Wednesday, 31 December 2008
Looking at someone in a photograph
A.M. Homes: The Mistress's Daughter
Monday, 29 December 2008
North American Exceptionalism (2)
Saturday, 27 December 2008
On Reading Photographs (2)
Never had it been more obvious to me that one moment can be totally different from the next. This is one of the things that photography can teach us.
Thursday, 25 December 2008
Look to this day
For it is life,
The very life of life.
In its brief course lie all
The realities and verities of existence,
The bliss of growth,
The splendour of action,
The glory of power
For yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision,
But today, well lived,
Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day.
Tuesday, 23 December 2008
Question of Travel
and have them, too?
Elizabeth Bishop: Question of Travel
Saturday, 20 December 2008
Reading Tom Clancy in Valparaíso
By this time, all of America was watching TV, with reporters in New York and Atlanta telling America what they knew, which was little, and trying to explain the events of the day, which they did with the accuracy of grammar school children. They endlessly repeated the hard facts they had managed to gather, and hauled in “experts” who knew little but said a lot. It was good for filling airtime, at least, if not to inform the public.
The trouble with thinking deep thoughts is that you still have to cut the grass, and put food on the table.
These (European) people were so self-destructively open, so afraid to offend those who would just as soon see them and their children dead and their entire culture destroyed.
Those who denied God could be every bit as dangerous as those worked in His Name.
The problem is that no matter what you do, there’s somebody who won’t like it much. Like a joke. No matter how funny it is, somebody will be offended by it.
There’s an old saying: “If you’re not confused, you’re misinformed.”
Thursday, 18 December 2008
On the road in Rio Grande do Sul
On the spur of the moment I ask the taxi driver on the way to the bus station how much the trip to Tramandaí by taxi would be. I thought his fare reasonable but nevertheless asked for a ten percent discount. He agreed, and so we took off.
Sérgio was 58 and had not always been a taxi driver. Most of his life he had worked as a musician. He played contrabass, first classical ("There are too few people in Brazil interested in it; you can't really make a living") then more popular tunes, and finally gaúcho-music. His music took him all over Brazil, and also to Uruguay, Argentina, and Bolivia. "What about Paraguay? I thought every Brazilian here in the South has been to Paraguay ...". "Well, I do not count shopping trips as visiting a country" he said.
At the bus station in Tramandaí I learned that there was no bus to Torres for several hours. I decided to continue my trip with Sérgio (again ten percent discount on his regular fare). Just outside of Imbé we almost collided with two horses that ran across the highway (had I not shouted ... !?) - they had broken free from wherever they were strapped to (they still had their cords around their necks).
From time to time, Sérgio slowed down because of monitoring cameras or because of traffic police. For the latter he put his glasses on. I looked at him in bewilderment. "My driving licence says I need to wear glasses" he explained. "However, I need only glasses to read, this is why I do not put them on. Except for the police for, well, you know, they check my driver's licence and there it says that I need to wear glasses and so I do, for them." He added: "Um jeitinho brasileiro, tudo é um jeitinho no Brasil." A "jeitinho" stands for Brazil's creative way of dealing with life's various challenges and includes breaking the law and feel virtuous about it.
Tuesday, 16 December 2008
Recently, while waiting for my bags at the bus station in Porto Alegre, I was, in the course of about ten minutes, three times approached by fellow passengers with questions regarding their bags. Why do they ask me? I wondered. How come they assume I work for the bus company? I mean, I do not even remotely look like a bus driver or a ticket controller. I know, I know, not all of them look the same. But still: I simply do not look like a bus driver. Brazilians seem to see this differently though. Some Brazilians that is. And so I thought about it. And suddenly I knew. It was because of my light-blue shirt and because of my dark-blue pants. Every bus driver in Southern Brazil wears this combination, and every ticket controller. And it is like that in Thailand (at least in Bangkok), and in Switzerland (at least in Zurich), and in ...
The combination black pants/white shirt can likewise be fatal. Not when travelling but when going to Italian restaurants. In a Pizzeria in Basel I tried to get the attention of the waiter who hurried once again past our table ("Hey, you, sorry, but could we please order !?" I shouted impatiently). "I'm a guest here", the guy retorted, not very pleased. I could easily see why: Contrary to the waiters who all sported some red flower bouquet around their neck he actually wore a black tie.
Sunday, 14 December 2008
O Tempo Brasileiro
Eh, duas horas. Sai daqui as onze e vai chegar em Porto Alegre a uma e meia.
Friday, 12 December 2008
Having a ball in Santa Cruz do Sul
Reinaldo is in his fifties (I suppose - I've never asked him) and works in tourism. He's been around, from Bariloche to China, and often missed his private class with me. Whenever he managed to attend, we had a ball. Among other things, I learned what a truly special place Easter Island is and that I really need to visit this fabulous hotel in the jungle near Manaus.
One day, he told me of a trip to Ireland, Wales, and England, that he had organised. "How was it?" I inquired. "Very good" he said. "We (a group of Brazilian males) went to see the Guinness Brewery in Dublin." "Any other places that you visited?" "Yes, Wales was fantastic, beautiful mountains and snow". "Snowdonia?" "Yes, and Liverpool, the Cavern Club, where the Beatles played. Unfortunately, I do not remember much of the rest of the trip. We had a lot of beer at that brewery" he laughed.
Reinaldo likes dogs. When the labrador at the school gave birth ("dar a luz" is the wonderfully poetic Portuguese expression for "giving birth"), he inquired whether it was possible to have one of them. "I once had a labrador, you know. At least I thought so. And the one who sold it to me thought so too. Although I was repeatedly told over the years that this dog was by no means a labrador but some bastard I insisted that it was a labrador for I had payed 300 Reais. One day, however, the guy, who had sold the dog to me came to visit and asked after the labrador. When I proudly pointed to the dog sitting next to me, the guy said: "This is not a labrador". Well, I wasn't exactly happy about that."
"In what language do you dream?" I asked him one day. "Women", he laughed.
