Now you see me

If Deleuze could have only foreseen how fast the future would arrive! In a few short years since his piece was published, his ideas have become the ever more relevant and of great concern related to privacy, control and replacement. Not only is the deployment of mass public and private surveillance technologies a reality that is quickly encroaching on all personal freedoms but it is also reshaping human relationships. The idea of observation or being observed as means of social control, whether direct, implied or delegated is nothing new – two examples illustrated here are the panopticon building designed by Ledoux at a salt factory in 18c France and Lewis Hine documentary photography of inhumane conditions of child labor in early 20th Century US. The challenge nowadays is how we can possibly exercise our right to not be observed, to have complete privacy within the confines of our private space.  How can I do research online without having my data become part of a large algorithm, marketing tool and/or basis for further research?  Out relationship with technology has become highly suspicious and completely co-dependent.

When Seeing is Belonging: The Photography of Tahrir

        This reading drives two particular points home for me: first, the power of representation, and second, the fact that an archive must first and foremost be ‘searchable’ for anyone to get any use out of it.
        “The power of representation” comes out in the discussion of Operation Desert Storm: when the event was represented only by professional media like CNN with (presumably) their own agenda, they could sell any narrative they wanted–even one that was largely divorced from what the situation felt like on the ground. The subsequent rise of citizen journalists “rehumanized reality.” Moreover, the representation proved emotionally powerful–it was a reaffirmation that the people in question “had a right to see and be seen;” that their emotional realities deserved exactly as much stage time, if not more, than the emotional realities set by the entities that originally held power over forms of media.
        However, with increased production of material, the question of who sees what when, and how they do so, becomes more pressing. When there are as many streams of content as there are people with image-recording devices, how do faraway viewers (or even those that are close by) find the content that is maximally relevant to them? If seeing equates to belonging, then ‘belonging’ can be disrupted by disrupting ‘seeing,’ and there are two main ways to disrupt seeing: disrupting image production, and disrupting image accessibility. Democratization of the latter is a largely disjoint problem from democratization of the former, and it seems to be one that we’ve only half solved.

1+8

I thought this film was visually gorgeous, and it stands out in my mind as one of the most nuanced portrayals of current events in this region that I’ve ever seen. I also think these two facts have a good deal to do with one another.

Most of what I hear about this region, and understand about the people in it, is through news media. And no matter the specific outlets, the goals of ‘news’ and ‘art’ are usually quite divergent: news seeks to inform the mind, whereas art seeks to connect emotionally.
So, I greatly appreciated the chance to see a ‘current events’ work that felt as honest as this one did; one that let me see so much unadorned personhood, and, yes, one that didn’t shy away from the fact that it was produced by two filmmakers with their own ways of seeing the world they encountered.
Farima’s comment about the fidelity of the translation (and veracity of what the interviewees say)  is important with respect to this last point: this film represents how the two filmmakers see the region, and not an underlying ‘objective truth.’ That said, understanding both emotional and hyperrational sides of any given issue is valuable, so I appreciated that the film’s “we’ll just live in these locations for a while, and record what happens, then edit it into a plot-less film” approach presented almost as organic of an examination of (some of) the human side(s) of this region as possible.

Reviving Citizen Journalism

After 9/11 and the birth of “citizen Journalism” there was a great hope for turning the world of journalism upside down: To reform its structure and make it bottom-to-top instead of top-to-bottom. There was no more the need for a biased journalist, always belated, to report what was already witnessed by the “locals”. Stuart Allan in his article named “Blurring boundaries : professional and citizen photojournalism in a digital age” discusses how the invention of cheap digital cameras led to the birth of citizen journalism and how it effects on news agencies in covering the most important events in early 21st century. 2004 Southeast Asia tsunami was not covered by photojournalist traveling to the devastated area days after tsunami happened but by low quality images taken by people who experiencing it. Also, while the officials was ignoring the crisis in its first moments of bombing in London Subway in 2005, passengers trapped in stations recorded shaky videos when nobody else has access to the site.

These events revealed the great potential in citizen journalism. it was not from a single perspective but multiplied one. It was not recorded by an outsider. It was from the point of view of the people who experiencing the event, thus closing the distance between the event and audience. And, not less important to all these journalistic benefits, it was cheap. Not cheap, even free. There was no need to hire and send a photographer to a site. To pay the travel expenses. The most thing that these citizens may request was to mention their name as the photographer. With the advances in digital platforms specially social media and also digital cameras and their integration inside cell phones, it seemed that citizen journalism is reaching its bloom.

