Saturday, 28 February 2009
Many years ago, I spent much time in the Thai capital where my regular walks also took me to Asia Books in the Landmark Hotel. Kung had a stall near the Landmark on Sukhumvit Soi four. Sai, who was around eight at that time, sometimes followed me into the Landmark. I started to buy her ice cream, sometimes I just sat and talked with her for a few minutes (my Thai is virtually non-existent but I distinctly remember telling her one day that I soon would go the airport whereupon she insisted on coming along). Unsurprisingly, Sai has no such recollection.
The three of us sat for a while, smiled, and chatted. "Where is your husband?" I asked Kung. "He die", she said, "he drink too much". It is one of the explanations for a variety of mishaps (the other one is "have accident") in the land of smiles. "You have email?" Kung wanted to know. When I wrote it down for her she said "I have no email." I didn't ask her why she wanted mine if she didn't have one herself. "When you come back?" she asked. "I don't know" I smiled. It all felt supremely casual, and it all felt good.
I doubt that I would have recognised Kung outside her (for me) typical environment. She however seems to need less context than I do.
Thursday, 26 February 2009
On John Updike
David Foster Wallace: Consider the Lobster
Wednesday, 25 February 2009
Robert Harris: The Ghost
Tuesday, 24 February 2009
Sunday, 22 February 2009
A White Bushman
Laurens van der Post: A Walk with a White Bushman
Friday, 20 February 2009
The eyes of the artist
J.M. Coetzee: Diary of a Bad Year
Wednesday, 18 February 2009
Photography & Recovery
In any case, Emma, interested in questions of photography and aesthetics, decided to do some internet searching on how the environment influences patients' recovery and came across the research of Britt-Maj Wikström, a senior lecturer at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, that revealed the beneficiary effects of art and art-related discussions on both the physical and mental functions of patients.
Copyright @ Charlotta Öjersson
Actually, one doesn’t really need research to prove that, common sense would do. However, since common sense isn’t all that common, and since authorities are usually unduly impressed by representatives of science (the application of methodology, that is), Professor Wikström’s credentials surely helped to convince the people in charge at the hospital to go along with the project.
Let’s get practical, here’s an example: people who visit patients in hospitals often do not know what to talk about, and neither do the patients. Now think of a well-selected picture on the wall. It seems rather obvious that such a picture could inspire a conversation. In fact, when Emma showed me around the hospital, what happened was just that: an elderly couple wandering through the corridors stopped in front of a photograph that showed a horse and the woman said: „Remember the stubborn horse we once had?“
Copyright @ Max Nyberg
However, the aim of the project was not simply to inspire art-related discussions, it was much more. In the words, of Emma:
„1. Use art to create a better working environment for hospital personnel. This environment would stimulate positive thinking among patients and their relatives and visitors.
2. Visualise the role of the artist in similar projects. Professional artists, employees within health service and decision-makers need to be better informed about the potentially beneficial effects art has on our health condition.
3. Reach a broader intersectional understanding between culture and health care as a result of collaboration.
4. In the long-term, strive for preparing and forming a model regarding the undertaking of similar projects, which would be important for the region. The purpose of this project is/was the provision of information on the positive aspects of aesthetics and art in hospitals in general. This project is not just targeting one specific hospital, but we rather hope that it will motivate similar undertakings in other hospitals in the Nordic countries. A Nordic network on the topic is already forming as we speak.
5. Initiate a discussion on how we can help art students to see and take the opportunity to create a working situation for themselves. Artists can not expect full-time employment, but rather have to learn to realize their own potentials in combination with the needs of their surroundings.“
Needless to say, quite some planning was needed to carry out this project. Again in the words of Emma:
„Choosing a suitable art form was the difficult part since taste varies greatly in art contexts depending on the on-lookers’ experience with art. One of Maj-Britt Wikströms research results testifies that the individual’s personal choice of art is important for the positive impact art has on health. However, this was a practical problem. Our solution was a turning device that had double-sided pictures on it, and by presenting a number of different photographs on it we provided each patient the opportunity to somewhat choose the art presented in the room. The turning device was easily manageable in order to avoid putting an unreasonable work load on the nursing staff.
