personal train wreck; how does he parley that into political office? Why not get a job, be thankful that you have a smart, talented, attractive woman in your life - despite your best efforts - and a sweet son to raise? That would be a great life.

What initially caught my eye here and made me pay attention to this story - in which The Times is playing its duly appointed role in Weiner's PR campaign - is that the editors have placed Huma Abedin center stage in the cover photo. And, of course, who better to document this blurring of personal and public than Elinor Carucci, a photographer who is a master of that fatuous genre.

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11 April 2013

Critical Disputation

Regular readers will know that I think David Levi Strauss arguably is the best critic writing today. Well, let's not put him on the spot; let's just say I find it really difficult to identify a more insightful critic. I also have found the time to disparage the assessments of Ken Johnson who writes on art, and photography in particular, for The New York Times. I will not rehearse my compliments or criticisms here.

Late last year Johnson published a couple of pieces - you can find them here and here - that generated an uproar among artists and critics. Recently, Levi Strauss published this reply to those pieces in Art in America. And here is Johnson's response. I will come back to this fracas. But it is worth noting the controversy.

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08 April 2013

Art, Capitalism, Criticism

Alfredo Jaar, September 15, 2009, © Alfredo Jaar 
(manila envelope with text and photograph). 

 Gramsci, 2010 © Alfredo Jaar (ink on vellum).

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Landsburg Apology

Over the past week or so, UofR (once again) has been in the press due to the moronic behavior of Steve Landsburg. I noted the fracas here. This morning the University noted that Landsburg has issued an apology.

"I am both sad and sorry that my recent blog post has distressed so many people so deeply, both on campus and off. I am particularly sad because many readers got the impression that I was endorsing rape, while my intent was to say exactly the opposite—namely that the horror of rape is so great that we should rethink accepted principles of policy analysis that might sometimes minimize that horror. This is not the place to rehash those issues, but interested readers might want to look at the follow-up post where I tried to say things more clearly. I very much wish I'd said them more clearly in the first place, and I do very much regret having caused any unnecessary offense."
Here is the report in the local paper.

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04 April 2013

"Muslimah Pride Day" vs. "Topless Jihad"

I have on several occasions posted about FEMEN, a group of young feminists whose protests against sex trafficking and human rights violations are in many ways admirable. Well, al Jezeera has run this report on an initiative "Muslimah Pride Day" organized in response to FEMEN's "Topless Jihad Day." The disagreement here raises all sorts of important issues. There is much hyperbole (as is evident in the comment thread on the al Jazeera story) getting in the way. And I am not especially well situated to  comment at the moment. But it surely is important to note the debate.
Update: And here at The New York Times is a report on the dire circumstances that Amina, the Tunisian Femen activist finds herself in. 

Update 2 (9 April): A reply to critics by Femen's Inna Shevchenko - here.

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There He Goes Again - Steve Landsburg Plays the Fool

"The one lesson I most want my students to learn is this: You can’t just say anything. It’s important to care about making sense. So I find it particularly galling when people violate this rule while presenting themselves to the public as economists." ~ Steve Landsburg
Last year Steve Landsburg, a faculty member in our Economics Department*, created a minor media fracas by channeling Rush Limbaugh's bigoted comments about Sandra Fluke. I commented here several times on Landsburg's sophomoric behavior.

Well, Landsburg is at it again. A short while ago he offered up this more or less incoherent blog post, which he has followed up with this typically condescending and dismissive set of rationalizations. Having offered up a conceptually flawed 'thought experiment' - one that any reasonable person would see not as intellectually intrepid but just inflammatory - Steve seems to opt for the standard 'I've been misunderstood' defense. And he then blames his audience for misunderstanding. Interesting, among the lessons I try to get students to embrace is that if someone misunderstands an argument I advance or point I make, the fault is likely mine, not theirs. The basic presumption, in other words that the burden falls on me to be clear. Not so for Landsburg, apparently.

But let's focus on substance for a moment. When I say Landsburg's initial post is conceptually flawed I have in mind such elementary  matters as failing to differentiate intentional from unintentional consequences, failing to see that rape is an act of power from which perpetrators derive 'psychic' benefits, failing to differentiate between the impact of ideas and physical assault, failing to see that in a democracy even erroneous or odd views get weighed in decision-making processes ... The post is not just offensive in its juvenile provocations, it is a mess. I would give my undergraduates maybe a C- if they submitted it in a course.

The episode has, predictably enough,  now made a splash in the press - look here, here, here, here, here, for instance. Much of the publicity is critical (mocking, even) and was initiated because some outraged students alerted The Gawker. All this criticism - public, mostly reasoned - is wholly appropriate. What is inappropriate is calling for his censure (as this on-line petition does) or disrupting Landsburg's classes. The best way to respond is to argue back in public - whether by showing just how flawed Landsburg's views are or by symbolic collective actions like this:

In this video from fall 2011 the Chancellor at UC Davis - who had whined that she felt threatened by peacefully protesting students - is shamed quite effectively. This is an episode of collective disapproval, no threat, no mayhem, simple shame mobilized to great effect.

I opened this post with a quote from another blog post by Landsburg. I think it is a lesson he needs to learn himself before imparting it to students. His posturing, his attempts at provocation, are truly embarrassing not just to the university but to himself.

Landsburg can say whatever he likes, however ignorant or offensive. But he has no expectation that anyone will treat he or his ideas seriously. He has to expect that others will respond - with arguments, mockery or silence. I hope he gets what he deserves in that regard.
*Please note: Landsburg is hardly an intellectual heavyweight. He is an nontenured faculty member, hired because our 'real' economists think teaching undergraduates is beneath them. His writing is mostly journalistic - a sort of poor man's freakonomics. There is nothing wrong with that. But it is a mistake to think his ideas carry immense weight on campus or anywhere else.

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01 April 2013

Local Event - Jeanne Theoharis on Rosa Parks ... TODAY!

This afternoon at 4:30 at the Welles-Brown Room of the UofR Library the Douglass Leadership House is presenting a talk by Jeanne Theoharis (CUNY Brooklyn College). The title of the talk is "More Than Tired: Debunking the Myth of Mrs. Rosa Parks." Event details here.

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