Sunday, 26 February 2012

Praise from Argentina

In October 2011, Maria Cristina Plencovich, Chair of Agricultural Education at the University of Buenos Aires, published a review of my "Ways of Perception" in The Journal of Agricultural Education & Extension. Here's her conclusion:

This book provides some rich background reading for professionals engaged in rural extension, facilitators and teachers, especially for those who do not have a strong background in theoretical or applied Linguistics. It provides precise and well-founded accounts of the many issues involved in visual perception, culture and communication, and also builds on ethical issues deriving from the main subjects involved in the study. It also challenges many assumptions about what we see and believe across cultures.

Finally, the author's major concern resides in interculturalism. It could be equally important to take some of his conclusions to mainstream cultures - even within the same country - and not necessarily assume homogeneity in nations/cultures, but acknowledge the existence of heterogeneity giving rise to a distinct integrated network of behaviours, beliefs, values, ways of seeing and attitudes within the same culture.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Peruvian Memories

Nati is the daughter of a couple who works at my hotel in Paracas. She is three years old and comes running, all smiles, towards me when I show up for breakfast - for she gets all her favourite things from me: chocolate, bananas, ice cream, and scrambled eggs (not necessarily in that order).

The Laguna Encantada in the middle of the desert near Huacho.

At the Laguna Albúfera del Medio Mundo

On the Panamericana between Huacho and Huaral

And then there are the incidents of which I have only mental pictures:

The short middle-aged guy in Huacho who upon seeing me lifted his hat, smiled, extended his hand and said: How are you? Pleased to meet you! and then, without further ado, went his way.

The Cuban lady who told me that she came to Lima with her daughter because plastic surgery (a nose job) was considerably cheaper than in Miami. How did you make it from Cuba to Miami? I inquired. At that time, in 1968, you could still fly out. In my case it was Curaçao, later Venezuela, and then Miami.

The stunningly beautiful 12-year old who helps her mother in the record store and tells me she wants to become an architect.

The old lady who passes by the restaurant where I have a Turkish coffee and a Turkish sweet called Mosaik, has difficulty walking. When about five minutes later I leave the restaurant I see her sitting by the side of the road. She says something to me that I do not understand but I assume she asks for money. I approach her and search for coins in my pocket. I'm close to her now and can hear what she is saying. She asks me to give her a hand for she can't get up by herself. She smiles while I pull her up and, bent forward, continues her walk.

And then there were my numerous chats with a variety of people. As Elizabeth, the manager in my Lima hotel was saying: Standing in line and not having a conversation with the one ahead of you or the person behind you is an impossibility for Latinos.

Nati in Paracas

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Paris, Portrait of a City

How wonderfully fitting to begin a photo-book on Paris by introducing the reader to Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre's public demonstrations of his revolutionary invention: photography.

Paris, Portrait of a City presents the history of the French capital, "recounted in photographs ranging from Daguerre's early incunabula to the most recent images an almost complete record of over a century and a half of transformations and a vast panorama soanning more than 600 pages and 500 photographs", as the publisher, Taschen, lets us know. Needless to say, that is impressive indeed. Unfortunate, however, is that the blurb refers to Paris as "the capital of love and photography". Apart from being almost beyond cliché, I keep on wondering what could make a city "a capital of love" ...?

Most of the photographs in this tome are primarily historical documents they show us what was in front of the lens at a specific point in time. Most of them I had never seen before, and to some I felt immediately drawn to. Among the few that were familiar are the ones by André Zucca, and I'm glad they were included, see also here.

My personal favourites, however, are the ones by Robert Doisneau Juliette Gréco at the place Saint-Germain-des-Prés, for instance, or his pic of the Point d'Iéna in 1945. But then there are also the "Lovers in the Jardin des Tuileries, 1989" by Jean Claude Gautrand, or his "Pyramide du Louvre, 1988", or the masterly "Quai de Seine, 1968" by Bruce Dale, or the many truly exceptional shots by Henri Cartier-Bresson ... and and and ...

