As I was late in posting a Christmas message (I feel like the Queen…) I thought I’d better put something up as late as possible on the last day of 2009.
I seem to have lots of pictures of people dancing and partying across the world but when I thought about it, one image of hope and joy seemed to stick in my mind. The image below show a mother reunited with her son who had been kidnapped and forced to fight for Joseph Kony’s Lords Resistance Army in Northern Uganda. He’d been in the bush for a couple of years as I remember and I was present in an airless, dusty hut when he was delivered home by the Ugandan Army. His mother, completely surprised by her son’s miraculous appearance (she thought him dead) was overcome with joy and started to pray just after I took this image. I’ve often wondered what happened to him.
As I slowly melt into the armchair under the weight and fug of too much food, alcohol and bad television I wondered what I could post that had some flavour of Christmas, image-wise… Seeing as I’ve never shot a Christmas story or stock at this time of year, I’m struggling a bit. I have come up with an old story I made in Northern Lebanon in 1998 about the work of Khalil Gibran, author of the Prophet. I travelled to B’sharre, then under the de facto control of the Syrian army of occupation and worked on a piece that illustrated the themes of Gibran’s poetry. Here are some pictures.
In Bangla literature, the late afternoon light is apparently known as “kone dekhano alo” – “light to show off the bride in”. As someone who’s a bore fascinated with the quality of light, I thought that this was so lovely that I should mention it. That, and the fact that I’m going to lead a Photojournalism workshop in Chittagong, Bangladesh hosted by the Pathshala Institute of Photography. It’s a generous invitation by the prolific Shahidul Alam of Drik Picture Agency fame.
I’m teaching twenty eight students, between the 11th and 17th of January. The participating students will be from Oslo University College, Pathshala students and local students from Chittagong.
I will be on email and My Bangladesh cell will be: 0088-01711-127463. I plan to be in the region for an extra two weeks if anyone needs anything.
It’s with some relief that I read today in the Times of India that proposals to institute identity cards and entry fees to Bangalore parks have been scrapped.
The extraordinary idea, the brainchild of Horticulture Minister, Umesh Katti was to restrict entry to two of the ‘Garden City’s’ finest public spaces, Lalbagh and Cubbon Park to those that could afford, as he put it, the ‘paltry sum’ of Rs.200/-“. Further, identity cards would only be issued to those that had been ‘vetted’ over security concerns.
Lalbagh (Red Garden) is around two hundred and fifty years old. Cubbon Park, a British creation, is a century old. Both are a counterweight to the modernist, business friendly theme park that are the suburbs of modern Bangalore. Like most Indian parks they are populated by walkers, joggers, lovers, hawkers and the poor, sometimes untidily sleeping where they can. Oh, and Bangalore has a Laughter Club (a very Indian get-together where people laugh in groups to improve their health). Subversives all. Dangerous, anti-social elements that need checking and vetting and searching.
The case is interesting as it touches something that I have been photographing in Delhi for a while – Indian public space. Because cities are so crowded, public spaces become part of the personal, private sphere – a microcosm of Indian society. India has a profound love of gardens and greenery. I have written previously that all the major religions of this country have in some part a great reverence of nature – whether the gardens of the Mughals or the significance of the Bodhi tree for Buddhists or the garlanded offerings of Hindus. To privatise such public spaces for spurious ‘security concerns’ seems to me to be a very profound political statement. As Bhargavi Rao and Leo Saldanha of the local ‘Environment Support Group’ said. “It is an effort to showcase Bangalore as an elite, investment-friendly city where public spaces are out of bounds for local residents, especially the poor.”
“… the era of the Free Market has led to the most successful secessionist struggle ever waged in India – the secession of the middle and upper classes to a country of their own… where they merge with the rest of the world’s elite”.
The poor and those that don’t quite fit into a corporate strategy are an untidy blemish and need to be excluded.
In fact it is entirely analogous to what is happening in much of the Western (well, read the US and the UK) world. Britain is the most spied-on country in the world in terms of CCTV and legislation passed over the last twelve years has meant that fundamental freedoms that we took for granted – like being able to photograph in public where we pleased – are no longer guaranteed. Extensions to pre-charge detention means that suspects in the UK can expect to be detained for periods exceeding those of other comparable democracies. As Simon Jenkins wrote in the Guardian yesterday, since 1997, the UK government has created more than 3000 new offences. 1,472 at the last count were imprisonable. You can be jailed for not having a licence for a church concert, smoking in a public place, selling a grey squirrel, trans-shipping unlicensed fish, or disobeying a health and safety inspector. All underpinned by a profit motive for private companies who have interests in surveillance, security operatives and prisons. If we make citizens afraid of each other they will be more pliable: I know photographers in the UK that have admitted to self-censoring in public. Taking pictures of children, of property, of the police are now likely to lead to confrontation with authority. A company has already found a way to ‘monetise’ this by paying ordinary people to watch CCTV footage and report anything ‘suspicious’.
Section 44 of the Terrorism Act in the UK no longer requires authorities to have reasonable suspicion to search people for such subversive activities as photographing on the streets. We are all suspects that have to be monitored. All the time. For our own good. Usually by private security. For profit.
Soon there will be nothing public left of all our public spaces.
I read yesterday that the World Bank is to lend India $1bn to clean up the Ganges River. The Ganges is one of the world’s most polluted waterways and supports perhaps 400 million people. Despite earlier government promises to make its water drinkable by 1989, it flows with industrial effluence and sewerage. As I wrote previously, a solution to the water crisis is crucial to India’s survival and as Sunita Narain (and others) have argued it needs an Indian solution.
I’ve been lucky enough to have been touched by the magic of this river often over the years. I’ve covered two Kumbh Melas (the enormous religious bathing pilgrimage that takes place four times every twelve years at the confluence of the Ganges and the Yamuna) and visited the extraordinary Varanasi many times. There is something touching, real and honourable about Indian’s reverence and awe at the Ganges; something that speaks about life and its transitory nature. It’s a beautiful thing to see villagers come hundreds of miles just to bathe in the river and feel its coolness at dawn as they submerge themselves. Humbling and puzzling to see the processions of corpse bearers literally running to the cremation grounds on the ghats in Varanasi to burn a body. I shall never forget my first sight of a body (suicides, children and snake bite victims are swallowed by the river whole) bloated, rolling and turning in the gentle waves of my boat one morning at dawn.
After writing about Delhi street food a few days ago, I was pleased to see that Pamela Timms on her blog, Eat and Dust has posted a very informative article about Daulat ki chaat the chilled milk sweet that I mentioned. There’s even a phone number for one of the elusive wallahs. See the whole story here.