Wednesday, 10 December 2008
North American Exceptionalism
"A few books I will have to get are described here: http://memo.brucebawer.com/" which made me go to the Bruce Bawer site that quoted the American writer Anne Applebaum who, according to Bawer, "spells out an important point for British readers:"
"Here is something that may be hard for foreigners to understand: Americans desperately want to believe that their country stands for fairness, for equality, for democracy. They especially want to believe this at times like the present, when there is a good deal of evidence to the contrary. After the disasters and embarrassments of the past few years - the mistakes made in Iraq and Guantánamo, the terrible financial crisis, the embarrassment of Hurricane Katrina - a vote for Obama allowed Americans to believe, once again, that the United States is still a virtuous nation. It's not just about being liked abroad, though being liked is nice: it's about being certain that we still are, as we have often told ourselves, an example to other nations, a "city on a hill"."
I wrote to Trevor:
"This is exactly what I can't stand about Americans: their exceptionalism. Why should they be an example anyway? Terrible thinking."
"Ha ha, yes, American exceptionalism is a key to understanding American identity. It also explains why they voted for Obama (one of many reasons). A man who promised, or made the best promises to repair and buff up their exceptionalism. Also merging it with the campaign, 'look how great we are, we voted for a black man'. You can feel the message of aren't we exceptional radiating from their blogs."
Monday, 8 December 2008
Fodor's Guide lay open.
THE GAUCHO ACQUIRED AN EXAGGERATED NOTION
OF MASTERY OVER
HIS OWN DESTINY FROM THE SIMPLE ACT OF RIDING ON HORSEBACK
WAY FAR ACROSS THE PLAIN.
Anne Carson: Autobiography of Red
Saturday, 6 December 2008
On Reading Photographs
Yet a few days later, doubts started creeping in. And I wondered: Why would a young Japanese photographer embark on a journey to far away Kashmir and upon returning to Japan make quite substantial alterations to the photos he had taken there? Now I wanted to know how it had really been. And so I emailed Daichi who let me know that although these were digital pics, and although he did use photoshop, he didn't "change the light drastically."
I now look at these photos (http://www.daichikoda.com/) with different eyes and do wonder at times whether by using only natural light the effect could have been the same. Yet most of the time I do not ask myself this question for I've decided to trust the photographer to convey to me what he had found in the places he visited. What he had done afterwards was, in the words of Elsa, to add a bit of salt to the food but not to turn it into processed junk food. That sums it up very nicely, I find.
Thursday, 4 December 2008
The average distance between stars
Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything
Tuesday, 2 December 2008
Carl Sagan: O mundo assombrado pelos demônios
Sunday, 30 November 2008
The Politics of Repackaging
"It wasn't too long ago that Barack Obama and his advisers were tripping over one another to tear down Hillary Rodham Clinton's foreign policy credentials.
She was dismissed as a commander in chief wanna-be who did little more than sip tea and make small talk with foreign leaders during her days as first lady.
"What exactly is this foreign policy experience?" Obama said mockingly of the New York senator. "Was she negotiating treaties? Was she handling crises? The answer is no."
That was in March, when Clinton was Obama's sole remaining rival for the Democratic presidential nomination. Now, Clinton is on track to become Obama's secretary of state."
Politics as usual, I know. No, I do not want to complain about it. Not on a Sunday. However: I do get increasingly angry at myself for still following political news, for listening to what politicians deem fit saying, for giving such people part of my time.
Friday, 28 November 2008
The little contradiction
Norman Mailer in The New York Review of Books, November 4, 2004
Wednesday, 26 November 2008
Beruflich in Grossbritannien
Nun ja, wer dermassen hölzern schreibt, trägt seinen Teil dazu bei, dass eine Verständigung (sowohl zwischen Vertretern verschiedener Kulturen als auch unter Angehörigen ein und derselben Kultur) unnötig schwierig bleibt. Glücklicherweise geht es sprachlich nicht so weiter.
In der Einführung machen die Autoren Wesentliches klar: „Englisch zu sprechen heisst nicht, Briten zu verstehen.“ In der Tat, doch es gilt auch: Wer nicht wirklich gut Englisch spricht, hat wenig Chancen, Briten zu verstehen, denn diesen dient ihre Sprache häufig eher als Waffe denn als Mittel zu Verständigung. Zudem: Humor und Ironie sind den Briten ganz wichtige Elemente im Umgang miteinander und für diese braucht man ein gut entwickeltes Sprachverständnis. Wer das nicht hat, gilt in Britannien schnell einmal als hoffnungsloser Fall.
Wer sich interkulturell erfolgreich verständigen will, muss sowohl die eigene als auch die Zielkultur verstehen. Das kann man, bis zu einem gewissen Grad, trainieren. Schmid und Thomas bedienen sich der in den USA entwickelten Culture Assimilator-Trainingsmethode: „Es setzt sich aus einer Vielzahl von Situationen zusammen, die Missverständnisse zwischen Deutschen und Briten illustrieren … Dem Lernenden werden zu jeder der dargestellten Situation vier unterschiedlich zutreffende Erklärungsmöglichkeiten (Deutungen) angeboten. Er soll nun jede dieser Alternativen dahingehend einschätzen, ob sie die Situation treffend erklärt. Anschliessend erhält der Benutzer Rückmeldungen (Bedeutungen) zu den Erklärungen und kann feststellen, inwieweit seine Annahmen zutreffen.“
Gegliedert ist das Buch in sieben Themenbereiche: Selbstdisziplin, Indirektheit interpersonaler Kommunikation, Ritualisierung, Pragmatismus, Ritualisierte Regelverletzung, Interpersonale Distanzreduzierung und Deutschlandstereotyp – übrigens: die Lektüre lohnt nicht nur für Deutsche. Nehmen wir das Thema „Selbstdisziplin“: unterteilt ist er in fünf Beispiele: Nimm dir einen Keks; Geburtstagswünsche; Der Feueralarm; Royal Opera; Die Diskussion. Anschliessend folgt ein erläuternder Text zur „Selbstdisziplin“. Die anderen sechs Themenbereiche sind ebenso aufgebaut.
