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Wednesday, 2 October 2013

The Absent Portrait and Everyday Life

I  like The Absent Portrait by Philip Toledano. This is what Toledano says about the project

I source original, censored packaging from Iran. Packaging in which the women have been erased. Inked out, individually, by hand.

I remove the blacked-out figure from the surrounding image, and a transformation occurs.

The censor becomes an artist. And the censored figure becomes a portrait. A portrait not of a person, but of absence. Of suppression. A portrait of a point of view.

The censor, a person whose function is to erase, becomes the person who makes us see.

And this is what he says about it on the Time Lightbox site. 

“The thing about the series for me that’s important to get across is that, yes, it is about women and it is about the Middle East,” he adds, “but it’s also very applicable to all of us, because all of us in every country live in a system where reality is twisted — whether it’s by religion or by government, there’s a certain amount of torquing.”

Shadi Ghadirian did a similar but different thing a few years back, and her Like Everyday series (shown below) also continues with the theme of the twisting of reality and defining women in simple, distorted and essentially misogynistic ways. 

There has been a debate (if you can call it that) in the UK about the wearing of the full veil, the niqab, a piece of cloth that definitely twists reality. But the polarised ends of the debate also twist reality - put simplistically, the right-wing view says it should be banned, the left-wing view says no, that's racist. 

Left, right and religious; it's like 3 misogynies all coming together at the same time, an example of Toledano's torquing. Three different perspectives on the same thing and they're all wrong.

One imagined reality on the left is that the niqab sits as an isolated example of freedom of expression, that it's quite benign because so few people wear it. But for young women dress is not neutral and benign, and that is especially true for young muslim women. It's politicised and polarised and what people wear is influenced by what other people wear and what other people say - in parts of Britain at least. 

So if you're in a school and a young muslim women starts loosening her headscarf and doesn't bust other people's chops about the suitability of their dress, this will influence what other people in her peer group wear. Similarly, if someone wears a heavy black robe and starts telling her friends about what is good and what is bad, well things might go the other way for her more suggestible peers. And that doesn't just go for dress. It goes for many things. 

So what to do. I don't know, but Rafia Zakiria wrote in Guernica Magazine (in an article illustrated by Shadi Ghadirian's pictures) about how two systems can sometimes work better than one. I'm not sure I entirely agree with everything in the article but I think the idea of combining two systems in a pragmatic and equitable manner kind of works up to a point. It works much better than  telling people how bad and wrong something is (with the subtext of  why don't they go back to where they come from). And it works better that telling people how there's absolutely nothing wrong with this and anyone who says there is is a big racist. 

Untitled from the Like Everyday Series

Untitled from the Like Everyday Series

Like Everyday at the Series.
Shadi Ghadirian

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