Wednesday, 4 December 2013
Tuesday, 3 December 2013
Mayam Mahmoud is a female rapper from Egypt. She's in the news because she's got into the semi-finals of Arabs Got Talent in Egypt. She raps about being judged on her appearance and sexual harrassment, things that are difficult to talk about.
This below is from an article in the Guardian.
'Mahmoud's fans find her inspiring not just because she is a woman but because her work centres on sexual harassment, a local taboo. Harassment is an endemic problem in Egypt: 99.3% of Egyptian women reported being sexually harassed, with 91% saying they felt insecure in the street as a result, according to a UN survey published in April.
For her part, Mahmoud carries a sharp nail to protect herself in a worst-case scenario. But many women feel afraid to discuss the issue publicly because they fear they will be stigmatised. Women who speak out are often assumed to have somehow provoked the attention. "It's happening to everyone," says Mahmoud. "But everyone is scared to talk about it."'
I looked at this and then thought about this series of cartoons that appeared on the Open Society website. The cartoons tell the stories of Somali migrants to a series of European countries; the financial problems they face, the trauma of war, the racism they face.
But it feels that though some things are touched upon, there are too many things that are not mentioned, that 'everyone is scared to talk about.' And that means much, much more than the Somali staples of FGM and radical Islam.
Until earlier in the year, I worked with young Somalis who had recently migrated to the UK. I loved them for their energy, their humour, their resilience, their dynamism and their vivacity. But the vast majority of them didn't have easy lives and had problems that in any other community would have been classified from severe to life-threatening But I don't recognise the major problems they had in these cartoons, problems that as often as not came from within their community.
In this earlier blog post, I wrote about how the great Somali writer, Nuruddin Farah described the way that trauma was passed down from the parents to the children. This is from the article
He once challenged fellow Somalis to "study the structure of the Somali family and you will find mini-dictators imposing their will … We become replicas of the tyrant whom we hate. When you rid yourself of a monster, you become a monster."
I think this is touched upon in places in the Open Society cartoons, but the cartoons also give the feeling that elements have been cut out - the Somali communities have been sanitised into passive victims. Or maybe they have self-censored their stories. Some things shouldn't be talked about.
So the Somalis have been Disnified when they should have been Studio Ghibblied. And the pity is there is the sense that, underneath the layers, you can see the more complex version struggling to get out. But it can't because, as the Egyptian rapper, Mayam Mahmoud put it, "Everyone is scared to talk about it" and it's easier to present a two-dimensional point of view than something a bit more nuanced. And in any case, that two-dimensional view might be a dimension ahead of most representations of the Somali community and actually add to understanding.
Have I just come full circle there? I think I have. Oh well, time to read more Nuruddin Farah.
Monday, 2 December 2013
Friday, 29 November 2013
I need some distraction so...
I like the way that Muriel Hasbun ties in the archival x-rays of her dentist father into a wider cultural debate. They latch onto the idea of trauma, identification and evidence and are part of a larger history of how photography (including x-ray photography) connects to a social and medical history beyond simple photography per se.
It also ties into the idea that photography is not a simple subject. It's too big for that. Most discussions of photography touch on a tiny area of photography - you can read Marvin Heifermann's questions on this here - so it's good to see the dental x-rays being put forward.
I saw Muriel's pictures a week before I had the joy of joys of going to the Eastman Dental Hospital in London - four hours of sitting in a chair while I was exhaustively cut and slit and drilled and chipped and poked with scalpels, needles, chisels and drills in a combination of bone grafting, cutting and implanting.
For Scott, my fantastic, meticulous painless dentist, I am also the subject of a dissertation which has a large visual element in it - including film and photography. And as I continue my fortnightly visits to the dentist's chair, I continue to be filmed. For me it's a good thing, it's evidential and I know that Scott wants to get the highest possible grades. And he will. The photography proves that.
But at the same time, it is also curious that here I am, somebody interested in photography, being photographed in a way that is not really considered photography. But it is.
I'm sure there must be many books on dentistry within the medical field but how about one's that go beyond medical, one's that enter photographic culture that we know and love. Broomberg and Chanarin did something on dentist chairs and more there's the British Book of Smiles from the Simpsons (it gets shown to Ralph to show him what happens if...)
But apart from that, there's not much. And there should be, because teeth are such an integral part of our lives.
More integral than a selfie is. Here's a selfie of me in the dentist's chair.
And here's another... No, one's too many already. And now I have to get back to whatever it was that I was doing. Wasn't easy, I know that. And it wasn't fun, I know that.
Wednesday, 27 November 2013
From the sublime to 'Disco Dancer', a film that I saw last week. I am a Disco Dancer - that's the feature song of the movie, and the one that is rattling around my brain for half of my waking hours (the good half. The bad half there's another song rattling round in there).