Ein solches Buch zu schreiben ist schwierig, weil man um Verallgemeinerungen nicht herumkommt und sich Erfahrungen, die notgedrungen individuell sind, manchmal nur schwer verallgemeinern lassen. Die Autoren wissen das und halten denn auch in ihrer Schlussbemerkung fest: „Die Bandbreite der Verhaltensweisen bei Briten ist ebenso wie bei Deutschen durch persönliche Erfahrungen, Schichtzugehörigkeit, Lebensraum, Alter und andere Merkmale geprägt. Den Rahmen dafür bilden allerdings die im jeweiligen Kulturraum gültigen Regeln und Normen, die in diesem Training in Form von Kulturstandards beschrieben sind.“
Das Buch hat ein paar Schwächen. Wenn man zum Beispiel liest, dass es „zur englischen Grundvorstellung von Höflichkeit“ gehöre, „dass man die eigenen Bedürfnisse und Wünsche zu kontrollieren und verbergen vermag“, kann man sich schon fragen, was daran so besonders Englisch sein soll. Das ist aus dem Zusammenhang gerissen? Also gut, hier der nächste Satz: „Dahinter steht die Idee, sich selbst nicht so wichtig zu nehmen und dadurch eventuell andere nicht unfairerweise zu benachteiligen“. Auch dies ist nichts so besonders Englisch, möchte man meinen. Zudem: Wollen die Autoren etwa suggerieren („eventuell andere nicht unfairerweise benachteiligen“), dass „faire“ Benachteiligungen (was immer das sein mag) in Ordnung wären?
Die Autoren betonen unter anderem, dass die Engländer sich sehr indirekt untereinander austauschen; sie nennen das „Indirektheit interpersonaler Kommunikation“. Man denke an Formulierungen wie „I am not quite sure, but…“ oder „I might be wrong, but …“. Diese seien, so die Autoren, „nicht Ausdruck einer grösseren Unsicherheit oder Unentschlossenheit auf Seiten der Briten. Sie dienen vielmehr dazu, dem (??) Gegenüber nicht vor den Kopf zu stossen und Achtung vor seiner Meinung zu signalisieren.“ Daraus auf „eine völlig andere Diskussionskultur als in Deutschland“ zu schliessen, ist sicher richtig, doch nicht im Sinne von Englisch = indirekt; Deutsch = direkt, sondern häufig gerade umgekehrt. Sieht man etwa die Presse als Teil der Diskussionskultur, so ist nämlich die englische viel direkter, viel angriffiger, viel persönlicher, und viel meinungsfreudiger als die deutsche.
Summa summarum: Ein differenziertes und kluges, ein gelungenes und anregendes Buch, das einen motiviert, mit und selber zu denken. Nicht nur über die fremde, auch über die eigene Kultur.
Stefan Schmid / Alexander Thomas
Beruflich in Grossbritannien
Trainingsprogramm für Manager, Fach– und Führungskräfte
Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2003
Monday, 24 November 2008
A photo essay on Kashmir
This one here (only a part of it can be seen - for the full picture go to the link mentioned below) shows a school in the mountains of Kashmir. The students portrayed, who had to come a long way to school, are waiting for their friends to arrive.
Daichi Koda was born in 1983, and started to photograph in 2004. His photo essay on Kashmir can be found here: http://vewd.org/index.php/photo/essay/daichi_koda/
I especially warmed to photo number 12 - it brought up memories from the Swiss mountains, and from Greece. Why Greece? No idea really but it for sure is not the least of the beauties of photographs that they trigger lots of unexpected associations.
Saturday, 22 November 2008
Weltliteratur & Wirklichkeit
Julian Barnes: Liebe usw.
Thursday, 20 November 2008
Some years ago, The Nation, an English-language newspaper from Bangkok, asked Thai women married to Americans what they thought their fellow Thai who were about to marry American men needed, above all, to know: "As amazing as this may sound but to Americans it is more important to get things done than to look good at work", they said.
Tuesday, 18 November 2008
O virus dos intelectuais
Augusto Cury: O Vendedor de Sonhos
Monday, 17 November 2008
Raising a camera
Anne Carson: Autobiography of Red
Wednesday, 12 November 2008
La llegada de la fotografía a la América del Sur
Juan Antonio Varese: Historia de la fotografía en el Uruguay
Monday, 10 November 2008
Intercultural Coaching (3)
When for the first time in Brazil (in the Northeast), I did not speak a word of Portuguese. I however spoke Spanish. And so I addressed the people in Spanish. And got along just fine - there were even some who took my Spanish for Portuguese. Once I was conversing with a young woman on a bus for about twenty minutes before she, all of a sudden, asked what language I was speaking (I'm aware that you might now question my Spanish but I can assure you that it doesn't sound like Portuguese).
While most Brazilians do not consider themselves Latin Americans (in any case, they do not seem to give it much thought), they are far too relaxed to mind being labeled Latin Americans.
"Never bring up the subject of Argentina" is so stupid a statement that it does not merit to be addressed.
Saturday, 8 November 2008
Photos & Context (2)
The accompanying text read: "After he was convicted on seven felony counts, Senator Ted Stevens returned to Alaska for a campaign sprint."
What do people think who select such a photo to illustrate the return of a convicted felon? I wonder.
Thursday, 6 November 2008
Documentary Photography (3)
A year or news,
as if nothing had happened before,
as if the roots were not there,
and the victory not earned.
This book was made,
so that we remember.
Already the first photo – some rural place, in the rain, a pig on (main?) street, strangely timeless – demonstrates impressively that this country, like any other country, has a past and a present, whether noticed by the rest of the world (who noticed this particular country only when a civil war was going on) or not.
The colour (that is rather unique for pictures from war) photos radiate something magic although I couldn’t say why that is. I don’t think it’s the subjects (labourers at work, groups of people in uniforms, burned out cars, political demonstrations, street fighting, dead bodies, barricades, tanks etc) but maybe also. There is a strange presence about these pictures, they made me feel like being there.
One photograph, at first glance, doesn’t seem to fit at all: a black limousine at the bottom of stairs that lead (one supposes) up to the entrance of some official building, a chauffeur in a white uniform with a white hat, who holds open the car door; men in white suits who climb up the stairs; in the background formations of soldiers, all in white uniforms. What is this? And, how come it is to be found in a book about a civil war? The caption (on the last pages of the book! No, I do not even want to know why the captions were put there …) informs that: „President Anastasio Somoza Debayle opening new session of the National Congress 1978“. A bit thin, I’d say.
