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T. S. Eliot Memorial Reading: Fred Moten - YouTube
“The first annual T. S. Eliot Memorial Reading honored the work of Fred Moten, who was introduced by Prof. Teju Cole.

Recorded on April 25, 2019, at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard University.

Sponsored by the Woodberry Poetry Room and the T. S. Eliot Foundation.“
tseliot  fredmoten  tejucole  2019  towatch  freedom  vigor  love  witness  withness  breakingform  ephasia  art  writing  fluency  transformation  we  uninterrogatedwes  ceciltaylor  language  escape  édouardglissant  tonimorrison  howweread  howwewrite  difference  separability  meaning  meaningmaking  words  poetry  expression  togetherness  liberation  howweteach  lacan  criticaltheory  reading  purity  jamesbaldwin  race  beauty  criticism  self  selflessness  fugitives  fugitivity  work  labor  laziness  us  capitalism  politics  identity  society  belonging  immigration  africandiaspora  diaspora  violence  langstonhughes  looking  listening  queer  queerness  bettedavis  eyes  ugliness  bodies  canon 
4 days ago by robertogreco
Class Day Lecture: Teju Cole - YouTube
[See also: https://www.harvardmagazine.com/2019/05/commencement-teju-cole ]

"The GSD has named Teju Cole as its 2019 Class Day speaker. Teju Cole is a novelist, essayist, photographer, and curator. His books include Open City, Blind Spot and, most recently, Human Archipelago. He has been honored with the PEN/Hemingway Award, the Internationaler Literaturpreis, the Windham Campbell Prize, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, among many other prizes. His photography has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions, and he was the photography critic of the New York Times Magazine from 2015 until 2019. He is the Gore Vidal Professor of the Practice of Creative Writing at Harvard."
tejucole  2019  commencementaddresses  design  refugees  tonimorrison  fascism  patriarchy  whitesupremacy  oppression  complicity  power  doors  sandiego  borderfieldstatepark  friendshippark  border  borders  migration  immigration  us  mexico  tijuana  borderpatrol  humanism  grace  chivalry  hospitality  humans  kindness  commencementspeeches 
10 weeks ago by robertogreco
Teju Cole, "Ethics", Lecture 3 of 3, 04.22.19 - YouTube
"The 2019 Berlin Family Lectures with Teju Cole
"Coming to Our Senses"
Lecture three: "Ethics"
April 22, 2019

How do our senses foster our moral understanding and ethical obligations to others? In the third and final lecture of the 2019 Randy L. and Melvin R. Berlin Family Lecture Series, acclaimed author, critic, and photographer Teju Cole thinks through how our senses can help us understand the plight of travelers and migrants. Cole implores us to recognize the mutual and unshirkable responsibilities that bind all human beings.

This is the second lecture in a three-lecture series presented in the spring of 2019 at the University of Chicago.

Named for Randy L. and Melvin R. Berlin, the Berlin Family Lectures bring leading scholars, writers, and creative artists from around the world to the University of Chicago. Each visitor offers an extended series of lectures with the aim of interacting with the university community and developing a book for publication with the University of Chicago Press. Learn more at http://berlinfamilylectures.uchicago.edu.

If you experience any technical difficulties with this video or would like to make an accessibility-related request, please send a message to humanities@uchicago.edu."
2019  tejucole  ethics  senses  migrants  migration  travelers  responsibility  humanism  lauraletinsky  photography  location  situation  howwewrite  interconnectedness  interconnected  malta  caravaggio  art  painting  writing  reading  knowing  knowledge  seeing  annecarson  smell  death  grief  dying 
11 weeks ago by robertogreco
Teju Cole on the unpredictability and potential of the city: “Once you give up insisting on stereotypes, you can really start to see.” - Harvard Graduate School of Design
"The work of novelist, essayist, and photographer Teju Cole is a genre-defying exploration of race, governance, migration, justice, culture, music, and privilege. It is defined by a comfort with uncertainty and a commitment to defending the freedom and autonomy of others.

The city is the motif that recurs most frequently in Cole’s work. He is drawn to the unpredictability and potential of the urban environment and its endless narrative material. And he is intrigued by the “continuities” between cities—what makes them similar, regardless of size, median income, or hemisphere—as well what makes each one unique. He describes these peculiarities as “smaller zones of interest that, once you give up insisting on stereotypes, you can really start to see.”

“The guidebooks might say, ‘Check out fabulous Florence.’ Or, ‘Kinshasa’s a mess,’” Cole says. “The reality is that teenagers in Florence hang out at the mall, teenagers in Kinshasa hang out at the mall. People in both places who have money can go to nice restaurants. Florence has a trash problem, so does Kinshasa. It’s the same story. The task of insisting on that continuity feels to me like a writerly ethical responsibility. What makes one city different from another is the subtleties, the smaller things you notice when you relinquish the task of exaggerating.”

Cole spent nearly two decades each in Lagos and New York, and he says that they are examples of cities that serve “intellectually as a source of exploration of thinking for my work.” He explains, “If you draw a map around New York, Zurich, Lagos, and São Paulo, they represent the extremes of what cities are and what they do, and each in its own way precisely represents some interests of mine. New York, Lagos, and São Paulo are all part of what I consider the Black Atlantic, places that have been shaped by the black creative presence to a very large extent.” His 2007 debut novel, Every Day Is for the Thief, takes place in Lagos, while his second novel, Open City, and a number of essays are set in New York.

[photo with caption: "“Kitchen to living room. Bedroom to bathroom. Downstairs to get the mail. House to subway. An evening stroll. You take around 7500 steps each day. If you live to eighty, inshallah, that comes to 200 million steps over the course of your life, a hundred thousand miles. You don't consider yourself a great walker, but you will have circumnavigated the globe on foot four times over. Downstairs to get the mail. Basement for laundry. Living room to bedroom. Up in the middle of the night for a glass of water. Walking through the darkened house, you suddenly pause.” “Zürich,” from Blind Spot, by Teju Cole."]

Cole’s writing has been translated into more than 15 languages and has earned him numerous awards, including the prestigious Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. His photography has led to guest curating opportunities and solo exhibitions in seven countries on three continents. In addition to his two novels, he has published Known and Strange Things, a collection of essays on art, literature, photography, and politics; Blind Spot, a singular collection of photographs and writing; and Human Archipelago, a meditation on refugees and displaced people with photographer Fazal Sheikh. He has written for the New Yorker, Granta, and other magazines, and served as the photography critic of the New York Times Magazine from 2015 to 2019.

This afternoon, Cole, Harvard’s first Gore Vidal Professor of the Practice of Creative Writing, will deliver the Class Day address for the Graduate School of Design. He plans to use his address to encourage graduates “to think about our life together” and to imagine how a future can be conceived and built. Cole himself is a model for a cross-disciplinary creative practice that is at once intellectually rigorous, politically and socially engaged, and unbound to any singular medium.

[photo with caption: "“A gust of wind sweeps in from across the lake. The curtain shifts, and suddenly everything can be seen. The scales fall from our eyes. The landscape opens. No longer are we alone: they are with us now, have been all along, all our living and all our dead.” Excerpt from “Rivaz,” from Blind Spot, by Teju Cole."]

Cole’s fluidity between forms of expression can be credited, at least in part, to a background that has elements of multiplicity and movement, trial and error, switchbacks and reboots. Born in 1975 in Kalamazoo, Michigan to Nigerian parents, his life began with two passports, cultures, and languages. At four months old, Cole moved with his family to Lagos, Nigeria, where he lived until he returned to Michigan to pursue studies in art and art history at Kalamazoo College. Later he would go on to study African art history at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London and art history at Columbia University in New York.

“It was an important fact mentally to know that I belong to Nigeria and the United States,” he says. With time, that comfort with the in-between of dual identities evolved into a confidence in belonging to both places. “It’s always interested me, this idea of, ‘Oh, we don’t say it that way in America.’ To which my response is, ‘Well, we do now.’ Whatever I am, whatever I do, that’s part of America now. This imagined community that we call a nation is ever-expanding and ever-complexifying, and that’s a good thing. We’ve expanded the possibilities.”

Although he first made a name for himself as a novelist, Cole has always identified equally as a writer and a photographer. “I got into both at the same time, around 2004. With whatever I had studied, with whatever my education was, there was a certain voicing that I knew I wanted to explore more in writing. At SOAS, I started what I would say were the very first glimmerings of Open City. I wrote maybe five pages, but it was Mad Libs, no sentences. It was like a fever dream,” he remembers. “But by 2005, I started to feel like, ‘No, I need to write clear sentences’ and let the clarity convey the energy, just have it be cumulative. Around the same time, I started shooting with a film camera.” In Every Day Is for the Thief, a novella that follows a young Nigerian returning to Lagos after years in the US, Cole weaves black and white photographs throughout the narrative.

[photo with caption: "“I opened my eyes. What lay before me looked like the sound of the alphorn at the beginning of the final movement of Brahm’s First Symphony. This was the sound, this was the sound I saw.” “Brienzersee,” from Blind Spot, by Teju Cole."]

In Blind Spot, images and photographs also have equal footing in a series of single-spread couplets—on one page a full-color image, on the other, prose. Inspired by the six months Cole spent living in Zurich, the book is a call-and-response between a snapshot of a place and a burst of associations. His aim is to come at a subject in such a way that the audience experiences something unexpected that, as he once said, “detonates on some deeper level.”

Cole credits his time writing monthly photography criticism for the New York Times Magazine with growing his photography practice. Reading the photographs of others opened him up to taking his own. Called “On Photography,” his column also gave him an opportunity to engage in a deeper dialogue with the history of photography and to consider himself in relation to artists including Stephen Shore, William Eggleston, Luigi Ghirri, and Guido Guidi. He says that contemporary Italian photographers like Ghirri have had an especially significant and validating influence on his work.

[photo with caption: "“I pray to Tarkovsky, Marker, and Hitchcock. I acknowledge the dumb skull, the verso of the face, the local globe from which all thinking originates. I pray to Ojeikere and Richter, in whose works someone is always turning away. In certain pictures, we can verify a character’s presence, but, without the clues of the confessional face, not what the character thinks. What has turned away contains itself.” Excerpt from “Chicago,” from Blind Spot, by Teju Cole."]

Yet Cole says that the most life-defining experiences behind his work have been purely interior. Becoming a born-again Christian at age 13 injected heaviness and seriousness into his life; coming out the other side as an atheist at age 28 changed his “relationship to the world and ethics.” And, at 33, he found what he calls an “even keel” spiritually, outside of religion. “Open City came out in 2011 and that was really what got the public aspect of my career going. But what was important happened eight years before [at 28]: discovering that I had a sense of how to move forward in my life. The pivotal moments have had to do with my relationship to my own being in the world. Some of the external stuff is nice, but I will never define myself around that. Ever. It could all be gone tomorrow. It doesn’t matter because that’s not the definition.”

Cole left New York to take up his teaching role at Harvard in January 2019. Being back in academia, on the other side of the lectern, is right for him, right now, he says. He clearly enjoys nudging his students toward the difficult interior places to find voice, material, and meaning.

“I’m trying to be free. I was influenced by people who are free, including Toni Morrison and John Berger, great artists…. Learning to prioritize that freedom is what led me to this work. Not in a glib ‘I could do anything’ way but in an ‘I have a responsibility to expand the field, to move the center’ way. So, what I say to students is not, ‘You can do anything,’ but ‘You can do a lot, if you’re serious about picking up the necessary skills for each of the things you want to do.’”"
tejucole  toread  2019  salaelisepatterson  cities  urban  urbanism  unpredictability  stereotypes  seeing  noticing  johnberger  tonimorrison  photography  writing 
11 weeks ago by robertogreco
“Design Is Not an Intellectual Exercise” | Harvard Magazine
"STANDING BEFORE a graduating class of soon-to-be architects and designers and urban planners at the Graduate School of Design’s Class Day, Teju Cole—the Vidal professor of the practice of creative writing—wanted to talk about doors. Real doors, but also symbolic ones. He began with a story from his own childhood in Lagos, Nigeria, about a door his father had brought home from a trip to Brazil, a “honey-colored, luminous, gorgeous” object that was “fit for a cathedral” but had no practical place in the family’s two-bedroom rented flat. For years, said Cole, the unused and unusable door gathered dust in the corner of their home, but his father remained committed to the idea it represented: a house and property of their own. That commitment “stayed with me, not only as an act of faith, but as an instinct for understanding a kind of power of portals.”

Cole is a novelist, essayist, photographer, and curator. His five books include Open City, Blind Spot, and most recently, Human Archipelago, a collaboration with photographer Fazal Sheikh that explores the plight of displaced persons and refugees around the world. Cole’s own photography has been the subject of solo exhibitions, and from 2015 until 2019, he was the photography critic of The New York Times.

In his speech, he wound through the etymology of the word “door”—one of the oldest in human civilization, as ancient as “hand,” or “bread,” or “home”—and its equally ancient architectural history (“a house without a door is either a dungeon or a tomb”). He spoke about doors as a rich, resonant subject for artwork, and explored the symbolic force of the word’s many meanings: passageways, openings, opportunities, the act of crossing over, of overcoming. Finally, his meditation landed on a very different kind of door. A few years ago, he traveled from Lagos across what was once called the Slave Coast of West Africa, to Ouidah, Benin, where a giant bronze and concrete arch, the Door of No Return, memorializes the enslaved who were taken from that place. Cole saw the tree to which people had been chained, the field that was once a holding pen for thousands, the pit where those who rebelled were thrown to their deaths. “This was a journey into traces of human cruelty,” he said.

He looked out at the graduating class. “Design is not an intellectual exercise,” he said. Taken altogether, their work will be influential. “But the question of what kind of influence you will have is up to you. We face challenges, and we need you to be a door for us. We’re living in a time of toxic patriarchy still. We are living in a time of white supremacy still. There are those who agree to build prisons. There are those who agree to build detention camps. Oppression has always had great use for architects and designers and urban planners. Redlining was a technical skill. And everything that betrays our collective humanity depends on people just like you, with skills just like yours.”

He wasn’t finished. “Fascism in guises large and small requires signage and advertising,” Cole said. “It requires vivid design and the architecture of enmity. History assures us that many, many people get swept up in the flood of its seduction.” He paused. “Will you be one of those who refuse to participate? Even when you know that there will be no medals for your refusal? Even when you’re assured that your refusal will only earn you mockery, poverty, or worse?”

A few minutes later, he returned to an idea he’d introduced in the beginning of the speech: how people become doorways for each other, to help others get where they are going. He quoted the author Toni Morrison, who, in a 2003 interview, said, “I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.’”

“I think about that a lot,” Cole said. He told the graduates-to-be that it is important to take their professional endeavors seriously, to work toward mastery in all their skills. “But expertise is not the destination,” he cautioned. “The destination is freedom. What can we do to free others? Sure, we are experts, but under what ethical pressures does this function? In other words, how do we become a door for others to pass through?” Later, he added a wish for the graduates’ careers. “You will do work that allows you to live with yourself. That’s the bigger dream, putting feeling into form in a way that doesn’t do violence to what is human in you.”

And what about his father’s door? Eight years later, Cole said, his parents—both of whom were in the audience—finally were able to buy a piece of land, on the outskirts of Lagos. They built a house there, and placed the door in it, “like a jewel in a velvet cushion.” Three years after that, Cole left home at 17 to go to college in the United States. And “it was through this doorway, literally, that I stepped—this beautiful, long-nurtured Brazilian door.”"
tejucole  2019  design  fascism  patriarchy  whitesupremacy  oppression  complicity  tonimorrison  power  doors 
11 weeks ago by robertogreco
Teju Cole — Sitting Together in the Dark - The On Being Project
"Writer and photographer Teju Cole says he is “intrigued by the continuity of places, by the singing line that connects them all.” He attends to the border, overlap and interplay of things — from Brahms and Baldwin to daily technologies like Google. To delve into his mind and his multiple arts is to meet this world with creative raw materials for enduring truth and quiet hope."



"I’m going to go back to a word I used earlier, which is how much help we need. We sometimes think of culture as something we go out there and consume. And this especially happens around clever people, smart people — “Have you read this? Did you check out that review? Do you know this poet? What about this other poet?” Blah blah blah. And we have these checkmarks — “I read 50 books last year” — and everybody wants to be smart and keep up. I find that I’m less and less interested in that, and more and more interested in what can help me and what can jolt me awake. Very often, what can jolt me awake is stuff that is written not for noonday but for the middle of the night. And that has to do with — again, with the concentration of energies in it.

Tomas Tranströmer, the Swedish poet, who died — can’t remember; maybe 2013 he died. He seemed to have unusual access to this membrane between this world and some other world that, as Paul Éluard said, is also in this one. Tranströmer, in his poetry, keeps slipping into that space.

In any case, I just found his work precisely the kind of thing I wanted to read in the silence of the middle of the night and feel myself escaping my body in a way that I become pure spirit, in a way. I remember when he won the Nobel Prize, which was in 2011. We live in an age of opinion, and people always have opinions, especially about things they know nothing about. So people who were hearing about Tranströmer for the first time that morning were very grandly opining that his collected works come to maybe 250 pages, that how could he possibly get the Nobel Prize for that slender body of work? — which, of course, was missing the fact that each of these pages was a searing of the consciousness that was only achieved at by great struggle. I think the best thing to compare him to is the great Japanese poets of haiku, like Kobayashi or Basho."



"But I wrote this today, and — for a long time now, but very definitely since January 1 of this year, I’ve been thinking about hospitality, because I wanted a container for some things I didn’t know where to put about the present moment. Who’s kin? Who’s family? Who’s in, who’s out? And just thinking this whole year about the question of hospitality has given me a way to read a lot of things that are very distressing, in this country and in the world, around the border but also around domestic policy. So this one goes against the grain, but I needed to put it down.

“The extraordinary courage of Lassana Bathily, an immigrant from Mali, saved six lives during a terrorist attack at a kosher supermarket at the Porte de Vincennes in 2015. He was rewarded with French citizenship by the French president, François Hollande.

“But this is not a story about courage.

“The superhuman agility and bravery of Mamadou Gassama, an immigrant from Mali, saved a baby from death in the 18th Arrondissement in May 2018. He was rewarded with French citizenship by the French president, Emmanuel Macron.

“But this is not a story about bravery.

“The superhuman is rewarded with formal status as a human. The merely human, meanwhile, remains unhuman, quasi-human, subhuman. Gassama crossed the Mediterranean in a tiny boat — that was superhuman, but no one filmed that, he remained subhuman, and there was no reward.

“Such is Empire’s magnanimity. Merci, patron. Je suis tellement reconnaissant, patron.

“The hand that gives, it is said in Mali, is always above the hand that receives. Those who are hungry cannot reject food. Not only those who are hungry but those who have been deliberately starved. But soon come the day when the Hebrews will revolt and once and for all refuse Pharaoh’s capricious largesse.

Hospitality.”

Because I wanted to think about this beyond what seemed, to me, too easy — the headlines, the gratitude — “Oh, he was heroic. He was like Spiderman, and the French government did a great thing and made him a citizen.”

How did we get here? Why is this enough? How did we get into the position where he kneels down to receive the crumbs?

If I were still on Twitter and I wrote that, I might get cancelled. You get cancelled when you’re out of step with the general opinion."