Sometimes there is a right time for a film (or a book or a photograph or whatever). Last Friday was the right time for Disco Dancer, possibly the only time in my life that I would have been willing to sit through 2 and a half hours of Hindi Cinema Disco dancing.
In this post, I mentioned a talk Francis Hodgson gave at which he emphasised the importance of allusion in work.
Well, there's allusion and there's allusion, Hindi film style. Disco Dancer has none of the former but loads of the latter. In the soundtrack alone, I caught fleeting glimpses of songs such as Video Killed the Radio Star, You're the one that I want and One for you, One for me, the latter a song that I felt I had truly put behind me and would never hear again. Yet there it is in Disco Dancer filling my head with a song that sits like a hyperactive limb twitching child at the very forefront of my mind. How do I get rid of it.
The interesting thing about Disco Dancer is it was a huge hit in the Soviet Union, where Indian cinema was incredibly popular (Awara was possibly the most popular film released there). After its release in 1986, there was a huge debate about whether these 'popular' films were worthy of viewing, with a even bigger counter debate telling critics that '...Indian films taught one to love 'without an eye to personal gain' They suggested that those who were hostile to these films 'had perhaps never loved like that'.'
Soviet viewers also like the 'real men' in Hindi cinema, it was 'vivid' and 'bright' and packed the cinemas every time - one Hindi film fan noted that in contrast at a screening of a critically acclaimed Soviet film that was shown at the same time only one of the original 15 members of the audience stayed after the first 20 minutes.
But enough of this - buy Indian films in Soviet Cinemas: The Culture of Movie-Going After Stalin by Sudha Rajagopalan if you are interested.
In the meantime, here are a couple of Soviet animations - good old American Imperialist Mr Twister, you have to love his big fat racist ass, and what happened to poor old Vinni Puuh - he turned into the inspiration for South Park.
Tuesday, 26 November 2013
Last night I saw the Passion of Joan of Arc at Bath Abbey as part of the Bath Film Festival. The film was accompanied by a live score by Will Gregory and Adrian Utley performed by six guitarists, a vocal section, harps, woodwind and brass and conducted by Charles Hazlewood.
With the live score, this was a heart stopping event that moved me in a way that cinema had never moved me before. I sat there watching Joan go through the tribulations of her trial, threat of torture and her ultimate burning at the stake.
The music accompanying the film amplified the venality, the fervour, the cruelty, the dignity and the tenderness of the characters - the pious Joan in her man's clothing, the priests, the peasants, the judges.
It's the Passion of Joan of Arc so faces dominated the screen; they were brought even further to life by guitars, harps and trumpets that echoed the anxiety, the madness and the injustice happening on screen.
The Joan of Arc narrative is driven through a study of faces that is at a revolutionary mix of expressionism and off-kilter editing. So it's a conceptual film as well, made up of close-ups that reveal the inner workings of a tortured soul.
So the cinematography, the staging, the editing is all ground-breaking. It's incredible. But at the same time it's only a secondary layer. The story comes first and that is what gives the Passion of Joan of Arc its heart and soul, its power to move. And that is what the score addressed so beautifully. I spent the film with my head upturned watching the amazing face of Maria Falconetti slide into the ultimate depths of despair. By the end of the film, in a very small way, I had become her - head tilted, lips parted and teary eyed.
I arrived home yesterday despondent and world-weary. In photography, I see a great deal of wonderful work that has spirit and heart and pierces me to the core. But on the flip side I hear so much about amazing work that issinsightful and inspirational - work that is supposed to be amazing but simply isn't; the kind of work that is conceptual and looks at the inner workings of photography, that strips it to its means of representation and its mode of distribution, that uses dense texts to convey its power, texts of theory that alienate and intimidate, that become of a self-justifying world where the statement rules and intellectual jiggery-pokery is a major part of the game. But sometimes I feel I should like it, that I should be part of that club. But I am not very good at clubs and in any case it's not any good. Or is it?
The Passion of Joan of Arc killed that despondency. It showed me in the most direct way possible what amazing work is, that it does not strip away the emotional power of a story, but has it at its heart. Things can be minimal and laid bare, but when all that is left is the act of stripping, then what exactly is the point; we are left with a barren, presbyterian world view of art, where what tastes harsh and bitter in our mouths is what is good for us, where the obscurantist becomes an end in itself.
For me, The Passion of Joan of Arc calls bullshit on that. It lifted my despondency at the world of branding, pretension and hype and stopped me (for a while at least) from second-guessing my instincts. Somthing brilliant had touched me and made me remembered what really matters in film, in photography, in life. And conversely, what really doesn't matter, what is just so much empty vanity and branding and hot air.
I live in Bath which is a beautiful place. Every morning I walk out of my door and see Solsbury Hill, Brown's Folly and Claverton Down. Without exception I count my blessings and wonder at the beauty of this world.
This morning I did exactly the same, but with a little something added. Thank you Joan of Arc.