During the month prior to the closing of the ward for renovation, the staff distributed a picture questionnaire to about 100 patients and their relatives. The purpose of this poll was to give the people in the ward the opportunity to express what kind of art they would appreciate in the hospital environment. The questionnaire included 11 pictures representing different styles of photography. The respondents only filled out their age and their picture of preference.“
Copyright @ Timo Annanpalo
Monday, 16 February 2009
In general terms, because the book does what it intends to do: it teaches stuff that indeed matters: global warming, environmental degradation, AIDS, malaria, the global jihad, genocide in Darfur, the inequitabel distribution of global wealth and other issues. And, it does so in generally well-written, well-argued texts (by, among others, Bill McKibben, Jeffrey D. Sachs or Samantha Power) that come with mostly impressive photographs (quite some of these were already published in other books) by such well-known photographers as Sebastião Salgado, James Nachtwey, Gilles Peress or Stephanie Sinclair.
The reason, however, that I consider this book one of the best photojournalism tomes that I’ve ever come across is that it is, for the most part, real photojournalism, which means that pictures and words are actually related to each other. And, that is rare for most photo books (and that includes the ones that sail under the photojournalism-label) that come with texts give the impression that either an author needed some pics to make the page not look too boring, or a photographer thought, well, why not add some captions, and, while we’re at it, maybe also an introduction. The introduction of „What Matters“ (by David Elliot Cohen) is different, and exceptional in the sense that it is an instructive text that addresses issues in photojournalism that are seldom written about:
„In an undertaking this ambitious, it is important to understand what the medium does best, and what it doesn’t do very well at all. For some very important issues, photojournalism is not the best way to tell a story. Despite our best efforts, and excellent guidance from a dozen top photo editors from major publications, we could not find a great photo-essay about the institutionalized corruption of America’s campaign finance system. It is a crucial meta-issue that affects many other issues, but it doesn’t lend itself to pictorial exposition. Then there are other big stories – such as the digital divide between information „haves“ and „have-nots“ – about which we felt sure we’d find great pictures. But we couldn’t identify ten or twelve strong images to convey the story. The point is, we believe that all the stories in this book are essential, but we also realize there are other stories, just as important, that are best told in other media. Basically, photojournalism works best when it is personal and specific but still conveys a universal concept.“
Indeed. Let me illustrate this with the text of the first photo-essay of this work, „Meltdown, A Global Warming Travelogue“ by Bill McKibben. Here is how it begins:
„For a long time – the first fifteen years that we knew about global warming and did nothing – there were no pictures. That was one of the reasons for inaction. Climate change was still „theoretical,“ the word that people in power use to dismiss anything for which pictures do not exist.
It is the reason we don’t see shots of coffins coming back from Iraq; it’s the reason the only prison abuse we really know about was at Abu Ghraib. Without pictures, no uproar; not in a visual age.
Powerful, isn’t it? And so are the accompanying photographs by Gary Braasch.
Photojournalism stands for pictures with words (or for words with pictures), and never is this more apparent than when one is looking at a photo and cannot really understand (only guess) what one sees. Brent Stirton’s shot of a young African filling water, taken from a swamp, into a jerry can held by a woman while a man standing next to her is balancing a bucket of (presumably) water on his head, for instance. I examined the photo for quite a while before I read the caption: „An eleven-year-old girl in Ghana helps her blind mother and brother fetch water from a swamp. She has cared for them for six years, since they both lost their sight to trachoma, a bacterial infection of the eyelids linked to dirty water.“ This information made me see what a picture alone cannot show me – blindness. But this information did more: it triggered lots of other pictures in my head for these words made me see more than a thousand pictures. It goes without saying that I now look at the same picture with very different eyes.
Another very powerful essay is by Gary Kamiya with moving photographs by Paul Fusco. „Bitter Fruit. Behind the Scenes, America buries its Iraq War Dead“:
„War is nothing until you see it. Iraq is barely real, just something that keeps happening to other people very far away. Only stark, clear, undeniable images can make us realize what’s happening.But there are only a few images out there. Photographs of the war’s horrible reality – the corpses, the mangled bodies, the dreadfully wounded victims – rarely appear in the US media. The war is largely invisible.“
„These faces make us weep. But they should also make us think. One thing they should make us think about ist he Iraqis. Take all the heartbreak in Fusco’s photographs and multiply it exponentially, and you wouldn’t tuch what the war has done to the Iraqi people. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died; hundreds of thousands more have been wounded; and millions have been forced into exile.“
And then there are the „Images of Genocide“ by Magnum Photos, accompanied by reflections of Omer Bartov about (among other things) what photography can do and what not.