"I just find that anything really loud and hectic can just last for a moment, but it does not get to that deepest place, that place of self-recognition, which becomes indistinguishable from other-recognition, which is continuous with world-recognition. So I’m attracted, in all the arts, to those places where something has been quietened, where concentration has been established. I think one of the great artistic questions for any practitioner of art is, how do you help other people concentrate on a moment? This photograph, it’s a frontal portrait of a young woman, but it’s not a posed portrait. She’s in a crowd, and he has photographed her. She’s African-American, but her skin is dark, and he has made it darker still in the way he has printed it so that your first thought is, “Oh, could we lighten that a little bit?” And then you think, “No — no, no, no. Why am I feeling this way about this image?” In all the arts, there are those moments that are as though somebody has made the gesture of raising a palm, which is not a stop sign, but a — ”Attend, hush, listen.”

I think those are the moments we really live for in art, the moment where the artfulness falls away, and all that is left is that thing we don’t have a better word for beyond poetry."



"This is going to be my worst misquotation of the evening. But Toni Morrison talks about — we die, and that may be the — does anybody know it? — that may be the length of our lives or span of our lives; but we do language, and that may be the meaning of our lives — something in that direction. And I think it is somewhere in there. A frank confrontation with the facts is that between two cosmic immensities of time, you are born, you flare up for a moment, and you’re gone. And within two generations, everybody who knew you personally will also be dead. Your name might survive, but who cares? Nobody’s going to remember your little habits or who you were. So one meaning of our lives might be that we die.

But then the other is this other thing that has nothing to do with the noise out there — advertising, arguing on social media, which we all can get tempted into — or even our personal disputes or even our anxieties, even our struggles — but some other thing that is like this undertow that connects us to everyone currently alive and everyone that has lived and everyone that will live. So I think there’s just the stark, existential fact. It’s not fashionable to take up labels or whatever, but on some level, I’m sort of an existentialist. I don’t think it necessarily has a grander meaning. I certainly don’t believe that God has a wonderful plan to make it all OK. I used to. I don’t believe that anymore. You die; I don’t know what happens. I talk to my dead; I don’t know if they’re anywhere. You die, and it hurts people who love you.

But then, the other thing is that if there’s no grander, larger meaning, in real time there does seem to be a grand and large meaning. Right this minute, this does seem to be something that is real, that might not be meaning but comes awfully close to it: to be sitting together in the dark of this political and social moment, to be sitting together in the dark of what it actually means to be a human being, even if this were a euphoric political moment.

So there’s the grim view of, we’re not here for very long, and LOL no one cares, and then there’s the other thing, which is when your favorite song gets to that part that you love, and you just feel something; or when you’ve had a series of crappy meals and then finally, you get a well-spiced, balanced goat biryani — you know, when the spices are really fresh? Black pepper — a lot of people get black pepper wrong. Really fresh black pepper — and you have this moment.

So these moments of pleasure, of epiphany, of focus, of being there, in their instantaneous way can actually feel like a little nudge that’s telling you, “By the way, this is why you’re alive. And this is not going to last, but never mind that for now.” It happens in art, and it happens in friendship, and it happens in food, and it happens in sex, and it happens in a long walk, and it happens in being immersed in a body of water — baptism, once again — and it happens in running and endorphins and all those moments that psychologists describe as “flow.”

But what is interesting about them is that they happen in real time. As Seamus Heaney says, “Useless to think you’ll park and capture it / More thoroughly. You are […] / A hurry through which known and strange things pass.”

You’re just a conduit for that. But if you are paying attention, it’s almost — I’m not sure if it’s enough, but it’s almost enough. I’m certainly glad for it. I’d rather have it than not have it.

What do you think?"
tejucole  stillness  2019  truth  hope  interconnected  jamesbaldwin  brahms  place  borders  interstitial  tomastranströmer  smartness  reading  poetry  wokeness  kin  family  families  hospitality  photography  art  silence  quietness  listening  donaldtrump  barackobama  howwewrite  howweread  writing  tonimorrison  socialmedia  noise  meaning  seamusheaney  fear  future  optimism  johnberger  rebeccasolnit  virginiawoolf  hopelessness  kalamazoo  pauléluard  primolevi  instagram  twitter 
may 2019 by robertogreco
Teju Cole en Instagram: “⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Brushing my teeth last night, on the cusp of the hour-stutter, I asked myself how evil came into the world. Pandora, the one who…”
"Brushing my teeth last night, on the cusp of the hour-stutter, I asked myself how evil came into the world. Pandora, the one who bears all gifts, is first named in Hesiod’s “Works and Days.” A century or so later, in the 6th century BCE, unknown Hebrew authors write “Genesis,” probably while in Babylonian exile, likely influenced by the Greek story.
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Pandora opens the jar. Eve eats the fruit. The misogyny in the narratives is one parallel; another is that evil enters the world through too much knowledge. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, no less than Pandora’s Jar, is a device. The lid that is sprung, the knowledge that comes streaming out like arterial blood, the one-way torrent of pain that cannot be reversed or undone. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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The one who bears all gifts... ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Too much knowledge...
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And no going back..."
tejucole  pandora  evil  knowledge  2018  ancientgreece  greekmyths  myths  religion  bible  babylonia  misogyny 
november 2018 by robertogreco
not a contrarian | sara hendren
"From this series of questions to Zadie Smith [https://losarciniegas.blogspot.com/2018/01/zadie-smith-i-have-very-messy-and.html ] comes Teju Cole’s question:

Cole: You must be under some pressure to be agreeable, to agree with the right opinions. But I notice that you think through things, rather than just agreeing to them. How do you defend that space of independent thought?

Smith: I don’t think of myself as a contrarian. I’m useless at confrontation. But I also can’t stand dogma, lazy ideas, catchphrases, group-think, illogic, pathos disguised as logos, shoutiness, ad hominem attacks, bombast, liberal piety, conservative pomposity, ideologues, essentialists, technocrats, preachers, fanatics, cheerleaders or bullies. Like everybody, I am often guilty of some version of all of the above, but I do think the job of writing is to at least try and minimise that sort of thing as much as you can."
zadiesmith  tejucole  sarahendren  2018  confrontation  opinions  pressure  contrarians  contrarianism  thinking  dogma  laziness  catchphrases  groupthink  logic  pathos  logos  adhominenattacks  pomposity  ideology  essntialism  technocrats  preachers  preaching  fanaticism  cheerleading  bullying  writing  howwewrote  howwwethink 
november 2018 by robertogreco
Teju Cole en Instagram: “⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ It’s not hard to see why someone might be a Republican. We arrive at our affiliations through complex skeins of family…”
"It’s not hard to see why someone might be a Republican. We arrive at our affiliations through complex skeins of family connections, religious obligations, and social networks.
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But it’s hard to see how any morally serious person would remain a Republican. I can’t respect it. I can’t praise it in any form. No way. I can’t respect it, and dismiss out of hand any request to be polite about it or observe decorum around it. If right now, if today, in this year in this country, you’re still a Republican, you’re...wrong. You’re morally unserious. You’re not just enabling it. You’re it.
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Sure, you might still be “a good person” in some private way, but, frankly, who gives a shit about that right now? The house is on fire. You’re a Republican. In 2018. That’s reckless endangerment. This is not “difference of opinion.” The house is on fire. Politically, you’re wrong as wrong can be, wrong in a way that is consequential for all your fellow citizens and catastrophic for many of them.
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One more thing, the opposite of Republican is not Democrat. But that’s a different conversation.
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One more thing, “controversial” is a weasel word. A thing’s either true or it isn’t. It’s true or it’s not true or its truth value is hard to determine; but “controversial” is an emotive but fundamentally meaningless non-contribution to the conversation."
tejucole  2018  politics  controversy  republicans  democrats  us  truth 
august 2018 by robertogreco
Teju Cole en Instagram: “⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Among the most revealing material, in aggregate, from the past two years, is what left and liberal white Americans find funny…”
"Among the most revealing material, in aggregate, from the past two years, is what left and liberal white Americans find funny (not only them, but primarily them): what they find funny, what they find fascinating, what they think counts as a clever riposte to horror. They amplify the horror with their jokes, or with a performance of disgust at it all, but a disgust that is possible only because it is episodic, impersonal and, finally, generative of more mirth. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Everyone hopes for a viral tweet. The skill of letting foolishness pass without comment is in short supply. And how much of the commentary is clever, how much of it is mere clever chatter.
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"I have of late, (but wherefore I know not) lost all my mirth..."
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We need a poetics of humorlessness. We need to extricate the refusal to laugh from automatic moral condemnation (“Don’t be so humorless!”) and re-recognize it as a valid and apt strategy of refusal. To opt out of the general laughter is not to be anti-social. Sometimes it's just not funny. Or what’s funny about it is darker, costlier, less obvious, more secret.
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In another section of the prison camp, where the prisoners are treated more harshly, there are fewer jokes. There is less likelihood, in this part of the prison—where from time to time prisoners are taken away and killed— of confusing “coping through humor” with “garnering momentary prestige through a public performance of wit.” ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

In this harsher section of the prison camp, the prisoners nevertheless are forced to hear at all hours, through the prison walls, the incessant laughter from the other side."
tejucole  2018  internet  online  twitter  attention  behavior  liberalism  horror  performance  humor  humorlessness  morality  jokes  laughter  condemnation 
august 2018 by robertogreco
Teju Cole en Instagram: “⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ The Starbucks thing hit me harder than I expected. I've been brooding for days. On the face of it, it's inconsequential. It is…”
"The Starbucks thing hit me harder than I expected. I've been brooding for days. On the face of it, it's inconsequential. It is certainly inconsequential in direct comparison to the "newsworthy" horrors we are used to. No one was shot. Nobody died.
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It happened on an ordinary day in an ordinary place. But that's also the reason it stings: precisely because of that ordinariness. Show of hands: who's ever been to a Starbucks? It happened in Starbucks, with their overpriced faux-Italian drinks, to people like us, doing the things we do, waiting for a friend to arrive before ordering.
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Keen-eared Professor Iyer notes that playing overhead during the arrest was Dizzy Gillespie's Salt Peanuts. A compact contemporary history of public space could be written with the title "Black Music, Yes! Black People, No!"
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We are not safe even in the most banal place. We are not equal even in the most common circumstances. We are always five minutes away from having our lives upended. Racism is not about actively doing stuff to you all the time—it's also about passively keeping you on tenterhooks. We are always one sour white away from having the cops arrive. And the cops! The cops are like a machine that can’t stop once set in motion, what Fela called "zombie." When the cops arrive, the human aspect of the encounter is over.
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This is why I always say you can't be a black flaneur. Flanerie is for whites. For blacks in white terrain, all spaces are charged. Cafes, restaurants, museums, shops. Your own front door. This is why we are compelled, instead, to practice psychogeography. We wander alert, and pay a heavy psychic toll for that vigilance. Can't relax, black."
tejucole  2018  starbucks  flaneur  psychogeography  race  racism  blackness  us 
april 2018 by robertogreco
Teju Cole (@_tejucole) • Fotos y vídeos de Instagram
"—[shine in the upper register]
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Ancient hospitality arises out of a sense of human duty, not human rights. You are to be hospitable to strangers (in your home) and at the same time visit war, brutality, and genocide on them (in theirs).
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—[unsuppressed artifact of gallery lights]
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The conjunction is “and.” The two are a continuity. They are not in contradiction
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—[embodiment/ subjectivity]"
2018  tejucole  hospitality 
march 2018 by robertogreco
Teju Cole (@_tejucole) • Fotos y vídeos de Instagram
"Do the photos in this series have a name?
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Well since I began in January I’ve been saving them in a folder called “Hospitality.” So I suppose that’s it.
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What is hospitality?
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Many things. But today I’m thinking of a definition in the negative: torture is a radical form of inhospitality.
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Why so?
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Because of the way it reads the conjunction of power and the body. The face of the other is the face of God, the care of the body of the other is sacred. At the extreme other end of the scale to that is torture, which has everything to do with humiliation and almost nothing to do with collecting information. But I’ve been to the sea today, and I’m also thinking of the sea, the blueness of the afternoon sea. Robert Rauschenberg and the blueness of the sea."
tejucole  hospitality  inhospitality  2008 
march 2018 by robertogreco
On the Blackness of the Panther – Member Feature Stories – Medium
"At least once a day, I think: “another world is possible.” There’s life yet in our dreams. The pan-African political project is still alive. The memory of whatever was good in the Bandung Conference or the Organization of African Unity still makes the heart race. Flashes of common cause among the Darker Nations can be illuminating and sustaining. But “Africa” as trope and trap, backdrop and background, interests me ever less.

I am more fascinated by Nairobi than by Africa, just as I am more intrigued by Milan than by Europe. The general is where solidarity begins, but the specific is where our lives come into proper view. I don’t want to hear “Africa” unless it’s a context in which someone would also say “Asia” or “Europe.” Ever notice how real Paris is? That’s how real I need Lagos to be. Folks can talk about Paris all day without once generalizing about Europe. I want to talk about Lagos, I don’t want to talk about Africa. I want to hear someone speaking Yoruba, Ewe, Tiv, or Lingala. “African” is not a language. I want to know if a plane is going to the Félix-Houphouët-Boigny International Airport. You can’t go to “Africa,” fam. Africa is almost twelve million square miles. I want to be particular about being particular about what we are talking about when we talk about Africa.

* * *

I grew up with black presidents, black generals, black kings, black heroes, both invented and real, black thieves too, black fools. It was Nigeria, biggest black nation on earth. I shared a city with Fela Kuti for seventeen years. Everyone was black! I’ve seen so many black people my retina’s black.

But, against the high gloss white of anti-black America, blackness visible is a relief and a riot. That is something you learn when you learn black. Marvel? Disney? Please. I won’t belabor the obvious. But black visibility, black enthusiasm (in a time of death), black spectatorship, and black skepticism: where we meet is where we meet.

Going on twenty six years now. I learned African and am mostly over it. But what is that obdurate and versatile substance formed by tremendous pressure? What is “vibranium”? Too simple to think of it as a metal, and tie it to resource curses. Could it be something less palpable, could it be a stand-in for blackness itself, blackness as an embodied riposte to anti-blackness, a quintessence of mystery, resilience, self-containedness, and irreducibility?

Escape! I would rather be in the wild. I would rather be in a civilization of my own making, bizarre, contrary, as vain as the whites, exterior to their logic. I’m always scoping the exits. Drapetomania, they called it, in Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race (1851), the irrepressible desire in certain slaves to run away.

* * *

Ten years pass and I still dream about that cat. The eyes slide open, an image enters. Where are you now, Mirabai? Euthanized years ago by the animal shelter? Or successfully adopted and now gracefully aging in some home in Brooklyn? With people, young or old, merciful and just? Dream cat, leaping up to meet me."
tejucole  2018  blackpanther  africa  culture  race  film  blackness  identity  cats  animals  knowledge  racism  zoos  capitalism  monarchism  rainermariarilke  switzerland  colonialism  tonimorrison  lagos  nigeria  immigration  edwardsnow  eusébiodasilvaferreira 
march 2018 by robertogreco
Teju Cole (@_tejucole) • Fotos y vídeos de Instagram
"ξενία (Xenia)
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"guest-friendship"
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The offer of shelter. The ritual washing of the guest. The offer of a meal. The care of the guest without demanding the name of the guest."
hospitality  tejucole  guests  2018  howweteach  howwelearn  deschooling  unschooling  service  learning  being  presence 
march 2018 by robertogreco
Teju Cole on Instagram: “⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ 1 Reality takes no time off. Year end reckoning and new year anticipation are implicitly dyed with mortality. Some of those who…” • Instagram
"1
Reality takes no time off. Year end reckoning and new year anticipation are implicitly dyed with mortality. Some of those who will die this year already know it: they are terminally ill, and the clock moves inexorably. Many of those who will die this year, perhaps most, do not know it—could be you, could be me. Death comes as a surprise. Not living till the end of a given year having lived to the end of so many years, having lived to the end of all the years one has ever known (this is what being alive means), comes as a surprise, even for the terminally ill. Nor have we mentioned the many who will live but who will have come to live in a diminished way—I speak now not only of illnesses. Given these dark potentials, what are we then to do but to love each other and to move as best as we can without fear?
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2
I turn the year, each year, with a relief that is quickly overtaken by apprehension. As a social being, I briefly subsume these antisocial emotions under a mask of merriment. I raise my glass and cry out “Happy New Year!” with the others—and even mean it, as wish and prayer. But soon afterward, in solitude and quietness, I return to my uncertainties: that one simply doesn’t know what any year might bring beyond its reliably mixed bag of elation, cataclysm, grief, banality, and epiphany. In the presence of such an inchoate proximate future, what are we to do but to love each other and to move as best as we can without fear?
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3
Happy New Year!"
tejucole  love  fear  optimism  2017  2018  death  future  uncertainty  apprehension  anxiety 
january 2018 by robertogreco
Teju Cole en Instagram: “A memory I cherish is of being backstage with John Berger and how he leaned forward and began to tell me about how beautiful, how dear, is…” • Instagram
"A memory I cherish is of being backstage with John Berger and how he leaned forward and began to tell me about how beautiful, how dear, is the moment of being backstage, the moment before the main event. In that moment, John said, everything is still and full of potential. In a way, there’s more to it than the main event, this sitting together in the dark waiting for something to happen.

Today I noted an even earlier moment. The shirt I intend to wear is just out of the dryer, draped across a chair in my kitchen, not yet ironed, caught just so by the afternoon light as though attended by one of the great painters."
tejucole  johnberger  2017  potential  anticipation  waiting  before 
november 2017 by robertogreco
Teju Cole (@_tejucole) • Fotos y vídeos de Instagram
"Is it he or is it I that experience this?
Is it I then that keep saying there is an hour
Filled with expressible bliss, in which I have
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No need, am happy, forget need's golden hand,
Am satisfied without solacing majesty,
And if there is an hour there is a day,
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There is a month, a year, there is a time
In which majesty is a mirror of the self:
I have not but I am and as I am, I am.
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—Wallace Stevens
from "Notes Toward A Supreme Fiction""
wallacestevens  poetry  poems  fiction  tejucole  photography  experience  being  existence  self 
august 2017 by robertogreco
Teju Cole en Instagram: “Right, let's talk tech. Frequently asked question: what camera I use. Short answer: Fujifilm X70, a small and impressively…”
[The note space here on this bookmark will probably not be long enough, so try this instead:
https://notes.pinboard.in/u:robertogreco/notes/e67601f1565529f9a967 ]

"Right, let's talk tech. Frequently asked question: what camera I use. Short answer: Fujifilm X70, a small and impressively versatile digital camera.
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Slightly more involved answer: The Fujifilm X70 is my ninth or so camera. This year alone I've used an iPhone 6 (digital), a Canon 5D Mark III (digital), a Mamiya 7 medium format rangefinder (film), and a Canon Elan 7 (film). The camera doesn't matter, obviously. It's the eye and the tensions you're able to explore in any given series of images. But of course the camera matters: if you figure out what a given camera is able to do, you're more likely to get past mere style into something that's interesting in another way. A pretty image is the easiest thing in the world. But what do you want to make flow?
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The key thing is to get into an intuitive relationship with whichever camera you're using. Most of "Blind Spot" and all my Lucerne pictures were shot with the Canon Elan 7, a big ugly monkey of a film camera, very cheap (I saddled it with an expensive 50 mm lens). I mostly shot Portra film. It was a very efficient machine, a pain to carry around, and after three years I was happy to go to something lighter and faster. But I loved the language it gave me and I got fluent in it.
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Would I recommend the X70? Yes. It'll run you just north of $600. Great color work, gorgeous reds and blues compared to any other digital camera I've used (Canon's digital reds never convinced me), and much better bokeh algorithms too. Only twice as big as an iPhone and easily twice as good. Downsides: no viewfinder, fixed and rather wide lens (28 mm equivalent). People will say you can't do portraits with anything that wide, but all my #faceme_ifaceyou portraits were shot with it. And for sheer verve, even in night shooting, even on a dance floor, it's the most satisfactory little machine I've used. All my #riverofimages pictures are made with the X70. I play with color in Lightroom and sometimes use the inbuilt flash, sometimes with an additional light source (usually from my phone), and it can be surprisingly beautiful.
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Comments open for follow-up questions."

