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Unmournable Bodies - The New Yorker
"A northern-Italian miller in the sixteenth century, known as Menocchio, literate but not a member of the literary élite, held a number of unconventional theological beliefs. He believed that the soul died with the body, that the world was created out of a chaotic substance, not ex nihilo, and that it was more important to love one’s neighbor than to love God. He found eccentric justification for these beliefs in the few books he read, among them the Decameron, the Bible, the Koran, and “The Travels of Sir John Mandeville,” all in translation. For his pains, Menocchio was dragged before the Inquisition several times, tortured, and, in 1599, burned at the stake. He was one of thousands who met such a fate.

Western societies are not, even now, the paradise of skepticism and rationalism that they believe themselves to be. The West is a variegated space, in which both freedom of thought and tightly regulated speech exist, and in which disavowals of deadly violence happen at the same time as clandestine torture. But, at moments when Western societies consider themselves under attack, the discourse is quickly dominated by an ahistorical fantasy of long-suffering serenity and fortitude in the face of provocation. Yet European and American history are so strongly marked by efforts to control speech that the persecution of rebellious thought must be considered among the foundational buttresses of these societies. Witch burnings, heresy trials, and the untiring work of the Inquisition shaped Europe, and these ideas extended into American history as well and took on American modes, from the breaking of slaves to the censuring of critics of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

More than a dozen people were killed by terrorists in Paris this week. The victims of these crimes are being mourned worldwide: they were human beings, beloved by their families and precious to their friends. On Wednesday, twelve of them were targeted by gunmen for their affiliation with the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo. Charlie has often been often aimed at Muslims, and it’s taken particular joy in flouting the Islamic ban on depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. It’s done more than that, including taking on political targets, as well as Christian and Jewish ones. The magazine depicted the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost in a sexual threesome. Illustrations such as this have been cited as evidence of Charlie Hebdo’s willingness to offend everyone. But in recent years the magazine has gone specifically for racist and Islamophobic provocations, and its numerous anti-Islam images have been inventively perverse, featuring hook-nosed Arabs, bullet-ridden Korans, variations on the theme of sodomy, and mockery of the victims of a massacre. It is not always easy to see the difference between a certain witty dissent from religion and a bullyingly racist agenda, but it is necessary to try. Even Voltaire, a hero to many who extol free speech, got it wrong. His sparkling and courageous anti-clericalism can be a joy to read, but he was also a committed anti-Semite, whose criticisms of Judaism were accompanied by calumnies about the innate character of Jews.

This week’s events took place against the backdrop of France’s ugly colonial history, its sizable Muslim population, and the suppression, in the name of secularism, of some Islamic cultural expressions, such as the hijab. Blacks have hardly had it easier in Charlie Hebdo: one of the magazine’s cartoons depicts the Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira, who is of Guianese origin, as a monkey (naturally, the defense is that a violently racist image was being used to satirize racism); another portrays Obama with the black-Sambo imagery familiar from Jim Crow-era illustrations.

On Thursday morning, the day after the massacre, I happened to be in Paris. The headline of Le Figaro was “LA LIBERTÉ ASSASSINÉE” Le Parisien and L’Humanité also used the word liberté in their headlines. Liberty was indeed under attack—as a writer, I cherish the right to offend, and I support that right in other writers—but what was being excluded in this framing? A tone of genuine puzzlement always seems to accompany terrorist attacks in the centers of Western power. Why have they visited violent horror on our peaceful societies? Why do they kill when we don’t? A widely shared illustration, by Lucille Clerc, of a broken pencil regenerating itself as two sharpened pencils, was typical. The message was clear, as it was with the “jesuischarlie” hashtag: that what is at stake is not merely the right of people to draw what they wish but that, in the wake of the murders, what they drew should be celebrated and disseminated. Accordingly, not only have many of Charlie Hebdo’s images been published and shared, but the magazine itself has received large sums of money in the wake of the attacks—a hundred thousand pounds from the Guardian Media Group and three hundred thousand dollars from Google.

But it is possible to defend the right to obscene and racist speech without promoting or sponsoring the content of that speech. It is possible to approve of sacrilege without endorsing racism. And it is possible to consider Islamophobia immoral without wishing it illegal. Moments of grief neither rob us of our complexity nor absolve us of the responsibility of making distinctions. The A.C.L.U. got it right in defending a neo-Nazi group that, in 1978, sought to march through Skokie, Illinois. The extreme offensiveness of the marchers, absent a particular threat of violence, was not and should not be illegal. But no sensible person takes a defense of those First Amendment rights as a defense of Nazi beliefs. The Charlie Hebdo cartoonists were not mere gadflies, not simple martyrs to the right to offend: they were ideologues. Just because one condemns their brutal murders doesn’t mean one must condone their ideology.