A very famous photograph shows a young woman running on a road with a near-naked little boy hanging from one arm and a bag slung over her shoulder. The caption explains: “Fleeing the bombing to seek refuge outside of Estelí, Nicaragua, Sept. 20, 1978.” The caption says: „Fleeing the bombing to seek refuge outside of Estelí, Nicaragua, Sept. 20, 1978.”
Years later, in a documentary about her work in Nicaragua, Susan Meiselas comments: “That photograph is taken by at least five different photographers, at different points during her journey. She is literally vultured by us. No one is thinking to help her, including myself.”
That is indeed the question/problem, not only of war photography, but of journalism in general: It lives off the misery of others. As Janet Malcolm famously wrote in „The Journalist and the Murderer“: „The more pompous talk about freedom of speech and the ‘public’s right to now’; the least talented talk about Art; the seemliest murmur about earning a living.”
The war photographer and the ones who simply look at these pictures share the same dilemma: both know that these photos should not exist and both are glad that they do.
Tuesday, 4 November 2008
He wanted the photograph to do ...
Philip Caputo: DelCorso’s Gallery
Sunday, 2 November 2008
Photos & Context
Likewise, the notion that for a photo to be understood it needs to be seen in context is widely accepted. And, it is also true. But who defines the proper context?
In real life, photos are usually displayed without contextual information. Because they only "function" without it. Take this picture here (thanks for sending it, Pieter) that, without any additional info, might be interpreted as two political leaders (whatever that is) trying hard to convey the impression that they possess a sense of direction, that they know which way to go. This is the kind of analysis that usually passes for critical journalism but only falls into the trap laid out by the political actors shown in the photograph (or their advisors - not shown in the photograph).
Needless to say, this picture could be interpreted very differently. Are Brown and Merkel birdwatching? Do they point at a passing airplane? Or did they perhaps spot an eagle about to land? The fact that the man in the background doesn't fall for the show might indicate that we shouldn't either and would be well advised to stick to what the photo shows: Brown and Merkel gesture for the cameras.
Friday, 31 October 2008
What you sow
Sow an act, and you reap a habit;
Sow a habit, and you reap a character;
Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.
Wednesday, 29 October 2008
Games People Play
They are playing at not playing a game.
If I show them I see they are,
I shall break the rules and they will punish me.
I must play their game,
of not seeing I see the game.
R. D. Laing: Knots
Monday, 27 October 2008
Documentary Photography (2)
Then once again comes the above mentioned text by Andrew Stanbridge. Then pictures of Laos, thankfully with captions, are displayed. One photo shows rebar. Why would anybody think a photo of rebar worth selecting for a book? Well, the caption says it all: "Rebar made from melted down bombs". A powerful message.
Then, for the third time, Andrew Stanbridge’s text, this time followed by pictures. I had no idea what they showed. No captions, no additional information, mostly scenes in black and white that seemed to show places inside, or nearby, buildings.
Paula Luttringer, Asim Rafiqui, Andrew Stanbridge
Saturday, 25 October 2008
En la próxima trataría de cometer más errores.
No intentaría ser tan perfecto, me relajaría más.
Sería más tonto de lo que he sido,
de hecho tomaría muy pocas cosas con seriedad.
Sería menos higiénico.
Correría más riesgos,
haría más viajes,
contemplaría más atardeceres,
subiría más montañas,
nadaría más ríos.
Iría a más lugares adonde nunca he ido,
comería más helados y menos habas,
tendría más problemas reales y menos imaginarios.
Yo fui una de esas personas que vivió sensata
y prolíficamente cada minuto de su vida;
claro que tuve momentos de alegría
Pero si pudiera volver atrás
trataría de tener solamente buenos momentos.
Por si no lo saben, de eso está hecha la vida, sólo de momentos;
no te pierdas el ahora.
Yo era uno de esos que nunca iba a ninguna parte sin un termómetro,
una bolsa de agua caliente, un paraguas y un paracaídas
si pudiera volver a vivir, viajaría más liviano.
Si pudiera vivir nuevamente
comenzaría a andar descalzo a principios de la primavera
y seguiría descalzo hasta concluir el otoño.
Daría más vueltas en calesita,
contemplaría más amaneceres,
y jugaría con más niños, si tuviera otra vez vida por delante.
Pero ya ven, tengo 85 años y sé que me estoy muriendo.
Jorge Luis Borges: Instantes
Thursday, 23 October 2008
Nigel Barley: The Innocent Anthropologist
Tuesday, 21 October 2008
Once it was published, I sent the link to the Obama-campaign. Ever since, I receive regular and informative emails from the campaign manager, David Plouffe, and from Barack, Michelle, and Joe, that never fail to encourage me to donate to the campaign.
Never was it so clear to me that democracy American-style is entirely about money. Democracy of the money, by the money, and for the money, Kinky Friedman (I think) once remarked.
As Horst Herold, the former head of the BKA, the German FBI, once said. I paraphrase: There is no democracy (where the people are supposed to rule) in capitalism, in capitalism it's the money that rules.
Sunday, 19 October 2008
Ich weiss nicht
ich komme, ich weiss nicht woher
ich gehe, ich weiss nicht wohin
mich wundert, dass ich so fröhlich bin
Meister Martinus von Biberach
(Fassung Hanno Kühnert)
Fürwahr, ich weiss nicht, was mich traurig macht
William Shakespeare: Der Kaufmann von Venedig
Friday, 17 October 2008
Wednesday, 15 October 2008
The West has been learning about its racism, its sexism and its imperialism not from philosophers, but from people who give us detailed accounts of what these social vices have done to individual human lives.
We pragmatists hope to dissolve traditional philosophical problems by viewing them as disguised forms of practical problems. Our slogan is that if it doesn’t make a difference to what we do, it makes no difference at all.
To my mind, the best and most hopeful element in the high culture of the West is the Romantic desire to acquire ever new identities – not to get stuck with the one you started with.The Romantic-historicist notion of spiritual progress is not centered around the idea of understanding better and better something which is waiting out here to be understood, but rather around the idea of creating a larger, freer, self.
… the emphasis falls less on knowing than on imagining, more on freeing oneself up than on getting something right.