[Comments with replies from Teju as of 9: 30am, 7 Aug 2017]

"bokaptit: Which is your favorite photo?
_tejucole: A photograph of the funnel of a ferry on Lake Brienz that I made in 2014. It's on p. 120 of "Blind Spot."

sanchita_c: Is X70 a compact camera or a mirror less camera?
_tejucole: Compact.

ltaylork: where do you take/send your film to develop?
_tejucole: Accurate Photo, South Slope.

adebeeyii: #onceuponatime That's the result of my following you diligently. Won't mind getting your suggestion on things i can do better.
Won't mind getting your suggestion on things i can do better.
_tejucole: Work on it everyday. Be willing to try weird things. You'll be your own best guide.

noonecankeepup: What kind of photography would you call your work ? My guess is contemporary but I feel like it might more
_tejucole: I don't really label it. "I'm trying to see" is the best I can come up with.

tehbingreviews: What kind of camera would you recommend for someone who's mostly been shooting with an iPhone but is interested in exploring photography further? (I've been reading up on film photography but am not sure if I should just stick to digital)
_tejucole: Film, quite apart from its appearance, can change your relationship to the things you're looking at. I'd recommend it. A used Pentax K1000, which you can get for under $100, might help slow down your shooting and enrich your looking.

lancestein: The feel of Fujifilm cameras has always been more satisfying in my experience. Manual dials sold me on the the X-T1. Feel like more people are gravitating toward a middle ground between DSLR and point-and-shoot and Fujifilm occupies that space really well. I started shooting on my parents' old Nikon N90, clunky but the light meter got me perfect exposures every time. I miss the awkward simplicity. Anyway, cheers for the post.
lancestein: By the way, are you exporting jpegs out of camera with Fuji? I find the colors spot on and just keep the raw as ’negatives’ at this point to save time.
_tejucole: I export large jpegs, yes. My professional photographer friends are scandalized, but...*shrugs* It's a workflow, storage space and time management decision.

bleuowlf: Hi, Teju. Aren't mirrorless cameras better than compact, like the new X-T2? And: how much and how often do you clean the lenses and camera, by yourself and by giving it to the service centre? I often worry about and try to clean at least the lens a 2-3 times when I'm out all day. Thank you for doing this. // PS: I loved Blind Spot.
_tejucole: I don't know what "better" means though. The X-T2 has objectively fancier specs than the X70. It's also twice as big and costs twice as much. Twice as big means I'm less likely to carry it around with me. And I have to say, just judging from my experience shooting with one (admittedly with a zoom lens), I much preferred the optics on my X70.
_tejucole: I clean my lens once every couple of days. I often forget to. Soft glasses cloth, nothing elaborate.
_tejucole: And: 🙏🏾

rivrwind; Teju, thanks so much for your work. I don't have any questions but I just wanted to say that as I can't find a contact form for you. I'd also like to send you an essay, but understand if you don't have time to read unsolicited things. I used a fuji as well. Thanks again and stay well.
_tejucole: Yeah, serious time shortage. I sincerely wish it were otherwise.

cwmmwc: I wonder if you've used a Ricoh GR? I love mine but am intrigued by the X70. Similar in size and so forth. Thanks for sharing your thoughts 🙏
_tejucole: Never shot with a Ricoh.

jordiwaggoner: 28mm lens? How does that work for you? Are you always shooting really close up? We're the night portraits you have been posting lately shot with the Fuji? I like low light and don't like flash.
_tejucole: Yup, I get up close. And the night shots are all with the Fujifilm. It can pretty much see in the dark.

officeofdevelopment: were you tempted to try the x100f?
_tejucole: Nope. I don't know it. I think it was just about to come out when I was buying my X70.

blussome: What do you think of fuji's mirrorless cameras ? Xt1-or 2 ? Have you ever shoot with them ? Thank you.
_tejucole: They're super. But too big for my current needs: I want something I can slip into the pocket of my jacket.

sjplatt: Do you begin a new photographic epoch knowing what camera is best suited to what you think you're going for? Or does that come later, once you've invested more time and more sight?
_tejucole: The two things unfold at the same time. A new camera suggests new directions I may not have considered before. But the project at hand also means I'm pushing the camera in a certain direction; maybe I'll use a tripod, or maybe I'll underexpose, or maybe I'll shoot in bright sunlight. Google my essay "Far Away From Here" to see how the choice of a camera (a Yashica) influenced how I approached a given terrain (Switzerland).

officeofdevelopment: love the idea of the x70 as well, just a bit too wide for me
_tejucole: It doesn't wreck the verticals as much as you might think. Scroll back my last few and see. But there's definitely some peripheral distortion, which I occasionally fix in Lightroom.

unamericain: Tech Talk With Teju could be a recurring feature.
_tejucole@unamericain Yes, yes. But how do we monetize it?

yayitsrob: Have you found Lightroom to handle Fuji colors okay? There were rumors that it didn't for a while (which is why I just shot a month of travel with my Fuji XT20 in RAW and JPEG 😬).
_tejucole: I use Lightroom 5, not on the cloud. It looks fine to me. Can't read raw files though; that's a major flaw.
yayitsrob: Good to know. So you shoot JPEG then? (If so, that's reassuring to hear.)
yayitsrob: (and thanks for this little tech hour.)
_tejucole: I do, but it's vaguely irresponsible to do so as it limits some future possibilities. (Scroll up, I address this in an earlier reply.)

culdivsac: What about your black and white images? I know that you've shot several in the past with an iPhone. I'm particularly asking about an image of two hands on a wall, which you posted this June. Was it film or digital? It's one of my favorite pictures of all time.
_tejucole: Thank you. That photo was shot with the Fujifilm X70, in Umbria, Italy, and then worked on with Lightroom 5.

xavierbas: Hi Teju, for riverofimages how many shots of a situation in average you do to get one picture?
_tejucole: I think I'll usually do seven to a dozen before I feel one of them has captured what I'm after in a given situation. But only later do I figure out which one worked. And of course, quite often, none works at all. Meanwhile, in my film shooting, I rarely make more than three or four photos in any particular scene—unless a series is what I'm after. Often, with film, I just shoot once and move on.

officialroticanai: Hi when did iPhone stop working for you as a photo tool?
_tejucole: I still use it. It's just that my little Fuji makes much better images, and is small enough that I usually have it with me. So the iPhone is suffering a bit under this unfair set of circumstances. But it'll probably bounce back at some point; all my cameras do. It's a cycle.

bleuowlfI: use viewfinder a lot as it's often extremely bright here (India), but it takes quite a bit of time to adjust eyes off it. Do you also experience this or something similar?
_tejucole: Lack of viewfinder is a loss, definitely. I dislike having to switch on the camera even to consider a certain shot. But that lack is also what allows certain cameras to be so small. You'll have to decide which features are more important to you.
bleuowlf: Oh, I'm sorry for not being specific. My question was re … [more]
tejucole  2017  photography  cameras  fujifilmx70 
august 2017 by robertogreco
Teju Cole en Instagram: “⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Lucerne, last year. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ The priest at prayer is not at all concerned with originality. The prophet at the moment of…”
"Lucerne, last year.
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The priest at prayer is not at all concerned with originality. The prophet at the moment of utterance accepts it, but knows that the real interest is elsewhere. For both, presence is the heart of the matter.
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Of the many things of monumental scale made of gold in ancient times, almost none survive. The gold is always melted down at the next conquest. What survives? Little figurines carved in stone, the size of a hand or smaller.
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The boxes wilt in a few weeks, the man who made the photographs dies some years later. But the photograph of the boxes lives on, the presence (and in fact the moment of happiness) they embed outlasts their materiality, and they might be looked at again, in some form, in 2116."
tejucole  2016  survival  culture  gold  prophets  presence  persistence  materiality 
july 2017 by robertogreco
The Back Page » Photograph Magazine: July/August 2017
"We asked Teju Cole to tell us about a picture that means something to him, and why. The exhibition Teju Cole: Blind Spot and Black Paper is on view at Steven Kasher Gallery through August 11. Cole is the photography critic for The New York Times Magazine, and his fourth volume, Blind Spot, was recently published by Random House.

It takes your breath away. You have entered the marvelous. The photographer is Sergio Larraín, and the photograph is Passage Bavestrello, Valparaíso, Chile, 1952. Two girls in crisp afternoon light, seen from behind, each in a pale-colored dress, each with a bob haircut, each holding a single bottle. An image on the verge of impossibility.

One version of the story is that Larraín had seen a girl carrying a bottle, perhaps on some errand, and had asked her to pause. As he set up his shot, a second girl walked into the frame. He would later say it was the first of his magic images.

Larraín’s subjects were common: sailors, dogs, children, vagrants, prostitutes: anyone who walked the steep sinuous streets of Valparaíso could be slotted into his pictures and look as though he’d placed them there. His geometries were as precise as Cartier-Bresson’s. Like Robert Frank, he was preternaturally attuned to dream states. “A good image is created by a state of grace,” he wrote. “Grace expresses itself when it has been freed from conventions, free like a child in his early discovery of reality. The game is then to organize the rectangle.”

Larraín dropped out of the game early. In the early 70s, he drifted away from Magnum and reportage and took on a life of reclusive meditation. He was a figure of legend by the time he died in 2012. The photographs he left behind are astonishments, none more so than Passage Bavestrello."
tejucole  sergiolarraín  valparaíso  chile  photography  2017  1952 
july 2017 by robertogreco
Blind Spot | Blog—Jarrett Fuller
"Blind Spot, the writer and photographer Teju Cole’s new book, feels like a culmination of his intellectual work of the last few years. A master of shifting forms, Cole previously published two novels (Open City and Everyday is for a Thief) and an essay collection (Known and Strange Things), is the photography critic for The New York Times, and is prolific on Instagram where he showcases his photography. Blind Spot, a book that mixes text with his original photography, at once feels like a continuation of his previous work while also something completely new. How does one define Blind Spot? Is it a photo book or a novel? A travelogue or a poem? A memoir or a lyric essay? The answer, I think, is ‘yes’.

The photos — all shot on color film from Cole’s travels across the globe — blend seamlessly from Brooklyn to Berlin, Omaha to Africa. The images are quiet and largely devoid of humans, aside from a final striking portrait, recalling great street photographers like Stephen Shore and Louis Ghirri. The text — which shifts between narrative, memoir, criticism, poetry — sometimes refers to these photos while at other times remain independent. All of Cole’s familiar influences — Sebald, Berger, Calvino — are on display here.

The text reads less as captions as they do a voiceover — he’s said in interviews he sees the book as a documentary in book form — where another set of influences emerge. “I pray to Tarvoksy, Marker, Hitchcock” he writes in the middle of the book. Sure enough, the flipping between Cole’s text and image, one could see the book as homage to Chris Marker’s Sans Soliel. And as the photos start to reference each other, and fragments begin to connect, Marker’s more famous La Jetee comes to mind. There’s a playful reflexivity throughout — his writing reflects on his own writing process for the book, how he selected particular images, and what he hopes the book will be. In one passage he writes:
She asked, though these were not her exact words: Isn’t all the work part of a single piece? She asked, like someone patiently unlocking, with a pin, a pair of handcuffs: Aren’t all the photographs and texts, the fragments and experiments, even the things you say into a microphone, even the things you don’t say, aren’t they all installments toward a unified project? She said, though these are not her exact words: I have always felt that Open City was one way you approached the problem. You’re still circling the problem now, she said, obsessed, she said, and approaching it in other ways. You will probably always be returning to it, she said, making herself comfortable within the folds of my brain.

In a later passage, Cole invokes Calvino’s continuous city and his search of the threads that connect the places he visits. But he’s also looking for the threads that connect the images and the text. Calvino suggests that there is simply one big, continuous city that does not begin or end: ‘Only the name of the airport changes,’ he writes in Invisible Cities. The same can be said of Cole’s work — it’s simply one big, continuous journey — his intellectual interests and preoccupations recur — he finds new ways to display them, new ways to talk about them. Only the name of the book changes.

I read Open City, Cole’s first novel in 2015 during my last week in San Francisco, before moving to Baltimore for graduate school. My belongings were packed up and I’d lay on the floor in the middle of a nearly empty apartment reading. In the book, largely devoid of an obvious plot, we follow the narrator, Julius, as he walks through Manhattan. I started doing the same thing — after a period of reading, I’d put the book down, put classical music on in my headphones, and walk the San Francisco streets. This had been my neighborhood for the last three years but that week, with that music, and Cole’s prose rattling around in my head, I saw the city differently. That, I think, is the thread that ties Cole’s work together. He changes your pace, forces you to slow down. His writing is patient, his photography reserved. He makes you look, really look. This world moves fast. There’s always something new to read, new tweets, new emails, new books, new music. Last month’s news feels like a decade ago.

Blind Spot is a book about looking; about seeing what’s in the frame, about reflecting on what we see. Teju Cole asks us to slow down so we can understand our own blind spots. I saw San Francisco differently that last week, and as I finished Blind Spot this week, I started to see New York differently too. He taught me to see."
tejucole  jarrettfuller  2017  writing  photography  italocalvino  johnberger  wgsebald  chrismarker  film  walking  cities  urban  ubanism  place  landscape  noticing  looking  seeing  sansoleil  lajetée  blindspot 
july 2017 by robertogreco
My Grandmother’s Shroud - The New York Times
"When my grandmother, my mother’s mother, died in late June in Nigeria, I was in Italy, at a conference. I wasn’t with her when she slipped into a coma or, three days later, when she died. When my brother told me the news, I called my mother and other members of my family to commiserate with them. She was buried the day of her death, in keeping with Muslim custom, and I couldn’t attend her funeral. My mother, visiting friends in Houston, would also miss the funeral.

I opened my computer and began to search my folders for pictures of my grandmother. On each yearly trip to Nigeria for the past several years, I went to see her in Sagamu, a town an hour northeast of Lagos, where she was born and where she lived for most of her life. On these visits, she would say: ‘‘Sit next to me. I want to feel your hands in mine. Be close to me. I want your skin touching mine.’’ I was always happy to sit with her and to hold hands with her. Afterward, I took photos. I have photos now of her alone, in selfies with me, in the company of my mother and my aunts. In these photos, she has surprisingly smooth skin, hardly any gray hair and, in most of them, a trace of amusement. In one, especially touching photo, my wife, Karen, applies polish to her nails.

To remain close to our dead, we cherish images of them. We’ve done so for millenniums. Think of the Fayum portraits, which show us the faces of Egyptians during the Imperial Roman era with stunning immediacy. Images — paintings, sculptures, photographs — remind us how our loved ones looked in life. But in most places and at most times, portraiture was available only to society’s elites. Photography changed that. Almost everyone is now captured in photographs — and outlived by them. Photographs are there when people pass away. They serve as reservoirs of memory and as talismans for mourning.

My grandmother was born in 1928. Her given name was Abusatu, but we called her Mama. Mama’s father, Yusuf, was a stern imam in Sagamu, and Yusuf’s father, Salako, was said to have been even more severe. But Mama herself was serene and good-natured, kind and tolerant. She was deeply consoled by her religion but not doctrinaire. Of her five daughters, two (including her firstborn, my mother) married Christians and converted to Christianity. It made no difference to Mama. The family had Muslims, Christians and some, like myself, who drifted away from religion entirely. Mama loved us all. An example of her unobtrusive kindness: While I was a college student in the United States, she sent me a white hand-woven cotton blanket. I never knew why and didn’t ask. But it is to this day the most precious piece of cloth I own.

I was leaving Rome when I received the sad news of Mama’s death. She was approaching 89. The end came swiftly, and she was surrounded by family. You could say it was a good death. But why couldn’t she have lived to 99, or to 109, or forever? Death makes us protest the fact of death. It makes us wish for the impossible. I could objectively understand that it was unusual to have had a grandmother in my 40s, and that my 67-year-old mother was equally fortunate in having had a mother so long. My father was 5 when his mother died, and he has been mourning her for longer than my mother has been alive. But the grieving heart does not care for logic, and it refuses comparisons. I mourned Mama as I left Italy for New York.

I mourned her but did not, or was not able to, weep. I arrived in New York in the late afternoon, perhaps at the very moment Mama was being interred. My mother had forwarded a couple of photos taken by my cousin Adedoyin to my wife’s WhatsApp. Karen reached for her phone and showed me the pictures. They were a shock. One was of Mama, dead on her hospital bed, wearing a flowery nightdress and draped in a second flowery cloth, the oxygen tube still taped to her nostrils. Her right arm was limp at her side, and she was not quite like someone asleep but rather like someone passed out, open and vulnerable. The other photograph, which seemed to have been cropped, showed a figure wrapped in a shroud, tied up with white twine, set out on a bed in front of a framed portrait: a white bundle in vaguely human shape where my grandmother used to be. I burst into sudden hot tears.

What did these photographs open? Imagination can be delicate, imposing a protective decorum. A photograph insists on raw fact and confronts us with what we were perhaps avoiding. There she is, my dear Mama, helpless on the hospital bed, and I cannot help her. Days later, I would find out from my mother that in this first photograph, Mama was still in a coma and not dead yet. But looking at the second photograph, the one in which she is incontrovertibly dead, my thoughts raced through a grim logic. I thought: Why have they wrapped her face up? Then I thought: It must be stifling under that thing, she won’t be able to breathe! Then I thought: She’s dead and will never breathe again. Then my tears flowed.

Mama’s life was hard. An itinerant trader of kola nut and later the owner of a small provisions shop, she was one of my late grandfather’s five wives and by no means the best treated. She never went to school, and the only word she could write was her name, sometimes with the ‘‘s’’ reversed. But when Baba died more than 20 years ago, Mama moved out of his house and lived in the two-story house that my mother built her. She was a women’s leader, a kind of deaconess, at the local mosque. She went to parties, to market and to evening prayers. She lived in the security of her own house, in the company of her widowed second daughter, my aunt. In those later years, life became easier.

‘‘She has a single obsession,’’ my mother used to say, ‘‘and that’s her burial rites.’’ Mama insisted that she be buried the same day she died. ‘‘She’ll say, ‘And I must not be buried at the house,’ ’’ my mother said, ‘‘ ‘Because what’s rotten must be thrown out. And for seven days, food must be cooked and taken to the mosque and served to the poor.’ ’’ And most important, my mother said, Mama would reiterate that in a cupboard in the room next to the meeting room in her house was her robe, the one she must be buried in. It was of utmost importance to her to meet her maker wearing the robe with which she approached the Kaaba, the holiest shrine in Islam.

The hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, which she undertook in 1996, when she was 68, transfigured my grandmother. Through that journey, through her accomplishment of one of the central tenets of Islam, she sloughed off her old life and took on a new one, one that put her into a precise relationship with eternity. The year of her journey, thousands of Nigerian pilgrims were turned back, because of meningitis and cholera outbreaks. My grandmother was one of a few hundred who got through. When she returned from Mecca, many of her townspeople took to calling her ‘‘Alhaja Lucky.’’ And as though to fit the name, she wore the serene mien of someone who was under special protection.

My mother, an Anglican Christian, financed the journey, knowing what it would mean to her mother to fulfill this final pillar of the faith. But possibly, she had no idea how much it would mean. She anticipated the social satisfaction Mama would get from it but had not counted on the serious existential confirmation it provided.