But let me stop here, I do not want to copy the full text of this impressive tome in which, without exception, all of the essays and photos are worth spending time with. Read and see for yourself, you will very likely come away like I did: enriched and troubled.
The world’s preeminent photojournalists and thinkers
Created by David Elliot Cohen
Sterling Publishing New York / London 2008
Sunday, 15 February 2009
Copyright @ Jörn Vanhöfen
In einem Interview mit Spiegel Online erläuterte Jörn Vanhöfen sein fotografisches Selbstverständnis wie folgt: Spiegel Online: In Ihrem Bildband "Südafrikas Küsten" ist nicht das Südafrika der sattsam bekannten Klischees, sondern stille Landschaften und öde Städte zu sehen. Vanhöfen: Ich bin ein politischer Landschaftsfotograf, und mein Verleger Nikolaus Gelpke wollte das politische, kulturelle, gesellschaftliche Leben nach der Apartheid zeigen. Er wusste, dass ich immer versuche, mehrdeutige Bilder zu schaffen. Ich will den Betrachter damit zwingen, die Bilder nicht nur zu konsumieren, sondern wirklich zu lesen.
Sind denn Bilder nicht sowieso mehrdeutig? fragt man sich da, eingedenk des russischen Sprichworts „Er lügt wie eine Augenzeuge“ unwillkürlich. Zudem: was der Fotograf will, ist das Eine, ob jedoch die Bilder dann auch tun, was er will, dass sie tun sollen, ist hingegen … na ja, wer will das schon wissen?
Copyright @ Jörn Vanhöfen
Mare, Hamburg 2008
Friday, 13 February 2009
Pictures that I like (3)
Why do I like it? Because it radiates at the same time a very personal and a universal message: we all would prefer some things to not have happened. And, we all (sometimes) wish we could undo things.
By the way, the text was written on the shower curtains before the photo was taken (and not written on the photo).
Wednesday, 11 February 2009
This his how Tracy Novinger begins her „Intercultural Communication: A Practical Guide“ (University of Texas Press, Austin). Difficult to think of a more compelling way (I was reminded of a thriller) to introduce a tome on intercultural communication and, needless to say, she had my full attention:
„The Mexican visitor and the Peruvian guard participated in a communication exchange that was deeply embedded in the hierarchy and formality inherent in Mediterranean-based cultures. With the interrogation, „Qué quieres?“ (What do you want?), the guard had addressed the visitor with the familiar verb form in Spanish. The familiar form of address in most Spanish-speaking countries is used only with family members, close friends, former classmates, or children. The reflexive reaction of the man arriving was indignation, even though the circumstances were dangerous. His retort „Do we know each other?“ was a powerful cultural rebuke. The automatic response of the guard was to amend his discourtesy and reply in the formal style of address for the visitor to please go about his business. Fortunately for the Mexican visitor, this incident turned out well. He would have not responded in such a manner if he had stopped to think about the logic of challenging a gun with indignation and three Spanish words – but the point is that he did not think. Cultural conditioning controlled the behavior of both men, including he who held the gun and the apparent power. Neither men went through a conscious thought process.“
Think! is always good advice, and especially when dealing with members of other cultures. Yet it is hardly enough. „You are American soldiers! Think about it!“ Joseph Heller lets (in „Catch 22“) an officer address his subordinates and then comments: „They thought about it.“
Don’t get me wrong: Tracy Novinger does not argue that going „through a conscious thought process“ is enough in order to deal successfully with members of foreign cultures. I mainly quoted Joseph Heller because I love this quote. What Novinger does argue for is that „we must learn to speak a foreign culture in the same way we must learn to speak a foreign language.“ In other words, we must learn the art of nonverbal communication which is said to make up „two-thirds to three-fourths of our communication.“ And, how does one do that? By spending time with Tracy Novinger’s helpful book, for example.