Good books invite you to make discoveries, and Paris, Portrait of a City is no exception. The Lithuanian born Izis (1911-1980), for instance, who arrived in Paris in 1930 and who defined himself as a "specialist of places where nothing is happening". Well, rarely do we seem more mistaken than when we are attempting to define ourselves, just check out at his extraordinary shots of "Lovers on the banks of the Seine, 1949" and "Fair, Place de la République, 1950", (pages 454 and 455). And, have a look at Ellen von Unwerth's "The Red Balloon, 2007" (page 575) and the various impressive pics by anonymous photographers.

Paris, Portrait of a City is a most useful historical document, both visual and textual. It makes us aware of how people and places once looked but it also instills in us a longing for things past.

It is not a tome that you read in one go (because of the wealth of information provided), it is a tome to again and again come back to.

Portrait of a City
Taschen, Cologne 2011

Sunday, 5 February 2012


This is an academic book, I'm not an academic, and my interest in academic books is remote so why do I then bother introducing an academic book? Because I take from books what I like, and sometimes what I need, and in my experience good stuff can be found anywhere, and that includes academic books. Moreover, I'm very interested in the combination of words and images.

Andy Stafford's Photo-texts: Contemporary French Writing of the Photographic Image is based on nine case studies from the 1990s' French-speaking world (from France, North Africa and the Caribbean) and "attempts to define the interaction between non fictional written text (caption, essay, fragment, poem) and photographic image."

Since I'm not much into who wrote what, where and when, and since I do not really have the stomach for differentiating for the sake of differentiating (this is my view of most academic work), let me give you some of my personal nuggets (arguments that made me ponder previously neglected aspects; that however does not mean that I necessarily agree with them) of this tome:

"The book will answer, in very simple terms, the question posed recently by W.J.T. Mitchell, 'What do pictures want?' with the simple answer (in respect of photography at least): language."

"... a photograph, photographs, photography, have a radical provisionality in relation to language, which says that, within 'reason', any photographic image can be changed, to 'mean' something else, including the polar opposite of its original 'intention'; that, to quote Régis Debray, '(o)n ne peut pas faire dire à un texte tout ce qu'on veut à une image oui' ..."

"Apprendre à 'lire une photo', n'est-ce pas d'abord apprendre à respecter son mutisme?" (Régis Debray).

"How to decide, now, what is 'good'? And perhaps this will be a function of the photo-text: a distinction of the good from the babble of contemporary photographic practice."

"... photography does not belong to history; it gives history; (...) the truth of history is to this day nothing but photography." (Eduardo Cadava).

"For Flusser, the battle to 'break' the magic circle which photography forms around us is a battle to recognize the automatic nature of the photograph, to accept that we can only think currently in 'photographic categories', in short, not to allow the apparatus, the camera, to enslave us to the perceived magic of the photographic image."

"Il n'y a aucune innocence à presser le bouton (...); sa banalisation extrême nous fait oublier le sens d'un acte dont il faut réapprendre combien il implique notre présence au monde et le rapport que nous entretenons avec lui. (...) Il nous faut (...) y éduquer le regard." (Anne-Marie Garat).

"... what matters in photography is what it does, not what it is."

I readily admit that the selection of these quotes has been rather arbitrary the ones I consider pretentious nonsense: "écriture et photographie n'ont pas à se completer l'une l'autre, mais à s'éloigner autant que possible l'une de l'autre, si elles veulent peut-être se recontrer" (Gilles Mora), I did intentionally leave out. And I could of course have chosen quite some others. May the ones presented here arouse your curiosity!

PS: The notes and the bibliography alone merit the acquisition of this work. A richer source on the topic of photo and text is difficult to imagine.

Andy Stafford
Contemporary French Writing of the Photographic Image
Liverpool University Press
Liverpool, 2010