In the last few years, I often thought of Mama’s pilgrimage robe. I thought about how fortunate she was to have something in her possession so sacred to her, something of such surpassing worth, that she wished to have it on when she met God. And she had her wish: Beneath the plain white shroud in which she was sheathed after she died was that simple pilgrimage robe.

I look at the various photographs from Alhaja Lucky’s last years on my computer. None of them really satisfy me. Many are blurry, most are banal. I really like only the ones of her hands: They remind me of her wish to have her hands touched by mine. But the photograph I cannot stop thinking about is the one Adedoyin took, of Mama in her funeral shroud. The image reminds me of newspaper photos of funerals in troubled zones in the Middle East: an angry crowd, a shrouded body held aloft. But Mama was not a victim of violence. She died peacefully, well past the age of 88, surrounded by family.

Nevertheless, the custom is connected. It is a reminder that the word ‘‘Muslim’’ — so much a part of current American political argument, and so often meant as a slur — is not and has never been an abstraction, not for me, and certainly not for millions of Americans for whom it is a lived reality or a fact of family. A lead headline in The New York Times just a few days after Mama’s burial read: ‘‘Travel Ban Says Grandparents Don’t Count as ‘Close Family.’ ’’ The headline was about travel restrictions on visitors from six predominantly Muslim countries. Nigeria was not on the list, but the cruelty and absurdity of the policy was vivid. It felt personal.

On the night of Mama’s burial, I lay down to sleep in my apartment in Brooklyn. I couldn’t shake the image of my cousin’s photograph. I went into the closet and took out the white cotton blanket Mama sent me all those years ago. It was a hot night, high summer. I draped the blanket over my body. In the darkness, I pulled the blanket slowly past my shoulders, past my chin, over my face, until I was entirely covered by it, until I was covered by Mama."
2017  tejucole  photography  death  memory  nigeria  aging  relationships  hajj  islam  purpose  grief  mourning  grieving  customs  objects  textiles  immigration  us  policy  connection  families  tolerance  religion  acceptance  mecca  eternity  belief  spirituality  burial  life  living  change  transformation  talismans 
july 2017 by robertogreco
Teju Cole: ‘My camera is like an invisibility cloak. It makes me more free’ | Books | The Guardian
"The final piece in Cole’s 2016 essay collection, Known and Strange Things, is a description of that traumatic occurrence. It is called Blind Spot. Next month, his first book of photographs is published. It is also called Blind Spot. Why, I ask him, did he reprise that title for a book that is, in essence, about a sustained way of seeing? “Well, there is some dark humour in the title that people who have read the essay will hopefully pick up on,” he says, “but, as I write in the afterword, there is also the fact that the act of looking is limited. We only see a small part of what we are looking at, so there is a constant blind spot even with the kind of attentive looking that photography entails. There are many resonances in that title – how difficult it is to see clearly, how difficult it is to tell a dream, how difficult it is to make pictures that are new in some way.”

How well Cole succeeds in all of this is difficult to say, not because his images aren’t strong – they are in a detached and rigorously formal-to-the-point-of-deadpan way that was pioneered by the likes of Stephen Shore in the 1970s – but because Blind Spot is not simply a book of photographs. Instead, each image is accompanied by a corresponding passage of prose. The book unfolds – and succeeds – as a deftly choreographed dance of words and pictures, with Cole’s characteristically allusive style of writing here condensed to what he calls “fragments”. Sometimes, but not often, the words refer directly to what is in the picture, but more often the photographs are conceptual starting points for musings on his now-familiar obsessions: memory, myth, culture, politics, race and dreams.

The associations, though, are often not entirely clear. A photograph of a telegraph pole on a deserted street in Selma, Alabama prompts a memory of a dream Cole had about crossing a street but never arriving at the other side, which, in turn, calls up a quotation on consciousness and time by the French phenomenological philosopher, Maurice Merleau-Ponty. A street portrait of the back of a blond woman in New York City (see below), redolent of the work of Joel Meyerowitz, is matched with a fragment from Greek mythology concerning the painter Timanthes’s mysterious portrait of the grieving, veiled Agamemnon. This is, for want of a better phrase, quintessentially Cole-ian.

“I see it as a unified story,” he explains, “but one in which each fragment of prose is dense in the way that a poem is dense. There are thematic breadcrumbs scattered throughout the text, but, yes, it is oblique. It’s not meant to be obvious, but a more psychologically resonant series of fragments that detonate on some deeper level.”"



"Taken alongside his fiction and his essays, which range from the reflective to the polemical, as well as the photography column he writes for the New York Times, Blind Spot further enhances Cole’s already burnished reputation. He is a writer for our times, prodigious, wide-ranging and supremely confident in his reach. In Known and Strange Things, to give just a few examples, he discourses passionately on race in America, explores the poetics of Saul Leiter’s pioneering colour photographs and, in two consecutive essays, lauds VS Naipaul, the elegant writer, and nails VS Naipaul, the dreadful old reactionary.

If there is a personal touchstone for this kind of cross-fertilisation, it is surely the late John Berger, one of his heroes, though Berger, as I remind him, never took photographs. “I actually asked John why photography was not part of his practice,” Cole says, “In his case, to photograph a subject was to foreclose some part of what he could write about it. He saw it as an interference in his writing faculties. I don’t think like that about it. In fact, for me, taking a photograph of something often induces further thoughts on it.”

In the flesh, Cole is both charming and intense. When I met him briefly last summer at a party in Manhattan thrown in his honour by his editors at the New York Times, he was warm and inclusive, but, even in casual conversation, there is a palpable alertness about him that intrigues. He seems acutely conscious, too, of his own place in the intellectual firmament. In Known and Strange Things, he revealed that his antidote to insomnia was to “rise from my bed and watch Jacques Derrida talk”. In his deftly elegant takedown of Naipaul, there is also the distinct suggestion that a literary baton is being passed from the older master to the heir apparent.

Cole’s precocious literary talent must surely have been honed in childhood. Born in Michigan, he was taken back to Nigeria as a child by his parents when they had completed their studies. His upbringing, he says, was solidly middle-class and aspirational. His father worked in middle management and his mother was a school teacher; both instilled in him the notion that “the child had to do better in education than their peers”. When he travelled to America in the early 90s to commence his own college education, he felt he was returning home. “For sure, I had conflict and a certain nervousness, but not the kind that comes from thinking of oneself as an immigrant. I had a sense of my rights as an American. There was a period of adjustment – there still is – but the feeling I have sometimes of being lost in the world is more to do with my own personality than America.”

Cole studied art and art history at Kalamazoo College, Michigan – “a good liberal college with the kind of leafy campus you get in American campus novels” – and later tried and failed to apply himself to a degree in medicine, in part to appease his parents. That failure haunted him for a while and, he says, he suffered from a bout of depression around that time. “I had no money, no time to read or go to concerts and I felt starved of that. Plus, I was very cold in Michigan and isolated. For two years, I was struggling to do well when I was used to doing well. I do not want to dwell on it but, for a time, I was phenomenally not myself. All the things you hear about depression were there.”"



"
In Open City, his descriptions of his New York evince a keen, roving attentiveness reminiscent of the city’s great street photographers: Garry Winogrand, Meyerowitz and Leiter are presences in his prose alongside the more often cited Berger and WG Sebald. Cole, as he is keen to point out, has been taking photographs longer than he has been writing fiction. In Every Day Is for the Thief, the text is punctuated by Cole’s black-and-white photographs evoking the swaggering, chaotic thrust of Lagos, his childhood home.

In both novels, Cole’s writing style recalls Christopher Isherwood’s celebrated description of his own prose: “I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed.”

Cole cites the great experimental film-maker Chris Marker as perhaps the crucial influence in his novels. “In his great film, Sans Soleil, Marker moves between zooming out and watching the flow of life and zooming in to look at the pattern of the details of everyday experience. He is not telling you one thing about a place, but allowing it all to come in and making the connections visible. He is a major influence on Open City and even more on Blind Spot, where the subject itself is that kind of interconnectedness.”

In many ways, then, Blind Spot continues in the vein of Teju Cole’s fiction. This time around, though, he is the peripatetic narrator on an altogether more epic global journey through cities in which he is often a lone stranger. The experience of travel – by air as well as wandering alone on land – is central here. Since the success of Open City, Cole has travelled extensively – to literary festivals, teaching programmes, writer’s residencies and promotional events. As the novelist Siri Hustvedt puts it in her introduction: “Teju Cole really gets around.” Thus, each photograph and fragment of prose is grounded in a specific location: Auckland, Basel, Chicago, Lagos, Nairobi, New York, Paris and so forth. “In each place I have travelled,” he writes, “I have used my camera as an extension of my memory.”

The images, and the reflections that follow from them, are also a way of fixing moments that might otherwise be lost in the sheer overload of global memories he has stored in his head in a relatively short time. “Certain experiences became more vivid as I was walking around and thinking about what I was photographing,” he elaborates. “In central Bali, for instance, there was an afternoon that has survived very clearly and vividly in my memory but also in the false memory of the photographs I took that day. They are stilled moments, fragments from a much bigger experience, a film that could only have been captured with a camera attached to my head.”

Given that he takes his camera with him wherever he goes, how visible a presence is he when he shoots on the street? He laughs, anticipating the underlying thrust of my question. “Well, a solitary black tourist is not a common sight in Switzerland or Kathmandu or northern Italy or even in upstate New York,” he says, ruefully, “so, I am already a little strange. But, there is a way in which having the camera makes me more free. It is a kind of invisibility cloak, especially when you are on a strange street far from home. But, oddly enough, I was more free in Kathmandu than in Lagos. The first assumption everywhere is, ‘there is a black tourist’ – but, in Nigeria, that question becomes more complex. There is more suspicion.”"



"“One of the responses to all that is to do the work I do. My essays are not political in the main, but they are trying to advance a humanist argument. Likewise, my photographs are complex, but I hope, … [more]
tejucole  2017  johnberger  blindspot  photography  writing  howwewrite  opencity  chrismarker  fiction  experience  invisibility  sanssoleil  christopherisherwood  garrywinogand  wgsebald  depression 
june 2017 by robertogreco
Second Sight - The New Yorker
"Movement in the margins is not enough. Regularity becomes invisible. You switch up the moves, you introduce irregularity, in order to maintain visibility."



"The neurons in the visual system adapt to the stimulus, and redirect their attention."



"Years later, I lost faith. One form of binocular vision gave way to another. The world was now a series of interleaved apparitions. The thing was an image that could also bear an image. If one of the advantages of irreligion was an acceptance of others, that benefit was strangely echoed in the visual plane, which granted the things seen within the photographic rectangle a radical equality. This in part was why signs, pictures, ads, and murals came to mean so much: they were neither more nor less than the “real” elements by which they were framed. They were not to be excluded, nor were the spaces between things. “We see the world”: this simple statement becomes (Merleau-Ponty has also noted this) a tangled tree of meanings. Which world? See how? We who? Once absolute faith is no longer possible, perception moves forward on a case-by-case basis. The very contingency and brevity of vision become the long-sought miracle."



"The stage is set. Things seem to be prepared in advance for cameos, and even the sun is rigged like the expert lighting of a technician. The boundary between things and props is now dissolved, and the images of things have become things themselves."



"The body has to adjust to the environment, to the challenges in the environment. The body isn’t wrong, isn’t “disabled.” The environment itself—gravity, air, solidity or the lack of it, et cetera—is what is somehow wrong: ill-matched to the body’s abilities, inimical to its verticality, stability, or mobility."



"I rest at a concrete outcrop with a bunting of vintners’ blue nets, a blue the same color as the lake. It is as though something long awaited has come to fruition. A gust of wind sweeps in from across the lake. The curtain shifts, and suddenly everything can be seen. The scales fall from our eyes. The landscape opens. No longer are we alone: they are with us now, have been all along, all our living and all our dead."
tejucole  2017  margins  edges  attention  regularity  everyday  irregularity  visibility  invisibility  acceptance  belief  vision  photography  borders  liminalspaces  perception  brevity  ephemerality  adjustment  adaptability  disability  stability  mobility  verticality  body  bodies  contingency  sign  pictures  ads  images  advertising  between  betweenness  stimuli  liminality  ephemeral  disabilities 
june 2017 by robertogreco
Getting Others Right - The New York Times
"A woman holds a little dog in the crook of her arm. Her sleeveless open-necked top is richly patterned. She wears lipstick, earrings, a bangle. The dog, a puppy perhaps, is both alert and relaxed, looking directly at the camera, just as the woman does. The photograph has such an informal mood, such disarming warmth, that we might suppose it had been made recently, were it not in antique-looking black and white. It’s wonderful when an old picture lets us in like this, obliterating the distance between its then and our now.

The woman in this photograph was named Trecil Poolaw Unap, and the photographer was her brother, Horace Poolaw. They were Kiowa, born and raised in Oklahoma. Horace Poolaw made the photograph in 1928, near the beginning of a career in which he went on to become an avid photographer of Native American life. His photographs, some of which he sold at fairs, often came with a stamp: “A Poolaw Photo, Pictures by an Indian, Horace M. Poolaw, Anadarko, Okla.” It was clear that he wanted to assert that these were pictures with a particular point of view.

Compare the portrait by Poolaw with a few made in the same decade by the most famous photographer of Native Americans, Edward S. Curtis. Curtis’s portraits look different because they were intended for publication in “The North American Indian,” a hugely expensive and intricate photographic undertaking that occupied him for decades. The project was championed by Theodore Roosevelt and financially supported by J.P. Morgan. There’s a portrait of a Hupa woman wearing fur and beads, another of an elderly Cheyenne man in a feathered headdress, yet another of a female Hupa shaman. The lined faces and stoic expressions of these sitters, as well as their “traditional” regalia, announce them as types. They are in keeping with the hope Curtis expressed in the General Introduction to his project: “Rather than being designed for mere embellishment, the photographs are each an illustration of an Indian character or of some vital phase in his existence.”

There’s no denying the meticulous beauty of Curtis’s pictures (and there are thousands of them: The project, published between 1907 and 1930, ran to 20 volumes). But his approach, as laid out in his introduction, was precisely the opposite of Horace Poolaw’s, and it shows: When we look at Trecil Poolaw Unap with her dog, with her ironic smile, we don’t think of her as an “illustration of an Indian character,” nor do we surmise that she is caught in some “vital phase” of her existence. A certain ease and immediacy sets her apart from the beautiful but frozen characters that populate Curtis’s work.

The case of Edward S. Curtis is complex. He was no dilettante: He made serious ethnographic studies of indigenous communities, from the Piegan of the Great Plains to the Kwakiutl of Vancouver Island. And in the 1920s in New Mexico, he became involved in political initiatives that sought to defend Native Americans against government control. But the general tenor of his work idealized Native Americans in the name of preserving vanishing ways of life. He was not above removing, through later photographic manipulation, an offending clock from a carefully arranged scene. Curtis, a knowledgeable and determined man, knew exactly how he liked his Indians.

Horace Poolaw, in contrast, made pictures that were great in their testimonial simplicity and democracy of vision; a relaxed group of Kiowa and Cherokee deacons in slacks and jackets, his son Jerry on leave from Navy duty in his sailor’s uniform and a feathered headdress. Curtis, meanwhile, was inclined to invent scenarios, expunging inconvenient details in order to emphasize a concept of primitivism. One photographer thus gave us lively pictures of life as it was being lived, and the other, at much greater cost and with much more ambition, ended up delivering stilted images of dubious value. Is the lesson here that the truth of a given community can only be delivered by an insider?

A century on, the conundrum remains. There are now many Native American photographers doing outstanding work, bringing to their seeing all the advantages of insider knowledge. Brian Adams is an Inuit photographer of Inuit culture, with a body of work characterized by inquisitiveness and joy. Some of the most rousing photographs of the Standing Rock protests were taken by Josué Rivas, who is Mexica, and Camille Seaman, of the Shinnecock tribe.

But for outsiders to any culture, the situation remains tricky. Take the British photographer Jimmy Nelson, whose “Before They Pass Away” was published as a lush large-format coffee table book in 2013 and has since become ubiquitous in bookstores around the world. “Before They Pass Away” is made explicitly in homage to Edward S. Curtis, whom Nelson often cites as a hero. It proceeds from the same idea as Curtis’s: that certain peoples, on the verge of disappearing, must be captured in illustrative, archetypal photographs. “Before They Pass Away” is accordingly full of postcard-pretty images of the Mursi in Ethiopia, the Huaorani in Ecuador, the Dani in Indonesia. The sitters look out mutely from Nelson’s ark, and scant concession is made to the fact of their contemporaneity. They occasionally tote guns, but do they use boat engines or watch television? If they have any mobile phones, they’re hidden away. What we get, instead, is feathers, fur, cowrie shells, leaves and lots of body paint.

Like Curtis — but without Curtis’s ethnographic rigor — Nelson places his subjects in a permanent anthropological past, erasing their present material and political realities. He is sentimental about those he photographs and often proclaims their beauty, but having invested himself so deeply in the idea of their “disappearance,” he is unable to believe that they are not going anywhere, that they are simply adapting to the modern world. No wonder he is flummoxed by the various tribal leaders who have protested the inaccuracy of his pictures.

What a relief it is then to consider a markedly different project, by the American photographer Daniella Zalcman. In 2016, she published “Signs of Your Identity,” a book featuring First Nations Canadians. But by her own admission, she had a false start. For a month in 2014, Zalcman (who, I should mention, was an acquaintance of mine in college, though I only recently re-encountered her through her work) photographed indigenous Canadians who were struggling with substance abuse and H.I.V. The images she came away with, she thought, risked further stigmatizing the community. When she returned the following year, she began to explore a different story, one that was urgent but that also allowed her to focus on individual experience.

That project was about indigenous people who had been forced to attend Canada’s Indian Residential Schools during the 19th century (the last of which closed only in 1996). Young children were taken from their families and placed in these institutions to enforce their assimilation into mainstream Canadian culture. Indigenous languages were suppressed, and physical and sexual assaults were common. Zalcman interviewed several dozen people, of varying ages, who had spent time in these schools and were haunted by their memories.

Zalcman’s challenge was how to make these memories visible. Her solution, as old-fashioned as it was elegant, was to make double exposures, joining two instants into one by overlaying images of places with portraits of people. She presented these double exposures with written fragments of her interviews with the sitters. Looking at the doubled images, you imagine that the mind of the person pictured is literally occupied by space on which it is overlaid: the decrepit school buildings, the grass where a demolished school once stood. But you also sense that this could be you, that these images are not a report on tribal peculiarities but on the workings of human memory. Uncertain about her right to shape the story, Zalcman lets the subjects speak for themselves. This hesitancy is productive: She manages to accomplish quietly forceful reportage from material that could easily have been sensationalized.

Sympathy is often not enough. It can be condescending. But taking on the identity of others, appropriating what is theirs, is invasive and frequently violent. I have heard appropriation defended on the grounds that we have a responsibility to tell one another’s stories and must be free to do so. This is a seductive but flawed argument. The responsibility toward other people’s stories is real and inescapable, but that doesn’t mean that appropriation is the way to satisfy that responsibility. In fact, the opposite is true: Telling the stories in which we are complicit outsiders has to be done with imagination and skepticism. It might require us not to give up our freedom, but to prioritize justice over freedom. It is not about taking something that belongs to someone else and making it serve you but rather about recognizing that history is brutal and unfinished and finding some way, within that recognition, to serve the dispossessed.