… the modern West has created a culture of social hope, as opposed to a culture of endurance. By a culture of endurance, I mean one in which there is a consensus that the conditions of human life are and always will be frustrating and difficult, and the consequent assumption that either a religious affiliation with a non-human power, or a philosophical acceptance of the eternal order of things, is required to make life bearable. The high culture of a peaceful society which does not have a future utopia to work for will center around priests or stoical sages. By contrast, the high culture of a society permeated by utopian hope will center around suggestions for drastic change in the way things are done – it will be a culture of permanent revolution … it is a culture of experimentation, and nothing guarantees that the experiments will succeed.
Monday, 13 October 2008
owner - National Museum in Wrocław, Poland
Here are some of the insights that I gained from Karolina Lewandowska's
An Unconventional Map of the 'Documentary' :
"Two main tropes, or strategies, of representation are present within documentary - on the one hand, descriptive photography, which tries to remain neutral, and, on the other, photograqphy that is strongly involved ideologically, even propaganda-orientied."
"Photojournalism satisfies the universal need of curiosity, peeping, the need for enchanting reality, for getting to the 'truth'. That is why it 'spies' on and describes fragments of reality that most people do not usually notice - work in factories, a small-town market, a courtyard. However, when fitted into the form of a visually attractive photo story, even a very good one, these aspects of human life can often be reduced to nothing but aesthetical motifs alienated from reality."
"The fact that photographs so different are shown together, and in the space of Zacheta National Gallery of Art with its powerful context, does not mean they are all being elevated to the level of artistic objects - though the whole is taking place 'in the name of art'. Rather, the idea is to dissolve the radical division between artistic photography and non-artistic photography by demonstrating the fluidity of the qualifiying characteristics, which are dynamic and cannot be 'frozen' by the institutional context ...
The fundamental question is not whether the given photograph is art or not, but rather how it can influence the viewer and the reception of other photographs, whether it is an important element of culture, history, and the iconosphere, of our map of pictorial representation."
Saturday, 11 October 2008
“Television doesn’t tell lies, it makes up a new truth. In fact, the only truth we have left. These sentimental wild-life-films you despise simply continue that domestication of nature which began when we cut down the first tree. They help people to remake nature into a form that reflects their real needs.” “And that justifies any intervention?” “No. It must chime with their secret hopes, their deep-held belief that the universe is a kindly place. Besides, everything is invented and then pondered upon …”
J.G. Ballard: The Day of Creation
Thursday, 9 October 2008
Tuesday, 7 October 2008
Money destroys all other values
Source: http://www.newyorker.com/, 6 October 2008
. . . While the Democrats, and Clinton first, disgust me with what I call their “boutique politics”—a little bit here, a little bit there, and served with loads of bullshit slathered over it—the Republicans are a psychotic monstrosity. On the one hand, they’re God, flag, and family—although few of them would know Jesus Christ if he were standing at the next urinal pissing along with them—and an astonishing number never served in the armed forces nor heard a bullet, and being politicians, they cheat like jackrabbits on their wives and families. But all right, what’s the use of being a politician if you can’t make a living at being a hypocrite? The point is: the Republican Party is schizophrenic: on the one hand, they are, as I say, for God, flag and family, but on the other, they are for the unbridled expansion of capitalism, and thereby leave out something that might still be important to you which is that Jesus, like Karl Marx, thought money leaches out all other values. Indeed, it does. If the whole country is going to pot, and it certainly is, I think you could graph the decline not only in morals, but in a sense of social éclat and social standards—I think you could plot the decline right next to the rise of the Dow Jones—the higher the Dow, the lower the standards. Money destroys all other values. I can even respect the right wing Republicans for holding to a few standards, as they do, but they never take on capitalism which, unbridled, is the worst scourge of human value that we have right now. There may have been a time when Communism was a worse scourge, but now we’re the leaders, and I suggest you consider living with the notion that the party of your choice is paralyzed in its moral centers. . . .
Cheers, old buddy,
Sunday, 5 October 2008
Indeed, and an intriguing, and a persuasive, idea at that: to look at a new country through the windshields of the cars of one’s childhood. Most visitors to Cuba do it the other way ‘round – they have their picture taken with these old North American cars. There is of course nothing wrong with that except that it may strike Cubans as a bit silly – I at least thought it rather strange when my Cuban ex-wife, on her first visit to my native Switzerland, insisted that I take her picture next to a number of totally unremarkable (but new) cars. Until I realised that this is precisely what visitors to Cuba normally do.
Photo books usually show pictures without words, they rarely come with an accompanying text, often however without captions, or with captions we could easily do without – such as Mexico 1934, or Dog (when the photo shows a dog), for instance. While such an approach – “I do not want to influence you, trust your eyes, judge for yourself”, the photographers seem to say – might be okay for art photography (whatever that is), it is inappropriate for documentary photography or for press photography that should come with words that are not limited to (hopefully) informative captions but include narratives that inform the reader about the coming into being of the pictures. Thankfully, this is the case of The Idea of Cuba in which the texts help one understand what one's eyes register.
Let me illustrate this with two excerpts:
“In my first days in Havana I wondered how Cubans felt as they drove through their daily lives inside these symbols of capitalist triumph. Whatever can be said about failed U.S. policies toward Cuba, surely the continued existence of these cars on Cuban roads was a testimony to the North American way, to the success and durability of our political system. Yet the more time I spent in Havana, the more I realized that every car I rode in had been completely rebuilt from the inside out. Many of the parts were borrowed from Russian or European models or manufactured by Cuban mechanics who could not legally import anything from the United States. These 1950s-era cars may have had North American shells, but the fact that they continued to run was proof of Cuban ingenuity, determination, and the kind of sacrifice that José Martí admired.
Under the May Havana sun, I might as well have been working in a sauna. Sweating inside these cars with my view camera, film holders, tripod, battery pack, and lights, I sometimes worried about my sanity. And as I saw the richness of life on Havana streets unfolding outside my window, it seemed crazy to limit myself to this narrow view of the city. But as a photographer I recognized that the greatest depth of field is achieved by setting the smallest aperture on a lens. After almost thirty years of making pictures in the American South, New Mexico, and Alaska, I knew another kind of depth could be achieved by narrowing the subject of my focus as well. For the time being, I would continue to photograph Cuba from inside cars.”