Rather than posit that the Paris attacks are the moment of crisis in free speech—as so many commentators have done—it is necessary to understand that free speech and other expressions of liberté are already in crisis in Western societies; the crisis was not precipitated by three deranged gunmen. The U.S., for example, has consolidated its traditional monopoly on extreme violence, and, in the era of big data, has also hoarded information about its deployment of that violence. There are harsh consequences for those who interrogate this monopoly. The only person in prison for the C.I.A.’s abominable torture regime is John Kiriakou, the whistle-blower. Edward Snowden is a hunted man for divulging information about mass surveillance. Chelsea Manning is serving a thirty-five-year sentence for her role in WikiLeaks. They, too, are blasphemers, but they have not been universally valorized, as have the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo.

The killings in Paris were an appalling offence to human life and dignity. The enormity of these crimes will shock us all for a long time. But the suggestion that violence by self-proclaimed Jihadists is the only threat to liberty in Western societies ignores other, often more immediate and intimate, dangers. The U.S., the U.K., and France approach statecraft in different ways, but they are allies in a certain vision of the world, and one important thing they share is an expectation of proper respect for Western secular religion. Heresies against state power are monitored and punished. People have been arrested for making anti-military or anti-police comments on social media in the U.K. Mass surveillance has had a chilling effect on journalism and on the practice of the law in the U.S. Meanwhile, the armed forces and intelligence agencies in these countries demand, and generally receive, unwavering support from their citizens. When they commit torture or war crimes, no matter how illegal or depraved, there is little expectation of a full accounting or of the prosecution of the parties responsible.

The scale, intensity, and manner of the solidarity that we are seeing for the victims of the Paris killings, encouraging as it may be, indicates how easy it is in Western societies to focus on radical Islamism as the real, or the only, enemy. This focus is part of the consensus about mournable bodies, and it often keeps us from paying proper attention to other, ongoing, instances of horrific carnage around the world: abductions and killings in Mexico, hundreds of children (and more than a dozen journalists) killed in Gaza by Israel last year, internecine massacres in the Central African Republic, and so on. And even when we rightly condemn criminals who claim to act in the name of Islam, little of our grief is extended to the numerous Muslim victims of their attacks, whether in Yemen or Nigeria—in both of which there were deadly massacres this week—or in Saudi Arabia, where, among many violations of human rights, the punishment for journalists who “insult Islam” is flogging. We may not be able to attend to each outrage in every corner of the world, but we should at least pause to consider how it is that mainstream opinion so quickly decides that certain violent deaths are more meaningful, and more worthy of commemoration, than others.

France is in sorrow today, and will be for many weeks come. We mourn with France. We ought to. But it is also true that violence from “our” side continues unabated. By this time next month, in all likelihood, many more “young men of military age” and many others, neither young nor male, will have been killed by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere. If past strikes are anything to go by, many of these people will be innocent of wrongdoing. Their deaths will be considered as natural and incontestable as deaths like Menocchio’s, under the Inquisition. Those of us who are writers will not consider our pencils broken by such killings. But that incontestability, that unmournability, just as much as the massacre in Paris, is the clear and present danger to our collective libert… [more]
tejucole  2015  charliehebdo  politics  society  freedom  #JeSuisCharlieHebdo  france  freespeech  freedomofspeech  islam  gravenimages  middleages  medieval  power  language  religion  racism  liberty  violence  inquision  spanishinquision  ideology  edwardsnowden  chelseamanning  johnkiriakou  cia  yemen  nigeria  mexico  centralafricanrepublic  suadiarabia  pakistan  us  drones  #JeSuisCharlie 
january 2015 by robertogreco
Hidden World of South Sudan: An Interview with Photojournalist Camille Lepage
"PetaPixel: First Camille, when did you become interested in photography, and what most inspired you about it?

Camille Lepage: I’ve always enjoyed taking pictures, but never thought about taking it to a professional level until 2011, as I was traveling around different countries for my journalism degree. I had my camera with me, and probably took more care of taking well composed pictures to go with the stories I was covering than the actual writing. Then, a few months later as I was in my last year of University, I got to think about what I really wanted to do, and realized that photography took the biggest part of my heart.

I decided to go for it and give myself five years to see if I could become good at it, and make a living out of it. What fascinates me about photography is its universal language. Unlike other media, anyone can understand a picture, feel it, it speaks to the viewers. I probably say that as I’m a photographer but I feel that picture you love lives in you, you can think about it and they get you where the photographer was, which is amazing.

PP: Soon after finishing school, you left home to photograph in South Sudan. Tell us about this decision: What drove you to go to South Sudan? Why not someplace else?