Photography is particularly treacherous when it comes to righting wrongs, because it is so good at recording appearances. Capturing how things look fools us into thinking that we’ve captured their truth. But appearance is bare fact. Combined with intuition, scrupulous context and moral intelligence, it has a chance to become truth. Unalloyed, it is worse than nothing."
tejucole  photography  2017  ethnography  othering  time  memory  appropriation  edwardcurtis  horacepoolaw  nativeamericans  jimmynelson  sympathy  daniellazalcman  storytelling  condescension  context  dispossession  identity  complexity  memories 
june 2017 by robertogreco
Teju Cole en Instagram: THE NOMAD'S SONG by RANJIT HOSKOTE
"THE NOMAD'S SONG
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Don’t judge me by this keel-hung boat
on which the river has printed its sleep.
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Judge me by the thin red line that glows
where my finger ends and the sky begins.
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Pilgrim from before the harsh logic of the plough,
I cultivate my mirages.
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
The horizons trail in my mind
like watered silk.
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
RANJIT HOSKOTE"
poem  poetry  ranjithoskote  nomads  motion  movement  pilgrims  cv  tejucole 
may 2017 by robertogreco
Teju Cole en Instagram: “An essay I haven't written, and it may not need to be an essay, just a brief note like this one, is about the common phenomenon of reading…”
"An essay I haven't written, and it may not need to be an essay, just a brief note like this one, is about the common phenomenon of reading an expression on someone's face in a photograph as proof of something or the other. Indeed, what's in the heart or on the mind might be revealed on the face. It frequently is. But much more likely is that the face, caught at a certain moment, is simply cycling through its wide repertoire of possible configurations. We can look bored without being bored, sarcastic without feeling sarcasm, sad even though it's a happy moment, engaged while feeling neutral.
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
All unfaked photos are true. The question that is never properly interrogated is: true of what? An unmanipulated photo of a face is true of what that face was doing right at that moment as seen with a certain arrangement of light. This could be radically different from that it was doing the moment before or the moment after the one the camera captured. The camera has not lied, it has merely told a severely delimited truth that we are eager to take for a larger one. But the reason why we do so is obvious: it amuses us, it confirms our prejudices, it gives us a hook to like even more someone we already like, or despise more deeply someone we hated anyway.
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Image: Duchenne de Boulogne, from Le Mécanisme de la Physionomie Humaine, 1862"
photography  tejucole  truth  2017  emotions  time  bias  confirmationbias  prejudice 
january 2017 by robertogreco
For Teju Cole, John Berger was a kindred spirit | Public Radio International
"You may never have heard of John Berger.

But the English writer and artist, who died this week at 90, changed how countless art students thought about art and maybe even the world.

His 1972 television series and book ''Ways of Seeing" was designed to upend traditional, and what he termed elitist, ways of evaluating art work.

But Berger wasn’t just an art critic. He was also a novelist.

His book, “G,”, a non-linear account of a man travelling around Europe before World War One, won the Booker Prize.

And on top of his novels, he also wrote essays, about everything from his springtime tradition of cleaning out his outhouse, to the lives of migrant workers in Europe.

For author Teju Cole, who also writes novels, art criticism, and political treatises, Berger was a kind of role model.

“It wasn’t just a gathering of many different kinds of things together that made his work influential on me,” says Cole, “it was the particular kinds of things that he gravitated towards. When I started to read him I realized those were the kinds of things I very much cared about.”

Cole says he and Berger wrestle with many of the same questions: “How do you write about photographs?’’ “How do you think about drawing and about art?” “How do you bring the energies of poetry into prose?”

“I was already on a path,” says Cole. “Then I saw, here was this master, who had actually cleared the road.”

In 2014, Cole and Berger even hosted an event together in Ferrara, Italy, called “What We Have In Common.”

Cole fondly remembers sharing a several bottles of wine with Berger that trip.

But he says that one moment that felt especially important to him was when they were sitting backstage together, in the dark, waiting to be called up for their event.

Berger turned to Cole, and made a kind of observation.

“The time before the curtain rises and one goes on stage is a very special species of time", Cole remembers Berger telling him. “Where everything is still held in abeyance, and the moment is still full of potential.”

“And I thought to myself I might be the luckiest human being alive,” Cole says, “because John Berger is unfolding an unwritten essay for me, in real time. We’re sitting, just the two of us, backstage, with no audience, and his mind, which was so avid for what could be interesting about the world, big moments as well as tiny moments, never stops.”

And that, says Cole, kind of sums up the kind of person Berger was.

Lately, Cole has been thinking a lot about one of Berger’s books — in particular a collection of short stories called “Here is Where We Meet.”

In this collection, which came out in 2005, Berger has conversations with friends and relatives who have died.

This is one of Cole’s favorite books.

“Part of the storytelling is about memory,” Cole explains, “but part of it is about how the dead have not gone away. … [They] are always with us, actually supporting us.”

It’s a support that Cole says he is beginning to feel now.

“I felt rather bereft this week,” says Cole, “but as the days passed, I realized that all our encounters -- in person, a little bit in correspondence, and huge, two decades long in his writing -- all of that will always remain vivid and visible to me.”"
johnberger  tejucole  2017  hereiswherewemeet  writing  howwewrite  art  arthistory  artcriticism  drawing  politics 
january 2017 by robertogreco
Teju Cole en Instagram: “When someone dies whom we love, a relative, friend, or hero, the losses have something in common, though the intensity naturally varies. (I cannot speak to the death of a lover, which seems to be something else again—but perha
"When someone dies whom we love, a relative, friend, or hero, the losses have something in common, though the intensity naturally varies. (I cannot speak to the death of a lover, which seems to be something else again—but perhaps even there, there is this commonality.) What they have in common is this: there was this other who helped us in a particular way, and now this other is gone, and the help they gave has gone with them. To be bereaved is to be bereft. It is to be deprived. In mourning, in addition to raw grief, there is the loss of help. There used to be complicity, a task (an emotional task, for instance) that two people accomplished together. Now one, the survivor, no matter how reluctant, must do it alone. This is why one aspect of loss is a feeling of suddenly being forced to "grow up." It is not only a hollowing sadness that demarcates grief, it is the knowledge that what two used to do, whatever that was, whether or not it was even given a name, whether or not it was reciprocal (in the case of heroes it rarely is), one now must do alone. In the zone of your complicity with the one you love, this relative, friend, or hero, you are a child. Possibly you are children there together. Death compels you to put away childish things, and always too soon."

[also from Teju Cole on day of John Berger’s death: https://www.instagram.com/p/BOxl2gejlXz/ ]
tejucole  death  loss  childhood  grief  mourning  deprivation  complicity  togetherness  2017  johnberger 
january 2017 by robertogreco
EXTRACT FROM 'MURAL' - YouTube
"John Berger reading from 'Mural' by Mahmoud Darwish"

[via: "No one exactly dies/ Rather souls change their looks and address" –Darwish died 5 years ago today. Berger reads him: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fromy11082A ]
johnberger  tejucole  2008  mahmouddarwish  video  death  change 
january 2017 by robertogreco
Meeting John Berger - YouTube
"Portrait by Jos de Putter about writer, artist and philosopher John Berger, who received the Groeneveld

Director: Jos de Putter
Cinematography: Jean Counet
Sound Recording: Joris van Ballegoijen
Editors: Stefan Kamp, Clara van Gool
Sound Design: Boon and Booy
Producer: Wink de Putter"

[See also: https://jeancounet.myportfolio.com/meeting-john-berger ]

[via:
"Beautiful film of a reading by John Berger, who always reminds us how to be human."
https://twitter.com/tejucole/status/266936094543708160 ]
johnberger  2012  josdeputter  jeancounet  video  tejucole 
january 2017 by robertogreco
John Berger | The Essay Prize
"THE TEN GREATEST ESSAYS, EVER
JOHN BERGER

Italo Calvino, “Exactitude”
(from Six Memos for the Next Millenium, Harvard University Press, 1988)

Rebecca Solnit, “After Ideology”
(from Hope in the Dark, 2005)

Simone Weil, “Evil”
(from Gravity and Grace, 2002)

Arundhati Roy, “The Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire”
(from The Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire, 2004)

Iona Heath, “Ways of Dying”
(from Matters of Life and Death, 2007)

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “Eye and Mind”
(from The Primacy of Perception, 1964)

Walter Benjamin, “On Language as Such and On the Language of Man”
(from One-Way Street, 1928)

D.H. Lawrence, “The Dance of the Sprouting Corn”
(from Mornings in Mexico, 1927)

George Orwell, “The Art of Donald McGill”
(from Collected Essays, 1941)

Soren Kierkegard, “The Immediate State of the Erotic”
(from Either/Or, 1843)"

[via:
"Nilanjana Roy calls this a "'How to be Human' Playlist," and I agree: John Berger's ten favorite essays"
https://twitter.com/tejucole/status/366912570600333312 ]
lists  readinglists  toread  johnberger  italocalvino  rebeccasolnit  canon  simoneweil  arundhatiroy  ionaheath  mauricemerleau-ponty  walterbanjamin  dhlawrence  georgeorwell  kierkegaard  nilanjanaroy  tejucole 
january 2017 by robertogreco
A Time for Refusal - The New York Times
"It is a Sunday afternoon in a provincial town in France. Two men meet at a cafe. One of them, Berenger, is half-drunk. He is being berated by his companion, Jean. All of the sudden, they hear a great noise. When they and other townspeople crane their necks to figure out what’s going on, they see a large animal thundering down one of the streets, stamping and snorting all the way. A rhinoceros! Not long after, there’s another. They are startled. It’s outrageous. Something must be done. What they begin to do is argue heatedly about whether the second rhino was the first one going past a second time or a different one, and then about whether the rhinos are African or Asiatic.

Things become more disturbing in the next act. (This is a play: “Rhinoceros,” written by Eugène Ionesco.) The rhino sightings continue to be the subject of pointless dispute. Then, one by one, various people in the town begin to turn into rhinos. Their skin hardens, bumps appear over their noses and grow into horns. Jean had been one of those scandalized by the first two rhino sightings, but he becomes a rhino, too. Midway through his metamorphosis, Berenger argues with him: “You must admit that we have a philosophy that animals don’t share, and an irreplaceable set of values, which it’s taken centuries of human civilization to build up.” Jean, well on his way to being a rhino, retorts, “When we’ve demolished all that, we’ll be better off!”

It is an epidemic of “rhinoceritis.” Almost everyone succumbs: those who admire the brute force of the rhinos, those who didn’t believe the sightings to begin with, those who initially found them alarming. One character, Dudard, declares, “If you’re going to criticize, it’s better to do so from the inside.” And so he willingly undergoes the metamorphosis, and there’s no way back for him. The final holdouts from this mass capitulation are Berenger and Daisy, his co-worker.

Eugène Ionesco was French-Romanian. He wrote “Rhinoceros” in 1958 as a response to totalitarian movements in Europe, but he was influenced specifically by his experience of fascism in Romania in the 1930s. Ionesco wanted to know why so many people give in to these poisonous ideologies. How could so many get it so wrong? The play, an absurd farce, was one way he grappled with this problem.

On Aug. 19, 2015, shortly after midnight, the brothers Stephen and Scott Leader assaulted Guillermo Rodriguez. Rodriguez had been sleeping near a train station in Boston. The Leader brothers beat him with a metal pipe, breaking his nose and bruising his ribs, and called him a “wetback.” They urinated on him. “All these illegals need to be deported,” they are said to have declared during the attack. The brothers were fans of the candidate who would go on to win the Republican party’s presidential nomination. Told of the incident at the time, that candidate said: “People who are following me are very passionate. They love this country, and they want this country to be great again.”

That was the moment when my mental alarm bells, already ringing, went amok. There were many other astonishing events to come — the accounts of sexual violence, the evidence of racism, the promise of torture, the advocacy of war crimes — but the assault on Rodriguez, as well as the largely tolerant response to it, was a marker. Some people were outraged, but outrage soon became its own ineffectual reflex. Others found a rich vein of humor in the parade of obscenities and cruelties. Others simply took a view similar to that of the character Botard in Ionesco’s play: “I don’t mean to be offensive. But I don’t believe a word of it. No rhinoceros has ever been seen in this country!”

In the early hours of Nov. 9, 2016, the winner of the presidential election was declared. As the day unfolded, the extent to which a moral rhinoceritis had taken hold was apparent. People magazine had a giddy piece about the president-elect’s daughter and her family, a sequence of photos that they headlined “way too cute.” In The New York Times, one opinion piece suggested that the belligerent bigot’s supporters ought not be shamed. Another asked whether this president-elect could be a good president and found cause for optimism. Cable news anchors were able to express their surprise at the outcome of the election, but not in any way vocalize their fury. All around were the unmistakable signs of normalization in progress. So many were falling into line without being pushed. It was happening at tremendous speed, like a contagion. And it was catching even those whose plan was, like Dudard’s in “Rhinoceros,” to criticize “from the inside.”

Evil settles into everyday life when people are unable or unwilling to recognize it. It makes its home among us when we are keen to minimize it or describe it as something else. This is not a process that began a week or month or year ago. It did not begin with drone assassinations, or with the war on Iraq. Evil has always been here. But now it has taken on a totalitarian tone.

At the end of “Rhinoceros,” Daisy finds the call of the herd irresistible. Her skin goes green, she develops a horn, she’s gone. Berenger, imperfect, all alone, is racked by doubts. He is determined to keep his humanity, but looking in the mirror, he suddenly finds himself quite strange. He feels like a monster for being so out of step with the consensus. He is afraid of what this independence will cost him. But he keeps his resolve, and refuses to accept the horrible new normalcy. He’ll put up a fight, he says. “I’m not capitulating!”"
eugèneionesco  tejucole  elections  2016  donaldtrump  normalization  refusal  us 
november 2016 by robertogreco
Eyeo 2016 – Josh Begley on Vimeo
"Setting Tangents Around A Circle –

"If you set enough tangents around a circle, you begin to recreate the shape of the circle itself." —Teju Cole

In this talk Josh Begley considers human data -- what lies at the bottom of the ledger -- and tangential approaches to representing historical archives. Paying particular attention to landscape, geography, carcerality, and surveillance, he examines ways of seeing some of the violence behind the way we live."
eyeo  eyeo2016  2016  joshbegley  socialmedia  drones  violence  race  racism  ronimorrison  tejucole  data  datavisualization  geography  prisionindustrialcomplex  redlining  policy  maps  mapping  militaryindustrialcomplex  military  archives  history  landscape  trevorpaglen  satelliteimagery  imagery  aerialimagery 
august 2016 by robertogreco
Teju Cole: FABLE
"FABLE

It was true that the Adversary had brought other monsters into being. Each had been wicked in its own way, each had been an embodiment of one or other of the seven vices, and each had been strong and difficult to vanquish. Some of those monsters still roamed the land. But what made this new monster remarkable, indeed uniquely devious, was that it wasn’t strong at all. In fact, it was weak. The weaknesses through which the other monsters had been vanquished, this monster had tenfold. The new monster was not moral, but it is not in the nature of monsters to be moral. But the monster was also not beautiful, or intelligent, or brave, or well-dressed, or charming, or gifted in oratory, though usually monsters had at least some of those qualities. The Adversary had sent this new monster out, designing it to derive its strength from one source and one source alone, as in olden days was said of Samson and his locks, so that if that source were cut off, the monster would wilt like a severed flower stalk in the noonday heat. The source of the new monster’s strength was noise. If it heard a bit of noise pertaining to it, it grew stronger. If it heard a lot of noise, whether the noise was adulation or imprecation, it was full of joy, and grew even stronger. Only collective quietness could vanquish it, quietness and the actions that came from contemplation.

Having thus designed it, the Adversary sent the monster out to Noiseville. “A new monster!” the cry went up, and the monster grew a little stronger. “It grows stronger!” went the chorus, and the monster grew stronger still. And thus it was in Noiseville that the new monster, weaker than all the other monsters ever sent by the Adversary, was the only thing the people of Noiseville spoke about. The sound had reached a deafening roar. In every newspaper across Noiseville, the most read articles were about the monster. On television, the reporters spent most of their time making noise about the monster. On little devices the people carried around with them, it was all monster all the time. If the monster smiled, there was noise in reaction. If the monster scowled, there was noise. If it coughed, there was an uproar of coughing and commentary on the manner of the monster's coughing. The Adversary was astonished by how well his little stratagem had worked. The monster smiled and scowled and coughed, and learned to say the things that generated more noise. And on and on it grew.

“But it is so weak!” the people shouted. “It is not beautiful, or intelligent, or brave, or well-dressed, or charming, or gifted in oratory. How can it grow in strength and influence so?” And if the noise went down even one decibel, the monster did something again, anything at all, and the noise went up. And the people talked of nothing but the monster when they were awake, and dreamed of nothing but the monster when they were asleep. And from time to time, they turned on each other, and were distraught if they saw their fellows failing to join in the noise, for any quiet form of contemplation was thought of as acquiescence to the monster. Other monsters in the past had been drowned out by sufficient loudness. Besides, this was Noiseville, and there was no question of not making noise, there in the home of the loudest and best noise in the world, the most beautiful noise, it was often said, the greatest noise in the history of the world. And so the noise swelled to the very limits of Noiseville, and the new monster grew to gargantuan size as had Gulliver in the land of the Lilliputians, and their ropes were powerless against it, and there seemed no limit to its growth, though it was but the eighth month of that year."
tejucole  2016  monsters  fiction  donaldtrump  fables  electronics  attention  noise  media  power 
august 2016 by robertogreco
Luigi Ghirri’s Brilliant Photographic Puzzles - The New York Times
"I look at Luigi Ghirri’s work daily: There’s a postcard reproduction of one of his photographs on my fridge. It depicts four women, turned away from us and toward a mountainous landscape. They could be taking in an actual vista — the perspective is correct — but the mountains and their intervening lakes have text superimposed on them, and so we realize the women are standing before an image of a landscape, either a poster or a mural. Ghirri took the photograph in Salz­burg, Austria, in 1977. I find it reassuring, amusing (that slight stutter in parsing it), simultaneously simple and complex in ways that are difficult to explain."



"The world, as Ghirri sees it, is full of images, and a picture of the world must also contain many images of images. The pictures he made, haunted by this notion of an all-encompassing view, often seem like fragments of something too complex to assemble into one coherent whole. He writes: “A key element in this work was perhaps the fondness I’ve always had for places and objects that seem to contain everything: encyclopedias, museums, maps.” There is the defamiliarization of scale that comes with such views. Ghirri compares his vision to that in “Gulliver’s Travels” or “Alice in Wonderland,” an imaginative space in which it’s hard to tell what’s very large, or what’s very small. Curiously, within the dreamlike logic of his pictures, the difference hardly matters. “The world might appear at first through a telescope, and then under a microscope, or perhaps through a set of binoculars that can be used to both to magnify and minimize. In some photo­graphs we can make out the building blocks of fables, the supporting framework and the scaffolding which props up this ‘land’; and yet, rather than exposing the tricks or taking away the magic, they contribute to the illusion.”

When we see, in a picture by Ghirri, a railing that spells out the word MARE (“sea”) overlooking the sea, the feeling of being in a fable is intensified, not lessened. The photo contains two islands, one closer to us and seen only in part, the other misty in the far distance. There’s a tiny ship, toylike, just under the R in MARE. The horizon line is indistinct, evanescent. And in the foreground, the railing, where it curves at the M, has been dinged. These little touches, these grace notes, testify to the intensity of Ghirri’s seeing and his love for the muted but multi­dimensional drama the world contains."



"Intriguing work naturally summons analogy. In describing the artists who have guided him, Ghirri mentions Evans, but also Louis Daguerre, Diane Arbus, Jorge Luis Borges, Fernando Pessoa, Ry Cooder and Bob Dylan, among many others. I find no mention of the American poet Elizabeth Bishop in Ghirri’s essays, but his work speaks to me in a way similar to hers. And if they have a shared language, it is a language Italo Calvino speaks, too. All three create a folkloric atmosphere; all have the gift of working in miniature without being trivial; all engage, very gently, the surreal comedy of the world looked at peculiarly.

