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.




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.



Through the Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People

The documentary explore the role of photography in shaping the identity, aspirations, and social emergence of African Americans from slavery to the present, Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People probes the recesses of American history through images that have been suppressed, forgotten, and lost. Bringing to light the hidden and unknown photos shot by both professional and vernacular African American photographers, the film opens a window into the lives of black families, whose experiences and perspectives are often missing from the traditional historical canon. African Americans historically embraced the medium as a way to subvert popular stereotypes as far back as the Civil War era, with Frederick Douglass photographed in a suit and black soldiers posing proudly in their uniforms. The documentary also shows images of whites in blackface enacting stereotypes associated with the ‘Negro in America’. Considering that most blacks in the late 19th and early 20th century were rarely subjects of a photographer’s gaze, blackface images had an opportunity to dominate the pictorial history of African Americans. By authoring images on themselves, African Americans were able to claim ownership of their own history and subvert the dominant racist narrative of the time. These images show a much more complex and nuanced view of American culture and its founding ideals.

Bohemian Soul Mates : Just Kids

Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe were both born in 1946, at a time when “the iceman” and “the last of the horse-drawn wagons” could still be seen on city streets being a moment of pictographic collision between the imagery of the yesteryear and the modern future . “Just Kids” is named so because it captures a moment when Smith and Mapplethorpe were young, inseparable, completely unknown and perfectly bohemian, to the point in which a tourist couple in Washington Square Park argued about whether they were worth a snapshot in the early autumn of 1967. The woman thought they looked like artists while  the man disagrees, saying dismissively, “They’re just kids.”


Evidently it seems difficult for Smith to turn the clock back to that innocent time, especially after the events that occur. this difficulty is that “Just Kids” symbolizes and grapples with.

Smith describes the day that Mapplethorpe creates his exquisite androgynous image of her in white shirt, black pants and black jacket for the cover of her “Horses” album. She reminisces about her style, which was full of references explicitly showcasing them in her book. A Patti Smith calendar would include Joan of Arc’s birthday, the day of the Guernica bombing and the day she, as a young bookstore clerk, sat among Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Grace Slick in a bar feeling “an inexplicable sense of kinship with these people.” All the artists who shaped Ms. Smith’s persona, Bob Dylan is arguably the one she worshiped most.

A moving part of the book is her description of the first time she sets eyes on Mapplethorpe, in the back bedroom of a former Brooklyn apartment belonging to some friends. Thus fate introduced Ms. Smith and Mapplethorpe, who would become roommates, soul mates, friends, lovers and muses. Strictly speaking they were never starving artists, but the romanticism of “Just Kids,” and their tenancy in the tiniest room at the Chelsea Hotel, brings them pretty close to that ideal. They went to museums able to afford only one ticket. (The one who saw the exhibition would describe it to the one who waited outside.) They went to Coney Island, able to afford only one hot dog. (Ms. Smith got the sauerkraut.) They loved the same totems and ornaments and flourishes; they valued the same things, though in different ways.

Although much of “Just Kids” unfolds before Mapplethorpe did the taboo-busting, shock-laden photographic work for which he is best remembered. (“I admired him for it, but I could not comprehend the brutality,” Ms. Smith writes of his sadomasochistic imagery.) And it occurs before his illness. (He died of AIDS in 1989.) Of the two of them it was Ms. Smith who made her mark first. Like “Chronicles,” “Just Kids” carries its author to the verge of fame but stops right there on the brink, so that its innocence is never compromised by circumstances too surreal for the reader. This book concentrates purely on the relationship between Smith and Mapplethorpe, achieving its aura of the sacrosanct by insisting that the later, more tragic and fraught part of Ms. Smith’s life story belongs elsewhere.

Dark Grasses


Diane Arbus by  Nona Jolley

In America, Seen Through Photographs, Darkly, Susan Sontag takes on three giants of American culture on what eventually focuses a critique of the photographic work and subject matter of Diane Arbus. The architecture of the pieces is held together via the lens of Whitman, whom Sontag argues, set out to stir an all encompassing revolution (starting with culture) that ultimately failed and only recruited the enlightened elite as foot soldiers. In his evaluative view, the “beautiful” and the “ugly” sit alongside on the hierarchy of visual culture; both are worthy of praise and this subjective characteristics are deemed interchangeable. He is not killing the concept of beauty, he is simply expanding it.

The validity of the image, then, is the choice of subject matter – the very choice of becoming photograph ascribes relevance for contemplation and critique. There is no restriction on choice, though some contemporary tropes clearly become problematic. The image is finally liberated from prior evaluative constraints and is now considered through choices.
Walker Evans, especially through his earlier work, is presented as the last true and devoted American soldier of the Whitman crusade. His dedication to framing truth in images, photographs that are “literate, authoritative and transcendent”, are the manifestation of formal beauty. They are as poetic and coercive as Waltman’s Leaves of Grass.
The highly idealized, and arguably stylized, vision of America is shattered and co-opted through the fashionable representation of physiognomic typologies developed by photographers like Steichen and consequently Arbus. The realistic encyclopedic observational archives of human subjects create a problematique of ethics, morals and ownership for the viewer, the photographer and the subject(s) alike.
Sontag turns to the short and controversial career of Diane Arbus as an exploratory minefield of colliding values. Where Steichen created material as a vehicle for inclusiveness, Abus’ material is arguably an exercise in othering.

While the first read of Sontag’s opinion on Arbus seems to discredit the entire ouvre as an elitist exercise by a person of privilege, her nuanced description of the work reveals a more complex relationship with the material. The instinctual reaction is to discredit these iconic images of freaks and the disenfranchised as a superficial exercise of othering – an experiment to show the other face of America. Alternatively, Sontag guides us through a more supportive reading of the work when describing the photographer as a highly complex and wounded human being that is possibly  holding a mirror to her suffering standing tall, looking directly at the world and embracing her shortcomings through her subjects, freaks that are in fact a fair representation of all of us.