However, as the history of capitalism shown us already, the system devours the alternatives. Even if the photographs are taken by citizens, the decision of showing them or not is at the hand of news agencies. They have become curators. With social media, everything is now live, everything is recorded in a quantity that each maybe only visible for few seconds. And the role of a citizen has been reduced to witnessing. We have already seen the clips of one dying in front of other human beings whom their social responsibility is reduced to recording and sharing. Most importantly maybe, we have became viewers not witnesses. Cause witnesses also testifies in the future. Our video and photographs are no more documents since they are not getting archive.

This is where Lara Baladi’s project, Vox Populi become crucial and show the potential of citizen journalism and revive it as a social act.

Repression and rebellion at the Turkish borders

In  “1 + 8” the filmmakers show the living conditions of the people in the eight border regions of Turkey. A documentary that reveals which differences and similarities separate and connect people from 16 different places. Observing the border from both sides offers a dual perspective. These people are separated by a simple line but they are somehow related. The film shows that fear is a daily companion of many people in the Turkish border areas. This issue is especially true for Kurds in Iraq and Iran. The whole time artists try to show how difficult and unfair their living conditions are and how they desire to establish their own country without being honest about what these people do to the other ethnicities in those countries. There have been many times that they did terrorist attacks in cities in Iran and killed innocent people. They tried so hard to start wars and tear up the country. There were some parts that the subtitles weren’t the exact translation of what has been said, while if they were some statements would be proven to be false.

As an Iranian person who also understands Turkish and Arabic, I believe the film was biased in many parts while at the same time revealed some deep and dark truths in daily lives of those people. The honest and frank depiction of women’s situation and how their state of mind is changing was really powerful. But there could be some differences to dig deeper in some certain issues instead of covering so many different parts of their struggles. There are mostly women, children and old men in remote mountain villages and little-known cities along the Turkish borders, which can be seen in the film. One can understand that apparently everyone who can afford leaves the border areas. But this is more difficult for women. Again their freedom depends on their men as caregivers.

 

1+8

In what the director describes as a structuralist film due to its rigid and formal architecture, 1+8 by Angelika Brudniak and Cynthia Madansky enraptures the viewer through a profound and lyrical observational documentary of eight border towns in Turkey.  It is not lost on me that this movie could not be recreated today due to the current political climate in the region, which make this project the more relevant and urgent.

The opening short lecture by Madansky helped contextualize the project and quickly established her, at least for me personally, as an eloquent, passionate and courageous artist.  Her humble description of her travails to finish this project barely made justice to the enormity of the endeavor.  Having spent one month in each border town to capture thousands of hours of footage to eventually edit down into this piece is a daunting (and dangerous) project onto itself.  The more surprising, and in her words, is the fact that they were just two women and a camera.

From the beginning the film establishes a quiet, respectful and non-confrontational visual stance recurring to static medium-shots.  These moments act as like a transporting gateway into the visual moving tableau, making one feel not only connected but also present.  The result are haunting moving images that behaved like snapshots that quickly made their way to the subconscious.  They are both relatable and totally disconcerting.  There are no quick cuts, dissolves or any other cinematic crutches used to manipulate our attention. It is a raw and direct dialogue with the subjects.

A successful stylistic choice by the filmmakers is to suppress sound throughout the film – it is a violent act of confrontation which prompts an immediate sense of desolation. Quietness can often act as the most aggressive form of communication.  We jump and cut between action, establishing shots and interviews while gathering situational clues of each locale.  And it is though these interviews, which are honest and direct, that we build a context for the hardship and barrenness of their lives.

There is little to celebrate in these towns. They are desolate, aging, poor and riddled with illiteracy and lack of opportunity.  These are stories of individuals that seem to have been forgotten by the hand of modernity and technology. Is it really 2012??  Yet, I did not feel like they were being othered nor preyed upon as mere subjects for a great documentary. It strikes me that it was through the honesty and true interest of the filmmakers that they were able to establish a sincere and leveled exchange with subjects. Subjects that skewed female and a mix of old and young.

The one thread that weaves through all these towns is their celebration of music, culture and traditions. Rather than turning against their roots, they hold firmly onto their cultural identities as though it could serve as a buoy drifting towards redemption.