Bishop was joyously obsessed with maps, and the four collections of poetry published in her lifetime, not counting “The Complete Poems” (1969), all made territorial allusions: “North and South” (1946), “A Cold Spring” (1955), “Questions of Travel” (1965) and “Geography III” (1976). These titles remind me of the abundance of globes, atlases, maps, monuments, tourist sites, road signs and postcards in Ghirri’s work. When I read Bishop’s “12 O’Clock News,” for instance, in which the objects arrayed on the writer’s desk — the gooseneck lamp, the typed sheet, the envelopes, the ink bottle — become stand-ins for a mythical landscape, I can’t help thinking of the still lifes of vases, jars and books that Ghirri photographed in the painter Giorgio Morandi’s studio. A section of Bishop’s poem, marked “typewriter,” reads in part as follows:

“The escarpment that rises abruptly from the central plain is in heavy shadow. ... What endless labor those small, peculiarly shaped terraces represent! And yet, on them the welfare of this tiny principality depends.”

What Bishop evokes here, and what Ghirri’s work confirms, is a sympathy with the lives of objects, the way the little things that surround us vibrate with accreted knowledge, as if they had been taking note of human behavior all along. In one essay, Ghirri writes about Daguerre’s ability to “awaken the inanimate world through light.” When an artist praises another artist, I pay attention: It often reveals what the one who praises would wish to be, or already is. Without question, Luigi Ghirri’s pictures awaken the inanimate world through light. This is why their magic never palls, and it is why I have kept “Salisburgo, 1977” on my fridge for going on two years now. To “get” Ghirri’s photographs, in the sense of untangling the initial confusion about what they depict, does not exhaust their poetry. His photographs play with scale, symmetry, tourism and travel; they betray a love of the land and a wish to care for it; they return us to the schoolroom, restoring the enchantment of knowledge without naïveté; and they somehow cut through the noise of our image-saturated environment to become, as he wrote, “passwords for the ineffable.”"
tejucole  photography  maps  mapping  luigighirri  2016  elizabethbishop  louisdaguerre  dianearbus  borges  fernandopessoa  rycooder  bobdylan  italocalvino  objects 
july 2016 by robertogreco
A Too-Perfect Picture - The New York Times
"You know a Steve McCurry picture when you see one. His portrait of an Afghan girl with vivid green eyes, printed on the cover of National Geographic in June 1985, is one of the iconic images of the 20th century. McCurry’s work is stark and direct, with strong colors, a clear emotional appeal and crisp composition. His most recent volume of photographs, “India,” is a compendium of the pictures he took in that country between 1978 and 2014, and it also gives us the essential McCurry. There are Hindu festivals, men in turbans, women in saris, red-robed monks, long mustaches, large beards, preternaturally soulful children and people in rudimentary canoes against dramatic landscapes.

In McCurry’s portraits, the subject looks directly at the camera, wide-eyed and usually marked by some peculiar­ity, like pale irises, face paint or a snake around the neck. And when he shoots a wider scene, the result feels like a certain ideal of photography: the rule of thirds, a neat counterpoise of foreground and background and an obvious point of primary interest, placed just so. Here’s an old-timer with a dyed beard. Here’s a doe-eyed child in a head scarf. The pictures are staged or shot to look as if they were. They are astonishingly boring.

Boring, but also extremely popular: McCurry’s photographs adorn calendars and books, and command vertiginous prices at auction. He has more than a million followers on Instagram. This popularity does not come about merely because of the technical finesse of his pictures. The photographs in “India,” all taken in the last 40 years, are popular in part because they evoke an earlier time in Indian history, as well as old ideas of what photographs of Indians should look like, what the accouterments of their lives should be: umbrellas, looms, sewing machines; not laptops, wireless printers, escalators. In a single photograph, taken in Agra in 1983, the Taj Mahal is in the background, a steam train is in the foreground and two men ride in front of the engine, one of them crouched, white-bearded and wearing a white cap, the other in a loosefitting brown uniform and a red turban. The men are real, of course, but they have also been chosen for how well they work as types.

A defender of McCurry’s work might suggest that he is interested in exploring vanishing cultures. After all, even in the 21st century, not all Indians go to malls or fly in planes. Should he not be celebrated for seeking out the picturesque and using it to show us quintessential India? What is wrong with showing a culture in its most authentic form? The problem is that the uniqueness of any given country is a mixture not only of its indigenous practices and borrowed customs but also of its past and its present. Any given photograph encloses only a section of the world within its borders. A sequence of photographs, taken over many years and carefully arranged, however, reveals a worldview. To consider a place largely from the perspective of a permanent anthropological past, to settle on a notion of authenticity that edits out the present day, is not simply to present an alternative truth: It is to indulge in fantasy.

What a relief it is to move from Steve McCurry’s work to that of someone like Raghubir Singh. Singh worked from the late ’60s until his untimely death in 1999, traveling all over India to create a series of powerful books about his homeland. His work shares formal content with McCurry’s: the subcontinental terrain, the eye-popping color, the human presence. Within these shared parameters, however, Singh gives us photographs charged with life: not only beautiful experiences or painful scenes but also those in-between moments of drift that make up most of our days. Singh had a democratic eye, and he took pictures of everything: cities, towns, villages, shops, rivers, worshipers, workers, construction sites, motorbikes, statues, modern furniture, balconies, suits, dresses and, sure, turbans and saris.

The power of Singh’s pictures lies in part in their capacious content. But it also lies in their composition, which rises well beyond mere competence, as he demonstrated in books like “River of Colour,” “The Ganges” and “Bombay: Gateway of India.” Singh has cited Edgar Degas and the American photographer Helen Levitt as influences, and you can see what he has learned from their highly sophisticated approaches (Degas’s casual grace, Levitt’s sympathetic view of urban oddity and the way both of them let in messiness at the edges of their images — a messiness that reminds us of the life happening outside the frame as well as within it). A photograph like the one Singh made of a crowded intersection in Kolkata in 1987 draws a breathtaking coherence out of the chaos of the everyday. The image, of which the key elements are a green door, a distant statue, an arm and a bus, is slightly surreal. But everything is in its right place. It reads as a moment of truth snipped from the flow of life.

I love even more a photograph Singh made in Mumbai a couple of years later. Taken in a busy shopping district called Kemps Corner, this photograph has less-obvious charms. The picture is divided into four vertical parts by the glass frontage of a leather-goods shop and its open glass door, and within this grid is a scatter of incident. The main figure, if we can call her that, is a woman past middle age who wears a red blouse and a dark floral skirt and carries a cloth bag on a string. She is seen in profile and looks tired. Beyond her and behind are various other walkers in the city, going about their serious business. An overpass cuts across the picture horizontally. The foreground, red with dust, is curiously open, a potential space for people not yet in the picture. The glass on the left is a display of handbags for sale, and the peculiar lighting of the bags indicates that Singh used flash in taking the shot. The image, unforgettable because it stretches compositional coherence nearly to its snapping point, reminds me of Degas’s painting “Place de la Concorde,” another picture in which easy, classically balanced composition is jettisoned for something more exciting and discomfiting and grounded.

How do we know when a photographer caters to life and not to some previous prejudice? One clue is when the picture evades compositional cliché. But there is also the question of what the photograph is for, what role it plays within the economic circulation of images. Some photographs, like Singh’s, are freer of the censorship of the market. Others are taken only to elicit particular conventional responses — images that masquerade as art but fully inhabit the vocabulary of advertising. As Justice Potter Stewart said when pressed to define hard-core pornography in 1964, “I know it when I see it.”

I saw “it” when I recently watched the video for Coldplay’s “Hymn for the Weekend.” The song is typical Coldplay, written for vague uplift but resistant to sense (“You said, ‘Drink from me, drink from me’/When I was so thirsty/Poured on a symphony/Now I just can’t get enough”). Filmed in India, with a cameo by Beyoncé, the video is a kind of exotification bingo, and almost like a live-action version of Steve McCurry’s vision: peacocks, holy men, painted children, incense. Almost nothing in the video allows true contemporaneity to Indians. They seem to have been placed there as a colorful backdrop to the fantasies of Western visitors. A fantasy withers in the sunlight of realism. But as long as realism is held at bay, the fantasy can remain satisfying to an enormous audience. More than a hundred million people have watched the Coldplay video since it was posted at the end of January.

Are we then to cry “appropriation” whenever a Westerner approaches a non-Western subject? Quite the contrary: Some of the most insightful stories about any place can be told by outsiders. I have, for instance, seen few documentary series as moving and humane as “Phantom India,” released in 1969 by the French auteur Louis Malle. Mary Ellen Mark, not Indian herself, did extraordinary work photographing prostitutes in Mumbai. Non-Indians have made images that capture aspects of the endlessly complicated Indian experience, just as have Indian photographers like Ketaki Sheth, Sooni Taraporevala, Raghu Rai and Richard Bartholomew.

Art is always difficult, but it is especially difficult when it comes to telling other people’s stories. And it is ferociously difficult when those others are tangled up in your history and you are tangled up in theirs. What honors those we look at, those whose stories we try to tell, is work that acknowledges their complex sense of their own reality. Good photography, regardless of its style, is always emotionally generous in this way. For this reason, it outlives the moment that occasions it. Weaker photography delivers a quick message — sweetness, pathos, humor — but fails to do more. But more is what we are."
tejucole  photography  2016  stevemccurry  appropriation  india  culture  authenticity  raghubirsingh  drift  betweeness  democracy  diversity  composition  edgardegas  prejudice  censorship  markets  popularity  nationalgeographic  exotification  realism  outsiders  louismalle  maryellenmark  mumbai  katakisheth  soonitaraporevala  raghurai  richardbartholomew  complexity  reality  sweetness  pathos  humor 
april 2016 by robertogreco
Teju Cole on Instagram: “Seminyak, October 2015. Let like be the emotion and "like" be the Instagram action, the double tap on the picture or the single tap on the blank heart. For some of you, I like that you post, I like the fact of your posting. Rela
"_tejucole:

Seminyak, October 2015.
Let like be the emotion and "like" be the Instagram action, the double tap on the picture or the single tap on the blank heart. For some of you, I like that you post, I like the fact of your posting. Related but not at all the same, I like everything you post (you know who you are). I don't "like" everything anyone posts in part because I want to be able to find things in the "likes" later. I "like" in order to indicate that I like, or to note, or to encourage, or as a thank you. I don't hate-"like." For some of you, I don't like what you post generally, maybe your style doesn't appeal, but I'll "like" a photo you post that I like. I think of a repost as a kind of "superlike" of certain pairings of word and image. Sometimes if I like something a lot, I can't "like" it, because it's too close to my skin. Sometimes, when something makes my spinal cord throb, I'll 🌟 it as well as "like" it, almost helplessly and inadvertently, like a monkey in a psychological experiment.

If someone should "like" something I post, I don't mentally interrogate their "like"—I simply prefer to assume that they like the picture, the words, the sequence of images I've been presenting, or me, which all comes to the same thing, at least at that moment. I notice how many "likes" a given post of mine receives, up to a certain minimum (which I will not reveal), beyond which a shit I giveth not. A "like" from certain people (you know who you are, except for those of you who don't) I mentally calculate as ten ordinary civilian "likes." I seldom but sometimes post with "likes" in mind, either to garner "likes" or to stymie them. I never shoot with "likes" in mind.
#_thehive

giache_I:

'superlike' your writings on this activity and these relations of Instagram ✨✨✨

jetudier:

(is it a function of this medium & platform, that I came to at the age that I did, or pure whimsy, that I find the need to write rather than double tap.. this I went private for just such reasons. to not care or be distracted but I find that a tension still exists .. thinking aloud bout this essay. thank you :)

simplymoraa:

On this one my "like" was primarily for the writing.

creetilda:

And I love you.

achp__:

I assumed your liking politics were very specific, but I didn't imagine they'd be that specific. For me, I try to like less and observe more. Sometimes I can't be bothered, and don't like nor observe, and it makes me wonder about the use I do of this space.

1001sarahs:

🌟✨🌟✨🌟
_tejucole:

@achp__ My liking poetics, you mean. 😬 What I realize is also that one likes here, the same way an author signs book. It is one understood (and largely friendly) form of exchange. Until I published books, I hated getting books signed, much less contemplating signing them myself. The purity of literature was the thing! Then things changed and I did too."

[Continued: https://www.instagram.com/p/BBsHGZvvVtv/

"_tejucole

Ubud, October 2015. Within the system of likes which cannot be turned off, and which implicitly sets up a rivalry not only among one photographer's photos, but between different photographers, lending a mild but never to be mentioned element of anxiety into the presentation of every photo, certain forms of sequencing are imperiled. Repetition is imperiled, slow shifts of photographic phase are imperiled. No one imposes these rules. It's only that Instagram, like any society, has unspoken notions of good behavior, of behavior worthy of reward (and even how that reward is to be assessed: relative to total follower count: a hundred likes has different meanings depending on who's getting it). At direct odds with our individual interests in exploration is our individual talent for popularity. "This one will get plenty of likes" is a thought many of us have had, and not always happily. Read the terrain. Certain work can happen here. Certain work cannot happen here.
#_thehive"
tejucole  likes  liking  favorites  favoriting  faves  socialmedia  2016  instagram  psychology  gamification  terrain  behavior  popularity  motivation  photography  writing  whywewrite  whyweshare  socialdynamics  anxiety  rivalry 
february 2016 by robertogreco
Teju Cole on Instagram: “Mexico City, December 2015. I went from my little Mexico in Brooklyn to Dallas, which is a Mexico. Later I spent a few days in Santa Fe, a Mexico different from my Brooklyn Mexico. In Mexico City I was full of prior Mexicos, the
"Mexico City, December 2015. I went from my little Mexico in Brooklyn to Dallas, which is a Mexico. Later I spent a few days in Santa Fe, a Mexico different from my Brooklyn Mexico. In Mexico City I was full of prior Mexicos, the Mexicos of my heart chorusing the visible Mexico of the city. Now you are there. You must have landed by now. And now I realize that yet another Mexico of mine is your journeys to Mexico, what I have sensed of it through your senses. Mexicos proliferate, all the way to the horizon. #ahistoryofsleep #_thehive"
tejucole  mexico  mexicocity  df  mexicodf  us  2015  2016 
february 2016 by robertogreco
Against Neutrality - The New York Times
"The camera is an instrument of transformation. It can make what it sees more beautiful, more gruesome, milder, darker, all the while insisting on the plain reality of its depiction. This is what Brecht meant in 1931 when he wrote, “The camera is just as capable of lying as the typewriter.” What then are we to do with this devious tool? One option is to resist the depiction of violence, to side with the reader who protests an unpleasant photograph and defends the bounds of good taste. But another — and to me, better — option is to understand that the problem is not one of too many unsettling images but of too few. When the tragedy or suffering of only certain people in certain places is made visible, the boundaries of good taste are not really transgressed at all. ‘‘We all have strength enough to bear the misfortunes of others,’’ La Rochefoucauld wrote. What is hard is being vividly immersed in our own pain. We ought to see what actually happens to American bodies in situations of war or mass violence, whether at the moment they happen, as Broomberg and Chanarin show us, or in the wake of the violence, as presented in van Agtmael’s book. We must not turn away from what that kind of suffering looks like when visited on ‘‘us.’’ Photojournalism relating to war, prejudice, hatred and violence pursues a blinkered neutrality at the expense of real fairness. All too often in our media, the words take us all the way there, but the photographs, habituated to a certain safety, hold back."
art  culture  ethics  photography  journalism  tejucole  2016  photojournalism 
january 2016 by robertogreco
Serious Play - The New York Times
"Stephen Shore was 24 in 1972 when he took his first photographic road trip across the United States. Using color film and a 35-millimeter Rollei, he shot a bewildering variety of subjects: roads, homes, gas stations, fluorescent bulbs, pay phones, hotel beds, cars and televisions. He took pictures of friends and strangers, meals and toilets, framed paintings on walls, fridges left open, shop fronts after hours: anything, it seemed, at which the camera could be pointed. The body of work he made over the next two years, eventually exhibited and published as ‘‘American Surfaces,’’ feels oddly familiar now. With its flatness and indiscriminate subject matter, it looks just like the stuff people put on Instagram. But for all their casual affect, Shore’s images are sophisticated, supported by an instinct for pictorial structure. Along with William Eggleston, he was a pioneer of an American visual demotic, long before anyone could have dreamed of social media.

Fast-forward four decades, and Shore himself is on Instagram. The images he posts there, like most of the photos he has exhibited in galleries or published in books, are made in full color and with a cool, matter-of-fact style that delicately balances beauty, banality and irony. The medium, dimensions and means of circulation have all changed. What remains is Shore’s eye, his commitment to a visual annotation of the world. Many of his Instagram photos are as provocatively unexciting as the ones he published in ‘‘American Surfaces’’ and ‘‘Uncommon Places,’’ and perhaps even more so. Occasionally on his Instagram feed, there are queries to the effect that he must be, in some sense, kidding.

Instagram users value spectacular individual images and reward them with the coin of the realm: likes. (They also value images of any kind by superstars, regardless of quality — anything Justin Bieber or Beyoncé posts will get hundreds of thousands of likes.) Shore, though, can help us think about the place of the unspectacular image on Instagram, because he has for so long defended the value of that kind of image elsewhere.

Shore is part of a group of artists who have been successful in the conventional photography world but who also use Instagram primarily as a space for new creative work. They see Instagram not as a means to an end but as an end in itself; in this they are unlike other professionals for whom Instagram is simply a good place to promote non-Instagram projects or to be social in the same way most people are. For Shore and other established photographers like Dayanita Singh, Gueorgui Pinkhassov, David Alan Harvey and Laura El-Tantawy (to name just a few whose work I like), Instagram can be an extra studio, a place to do more.

These photographers pursue an exquisite balance between a sense of freedom and the steady burn of an obsession. They make their Instagram pictures largely with phone cameras but with a pictorial intelligence similar to what they bring to their more formal work. Why do they do this? Why do they try to get it ‘‘right,’’ even in this most informal setting? Because there is, despite the noise, an audience worth reaching on Instagram; because sometimes, for an artist, the urge to make work isn’t easily quelled, even when the work is play, even when the work is unpaid.

‘‘What I love the most about photography is its dissemination,’’ Dayanita Singh wrote when I asked her about Instagram. ‘‘That is what drew me to the book [as a form], but now I wonder what an Instagram book could be.’’ Singh, who is based in New Delhi and Goa, makes dreamy, associative and archive-obsessed work, and her primary medium for several decades has been the photo book. Her photographs reiterate a highly personal and interlinked set of concerns: interiors, beds, white garments, file rooms, glass, vitrines, women of the upper classes in New Delhi, the tabla player Zakir Hussain, who was the subject of her first book, and a eunuch named Mona Ahmed, who was the subject of her second. Her Instagram account revisits many of these subjects. ‘‘I started to see that the same themes that I had been obsessed with kept returning,’’ she says. To accompany her plain and seemingly documentary Instagram pictures, Singh nods at the titles of her past projects with playful hashtags and also mixes in some future or imagined projects: #dreamvilla, #fileroom, #chairs, #houseoflove, #museumofglass, #mirrormirroronthewall. She rarely says where any given picture was taken. They are a continuity, with the hashtags strewn around them like crumbs in an enchanted forest.

