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The European History of Photography British Photography 1970-2000

I was commissioned to write this a few years ago for the Central European House of Photography in Bratislava (and thank you to all the photo...

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Week 2, or is it 3 of Coronaviruszzzzzzzzzzzzzz



Daily exercise - I have the privilege of space


It's It's week 2 of the lockdown in the UK and everybody is going a little stir crazy because it's monumentally serious and monumentally boring. Things are changing so fast and there are people who are ahead of us who know what is going to come, This is from Francesca Landri's Letter to the rest of Europe after 3 weeks of lockdown in Rome, This is what we know about your future.

First of all, you’ll eat. Not just because it will be one of the few last things that you can still do. You’ll find dozens of social networking groups with tutorials on how to spend your free time in fruitful ways. You will join them all, then ignore them completely after a few days. You’ll pull apocalyptic literature out of your bookshelves, but will soon find you don’t really feel like reading any of it. You’ll eat again. You will not sleep well. You will ask yourselves what is happening to democracy. You’ll have an unstoppable online social life – on Messenger, WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom… You will miss your adult children like you never have before; the realisation that you have no idea when you will ever see them again will hit you like a punch in the chest. Old resentments and falling-outs will seem irrelevant. You will call people you had sworn never to talk to ever again, so as to ask them: “How are you doing?” Many women will be beaten in their homes.


In other news, the first children are getting named after the disease. This is the case of a 
girl named corona. Corona is a girl's name in this case, maybe Covid is a boy's name, or maybe they're gender neutral names. Who knows. Which leads on to the question of what's in a name, in a virus name, in a disease name. The first time I saw the virus referred to was at the Bath University Sports Centre, it was Wuhan Novel Coronavirus. Then it became just coronavirus, then Covid-19 came into being.

 Coronavirus is  quite gentle. It's stars and flowers and crowns and beer with lime and tequila. It's the kind of virus a fairy would get. It's generic, it doesn't kill you. Covid-19, which is what the disease was named  on February 11th,  is already sounding worse.

And then there's the disease, Sars Covid-2, which sounds far worse. This is the official terminology for the virus from the WHO.
Disease

coronavirus disease 
(COVID-19)

Virus 

severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 
(SARS-CoV-2)

The first time I saw it referred to in this way was on Sunday, but perhaps I'm missing something. Then again, perhaps I'm not. the name was deliberately avoided by WHO for fear they created unnecessary panic in populations who remembered the 774 people who died from the disease in the early 2000s.

But you don't see the name for a reason. This is what they say on the WHO website. 

What name does WHO use for the virus?

From a risk communications perspective, using the name SARS can have unintended consequences in terms of creating unnecessary fear for some populations, especially in Asia which was worst affected by the SARS outbreak in 2003. 

For that reason and others, WHO has begun referring to the virus as “the virus responsible for COVID-19” or “the COVID-19 virus” when communicating with the public.  Neither of these designations are intended as replacements for the official name of the virus as agreed by the ICTV.

That seems a strange statement to make considering Covid-19 has killed over 30,000 people and counting to date. But it's also an understatement that connects to how the disease has been visually reported. As many have noted, the first substantial photojournalism on the project that seems to have appeared in the rather visually limited English-speaking world at least, is this one from the New York Times on Friday 21st March. Before that the reporting has been bland and lacking in graphic detail to say the least. This might not be the case elsewhere in the world, but stories featuring empty streets and face masks have been doing the rounds since Wuhan in January and God, they are repetitive 




There are lots of possibilities as to why this might be, but I wonder if the ethics of reporting, of not showing suffering and death, of not showing broad brush strokes of catastrophe (which might be simplistic and flawed but in the public interest in a very direct way) haven't been at play here. And I wonder if that not showing hasn't been responsible for people not taking the disease as seriously as it should be taken. Showing people suffering in their front room, or in a packed ward, or on their last breath, does rather cut through the 'it's nothing more than a case of the flu in most cases' rhetoric that as recently as last week people like our prime-minister (who is now suffering from nothing more than a case of the flu) were touting. 

So is there a case to be made that the ethics of photojournalism, that the rhetoric of photographic criticism might have contributed indirectly to hundreds if not thousands of deaths. And that the responsibility to show what is happening outweighs some of the ethical considerations we might normally consider. I think that case can be made.

You can read and see the whole story here: We take the dead from morning to night

As the disease spreads across the world there are interesting stories on The privilege of space, on the marginalisation and eviction of health workers in India, on the limiting of freedom of speech for doctors who speak truth on their lack of equipment, on the racist profiling that accompanies the disease, including in China and India where the #Chinesevirus19 was trending on Twitter last week accompanied by all kinds of conspiracy theories that lay the blame for its spread on whoever your enemy of the moment might be. 

The conspiracy theories are appealing because the longer it continues the more untrustworthy the statistics become, the more inconsistent the spread, the more varied the virus mutations, the deeper the erosion of civil rights, the more absolute the freezing of transport links,the more ominous the  development of digital currencies, the more surreal the mass psychosis that has gripped us all. Surely amidst all this chaos, there must be some sinister hand controlling our minds. It's so tempting to see conspiracies all around coronavirus but then you look at our leaders holed up in their Swiss chalets with their wives and concubines, bragging about their television ratings, or being so ultimately dumb as to catch the disease and spread it to the top tier of government, and you remind yourself that the only conspiracy going is the absolute venal stupidity of the leaders of the world's great powers. 

And anyway, who needs conspiracy theories when no matter what you read, watch, or listen to, there is always a relevance to coronavirus, isolation, or contagion. 

It was there when we watched the Great Escape the other week and saw Steve McQueen throwing his baseball in the cooler. 

It was there in this clip from Nightcrawler. 





And it was there in this documentary on Maradona where the Juventus fans sing about Napoli..




The song goes like this: 

Sick with cholera, victims of the earthquake, you never wash with soap. 
Napoli shit, Napoli cholera. 
You are the shame of the whole of Italy. 


Which for me kind of sums up the italian north-south divide in a way that nothing else quite does (the UK football Napoli equivalent is In your Liverpool Slums with Liverpool being an English outlying city). The Napoli song also sums up the ways in which poverty, disease, and death are thrown together in one unholy mess. 

There is the rhetoric of us being all in this together, of everybody being affected, but the more this goes on, the more it will be apparent that it does affect some people more than others, it will attack the weakest, the poorest, the sickest. It knows no borders, but it will sniff out those who are undernourished, who have no space, no home, no money, no food. And there will be a political result from that. 

Enough of that. We were on football. Back to football. The Belorussian league kicked off a couple of weeks ago. I was gutted by my team's (Dinamo Minsk) poor performance in the local derby last week. 

But they're playing again on Friday in the last league standing, in the one thing apart from the death of Kenny Rogers to break through the coronavirus wall of news noise.




There is a disturbingly large part of me that wants to look for Dinamo Minsk streaming sites and buy the shirt, join the Ultras, eat the Belorussian pies, drink the vodka that will protect me from coronavirus (it's better than cow's piss) etc etc - but my subconscious self is giving him a good kicking as we speak so hopefully he won't be popping his shaven head up any time soon. Because this is mad and irresponsible and dangerous.

But just in case you're interested, here's the  Belarus football guide. Anything to break the tedium. And let me know of anyone Belorussian league Zoom conference calls. They will be happening. 


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