Alex Harris had never heard of José Martí when he first set foot on the island but soon became interested in him (("I traveled to Cuba to make landscapes, and discovered José Martí") for photographers sometimes travel with open eyes (and – in this case – with an open mind) and Martí is difficult to avoid in Cuba for his statues are everywhere. “Martí had a kind of nobility. He was stoic and wise. He seemed to know a secret I wanted to learn.”
By describing how he went about his work, what he experienced, where he went, and why, and what went through his mind, Alex Harris lets the reader participate in what he learns about Martí, and about Cuba.
“My larger problem was how to begin to encompass in a photograph something as complex and cerebral as Martí's idea of Cuba. Near the end of his life, in the early days of photography, Martí anticipated my dilemma in a question jotted in one of his notebooks: "Who could photograph thought, as a horse is photographed in full gallop or a bird in flight?"
As I made my first photographs of his memorials, I saw Martí's words at the base of many statues. These aphorisms had been extracted by Cubans themselves as the essence of Martí's idea of Cuba, then chiseled into stone or stamped onto copper plaques. In one of the first I read, Martí seemed to predict his own future role. A nation that honors its heroes strengthens itself. I began to copy every Martí adage I saw. These words of wisdom read like agnostic Cuban cousins of Solomon's proverbs. With all and for the good of all; To be cultured is to be free.
Of all Martí's writings, these brief sayings became a kind of compass I used to find my way around the island. If I couldn't photograph Martí's thoughts, at least I'd have his most important ideas in mind when I decided to snap the shutter. This seemed a way for me to look at contemporary Cuba through the lens of history, to see the present in relation to Martí's imagined future.”
Documentary photography, the way I understand and like it, is about making discoveries. And this is what Alex Harris’ Idea of Cuba is: the document of a personal discovery that transcends the personal - for the more personal an approach, the more universal the result often becomes.
“I know much more about Cuba now than I did when I made these photographs. But I do not believe that I could now make better pictures. This book is an act of faith in myself as a photographer to discover something in my pictures I didn't already know or feel, something I wasn't already looking for.”
Friday, 3 October 2008
Bridging cultural differences
Wednesday, 1 October 2008
Anton Chekov: Lady with Lapdog
Monday, 29 September 2008
Saturday, 27 September 2008
On History, Distractions, and Truth
"It’s easily forgotten, Inspector, that history is not what you read in books. It’s a personal thing, and people are vengeful creatures, which is why history will never teach us anything."
“We are all mad, Inspector, for the simple reason that we don’t know why we exist and this …” he waved his hand at the tissue of existence before him, “this life is how we distract ourselves so that we don’t have to think about things too difficult for us to comprehend.”
"You think you know yourself until things start happening, until you lose the insulation of normality. I would have called myself “aware” before I lost my wife. People would look at me, Narciso for instance, and think there goes Zé Coelho, a man who knows himself. But I’m like anybody else. I hide. My wife was right. I’m inquisitive for the truth but hide from my own. The stuff I’ve carried with me and ignored."
Thursday, 25 September 2008
Western Values (2)
"Many in the West no longer believe in God, but lost belief, like a lost fortune, has effects that linger. A young man raised in wealth may, when he comes of age, give his fortune away and live in poverty. His character, however, will remain that of a man raised in wealth, for he cannot give his history away. In a similar way, centuries of rigorous, godly character-building have created an ideal of human character that stands fast even though, for many, its foundation has been removed. When Westerners encounter a culture with a different ideal, when we find ourselves saying, for example, “The Japanese are different,” we discover, indirectly, the strangeness and durability of our own ideal, our inherited sense of what a human being should be."
And strange, when looked at from a distance (or through the eyes of another culture), one’s own cultural heritage might indeed appear to be. Again Jack Miles, this time from Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God:
"All mankind is forgiven, but the Lord must die. This is the revolutionary import of the epilogue that, two thousand years ago, a group of radical Jews appended to the sacred scripture of their religion. Because they did so, millions in the West today worship before the image of a deity executed as a criminal, and – no less important – other millions who never worship at all carry within their cultural DNA a religiously derived suspicion that somehow, someday, “the last will be first, and the first last” (Matt. 20: 16).The Crucifixion, the primal scene of Western religion and western art, has lost much of its power to shock. At this late date, perhaps only a non-Western eye can truly see it. A Japanese artist now living in Los Angeles once recalled the horror most Japanese feel at seeing a corpse displayed as a religious icon, and of their further revulsion when the icon is explained to them. They ask, she said: “If he was so good, why did he die like that?” In Japanese culture “good people end their lives with a good death, even a beautiful death, like the Buddha. Someone dying in such a hideous way – for us, he could only be a criminal.”
Needless to say, this is not how Westerners see it – if they see it at all. The message for them is that by losing everything (one’s life), one wins everything (a place in heaven). In other words, redemptive fulfilment lies at the core of popular Western belief (only the Christian faith recognises original sin and corresponding redemption). For a Chinese this seems hard to grasp, at least for Lin Yutang, who, in 1938, wrote in The Importance of Living:
"All in all, here is still a belief in total depravity, that enjoyment of this life is sin and wickedness, that to be uncomfortable is to be virtuous, and that on the whole man cannot save himself except by a greater power outside. The doctrine of sin is still the basic assumption of Christianity as generally practised today, and Christian missionaries trying to make converts start out by impressing upon the party to be converted a consciousness of sin and of wickedness of human nature (which is, of course, the sine qua non for the ready-made remedy which the missionary has up his sleeve). All in all, you can’t make a man a Christian unless you first make him believe he is a sinner."
It goes without saying that quite some Westerners find this also rather difficult to understand.
Tuesday, 23 September 2008
A Photographic Journey through Turkey
In "The Project Ebru: The Story of a Journey", Durak not only gives an informative account of how the project came into being but also describes how he became interested in photography. By accident, really. When at university, he took a course in photography because it looked like the easiest way to increase his grade point average but he then found that "for that year I did nothing but take photographs, and I had no desire to do anything else. By the end of the academic year, a life without photography was simply unfathomable to me. During that same period, I took the overland route to Egypt and stayed there for about a month. That particular journey led me to discover something about myself: I liked, and actually preferred, going to different countries and photographing people that I found to be different."