Looking at Singh’s work on Instagram, I get pleasure from the pictures themselves, from their simplicity, emotional resonance and lo-fi aesthetic. And they deepen my understanding of a body of work I’ve been following for many years. I am conscious that what I am watching on Singh’s feed is a reflexive form of critique: She is using images to think about her making of images. Each photo, whether of a pair of glass jars, or a chair, or a bed, or a flower carved in marble in high relief, illuminates and is illuminated by what came before. Her photographic language accrues vocabulary while its grammar remains stable. Flowers, for example, are a new element in her work, but they fit into the larger oeuvre because of the taxonomic and repetitive way she presents them.

But sometimes, even within this stability, genuine surprise occurs. One morning, for instance, I woke up and saw that Singh had posted a brief video of Mona Ahmed, whose image I had not seen since Singh’s 2001 book, ‘‘Myself Mona Ahmed.’’ But there Ahmed was on my screen, much older now, singing with a quavering voice. Her skin was good, and her eyes glistened. She smiled through broken teeth as she sang. Because I knew the book, and what her face looked like when she was younger, and how much she had suffered, this 15-second video brought tears to my eyes.

If both Stephen Shore and Dayanita Singh are often registering evidence of a settled world, there is something more dynamic happening in Gueorgui Pinkhassov’s photography. Pinkhassov, who was born in Moscow and now lives in Paris, is one of the world’s leading photojournalists, though the label fits him badly. ‘‘Assignments are the best pretext for turning up in a new environment,’’ Pinkhassov wrote to me. ‘‘But I value myself more as an amateur than as a professional.’’ Amateur — that is the word for him, with its declaration of love for the craft. He is a camera artist in love with light, color and immediacy.

When you see an image by Pinkhassov, you recognize it. The picture plane is active with a complex scatter of light, and there is frequently a dense, dramatic skein of shadows out of which, as though by magic, coherent shapes emerge: a head here, a foot there, some shape in silhouette, fishermen’s nets, smoke, faces, some other shape in fragmentary form. After a moment, the entire ensemble becomes legible. His oneiric images always seem to be on the verge of movement, as though he made the picture while the scene was still being born, before it was fully deposited into its own reality.

Pinkhassov has taken this talent for eliciting a primordial energy from everyday life to its next logical step: He now posts short videos of similarly abstract, swirling, evolving scenes. The poetic grace and precise timing in both his published and Instagram work make sense when you consider two of his main influences: Andrei Tarkovsky (for whose film ‘‘Stalker’’ Pinkhassov was invited to shoot stills in 1979) and Henri Cartier-Bresson. He credits them both with leading him to the idea that ‘‘reality contains enough material out of which one can weave poetic images without filters.’’ But even within the parameters of a style, Pinkhassov’s images are charged with a perpetual element of surprise — he says he would rather be a ‘‘stove’’ than a ‘‘refrigerator,’’ would rather cook than keep. The effect of seeing a new picture by him, as you scroll down the Instagram feed, is often a jolt of wonder and gratitude.

Instagram, like any other wildly successful social-media platform, is by turns creative, tedious, fun and ridiculous. If you follow the wrong people, it can easily become a millstone around your neck. (There can be mild, but real, social costs to following and then unfollowing.) But the activity of individual photographers is an area in which it can be revelatory — not for the stunning individual image but for the new seams of insight it reveals. ‘‘The conversation you have with a friend you speak with every day is different from one that you have with a friend you speak with once a month or once a year’’ is how Stephen Shore put it in an email. Instagram, he says, ‘‘can have the taste of the more intimate, more perhaps seemingly trivial daily conversation.’’

Once we’ve fallen in love with an artist’s work, isn’t one of the things we most long for to get inside that artist’s head, to somehow get closer to the creative process? This is why we read interviews, it is why we look at sketchbooks, it is why we pore over contact sheets. Instagram, at its best, can replicate aspects of this directness; it can be a conversation that unfolds gradually, over weeks and months. We see how an obsession develops and not simply what it looks like once it is on the walls of a museum or between the pages of a book. One part of the thrill is knowing that it is not happening anywhere else with such intimacy or immediacy. Another is the bittersweet fact of its evanescence: Like all conversation, it happens when it happens, and when it’s gone, it’s gone."
tejucole  photography  instagram  stephenshore  2015  dayanitasingh  gueorguipinkhassov  davidalanharvey  laurael-tantawy 
december 2015 by robertogreco
Far Away From Here - The New York Times
"But ambition always comes to darken your serenity. Technically proficient mountain pictures were good, but I also had to develop my own voice. In photography, as in writing, there’s no shortcut to finding that voice. I could not decide ahead of time that I would take only ugly pictures or only beautiful ones, or that everything would be in focus or blurred, or that I would use only color or only black and white. I had been thinking about landscape, I had been exploring color film for a few years, I was drawn to abstraction, and a certain gentle surrealism to be found in the attitude of objects. But there then followed a situational focus, a sensitivity to what the environment gave me.

Out of this focus, many pictures emerged, most of which didn’t quite work. But I also started to intuit my ley lines. As I shot more and more, I saw that I was drawn to signs, to mirrors in the landscapes (in Switzerland, there are rectangular mirrors at many street crossings, which frame the landscape behind you above the one you are facing), to maps and globes, to mountains as well as to pictures of the mountains in billboards and posters. I noticed — proof perhaps that we cannot help thinking of mountains photographically, the way we cannot help thinking of explosions cinematically — that some of my photographs of mountains looked like photographs of photographs of mountains. I was drawn to this shimmering partition between things and the images of things.

I became less interested in populating my images and more interested in traces of the human without human presence. I used deep shadows less frequently than I had in the past. I pretty much ceased nocturnal shooting. As the sequence began to take shape, I got a better sense of what belonged and what didn’t. I was studying photographs constantly, but I also immersed myself in the rhythms of certain painters and collagists: Chardin, Matisse, Rauschenberg, Mehretu, Mutu. I let go of some ‘‘good’’ photos, the way you strike out pretty sentences from a draft, and I learned how a number of tightly argued photos should be followed by one or two that are simpler and more ventilated. Authorship, after all, is not only what is created but also what is selected.

Along the way, I felt the constant company of doubt: my lack of talent, my impostor’s syndrome, my fear of boring others. Every once in a great while, there was finally a superb picture, but when I looked at it the following week, I would see that it actually wasn’t very good: too obvious, too derivative. Three thousand photographs and three thousand doubts."



"July 2015. Late afternoon. A hotel room in Zurich. I’ve been out shooting all day and have made no good pictures. I remove my lens cap. I’m shooting with a Canon Elan 7 now, a lovely lightweight film S.L.R. from around 2000. I pivot the camera on its tripod. Covering the front of the free-standing wardrobe in the room is a picture of a ship on a lake, beyond which are mountains. You could wake up suddenly at night in this room and, seeing that lake dimly lit by a streetlight, imagine yourself afloat: the slightly vertiginous thrill of being nobody, poised in perfect balance with the satisfaction of having, for that moment, a room of your own.

I face the wardrobe. I open the windows behind me and increase the camera’s exposure setting slightly. A black lamp, gray striped wallpaper, the wardrobe, a foldable luggage rack, black light switches, a brazen handle on a black door. Arrayed like that, they look like an illustration in a child’s encyclopedia. This is a door. This is a ship. This is a lake. This is a mountain. This is a room to which you long to be away, a room redolent of fernweh. This is a man in a room, crouched behind the camera, readying his shot, far away from home, not completely happy, but happier perhaps than he would be elsewhere."
tejucole  2015  photography  switzerland  hsitory  basel  zurich  cameras 
september 2015 by robertogreco
Migrants Welcome – The New Inquiry
"1
I’ve been reading the later work of Derrida, in which the intensity about language remains but there’s also a turn towards the thorniest questions of ethics. There’s a remarkable passage in “The Gift of Death” (1995) that gets at something the news isn’t touching on:

“…because of the structure of the laws of the market that society has instituted and controls, because of the mechanisms of external debt and other comparable inequities, that same ‘society’ puts to death or (but failing to help someone in distress accounts only for a minor difference) allows to die of hunger and disease tens of millions of children…without any moral or legal tribunal ever being considered competent to judge such a sacrifice, the sacrifice of the other to avoid being sacrificed oneself. Not only does such a society participate in this incalculable sacrifice, it actually organizes it.”

2
I’m seeing a lot of writing about not calling refugees “migrants.” This is in reaction to those who say refugees are “only” migrants, that this “flood” of migrants flows to richer countries for economic benefit. And it’s true that there’s an urgency in the condition of refugees (no one growing up thinks this will be their fate: to be a refugee, at the crucial mercy of others), and what is specially awful about being a refugee must be recognized and acted on, and not simply reduced to money.

But here’s the thing: migrants should be welcome too. Migrants are welcome. Some of the refugees become migrants, once the immediate danger is past. Some migrants become refugees, caught in an unexpected vortex of malice. Don’t let yourself be spun into a language of hatred and exclusion, at this hot moment in which it’s deemed OK to support refugees but still condemn migrants.

I say refugee, I say migrant, I say neighbor, I say friend, because everyone is deserving of dignity. Because moving for economic benefit is itself a matter of life and death. Because money is the universal language, and to be deprived of it is to be deprived of a voice while everyone else is shouting. Sometimes the gun aimed at your head is grinding poverty, or endless shabby struggle, or soul crushing tedium.

And more than “refugee” or “migrant,” I say “people,” and say it with compassion because everyone I love, and everyone they love has at some point said tearful goodbyes and moved from place to place to seek new opportunities, and almost all of them have by their movement improved those new places. Because I reject the poverty of a narrowly defined “we” that robs me of human complexity. Because I don’t believe that radical inclusivity is going to destroy “our” way of living, when I generally don’t know what “our” you’re talking about, and when I think we can do much better than this malevolent way of living anyway.

Did all sixteen of your great great grandparents live, work, and die in the same town where you now live? If no, then you’re a child of migrants. If yes, then y’all seriously need to get out more.

“OK, but where do we draw the line?” is a question you create in your head to distract you from your human duty to the other. If the line had been drawn in front of you instead of behind, you wouldn’t even be here now, wherever here might be.

We have to begin finding ways of dismantling this form of society that actively and passively organizes mass death and then, at the faintest flash of humane behavior, throws itself into paroxysms of self-congratulation."
tejucole  2015  refugees  migrants  migration  economics  humanism  jacquesderrida  immigration 
september 2015 by robertogreco
A True Picture of Black Skin - NYTimes.com
"These images pose a challenge to another bias in mainstream culture: that to make something darker is to make it more dubious. There have been instances when a black face was darkened on the cover of a magazine or in a political ad to cast a literal pall of suspicion over it, just as there have been times when a black face was lightened after a photo shoot with the apparent goal of making it more appealing. What could a response to this form of contempt look like? One answer is in Young’s films, in which an intensified darkness makes the actors seem more private, more self-contained and at the same time more dramatic. In “Selma,” the effect is strengthened by the many scenes in which King and the other protagonists are filmed from behind or turned away from us. We are tuned into the eloquence of shoulders, and we hear what the hint of a profile or the fragment of a silhouette has to say.

I think of another photograph by Roy DeCarava that is similar to “Mississippi Freedom Marcher,” but this other photograph, “Five Men, 1964,” has quite a different mood. We see one man, on the left, who faces forward and takes up almost half the picture plane. His face is sober and tense, his expression that of someone whose mind is elsewhere. Behind him is a man in glasses. This second man’s face is in three-quarter profile and almost wholly visible except for where the first man’s shoulder covers his chin and jawline. Behind these are two others, whose faces are more than half concealed by the men in front of them. And finally there’s a small segment of a head at the bottom right of the photograph. The men’s varying heights could mean they are standing on steps. The heads are close together, and none seem to look in the same direction: The effect is like a sheet of studies made by a Renaissance master. In an interview DeCarava gave in 1990 in the magazine Callaloo, he said of this picture: “This moment occurred during a memorial service for the children killed in a church in Birmingham, Ala., in 1964. The photograph shows men coming out of the service at a church in Harlem.” He went on to say that the “men were coming out of the church with faces so serious and so intense that I responded, and the image was made.”

The adjectives that trail the work of DeCarava and Young as well as the philosophy of Glissant — opaque, dark, shadowed, obscure — are metaphorical when we apply them to language. But in photography, they are literal, and only after they are seen as physical facts do they become metaphorical again, visual stories about the hard-won, worth-keeping reticence of black life itself. These pictures make a case for how indirect images guarantee our sense of the human. It is as if the world, in its careless way, had been saying, “You people are simply too dark,” and these artists, intent on obliterating this absurd way of thinking, had quietly responded, “But you have no idea how dark we yet may be, nor what that darkness may contain.”"
tejucole  photography  2015  civilrightsmovement  color  blackness  roydecarava  édouardglissant  elireed  carriemaeweems  deeree  andrewdosunmu  avaduvernay  bradfordyoung  danaigurira  davidoyelowo  1940s  1950s  1960s 
february 2015 by robertogreco
Interview: Teju Cole « Post45 - Linkis.com
"TC: Anyone who writes is lucky. The idea that one will be read, whether by a few or by many, is a basic expectation that makes me happy. In a somewhat childish way, I can't quite get over the mystery of written communication. When I'm writing, I'm mostly thinking, "Some other human being will read this, and probably comprehend all or most of it in just the way I intended, or in a way I will find believable." That's what I think about, and so I really leave no space for brooding about the death of the author. The author, if not dead yet, will die. The reader will die and be replaced by another reader. But literature itself—its peculiar form of communion—is a deeper miracle. You're reading Song of Solomon. That's a thing you can do. You're reading Stendhal. That's another thing you can do. I know I'm being a nerd about this, but it honestly amazes me. I refuse to get over it."
tejucole  2015  interviews  aaronbady  writing  technology  via:robinsloan  communication  atemporality 
february 2015 by robertogreco
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
The Quietus | Features | Tome On The Range | Doors Of Appropriation: Teju Cole Interviewed
"Birds play a big part in the book and elsewhere in your journalism. Why is that?

TC: I like them because they represent other life. About a year ago I did an event with Vijay Iyer, one of America’s leading jazz musicians and Himanshu Suri, the rapper from Das Racist. Iyer and I did a suite called Open City, ten parts that he and I built around all the bird passages in the book and I did readings in between. It opens with geese then sparrows looking for a place to eat, starlings forming a vast cloud. There’s one moment with a hawk and then the final passage with the wrens, smashing into the Statue of Liberty.

I’m interested in birds as a different form of life which has as little understanding of what it's about as we do, and the fact that they’re aerial, so have a different point of view."
tejucole  2014  interviews  opencity  everydayisforthethirf  lagos  nigeria  africa  socialmedia  culture  polymaths  birds  perspective 
november 2014 by robertogreco
Yashica – The New Inquiry
"At certain moments I have the feeling—usually simultaneous with the pressing of the shutter—that this or that image in particular is destined to outlive me, that it will be visible past my speaking. A photograph is an epitaph made of light.

Did you tell me, or did I tell you, of that line from Cixous? “What is interesting when you write is to imagine that your reader is not yet born…”"
2014  tejucole  photography  hélènecixous  epitaphs  light  posteristy  legacy 
october 2014 by robertogreco
Ebola: What It Is
"Is Ebola the ISIS of biological agents? Is Ebola the Boko Haram of AIDS? Is Ebola the al-Shabaab of dengue fever? Some say Ebola is the Milosevic of West Nile virus. Others say Ebola is the Ku Klux Klan of paper cuts. It’s obvious that Ebola is the MH370 of MH17. But at some point the question must be asked whether Ebola isn’t also the Narendra Modi of sleeping sickness. And I don’t mean to offend anyone’s sensitivities, but there’s more and more reason to believe that Ebola is the Sani Abacha of having some trouble peeing. At first there was, understandably, the suspicion that Ebola was the Hitler of apartheid, but now it has become abundantly clear that Ebola is actually the George W. Bush of being forced to listen to someone’s podcast. Folks, this thing is serious. The World Health Organization calls it the Putin of Stalin. In layperson’s terms, that’s like saying it’s the Stalin of U2. Now we are seeing the idea thrown around that it could be the Black Hand of the Black Death, not to mention the Red Peril of the Red Plague. If you don’t want to go that far, you have to at least admit that Ebola is the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb of Stage IV brain cancer. At this point, it’s very possible that Ebola could become airborne and turn into the Tea Party of extreme climate events. Throughout the country of Africa, Ebola is the Abu Ghraib of think pieces. Look, I’m not the politically correct type, so I’m just going to put this out there: Ebola is the neo-Nazism of niggling knee injuries. The kind of threat it poses to the American way of life essentially makes it the North Korea of peanut allergies. I’m not going to lie to you, and I don’t care what color you are, you could be red, green, blue, purple, whatever; you need to understand that Ebola (the Obama of Osama, but don’t quote me) is literally the “Some of my best friends are black” of #NotAllMen. But the burning question no one has raised yet is whether Ebola is the Newsweek of halitosis. We’ll go to the phones in a moment and get your take on this. But first let me open the discussion up to our panel and ask whether Ebola is merely the Fox News of explosive incontinence, or whether the situation is much worse than that and Ebola is, in fact, the CNN of CNN."
tejucole  2014  ebola  isis  cnn  media  news 
october 2014 by robertogreco
Hypertext as an Agent of Change on Huffduffer
"Thomas Pynchon. The Anthropocene. Ferguson. Geoheliocentrism. Teju Cole. Thomas Kuhn’s theory of paradigms. Antigone. A wall. The sixth extinction.

The ways we transmit information—and the ways in which that information accumulates into narratives—is changing. And if we aren’t careful, it may not change in all the ways we want it to."

[Full text: http://aworkinglibrary.com/writing/hypertext-as-an-agent-of-change/ ]
mandybrown  change  dconstruct  dconstruct2014  storytelling  antigone  tejucole  thomaspynchon  anthropocene  2014  ferguson  michaelbrown  geoheliocentrism  thomaskuhn  perspective  paradigmshifts  context  framing  metcontexts  transcontextualism  transcontextualization 
september 2014 by robertogreco
The Believer Logger - What Would Twitter Do? — What Would Twitter Do?
"TEJU COLE: In line at the passport office. Madness. [a few minutes later] Lemme send a few thoughts. Twitter is an interesting (and I think genuinely new) form of communication that also happens to be a corporation. This tension is interesting because you’re trying to “do language” in a way that satisfies your priorities (ambitious or not) and that has some overlap with Twitter’s interest in building a profitable company that is also considered “cool.” So you’re using them and they’re using you. I’m interested in the people who best negotiate this tension. Lots of examples of “creative” users, of course, and “artistic” users. But I’m especially interested at the moment in the people who (unlike me) are not “creative” on Twitter in terms of using it for projects. These are people who are simply doing language in a (seemingly) unpremeditated or at least unsystematic way, but who have such quality of mind (and access to words) that there is a real pleasure in reading their tweets.

Is Twitter a stream of consciousness? I think so. I think it satisfies that term, even though I often think there’s too much stream and not enough consciousness. But if we bring Twitter back to the basics of the overheard, then the people I love to overhear are Kathryn Schulz (@kathrynschuz), Elisa Gabbert (@egabbert), Alexis Madrigal (@alexismadrigal), Elizabeth Angell (@kitabet)—all people who happen to have a serious interest in both the sciences and the arts. And then there are artists like Simon Levy (@cyartes) and Saudamini Deo (@saudaminid). I like this daily cloud of persons and selves who are seeing the world and thinking about it, for whom there is a lot more to think about and talk about than whatever the news or controversy of the day is. There are dozens of such people I follow. It’s a kind of 18th century cafe, where your mind is sharpened by interaction with other minds. And that—in addition to all the great comedians and “creative” tweeters and aphorists—makes it easier to deal with the endless supply of morons that also take up residence on Twitter."
tejucole  interviews  twitter  2014 
august 2014 by robertogreco
Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb on Street Photography and the Poetic Image - Aperture Foundation
"In this series, Aperture Foundation works with the world’s top photographers to distill their creative approaches, teachings, and insights on photography—offering the workshop experience in a book. Our goal is to inspire photographers of all levels who wish to improve their work, as well as readers interested in deepening their understanding of the art of photography. Each volume is introduced by a well-known student of the featured photographer. 

