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Monday, 3 April 2017

Fuck it, Fuck me, Fuck you, Fuck Off this, Fuck that, Fuc

It's time to write another blog post. One of the many disadvantages of contracted hours teaching at multiple educational establishments  is you have to jam the hours in as best you can while the goings good and on top of that do everything three times all in a rush so you have enough to live on over the summer - the economic dead zone of the zero hours contract. It's like being an out-of-sync squirrel storing your financial nuts for the winter.

The doing-things-in-triplicates comes when you have to remember 3 sets of passwords, you have to get used to negotiate 3 online learning environments, and you have to do 3 sets of online health and safety or equalities and diversity assessments.

But it has to be done. And I always quite like the equalities and diversity training. The latest one I did last week was the best I've seen (the actors really enjoyed it, especially the ones being racist and prejudiced).

One set of questions featured a scenario where a group of eastern European workers were given dodgy tasks by a racist English team leader and his sidekick Jason. Jason and his mate would sit around drinking tea and reading the paper while the Eastern Europeans cleaned the toilets, burnt themselves on nasty chemicals and generally did all the dirty work and had a nasty time (Jason pointed out this was fair enough considered they all had massive houses with swimming pools back in their countries of birth and were used to dirty work anyway). One of the questions went something like this.

Artur: "I am from Albania, Rad is from Serbia, Goran is from Croatia and Lukas is from Poland but they say we are all from the same place and Jason calls us illegals."

Q: In what ways does Jason's treatment of the workers constitute racial discrimination?  

So the assessment is dealing with real life situations and it's all good, especially in photography where the possibility for insensitive use of language, behaviour, and photography is apparent every week. If you're not going into difficult places, you're probably not making anything interesting. One part of teaching is to redirect students away from insensitivity - which most of the time happens due to a lack of awareness and global knowledge. Students are mortified when they are told how things will be interpreted or if they are being insensitive.

The story of Enver and friends made me think of Romain Mader's project on Ukrainian mail order brides. I first saw it when it was the feature picture for a Tate Modern show. And I must say it is one of the most annoying pictures of all time, and was supposed to be. So there's a success there. It stuck in the mind.

In the project, which is supposed to be a kind of comedy of stereotypes, Mader doesn't distinguish between different Eastern European countries - he does what Jason does, quite deliberately. Several people were uncomfortable about this at the time of the Tate show, but didn't point it out, because... well, it's Tate Modern. Surely they know what they're doing!

Then Mader won the Paul Huf award, and the objections grew. And a petition was made asking for the award to be taken back.

If I was awarding the prize there is no way I'd reconsider it even if it's a bad choice. We make bad choices all the time and you have to live with it and move on to the next choice and hope to make it better.

In fact the petition, though entirely justified - entirely, made me feel a bit bad for Mader because the problem is a big bigger than it should be and it puts him in a little spot which he doesn't deserve. I don't like the project because it does lack a certain finesse whatever anyone says, and it is just a rehashing of stereotypes with a lack of self-awareness, but it's not exactly evil.

A letter was also written which had the perspective of the equalities and diversity assessment I took earlier in the week - and it's a good perspective, which can be summed up in this article on Calvert Journal here.

The merit of the project might be that it offers some kind of escapism — this isn't a sex tourist looking for love, nor is it the real Ukraine. But it's also a western photographer exploiting stereotypes about a region in which Russian lawmakers have recently decriminalised domestic violence and Polish conservative politician Janusz Korwin-Mikke has described women as “smaller, weaker, less clever”. Somehow things aren't so funny anymore.

Essentially what is being said is this really matters and it has real life repercussions. A a reply was received which responds in a more theoretical (and rather evasive in my view) tone. Follow the link here for a view of the project and all the letters and responses.

So you've got two different ways of talking about photography working at cross purposes - one rooted in academia and theory and one rooted in a more concrete world of equalities and diversity.

It's two different worlds not finding any common ground and that's a shame. And though I have sympathy for Mader (and know that half the photography I really like is found questionable by many on all kinds of grounds) I also think a little bit of recognition as to why people found the work objectionable would be good.

That's what missing. And that's all that is being asked for.

So it's different ways of talking about work or writing about work. And sometimes people make the assumption that in this tiny, tiny corner of photography there is only one way of talking about work or thinking about work.

That one way is really serious and it is painful, it lacks soul, it ignores emotion, it has no poetry and doesn't connect to the real world. I've got a bunch of books at home I'm reading at present and god help me, it's like doing homework. Occasionally you'll get somebody who injects some life into their thoughts, but most of the time there's no pleasure involved whatsoever, it's as if the writers have tried to remove any passion or interest from the writing - which is a puzzle when you consider the work and themes they are writing about are absolutely fascinating. But still I read it and semi-satisfy some strange self-flagellating work-ethic masochism about what knowledge is while all the time dirtying myself just a little bit more

When people write about music or film or fashion, there is a different voice and a different use of language. It can be uplifting, it can be fun. We don't get that too much in photography. No, that's bollocks. You do, but not in this particular corner of photography.

Perhaps that's because often parts of the small photography world I inhabit feel guilty about pleasure. It's that Calvinism creeping in again. Yet at the same time the way that people talk about photography and look at it completely revolves around the pleasure of great story telling. It can be quite confusing - to the point where people are not sure if they're 'allowed' to like something. I've heard that this week - "we don't know what we're allowed to like".  Or what they're allowed to photograph. That's how disabling it can be - no, is!

At the Format Festival in Derby which I wrote about here, the pleasure is to do both with the images and the fantastic venues. It's also to do with meeting people and eating and drinking and talking about what you liked. That's why I went to Derby at the end of a very long and busy week - to enjoy myself with lovely photography and lovely photography people. I think it's the reason most people went there.

Yet there is the idea that there is a right way of looking at an exhibition, or a book, or a project. And this is what is annoying about the response to the petition. There is the idea that there is correct understanding of the work, only one. It's infuriating, in the same way that if you don't like something you get told it's because you aren't smart enough to get it. Maybe, or maybe there's just not that much to get, or the story being told is a piece of shit. But we are all pissing in the wind and don't really have a solid clue about what we are talking about. And it is a good thing to be able to recognise that.

Pretending otherwise leads to  a patronising attitude and one that you don't find quite so much in other visual arts, even those with a supposedly close family resemblance. I bought the cards here from Bristol Artist's Book Exhibition - which is all about the pleasure of the book, of paper, of printing.

It's tactile, it's material and it's sensory. Bu, it's quite distinct from photobookery, even though it's half a step away.

Anyway, here are some of my favourite bits.

Here's a poem I commissioned at the exhibition. It's called Smell of Paper. 
I like saying I commissioned a poem. 
It makes me sound important.

Here's a bag my daughter bought - which is kind of contradictory but so it goes.

Here are some Mai 68 cards - I've shown one of these before. 

Here's a poster I almost bought. 

Here's my life. 

And this is who made the fuck-set cards. 

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