Archive for October, 2009

Giving Pollution the finger…

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

A couple of days ago, I read an article in Open Magazine about Indian performance artist, Inder Salim cutting off his finger.

“One hot April morning, I chopped off the little finger of my left hand and threw it into the dead river called Yamuna. They call me crazy. But I call it art.”

Well quite.

It seemed quite a brave thing to do to make a point and I’m not going to give him a hard time for being so literal about highlighting the state of Delhi’s famous river.

The Yamuna is one of India’s greatest rivers. Holy to Hindus, The Imperial Gazetteer of India in 1909 mentions the waters of Yamuna distinguishable as “clear blue” as compared to silt-ridden yellow of the Ganges. Unfortunately, the Yamuna that runs through present day Delhi is an open sewer and clinically dead.

I was so intrigued by Delhi’s water situation a couple of years ago and made some work around it that became a film for More4 news. You can see the piece here.

The point was that Delhi’s water wasn’t in this hellish state as the result of appalling poverty – all those pesky poor people washing and cremating themselves in it – rather a complete lack of infrustructure around water management and wholescale pollution by industry. That hasn’t stopped the Delhi authorities evicting thousands of poor Delhi-wallahs that lived on its banks over the last few years.

There are perfectly sensible answers to the state of the Yamuna – Indian answers too. Brilliantly articulated by Sunita Narain, Director for the Centre for Science and Environment, she says: ‘A city will be more efficient if it collects water locally, supplies it locally and disposes waste locally’. There’s an excellent piece by her here.

Anyway, as Delhi looks forward to the 2010 Commonwealth Games, I’m hoping that someone will finally listen to Narain and the other Indian environmentalists, too numerous to mention, whose message about water, the city and sustainability has yet to seep into the murky waters of government. But I’m sure they will be able to  smell it…

India - Delhi - A scavenger looks for discarded waste to sell on a home made raft of rags in the Yamuna River by the Kudsia Ghat in Delhi. The river is so polluted it can no longer support life yet a community live and work on it's banks. This boy uses a powerful magnet to dredge for coins and other metals which he can sell.

India - Delhi - A scavenger looks for discarded waste to sell on a home made raft of rags in the Yamuna River by the Kudsia Ghat in Delhi. The river is so polluted it can no longer support life yet a community live and work on it's banks. This boy uses a powerful magnet to dredge for coins and other metals which he can sell.

India - Delhi - A man made homeless by slum clearance in a shack on the middle bank of the Yamuna River in Delhi by the Kudsia Ghat. An entire settlement was destroyed by the Municipal authorities in December 2006 to clear the bank of people that made a living from scavaging on the river which is so polluted it can no longer support life

India - Delhi - A man made homeless by slum clearance in a shack on the middle bank of the Yamuna River in Delhi by the Kudsia Ghat. An entire settlement was destroyed by the Municipal authorities in December 2006 to clear the bank of people that made a living from scavaging on the river which is so polluted it can no longer support life

India - Delhi - A religious icon half submerged on the banks of the Yamuna River in Delhi by the Kudsia Ghat.

India - Delhi - A religious icon half submerged on the banks of the Yamuna River in Delhi by the Kudsia Ghat.

India - Delhi - Rubbish on the banks of the Yamuna River by the Kudsia Ghat in Delhi

India - Delhi - Rubbish on the banks of the Yamuna River by the Kudsia Ghat in Delhi

India - Delhi - A sewer pipe flowing straight into the Yamuna by the Kudsia Ghat, New Delhi, India

India - Delhi - A sewer pipe flowing straight into the Yamuna by the Kudsia Ghat, New Delhi, India

India - Delhi - An old man sits by a temple at the Nigambodh Ghat on the banks of the River Yamuna in New Delhi India

India - Delhi - An old man sits by a temple at the Nigambodh Ghat on the banks of the River Yamuna in New Delhi India

India - Delhi - A man cultivates land by the Yamuna River in Delhi by the Kudsia Ghat.

India - Delhi - A man cultivates land by the Yamuna River in Delhi by the Kudsia Ghat.

India - Delhi - Methane bubbles through the water of the filthy Yamuna River, New Delhi. The river is so polluted that it can no longer support life, however a community still live and work on it's banks.

India - Delhi - Methane bubbles through the water of the filthy Yamuna River, New Delhi. The river is so polluted that it can no longer support life, however a community still live and work on it's banks.

India - Delhi - A group of men come to perform a ritual of casting ashes into the Yamuna River, after a cremation of a family member. Nigambodh Ghat, New Delhi, India

India - Delhi - A group of men come to perform a ritual of casting ashes into the Yamuna River, after a cremation of a family member. Nigambodh Ghat, New Delhi, India

India - Delhi - A man ritually bathes in the Yamuna River at dawn

India - Delhi - A man ritually bathes in the Yamuna River at dawn

Happy Diwali

Saturday, October 17th, 2009

… Happy Diwali

India - Varanasi - Radha, a low caste Hindu priestess, worships at the River Ganges in Varanasi, India

India - Varanasi - Radha, a low caste Hindu priestess, worships at dawn by the ghats overlooking the River Ganges