CL: Since I was very little, I’ve always wanted to go and live in a place where no one else wants to go, and cover in-depth conflict related stories. I followed thoroughly the independence process of South Sudan and was shocked by the little coverage it got… plus all the pessimism around it really annoyed me.

Then, while doing research, I discovered the conflict in the Nuba Mountains. I became even more outraged by the fact that, except from a few media, no one talked about it. It became an obvious choice, I had to go and report from there. Yet, as a first experience in Africa, it seemed like a dangerous one. So I was trying to find alternatives.

I thought about moving to Uganda and going back and forth between the two countries. Then I realized I could probably get a job in a local paper and start within a structure instead of throwing myself out there with no contact, no portfolio and above all very little experience. So that’s what I did.

PP: You have described yourself as being most interested in “forgotten” people and causes, to whom no one pays attention. What makes these types of subjects so important to you?

CL: Throughout my journalism degree at Southampton Solent University in the UK, we studied a lot of journalism’s ethics. I became very keen on the duty of a journalist to tell stories and make them accessible to a broad audience.

I also realized what the media agenda was, and how so many serious stories were missing from the headlines simply because they don’t fit within that agenda, or the advertising company’s interests. I can’t accept that people’s tragedies are silenced simply because no one can make money out of them. I decided to do it myself, and bring some light to them no matter what.

PP: The images you’ve made there so far are consistently engaging, both in compositional style and through the sheer intimacy you portray. Talk briefly about your photographic goals in this country, what do you want your viewers to take away from your pictures?

CL: I want the viewers to feel what the people are going through, I’d like them to empathize with them as human beings, rather than seeing them as another bunch of Africans suffering from war somewhere in this dark continent. I wish they think “why on earth are those people in living hell, why don’t we know about it and why is no one doing anything?” I would like the viewers to be ashamed of their government for knowing about it without doing anything to make it end.

The killings of civilians in the Nuba, Blue Nile and Darfur have been going on for 30 years, and yet all the governments are still turning a blind eye on them. I don’t understand what makes it okay for Omar Al-Bashir to kill thousands of innocent people with no one saying anything!



PP: Your Vanishing Youth series takes a look at a group of young men who are both killers, and victims of their circumstances. Tell us more about the story here, and about the challenges in photographing such an emotionally charged story.

CL: The series was shot in two parts. The first part was shot in a hospital in Bor. At first I remember that I was taking pictures like those young men were patients suffering from diseases. At some point I stood back and realized that they were all killers, but they all looked so weaken, almost fragile below their strong and warrior-looking bodies, it didn’t make sense. I decided to continue shooting at the hospital for 5 more days. I was hoping to get them to take me along to follow their story longer but it didn’t happen.

The second part was shot in Yuai, when the rest of the youth who hadn’t been wounded came back to their village. Again, it was mixed feelings: happy to be home, shocked and weaken by the war, and sad to have lost some of their brothers.

I’m trying to show how they don’t have a choice, and how at such a young ages, they’re already ravaged by violence. They don’t have any way to escape, they can’t go to school as there is none because of the war. Their only option is to go and fight to protect their cattle, it’s important to understand that they really don’t have a choice, they must go and fight. It’s sad because behind their scary looks and heavy guns, they’re nice guys…

PP: I’m very interested in how close you seem to your subjects. What were the challenges of gaining the trust of the people and groups you photographed? How did you come to be accepted as not only a foreigner but as a photographer as well?

CL: The fact that I live in South Sudan for a while really helps. I live in a local house in local neighborhood, with no electricity and little comfort, so I don’t see myself as being very different from them. At first it was challenging to gain the trust to take pictures anywhere. South Sudanese aren’t very keen on being photographed; at the beginning people would shout at me or be even violent sometimes.

Now I don’t struggle anymore, I think I’ve learned the codes: it’s important to be polite, make jokes, feel the physical distance you should have and, above all, accept when they don’t want to be photographed.

After living so many years at war, South Sudanese and Sudanese can read into someone’s eyes very quickly and clearly. I’m convinced by what I’m doing, so perhaps that’s why they feel that they can trust me.

PP: What lessons have you taken away from your experiences in South Sudan to this point? What personal experiences have been sticking with you?

CL: Since I’ve moved to South Sudan, I’ve probably changed a lot as a person, become more mature I suppose and more aware of and open to others. The whole moving to South Sudan is an experience by itself, I’ve realized that we don’t need much to live or be happy, simplicity is often more than enough. One important thing is to keep an open heart towards others and what I might not understand — I’m not one to judge, and the best I can do is to learn from each other’s differences. Differences are what makes each of us unique and fascinating.