The content is disturbing, sad and infuriating.  Without the presence of a traditional script, the central theme and main character becomes the actual hardship and indigence themselves. This film represents less of a cry for help and more a call to action.  It is here that I question how and where this content is going to live going forward. I felt a strong sense of urgency to have this be experienced not just by the art going public, but with a wider audience.  It is only here that the hardship of filmmakers and most importantly the courage of the participants can be justified.

 

Against the Synthetic Portrait–Rodchenko

“a [person] is not just one sum total; [they are] many, and sometimes they are quite opposed.”

In this reading Rodchenko discusses how photography is at odds with efforts to distill the ‘true essence’ of a person–in this case, of Lenin, an influential historical figure–but I’ve generalized the language of his quote because I think it applies on a broader scale. This reading is an interesting contrast with Roland Barthe’s description, in Camera Lucida, of encountering a “Winter Garden Photograph” that so perfectly captured an essence of his mother that it moved him to write “it achieved for me, utopically, the impossible science of the unique being.”
In the last line, I wrote ‘an essence’ instead of ‘the essence,’ intentionally. I definitely believe that people have many different facets to their identity that they express at different times, and since photography only captures a single moment…if all these facets are considered essential components of an identity or ‘essence,’ then it’s highly unlikely they’ll all ever be on display in a photograph at once. So, if we allow that people may be different in different situations, it’s unlikely that any static visual portraiture medium will ever capture that full range.
However, as Barthe attests, some photographs of people do have a more magnetic, ‘true’ feeling than others. At first I thought this couldn’t coexist with the point Rodchenko was making, but after further reflection I see there is space for both. It’s as simple as allowing for the idea that a person [or any entity] may have multiple visual ‘essences,’ each of which may strike different viewers to differing levels of emotional depth.

In praise of killing painting(s)


Rodchenko, a central figure of constructivist movement in Russia, implores the reader in his brief manifesto to kill painting as it can only serve as means of falsification. He synthesises the sentiment of the time, mainly, that photography can not only represent, but also capture the true essence of life.
Buchloh, in his thoughtful article for October magazines, contextualises the evolution of Russian avant garde as it reacts to Western European surrealism, first through original iteration of Faktura, where artists renounce to painting but create individualised works of art, through Factography, the second period that focuses on reproduction, access and mass dissemination. Photography becomes the tool to allow artists/social historians to create social movements. The surprising turn of events is the eventual incorporation of these techniques into emerging totalitarian regimes, which makes the entire project collapse.

America, Seen Through Photographs, Darkly

At the beginning of photography, an image bespoke importance. Walt Whitman permanently shifted the gaze of photography from an obsession with the beautiful object to an exercise in image making with the ordinary and banal. Sontag still holds that to take an image is to assign importance. But this importance varies in culture and history, from the pursuit of “worthy” subjects to the Andy Warhol stance of “anybody is somebody”. For Sontag Alfred Stieglitz was such a reaffirm-er of life with his wish the redeem the banal and the vulgar as a means of expression. Stieglitz wished to transcend differences between human being and show humanity in the totality of its beauty.

On the subject of Diane Arbus, Sontag has been critical but almost exclusively due to the lack of anesthetization in her work. According to Sontag, Arbus’ treatment of the marginal spheres of society does not invite people the identify with the “freaks” she displays, and in that humanity is no longer “one”. While the Whitman heritage strove for a universalization of the human condition, Arbus fractured this unity into isolated fragments of anxiety. I am not sure whether I agree with this assessment. If indeed taking a photograph is to assign importance, the fact that Arbus took these images of people often deemed as freaks is in itself empowering. The idea that she took these images because she thought these people freaks reveals more about Sontag than Arbus.

Metaphors of Space: Duality & Neo-colonialism

RESOLUTIONS OF THE THIRD WORLD  FILMMAKERS MEETING  (Algeria, 1973) hierarchically arranges cinema in relation to the socio-political context in which it is produced. The ‘First Cinema’ is produced in capitalist system where, cinema is consumed mainly as a consumer good for entertainment value. films are generally anti historic and deal with purely effects never causes. This contrasts with the ‘Third Cinema” model which liberates and decolonises one from the European models. It is a means for dialogue and meeting, deconstructing the world we live in and assembling it with new meaning.