In 1996, Durak immigrated to New York, "a city of eight million people from different lands and cultures, speaking more than 100 different languages and believing—or not believing—in hundreds of different religions and denominations, and all living together. One third of this population is comprised of first-generation immigrants from approximately 200 countries. In the City’s restaurants you can taste the cuisines of every country of the world, and in its arts centers, parks, subway stations, and streets, you can listen to the music and watch the dances of the most unexpected regions and peoples. As Henry David Thoreau said, everyone “hears a different drummer” in New York. Yet it can hardly be said that they remain indifferent to the beats of other drums in the process. It is also common to find that different beats have mixed together to create entirely new sounds. While Americans often employ the “melting pot” metaphor in describing the cultural diversity in the United States, this “melting” aspiration hasn’t had much of an impact upon New Yorkers. There, if it’s meant to be, time gets the job done; and if it doesn’t, nobody could care less. That’s why New Yorkers prefer the “mosaic” metaphor to describe the culturally diverse fabric of their city. This particular metaphor is their way of explaining that the many and varied peoples who co-exist here may, if they like, maintain their own constant, invariable colors without having to mix and mingle their hues with those of others."
© copyright 2002, Attila Durak
What one observes and experiences in places far from home often makes one become curious of home. And this is precisely what happened to Attila Durak - "the multitude of colors and voices in New York ignited my desire to explain the cultural diversity of Turkey via photographs".
When working briefly in Istanbul (in 2005), I felt deeply impressed by the cultural variety of the city, and of the places nearby. I howewer wasn't aware that the variety was that vast - the Ebru Project was an eye-opener. Actually, it was more than that: it was a heart-opener - it made me look with sympathy at the people portrayed, it made me like them.
© copyright 2001, Attila Durak
By the way: "The English translation of “ebru” is “marbled paper,” which refers to the fluidity of paint and water on paper. With its creative combination of water and paper, “ebru” inspires the possibility of conceptualizing historical flow and “passing solidity” at the same time. As such, it is a metaphor that offers a promising alternative to others like “the mosaic” or “the quilt” for thinking through the new and old dilemmas of cultural politics at the turn of the century."
Sunday, 21 September 2008
Friday, 19 September 2008
Photographs of the South Bronx
Lisa Kahane’s “Do Not Give Way to Evil” starts like this: “The past is never over. Image outlives fact.” It hit me, immediately: Yes, exactly, this is it, so true, that is precisely why pictures are more telling than words.
Images carry feelings, and these we remember – this is why images are so powerful.
The book shows photos of the South Bronx between 1979 and 1987, “not just another neighbourhood but another realm, visible but incomprehensible, an urban wilderness actively populated by ghosts.”
What is true for the first few sentences is likewise true for the first few photographs. In “Do Not Give Way to Evil” it was the first one – the abandoned Bronx Borough Courthouse – that did it for me. When contemplating it, I instinctively knew that I would like Lisa Kahane’s other pictures – and I did. All of them. For they not only showed me the South Bronx, they told me about life.
Moreover, I loved her helpful introductory text. For its humaneness, its unpretentiousness, and its insights. Here are some excerpts:
“Change is a constant in New York City and it’s usually considered progress. In the Bronx, it was extraordinarily brutal. Portrayed either as a garden spot or a wretched failure of civic life, the ruin of the Bronx, part natural progression of the American Dream, part intentional destruction, was a long time in the making. Fewer things than one imagines are coincidences. What is made to seem the inevitable process of history is often the interplay of money and power.
Withdrawal of federal funds, diminishing city services, and dependence on welfare turned the American Dream into an American Nightmare. Anger and frustration turned to cruelty, and boredom to loss of hope. Drugs were easy to get. Widespread fires, unknown since the early nineteenth century, made a comeback. Counterproductive government response made arson profitable for landlord and tenant. In the 70’s the borough averaged 12,000 arson fires a year, over thirty a day.
There are books now that explain it all and yet explain nothing. The devil’s best game, the poet Charles Baudelaire wrote, is to convince us that he doesn’t exist. Even though it’s always the present tense in a photograph, the spirit of the time can only be represented, not recalled or recreated. The best thing about these pictures of devastation is that they can’t be taken in the Bronx anymore.”
Lisa Kahane's "Do Not Give Way to Evil” was published in 2008 by PowerHouse Books, Miss Rosen Editions, Brooklyn, New York.
Wednesday, 17 September 2008
The Condition of Man
An appetite for faith may be to some extent its justification: it is certainly not its proof – we do not build a fire to prove or disprove the existence of cold, but to keep ourselves warm. A traveller on a perilous journey may draw comfort from the knowledge that he has a pistol in his pocket, though, unknown to himself, his servant has neglected to load it. Like the traveller, we shall only learn whether or not our pistols were loaded when the issue will have transcended speculation; till then we must draw our comfort from whatever we care to believe or disbelieve. Truth, if it exists, will remain unaffected. A starving animal will suck the dug of its dead parent and a man in extremity can condition himself to believe what he calculates will bring him most consolation.
A.E. Ellis: The Rack
Monday, 15 September 2008
Elections & Experience
"While watching the Sarah Palin interview with Charlie Gibson Thursday night, and the coverage of the Palin phenomenon in general, I’ve gotten the scary feeling, for the first time in my life, that dimwittedness is not just on the march in the U.S., but that it might actually prevail.
How is it that this woman could have been selected to be the vice presidential candidate on a major party ticket? How is it that so much of the mainstream media has dropped all pretense of seriousness to hop aboard the bandwagon and go along for the giddy ride?
For those who haven’t noticed, we’re electing a president and vice president, not selecting a winner on “American Idol.”
Ms. Palin may be a perfectly competent and reasonably intelligent woman (however troubling her views on evolution and global warming may be), but she is not ready to be vice president.
With most candidates for high public office, the question is whether one agrees with them on the major issues of the day.
With Ms. Palin, it’s not about agreeing or disagreeing. She doesn’t appear to understand some of the most important issues."
Since when have an understanding of issues, competence, or knowing what is going on, been a prerequisite for public office, I wonder? Actually, it more often looks like the other way 'round.