In this book, internationally acclaimed color photographers Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb, offer their expert insight into street photography and the poetic image. Through words and photographs—their own and others’—they invite the reader into the heart of their artistic processes. They share their thoughts about a wide range of practical and philosophical issues, from questions about seeing and being in the world with a camera, to how to shape a complete body of work in a way that’s both structured and intuitive."

[New link: http://aperture.org/shop/alex-webb-and-rebecca-norris-webb-on-street-photography-and-the-poetic-image-books ]
books  streetphotography  tejucole  alexwebb  rebeccanorris  photography  toread 
may 2014 by robertogreco
The Island – The New Inquiry
"White supremacy has its uses. Because of its great care and its thoughtful strategy, because of the tireless way it hoards its hatred, it is good at making heroes. Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, Desmond Tutu: what would our lives have meant without theirs? No wheel moves without friction. Without the obscenity of white supremacy to resist, they might have been mere happy family men. Nevertheless: Whoever was tortured, stays tortured. Torture is ineradicably burned into him, even when no clinically objective traces can be detected. (2)

The island migrates to other places and the torturers diversify. But the island is never far away. Occasionally, it leaps into the mind of a woman as she goes through her day during the twenty-first century. A man, somewhere, is jolted awake in the middle of the night by things he knows are true. If the island’s physical distance is a little greater now, its moral distance is not.

The prisoner finally dies. The torturers take a moment to praise him (to praise themselves). Then they return to work."
2013  tejucole  culture  government  history  whitesupremacy  nelsonmandela  mlk  martinlutherkingjr  gandhi  desmondtutu  torture  oppression 
april 2014 by robertogreco
BOMB Magazine — Teju Cole by Aleksandar Hemon
"TC Thank you. Halfway through writing Open City, I thought to myself that I should learn some of New York history “properly.” So I bought a stack of worthy books and started to read them. But, you know what? Doing that offended the sense of drift I relied on for my novel. The books were too systematic, too knowledgeable. So I just went back to my previous method: relying on the things I already knew, walking around aimlessly, and filling in facts and figures later as needed. The thing had to breathe, it had to drift, and it had to pretend not to know where it was going. (A dancer in mid-dance can’t think too much about her legs.)

As for cities in general: I think they might be our greatest invention. They drive creativity, they help us manage resources, and they can be hives of tolerance. In a village, you can’t stick out too much. In the city, if anyone judges you, you tell them to go to hell. So, there’s that positive side. But the other side is that they are simply so congested with material history and the spiritual traces of those histories, including some very dark events. Your contemporary Chicago is haunted by the Chicago of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the Chicago of innovation and of systematic exclusions. Rural landscapes can give the double illusion of being eternal and newly born. Cities, on the other hand, are marked with specific architecture from specific dates, and this architecture, built by long-vanished others for their own uses, is the shell that we, like hermit crabs, climb into.

The four cities I listed are simply four that were important nodes in the transatlantic slave trade and in black life in the century following. They are the vertices of a sinister quadrilateral.

AH Cities do offer spaces for uncontrollable exchanges, but then there is always controlled commerce, which not so long ago included slave markets. But cities also erase and reshape themselves in ways that are different in different places. American cities tend to erase their pasts, particularly the conflictual parts, just as they marginalize the inconvenient and unjust parts of the present—the killing and the greed are always elsewhere. Take the Bloombergian New York, the Vatican of entitlement, where glamour conceals the greed that drives (and destroys) it all.

Cities like Lagos, Sarajevo, Rio, or New Orleans, do not project a harmonious version of themselves, because they cannot—the conflict is ever present and indelible. Hence they’re uncontainable, like language or literature—no experience or interpretation can be final, no delimiting or closure ever available.

Reading your books, I have a sense that, had you taken different routes in your wanderings, a different New York (in Open City) or Lagos (Every Day Is for the Thief) would’ve emerged. Or to put it another way, there is no way to impose a self-sustaining narrative upon any city—only multiple, simultaneous plots/stories are possible. Could it be that cities are therefore more conducive to poetry, which allows accumulation of fragments and does not require narrativization? You invoke Ondaatje a lot, a great poet and wrangler of fragments, as well as Tomas Tranströmer. What does poetry do for you? Do you write poetry?

TC I rarely sit down to write a poem, not the kind you can submit to Poetry magazine or the New Yorker. But I think poetry and its way of thinking does infect a lot of my work. I certainly read a lot of it—there’s a discipline and tightness in the language that very few prose writers can achieve. So, yes, people like Tranströmer and Ondaatje and Wisława Szymborska are touchstones for me. It’s a long list: George Seferis, Anne Carson, Charles Simic, Sharon Olds, Seamus Heaney: anyone who has found a way to sidestep conventional syntax. And for this reason, I take pleasure in reading those writers whose prose also contains the elusive and far-fetched. I imagine in reading you, for instance, that you must make notes of the odd and remarkable ideas or moments in a way similar to a poet. Is poetry important to your reading?

AH Actually, I don’t make notes. I rely on memory and its failure. I do think in language and I imagine that is what poets do, except in tighter spaces, closer to the language, indeed inside it, wrangling its rhythms, uncovering its dormant possibilities. When I was coming up in Bosnia the most common distinction in literary discourse was between poetry and prose, and it was not unusual for writers to write both poetry and prose (stories/novels/essays). Consequently, if you were an invested reader, you would read poetry as well as prose. Whatever the reason for that, it foregrounded the notion of literature as made of language. The distinction was founded upon the different uses of language, and not, as in fiction versus nonfiction, upon the relation between representation and “truth.” Poetry is, as far as I’m concerned, essential to the field of literature, it is its purest form. Sadly, I’m not good at writing it (I’ve tried), but I love reading poetry."



AH I was particularly struck by the last chapter in Every Day Is for the Thief, taking place on the street of carpenters who make only coffins. There is a devotion to their work of packing people away into the void, never questioning the meaning of it all. That perhaps redeems all the other failures in Lagos, in the world, in literature. And the photo that ends the book is not only sublimely beautiful but suggests a transcendence that is beyond death, something that might be available to the carpenters/writers if they maintain their devotion for the work.

The questions: Where do you stand in relation to transcendence? Do you pursue it? Must we pursue it? Is that a way to imagine better worlds?

TC Well, open up yourself to our new overlords, Sasha. But, yes, I’m with you, particularly on the cataclysmic climate change that’s coming into view and which will cause so much needless suffering.

As for faith: I don’t believe in the Christian god, or the Muslim one, or the Jewish one. I’m sentimentally attached to some of the Yoruba and Greek gods—the stories are too good, too insightful, for a wholesale rejection—though I don’t ask them for favors.

What do I believe in? Imagination, gardens, science, poetry, love, and a variety of non-violent consolations. I suspect that in aggregate all this isn’t enough, but it’s where I am for now.
tejucole  aleksanderhemon  2014  interviews  memory  notetaking  cities  wandering  howwewrite  writing  language  poetry  representation  truth  prose  seamusheaney  sharonolds  charlessimic  annecarson  georgeseferis  wisławaszymborska  michaelondaatje  charlestranströmer  twitter  blogs  blogging  photography  religion  belief  socialmedia  fiction  literature  narration  faith  climatechange  transcendence  sashahemon  everydayisforthethief 
april 2014 by robertogreco
Teju Cole's Every Day is for the Thief and the Novel of Ideas | New Republic
"Though Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah was released this past spring to general acclaim, certain critics seemed to object to the blurring between novelist and protagonist. Such objections would be meaningless (aren’t all protagonists at least part author?) were it not for the structure of the novel, which mixed “blog posts” from the protagonist with the more traditional, realist narrative. The protagonist, a Nigerian-born immigrant—like Adichie—rises to academic renown and general fame on the merits of these blog posts, which riff on various aspects of contemporary race relations. Was the character just a mouthpiece for the author’s sociological observations? And if so, was the story just a way to illustrate Adichie’s ideas, less a painting than a presentation?"



"In another scene, he recognizes a cousin he’d never met. “She was born after I left home,” he writes, “and, until this moment, we have only been rumors to each other. But so quickly do we get to know each other that, soon, I cannot even remember a time when I did not know her. She moves so easily all I think of is sunlight.” At less than a page, it’s the loveliest scene in the book. It’s also its emotional center. “Every good thing I secretly wish for this country,” he writes, “I secretly wish on her behalf.” The experience of seeing his cousin turns into a reflection on hidden strength: “The completeness of a child is the most fragile and most powerful thing in the world.”1  This sentence is hard to quote without a sense of banality or sentimental pap, but Cole avoids it by letting the reader feel his ideas as they develop. His cousin is hope for the future, as another child, the titular thief, is the desperate present."



"We’re left with the inevitability of the system, as Cole moves seamlessly from scene-setting to an explanation of the forces it encapsulates. “And what if he was only eleven? A thief is a thief; his master will find another boy, another one without a name. The market has seen everything. It must eat.”"
tejucole  2014  literature  books  writing  chimamandangoziadichie  chimamandaadichie  blogs  blogging  systems  inevitability  everydayisforthethief 
march 2014 by robertogreco
A Hunger Like None Since : The New Yorker
"The following is drawn from “Every Day Is for the Thief,” a new novel by Teju Cole, which will be published this week."
tejucole  photography  literature  fiction  2014  everydayisforthethief 
march 2014 by robertogreco
Interview: Teju Cole, Author Of 'Every Day Is For The Thief' : NPR
"You know, the first move towards true equality is to have the person you're addressing understand that you're just as complex as they are, and that your stories are just as important as theirs are. So I think that is part of the work I do."
tejucole  2014  complexity  empathy  equality  writing  literature  nigeria  perspective  humanism  everydayisforthethief 
march 2014 by robertogreco
A Piece of the Wall from Teju Cole on Twitter
[See also an interview about the essay: http://www.buzzfeed.com/aaronc13/author-teju-cole-talks-his-new-essay-on-immigration-twitter ]

[From the interview:]

"What made you decide that this specific essay would be best presented in this medium?
Teju Cole: I’ll answer that by saying I didn’t think this essay could be “best” presented in this medium, but I asked the opposite question: Why does a serious longform investigative piece have to be in print in a major magazine? In various parts of West Africa, there are different iterations of the idea that “white people like paper so much that they even wipe their butts with it.” You know, you spend your life staring at paper, you spend paper money, proof of ownership of everything is on paper, you fill your house with paper, and when you die, the announcement is in the paper.

I love paper too. I love print. But maybe not everything has to be on it. And in the case of Twitter (and, before that, blogging), I just feel so strongly that there’s an audience here, and audience that deserves to be treated with the same seriousness as the paper crowd."
border  borders  mexico  us  tejucole  2014  immigration  immigrationreform  journalism  twitter  howwewrite  paper  arizona 
march 2014 by robertogreco
Teju Cole: By the Book - NYTimes.com
"What books are currently on your night stand?

I just got in the “Selected Poems” of Bill Manhire, who is from New Zealand. He’s a mature poet with his own voice, but his unobtrusive authority and his tenderness remind me of Seamus Heaney. I’m teaching Intermediate Fiction at Bard this semester, and I’ve assigned Alice Munro, Jhumpa Lahiri, Petina Gappah, Lydia Davis and Stephanie Vaughn. So I’m rereading them, too.

Who is your favorite novelist of all time? And your favorite novelist writing today?

Penelope Fitzgerald was the author of several slim, perfect novels. “The Blue Flower” and “The Beginning of Spring” both had me abuzz for days the first time I read them. She was curiously perfect. Among living novelists, my favorites include J. M. Coetzee, Michael Ondaatje and Michel Tournier, none of whom need my praise. I cherish James Salter’s short stories, and his every sentence.

Sell us on your favorite overlooked or underappreciated writer.

Lydia Davis is famous, but not nearly famous enough. Ditto Anne Carson. It’s notable that neither of them is really a novelist; “the novel” is overrated, and the writers I find most interesting find ways to escape it.

Have you read any good contemporary poetry lately?

I’m very pleased to have encountered in the past couple of years the work of two astounding young poets, each of whom has one book out: Ishion Hutchinson (“Far District”) and Rowan Ricardo Phillips (“The Ground”). Both have impressive reserves of insight and the language to bring those insights to life. They are the future of American poetry.

And I’m glad I finally got round to reading “Stag’s Leap,” by Sharon Olds. There is the feeling that one gets when one “discovers” a new song only to realize it has a million views on YouTube already. “Stag’s Leap” was awarded both the Pulitzer Prize and the T. S. Eliot Prize last year. But the book is new to me, and I love it.

And which recent books by or about photographers would you recommend?

“Wall,” by Josef Koudelka; “Sergio Larrain” (a monograph on the reclusive Chilean genius, who died in 2012); and “The Sochi Project: An Atlas of War and Tourism in the Caucasus,” by Rob Hornstra and Arnold van Bruggen.

I wrote the introductory essay to Richard Renaldi’s “Touching Strangers.” Nevertheless, it is an excellent book. Ivan Vladislavic’s novel “Double Negative” is another great book that wasn’t marred by my introduction.

What are your literary guilty pleasures? Do you have a favorite genre?

No guilt. I read many kinds of things, but my deepest happiness is in reading poetry.

What are your favorite art history books?

I was trained in art history and still get a great deal of joy from reading it. The best art history books, I feel, are as good as the best novels. Among the most illuminating for me are the following: “The Limewood Sculptors of Renaissance Germany,” by Michael Baxandall; “The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus,” by Paul Zanker; “The Painting of Modern Life,” by T. J. Clark; “The Moment of Self-Portraiture in German Renaissance Art,” by Joseph Leo Koerner; and “Inside Bruegel,” by Edward Snow. The last of these, a startling interpretation of Bruegel’s “Children’s Games,” is great for nonspecialist readers.



What kind of reader were you as a child? And what were your favorite childhood books?

I began early — around 6 — and by the time I was 10 I had read Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart,” Charles and Mary Lamb’s “Tales From Shakespeare” and an abridged edition of “Tom Sawyer.” I wasn’t a prodigy, but I developed a sense that access to any book was limited only by my interest and my willingness to concentrate.

Whom do you consider your literary heroes?

They are many: Michael Ondaatje, most of all. But also Marguerite Yourcenar, John Berger and Seamus Heaney.

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?

I suppose at least a little faith in literature’s ability to make us better is what lies behind this question. But I have no such faith. The president has already read many wonderful books from many different cultures. Now we need him to act justly in certain matters: to stop killing people extrajudicially, and to stop deporting people with such enthusiasm. I doubt that more reading will quicken his conscience in these matters.

You’re hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers are invited?

Alice Oswald, Laila Lalami and Zadie Smith.

You’ve got an active Twitter account going. Does it influence your thinking or writing process?

I suppose it must. It’s such a combative place at times that it makes me less worried about putting ideas out into the world. You realize that anything you have to say is going to annoy some stranger, so you might as well speak your mind. But being active on Twitter also means that the literary part of my brain — the part that tries to make good sentences — is engaged all the time. My memory is worse than it was a few years ago, but I hope that my ability to write a good sentence has improved.

What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?

I have not read most of the big 19th — century novels that people consider “essential,” nor most of the 20th-century ones for that matter. But this does not embarrass me. There are many films to see, many friends to visit, many walks to take, many playlists to assemble and many favorite books to reread. Life’s too short for anxious score-keeping. Also, my grandmother is illiterate, and she’s one of the best people I know. Reading is a deep personal consolation for me, but other things console, too."

[via: http://tumblr.austinkleon.com/post/78770035787 ]

[via: https://twitter.com/tejucole/status/446639178843840512 ]
tejucole  2014  interviews  books  literacy  illiteracy  reading  politics  barackobama  booklists  poetry  novels  literature  writing  howweread  howwewrite  twitter  guiltypleasures  seamusheany  billmanhire  alicemunro  jhumpalahiri  petinagappah  lydiadavis  stephanievaughn  penelopefitzgerald  hmcoetzee  michaelondaatje  miceltournier  jamessalter  annecarson  rowanricardophillips  ishionhutchinson  sharonolds  josefkoudelka  sergiolarrain  robhornstra  arnoldvanbruggen  richardrenaldi  ivanvladislavic  michaelbaxandrall  paulzanker  tjclark  josephleokoerner  edwardsnow  chinuaachebe  charleslamb  marylamb  margueriteyourcenar  johnberger  aliceoswald  lailalalami  zadiesmith  sergiolarraín 
march 2014 by robertogreco
In His Words | Stillness in the Move
"I love dancing, and I especially love being in a club at 2 a.m., when one or three drinks, good company and a gifted D.J. collectively liberate me into my body. The place could be Barbès in Park Slope, where old-school Guinean grooves silver the air, or perhaps I’m at Windfall in Midtown, enjoying the latest Nigerian Afrobeats and Congolese ndombolo. Wherever it is, I stop my habitual overthinking and become, quite simply, a body in the half-dark.

But this is not the highlight of such evenings, for afterward is the journey home to Brooklyn. From the back seat of a taxi, the city unfurls before me as a series of illuminated sights. If we go down the West Side Highway, we’ll pass by the apparition of One World Trade and enter the Tarkovsky-like glow of the Battery Tunnel. If we take the F.D.R., there’s the jeweler’s display of the bridges: Williamsburg, Manhattan, Brooklyn, all those dreamy rows of diamonds. At such moments, the city is mine alone: its immensity, its beauty, its clear streets, its silent waterways. It is open in a way daylight would never permit. I lose myself in it and belong to it, a happiness no less real for being so fleeting."
2014  tejucole  happiness  music  nyc  brooklyn  night  thinking  overthinking  slow  ephemeral  ephemerality 
february 2014 by robertogreco
Nigerian-American Writer Teju Cole Shares His Personal Playlist : NPR
"Nigerian-American writer Teju Cole is as well-known for his creative Twitter feed as he is for his works of fiction like Open City. For Tell Me More's "In Your Ear," series, he shares his music playlist."
tejucole  music  playlists  2014 
february 2014 by robertogreco
transmissions_006 // teju cole’s mushtaq mix | THE STATE
"After I made my Capacity Mix for The State’s Transmission series, I realized that there was more I wanted to do with the question. There are any number of possible soundscapes for this cruel and petulant “war.” This new mix considers the experience from an affective point of view. In the midst of suffering, longing persists. The emotional core of the mix for me is the Yemeni song “Mushtaq,” as performed by Bolbol Al-Hejaz and Soni Ahmad in the 60s."

[Direct link to SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/the-state-2/transmissions-006-teju-cole ]
music  playlists  tejucole  2013  godfreytalbot  alisethi  thenarcicyst  brotherali  bolbolalhajaz  soniahmad  vijayiyer  mikeladd  dam  nitinsawhney  javedbashir  nayyaranour  abidaparveen  hiphop 
january 2014 by robertogreco
the experiment that wasn't - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
"When the story depends on people agreeing in advance to tweet its parts, parts written for them by someone else, and on their being retweeted by the author according to his plan and his schedule, the collaborative "we" element of this is trivial. A number of people in my own feed expressed some disappointment that the "event" wasn't anything like what it had at first appeared to be.

What Cole did may be sort of cool — maybe — but it wasn't a "collective story" and it wasn't what some called it, an "experiment in narration." But if someone actually tried what thousands of us thought Cole was doing...."
alanjacobs  2014  tejucole  storytelling  twitter 
january 2014 by robertogreco
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