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Monday, 25 February 2013

Gaza, Pepper Spray, Bosnia and the Holocaust.... and back again

picture by Paul Hansen

There was lots of discussion last week (and this week) about the World Press Photo winner and post-production ( the picture kind of reminded me of the terrible pictures they used to promote the Sopranos a few years back). I didn't think too much about/of the post-production because for me the staged nature of the picture and the dysfunction of an all male society it represented was far more interesting.

For all the heartbreak and tragedy of the picture, it didn't touch me whatsoever. It felt to me that the failure to discuss this kind of stagedness (the alley, the outrage, the players) is an example of a kind of normalisation within photography both of social and political dysfunction and the theatre of photojournalism and the conventions that frame what we see and the way that we see it.

That idea of normalisation led me to George Galloway's refusal to debate with an Israeli student because he doesnt recognise Israel. He also talked about normalisation -the acceptance of the unpalatable, unjust and downright cruel over the passing of time, in particular with reference to the politics of Israel. Galloway is anti-normalisation - in regards to Israel at least.

lt seems that the acceptance of this kind of all male representation of Palestinian society and our ailure to comment on that is an example of something that has been normalised.  We are seeing a brutalised society, one condemned by both itself and the trauma of the injustices inflicted upon it. So it's normalisation v normalisation, two houses plagued by their pasts.

Anyway, the picture from the Middle East that really said something about the cynicism, cruelty and spite of the region was this one by Ammar Awad below; four border police with one really into it, one not really into it but thinking he should be, one looking in another direction and another actively not looking. A real intersection of gazes!

That took me to The Holocaust and my Father: Six Million and One, a documentary about  the sons and daughter visiting the concentration camp where their father had been imprisoned - it's a story where degrees of forgetting, remembering (and 'not remembering' ) and moving forward all combine.

The way that trauma had been passed down from the parents to the children reminded me of  what the Somai writer Nuruddin Farah said in this article

 He once challenged fellow Somalis to "study the structure of the Somali family and you will find mini-dictators imposing their will … We become replicas of the tyrant whom we hate. When you rid yourself of a monster, you become a monster."

 He was once attacked online for insisting the "Afghan-type body tent is not culturally Somali. I said: 'My mother never wore a veil, nor my sisters.' They said my mother was not a Muslim." In the diaspora, he argues, "the majority could not articulate their Somali culture. The less you know about Islam, the more conservative people become."

Which led me right back to the film Six million and One and  the son who says ( of his father's suffering and witnessing of the most unimaginable horrors ) this didn't happen to us but we do have to remember it - there was a distancing effect in other words.

And that took me to those people who do more than remember that suffering and instead  almost resurrect it  by tattooing the concentration camp numbers of elderly relatives on their arms.

And they I was reading the paper on Saturday and read this feature on Bosnian-American writer, Aleksandar Hemon.  

Hemon wrote about two of his novels, the question of 'moral continuity' and the problems associated with ethical change.

"...the novel circles the idea of memory and morality. What happens, it asks, when certain memories recede from American life, and how can a nation have any moral continuity if its culture is amnesiac?"


 "One of Pronek's problems is that he seeks a kind of moral continuity," Hemon says. "If I change suddenly and decide not to be who I am right now what happens to all the other people that I'm connected with, and how do I sustain some kind of moral continuity."

And I think that takes me right back to the start and I'm wondering why we stick so firmly to our expectations of what photography in a particular should be, why we huddle into that one little corner of the visual space that this photography inhabits.

But then I think that  it's still a great picture and I'm off somewhere else again...

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