Intercultural Communication: A Practical Guide
University of Texas Press, Austin
Monday, 9 February 2009
Pictures that I like (2)
I was fascinated by the colours, thought the composition convincing, and then started to wonder what my eyes showed me. Instead of guessing, I asked Lisen for the story behind the picture. Here it is:
"I had planned to shoot some panorama pictures of Helsinki for a hospital project and so I went to a hotel with a high tower, climbed up to the top of that tower, early in the morning, to get pictures of the city in this beautiful morning light. I took my pictures, but they didn't come out the way I wanted. I packed my belongings and was about to leave when I saw the beautiful lights surrounding the stairs. So I decided to take some pictures of them, trying to catch this light and the colours it produced."
Saturday, 7 February 2009
Moments are fleeting?
Thursday, 5 February 2009
Pictures that I like
More photos of Joakim can be found here: Joakim's Photos
Tuesday, 3 February 2009
The narrative known as science
"Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. So annealed into pop culture are the five stages of grief—introduced in the 1960s by Swiss-born psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross based on her studies of the emotional state of dying patients—that they are regularly referenced without explication.
There appears to be no evidence, however, that most people most of the time go through most of the stages in this or any other order. According to Russell P. Friedman, executive director of the Grief Recovery Institute in Sherman Oaks, Calif., and co-author, with John W. James, of The Grief Recovery Handbook (HarperCollins, 1998), “no study has ever established that stages of grief actually exist, and what are defined as such can’t be called stages. Grief is the normal and natural emotional response to loss.... No matter how much people want to create simple, bullet-point guidelines for the human emotions of grief, there are no stages of grief that fit any two people or relationships.”
Friedman’s assessment comes from daily encounters with people experiencing grief in his practice. University of Memphis psychologist Robert A. Neimeyer confirms this analysis. He concluded in his scholarly book Meaning Reconstruction and the Experience of Loss (American Psychological Association, 2001): “At the most obvious level, scientific studies have failed to support any discernible sequence of emotional phases of adaptation to loss or to identify any clear end point to grieving that would designate a state of ‘recovery.’
”Nevertheless, the urge to compress the complexities of life into neat and tidy stages is irresistible. Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud insisted that we moved through five stages of psychosexual development: oral, anal, phallic, latency and genital. Developmental psychologist Erik H. Erikson countered with eight stages: trust vs. mistrust (infant); autonomy vs. doubt (toddler); initiative vs. guilt (preschooler); industry vs. inferiority (school-age period); identity vs. role confusion (adolescent); intimacy vs. isolation (young adult); generativity vs. stagnation (middle age); and integrity vs. despair (older adult). Harvard University psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg postulated that our moral development progresses through six stages: parental punishment, selfish hedonism, peer pressure, law and order, social contract and principled conscience
Why stages? We are pattern-seeking, storytelling primates trying to make sense of an often chaotic and unpredictable world. A stage theory works in a manner similar to a species-classification heuristic or an evolutionary-sequence schema. Stages also fit well into a chronological sequence where stories have set narrative patterns. Stage theories “impose order on chaos, offer predictability over uncertainty, and optimism over despair,” explained social psychologist Carol Tavris, author of The Mismeasure of Woman (Touchstone, 1993) and co-author, with Elliot Aronson, of Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) (Harcourt, 2007), in an interview with me.
“One appeal of stage theories is that they tell a story—they give us a narrative to live by (‘you feel this now, but soon ...’). In cognitive psychology and also in ‘narrative psychotherapy,’ there has been a lot of work on the importance of storytelling. Some therapists now make this idea explicit, helping clients change a negative, self-defeating narrative (‘look at all I suffered’) into a positive one (‘I not only survived but triumphed’)."
What’s wrong with stages? First, Tavris noted, “in developmental psychology, the notion of predictable life stages is toast. Those stage theories reflected a time when most people marched through life predictably: marrying at an early age; then having children when young; then work, work, work; then maybe a midlife crisis; then retirement; then death. Those ‘passages’ theories evaporated with changing social and economic conditions that blew the predictability of our lives to hell. Second, Tavris continued, “is the guilt and pressure the theories impose on people who are not feeling what they think they should. This is why consumers of any kind of psychotherapy or posttraumatic intervention that promulgates the notion of ‘inevitable’ stages should be skeptical and cautious.”
Stages are stories that may be true for the storyteller, but that does not make them valid for the narrative known as science."
Sunday, 1 February 2009
Alberto Fuguet: Tinta Roja