As Winston Churchill said: the best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with an average voters (he however also said that democracy is still the best of all the bad systems available).
Okay, fine, but what should we do now? Listen to another Brit, John Lennon, who said: Don't follow leaders.
By the way: experience is consistently overrated. When the US supreme court (with members appointed by Bush Senior) bestowed the presidency on Bush Junior, some media, troubled by Junior's lack of foreign exposure, pointed out how reassuring it was that vice president Cheney was such an experienced politician. Well ... ?!
We should keep in mind what the German writer Kurt Tucholsky once said: that a man with ten years of experience may have been ten years completely mistaken.
Saturday, 13 September 2008
Adapting to a Foreign Culture
Thursday, 11 September 2008
"Are they handmade?" I asked the street vendor who had traditional garments on display. "No, no, machine, very better", she replied. It took me a while to understand what she meant: that the machine had made her work easier.
There was no taxi at the airport in Pitsanoluk. "How can I get to town?" I asked the young lady at the information booth. "My master will drive you", she said. The master turned out to be the director of the airport. "And how do you plan to go to Mae Hong Son?" he inquired. "I guess by bus" I said. "Bus no good" he replied. "You should do it like the Thais do it". "Aha, and how do they do it?" "Take it easy, fly." I flew.
Prachuap Khiri Khan. I explored this small town and the beaches on the back of a motorbyke. "Here eat drink", my driver said while pointing to a restaurant. "Here sing a song" - that was a disco. After a while, I felt I should also make a contribution. "Look at this beautiful bird", I shouted. "Bird", he shouted back. Thais have quite a remarkable ability to state the obvious.
In Bangkok, I bought a wallet. It was a Gucci imitation, plastic, and very cheap. A week later it broke apart. When I passed by the same shop, I decided to stop for a chat. "Look at this", I said to the salesgirls. "This wallet I bought here only a week ago and already it falls apart." "How much you pay?" the girls asked. "60 Baht", I smiled. They smiled back: "60 Baht one week, 80 Baht two weeks."
During a Thai class, somebody mentioned corruption. Our teacher, a gifted entertainer, the most important qualification for teaching in Thailand, said: Corruption? We don't have that here. And then, with a big smile, added: Well, come to think of it, that is our system.
Tuesday, 9 September 2008
J.M. Coetzee: Diary of a Bad Year
Sunday, 7 September 2008
The expressions that these values find in Europe and in North America differ however not inconsiderably – the American readiness to, for instance, exercise power (be it the death penalty or the invasion of another country) seems to indicate a mentality rather different from the ever so reluctant European attitude.
The culture we grow up in shapes the way we see the world. If this culture is one of strength, our view of the world will be one from a position of strength. In the case of America this includes a propensity to use that strength.
Cultures do not clash, humans sometimes do – not so much because of different values (after all: quite some of the behaviour of American soldiers in Iraq would be as offensive back in America) but because of, perhaps, a mix of fear, xenophobia, military training, lack of manners, and youth, a mix that can be found wherever an army (from East or West, North or South) is found fighting.
The debate about a possible clash of civilizations gives a prominence to cultural values that is not deserved – for any closer look will result in realising that what humans have in common by far outweighs their differing opinions – and obscures that the problems between Europe and America, as well as between the West and the rest of the world, is one of power (competing greed, egotism etc. – the character traits that we all share) and not of incompatible values.
Friday, 5 September 2008
Intercultural Coaching (2)
Wednesday, 3 September 2008
A Fervent Prayer
'Pardon me, sir, I'm Rebecca Smith from CNN. What is your name?'
'Morris Fishbien,' he replied.
'Sir, how long have you been coming to the Western Wall and praying?'
'For about 60 years.'
'60 years! That's amazing! What do you pray for?'
'I pray for peace between the Christians, Jews and the Muslims. I pray for all the wars and all the hatred to stop. I pray for all our children to grow up safely as responsible adults, and to love their fellow man.'
'How do you feel after doing this for 60 years?'
'Like I'm talking to a fuckin' wall.'
Monday, 1 September 2008
Sunday, 31 August 2008
Saturday, 30 August 2008
Doing Photo Portraits
A good photographer is one who has ideas.
I photographed the farmer together with the cow because I wanted him to feel at ease. And to be together with the cow made him indeed feel at ease - because he is proud of her.
First I take a photograph for myself, then one for the portrayed.
Thursday, 28 August 2008
Civilization & Garbage
Don DeLillo: Underworld
Tuesday, 26 August 2008
The photos (probably because they were labelled "environmental photography"!) also made me think of an article in The Independent about "the world's largest rubbish dump". Would you have guessed that it is in the Pacific Ocean and "stretches from about 500 nautical miles off the Californian coast, across the northern Pacific, past Hawaii and almost as far as Japan"? Here's more: garbagedump
Sunday, 24 August 2008
Ein kleiner Italiener, ein deutsches und ein Schweizer Kind sollen erklären, woher die Kinder kommen.
Der Italiener sagt: Bei uns in Italien bringt der Storch die Babies.
Der Deutsche meint: In Deutschland gehen die Mama und der Papa miteinander ins Bett und dann machen sie ein Kind.
Der kleine Schweizer meint: Bei uns ist das von Kanton zu Kanton verschieden.
Friday, 22 August 2008
Not Pictures, Words Make One See
Wednesday, 20 August 2008
Helpful Approach (2)
Ladies and Gentlemen, should you have come to the conclusion that what I've been telling you sounds interesting to you, then you most probably have got me completely wrong. For a lot of things are interesting. From the love life of the bees to studying physics. But that is not the point. The point is that you need to ask yourself whether what I've been telling you was helpful. If it was, fine. If not, then look for something that is helpful.
Monday, 18 August 2008
The Project of the West
"The project of the West, the Nietzschean project, has been to drive out religion and to produce a secular society in which men and women make their own values because morality is gone. Then suddenly radical religion returns from the Third World. How can you not laugh at that? How can you not find that a deep historical irony?”
“The antidote to Puritanism isn’t licentiousness, but the recognition of what goes on inside human beings.”
Saturday, 16 August 2008
Anne Fadiman: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down