Virgins, virgins everywhere…

Friday, October 16th, 2009

I happened quite by chance the other day to look at the winners of the Eugene Smith Award and noticed that one of the runners up had made a set on a story that I wrote and photographed for the Independent Magazine more than a dozen years ago (the article’s here). It firstly made me feel a little ancient but also made me think about the crisis in photography that we now find ourselves in. I’d recently read a comment by Christopher Anderson on the Conscientious blog that made complete sense to me. Anderson, who has been sharply criticised for his thoughts, has bemoaned the state of the industry and – shock, horror – has decided that he no longer wants to be known as a ‘photojournalist’ (whatever that is). What he said was this:

“…The death of journalism is bad for society, but we’ll be better off with less photojournalism. I won’t miss the self-important, self-congratulatory, hypocritical part of photojournalism at all. The industry has been a fraud for some time. We created an industry where photography is like big-game hunting. We created an industry of contests that reinforce a hyper-dramatic view of the world. Hyperbole is what makes the double spread (sells) and is also the picture that wins the contest.”

I am certainly not criticising anyone who enters competitions, nor am I making any statement about the specific Virgins story, but whether we like it or not it’s clear that we are, and for some time have been in a mess. I remember Neil Burgess several years ago bravely saying that it was now impossible to fairly judge the World Press Photo as there were just so many entries and it was clear that people were shooting certain types of stories that were dramatic and would stand a greater chance of winning. Indeed a few years ago, if you shot Chinese child gymnasts being stretched in training you were almost certainly going to win something…

When I started, I knew nothing about competitions, awards and such like. I just wanted to work, make pictures and have magazines run my stories. The world has changed significantly form what seems those simpler times (although cvertainly not some mystical Golden Age) and winning things is now part of your ‘brand’, something to put on your website and blog and advertise yourself with. Shocking really when you think of much of the subject matter. But this is increasingly an industry running scared and my little rant is going to make no difference – especially to photographers that would sell their grandmother (or a few starving people in the Developing World) to work (for hire, for free, for a bad contract, just to see their work in print) and screw everyone else.

Anyway, have a look at the Eugene Smith stuff, there’s some interesting pictures. I’m going for a lie-down as my blood pressure’s up.

Here are some images from my Avowed Virgins story…

Albania - Lepurush Village - Selman Brahim has been living as a man for 40 years after the family's eldest son died. In the Albanian tradition of the Avowed Virgin ('Virgjineshe' or 'Sworn Virgins'), authorised by the Kanun of Lek (an ancient system of laws) she/he now leads the family as a man.

Albania - Lepurush Village - Selman Brahim has been living as a man for 40 years after the family's eldest son died. In the Albanian tradition of the Avowed Virgin ('Virgjineshe' or 'Sworn Virgins'), authorised by the Kanun of Lek (an ancient system of laws) she/he now leads the family as a man.

Albania - Thethi - The 'Accursed Mountains of Northern Albania. The harsh and unforgiving landscape of hills is renown for outlaws and bandits and is mentioned by the explorer Edith Durham in her seminal work "High Albania" (1909). The land is still governed by the ancient Kanun of Lek and blood feuds are still common.

Albania - Thethi - The 'Accursed Mountains of Northern Albania. The harsh and unforgiving landscape of hills is renown for outlaws and bandits and is mentioned by the explorer Edith Durham in her seminal work "High Albania" (1909). The land is still governed by the ancient Kanun of Lek and blood feuds are still common.

Albania - Thethi - Pashke Sokol Ndocaj sits with the men and a female neighbour in their village. Since the death of her father and brothers, Pashke has lived as a man in the ancient traditions of Avowed Virgins of Albania, where women 'become' men to head the family and renounce their former sex

Albania - Thethi - Pashke Sokol Ndocaj sits with the men and a female neighbour in their village. Since the death of her father and brothers, Pashke has lived as a man in the ancient traditions of Avowed Virgins of Albania, where women 'become' men to head the family and renounce their former sex

Albania - Thethi - Pashke Sokol Ndocaj with a  neighbours child. Since the death of her father and brothers, Pashke has lived as a man in the ancient traditions of Avowed Virgins of Albania, where women 'become' men to head the family and renounce their former sex

Albania - Thethi - Pashke Sokol Ndocaj with a neighbours child. Since the death of her father and brothers, Pashke has lived as a man in the ancient traditions of Avowed Virgins of Albania, where women 'become' men to head the family and renounce their former sexAlbania - Lepurush Village - Selman Brahim has been living as a man for 40 years after the family's eldest son died. In the Albanian tradition of the Avowed Virgin ('Virgjineshe' or 'Sworn Virgins'), authorised by the Kanun of Lek (an ancient system of laws) she/he now leads the family as a man. She/he is seen here with her sister's grandchild and a picture of him/her as a younger person

Albania - Lepurush Village - Selman Brahim has been living as a man for 40 years after the family's eldest son died. In the Albanian tradition of the Avowed Virgin ('Virgjineshe' or 'Sworn Virgins'), authorised by the Kanun of Lek (an ancient system of laws) she/he now leads the family as a man. She/he is seen here with her sister's grandchild and a picture of him/her as a younger person

Albania - Lepurush Village - Selman Brahim has been living as a man for 40 years after the family's eldest son died. In the Albanian tradition of the Avowed Virgin ('Virgjineshe' or 'Sworn Virgins'), authorised by the Kanun of Lek (an ancient system of laws) she/he now leads the family as a man. She/he is seen here with her sister's grandchild and a picture of him/her as a younger person