PP: Talk about the joys of your career as a photojournalist. What about the pitfalls?

CL: Not sure I can talk about my ‘career’ just yet, I’m still just getting started! I find it amazing to be able to travel probably to some of the most remote areas, meet wonderful people everywhere and being able to document them.

I also like seeing people respond to my pictures. I had my first exhibition in September, and the curators Les Tisseurs d’Images organized a conference where some people from Sudan congratulated me afterwards. One of them was so moved that tears were rolling on his cheeks while holding my hands thanking me for my work and saying it showed exactly how it is there. So I started sobbing too, happy that he appreciated it, but sad that the situation hasn’t changed since he left Sudan years ago…

What’s truly frustrating is that the media is indeed not interested! I was secretly hoping to make things change, but quickly realized it’s going to take longer than I thought. I sincerely hope that once the stories are complete, it would be easier to get them out, if not through media, through books, or perhaps exhibitions."
2013  camillelepage  photography  communication  photojournalism  journalism  interviews  sudan  centralafricanrepublic  storytelling  africa 
may 2014 by robertogreco
6, 5: Hills
"The systemic problems – climate change, mass violence, police state, you name ’em – will not be solved from any single angle. One necessary one, I think, is sushi knife cuts across the idea that we are restoring the world. Sometimes, narrowly, this makes some sense: we can say, for example, that there was a past in which there were better women’s health options in Texas than there are today, and use it as an example. But most of the past sucked real bad, or was not a stable object. The good king to whom Robin Hood was loyal was, in the historical record, what we would now call a bad king. And the implication that we can turn the Anthropocene back into the Holocene is simply false, and a dishonest goal; we have to talk about how we’re never going home, but if we work hard we might make a new home that’s better than what we’ve begun to trek into.

A DM conversation with ace reporter Robinson Meyer (gently edited for clarity):

Rob: Have you played 2048, Dan W edition yet?

Me: No.

Rob: It is a hoot.

Rob: http://games.usvsth3m.com/2048/dan-w-edition/

Me: Astonishing.

Me: Died at 2656.

Me: What can we say about the people who think this is fun and clever?

Me: Can we make a more interesting description than “people who have heard of the New Aesthetic”?

Rob: Confusion: Do you think it was not fun and clever, or are you trying to name the very real category?

Me: I think it’s extremely fun and clever.

Me: And I’m trying to get at what this kind of enjoyment is beyond “people out there share my obsessions with certain ‘boring’/‘weird’ things”.

Rob: Haha, okay. Right. Yeah.

Rob: My shorthand is, indeed, usually “weird.” But that in itself is a shorthand for estrangement.

Rob: Estrangeurs.

Me: I sometimes think if it as: bulk people.

Me: People interested in mass transportation, mass communication, massive slabs of data.

Rob: The Blurry Commons.

Rob: (I think it is common-in-bulk—it being not enough to revive the old, say, Judt-esque progressive adoration for trains.)

Rob: The Fans of Connected Signifiers of Disconnection and Vice Versa.

Rob: Shirepunk.

Rob: Domesdayists.

Me: Census-botherers.

Rob: Because it’s partly about working on problems at 45 degree angles to climate.

Rob: Whigpunk.

Rob: But actually this time.

Me: Ack, perfect.

Rob: That’s what it feels like to be thought-led.

It might also be this thing or not. It might be about scale – the feeling of something on the edge between subitizable and not. (It also has the grace of something made by a friend for a friend – which animates some of my favorite light art, even where it lacks other merits.)"
scale  charlieloyd  2014  whigpunk  newaesthetic  climatechange  mailart  tuitui  micronations  robinsonmeyer  wendellberry  systemsthinking  systems  decline  disaster  lauraseay  jasonstearns  gérardprunier  catharinenewbury  davidnewbury  séverineautesserre  africa  genocide  southsudan  sudan  rwanda  centralafricanrepublic  injustice  libertarianism  normanborlaug  anthropocene 
may 2014 by robertogreco
Music Of Bayaka Pygmies Featured In New Film : NPR
"ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Now, a new movie that does a very good job with a familiar old theme - man from economically developed, formerly known as civilized world, goes off to live and find meaning in traditional, formerly known as primitive society. The movie is "Oka." The society in question is a clan of Bayaka pygmies who live in the Central African Republic and what elevates this twist on the old trope is the stunning music of the pygmies, their voices...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: ...and their use of virtually everything around them, trees, even the water in the stream, as musical instruments."
centralafricanrepublic  filmmaking  laviniacurrier  louissarno  oka  film  2012  pygmies  africa  bayakapygmies  bayaka  music  sound 
january 2012 by robertogreco

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