A (late) Christmas post

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.

Lebanon - B'charre - A effigy of Christ in a coffin in a Maronite church in Khalil Gibran's birthplace in Northern Lebanon
Lebanon - B'charre - A effigy of Christ in a coffin in a Maronite church in Khalil Gibran's birthplace in Northern Lebanon
Lebanon - B'charre - A crucifix painted on a wall in the snow in Khalil Gibran's birthplace, B'charre, Northern Lebanon. The area is occupied by Syrian troops and so the indigenous population paint crucifixes as a symbol of opposition
Lebanon - B'charre - A crucifix painted on a wall in the snow in Khalil Gibran's birthplace, B'charre, Northern Lebanon. The area is occupied by Syrian troops and so the indigenous population paint crucifixes as a symbol of opposition
Lebanon - B'charre - A mysteriously empty coffin in a graveyard in Khalil Gibran's birthplace, B'charre, Northern Lebanon.."... do not grieve for me... I am gone from this place...". Gibran
Lebanon - B'charre - A mysteriously empty coffin in a graveyard in Khalil Gibran's birthplace, B'charre, Northern Lebanon.."... do not grieve for me... I am gone from this place...". Gibran
Lebanon - B'charre - An elderly Maronite Christian couple leave church in Khalil Gibran's birthplace, B'charre, Northern Lebanon
Lebanon - B'charre - An elderly Maronite Christian couple leave church in Khalil Gibran's birthplace, B'charre, Northern Lebanon
Lebanon - B'charre - Dying flowers on a tomb in Khalil Gibran's birthplace, B'charre, Northern Lebanon
Lebanon - B'charre - Dying flowers on a tomb in Khalil Gibran's birthplace, B'charre, Northern Lebanon
Lebanon - B'charre - A shepherd and his flock of sheep and goats near Khalil Gibran's birthplace, B'charre, Northern Lebanon..  ..." And He put His hand upon my shoulder and said, "From this day you shall love this sheep more than any other in your flock, for she was lost and now she is found"...Gibran
Lebanon - B'charre - A shepherd and his flock of sheep and goats near Khalil Gibran's birthplace, B'charre, Northern Lebanon.. ..." And He put His hand upon my shoulder and said, "From this day you shall love this sheep more than any other in your flock, for she was lost and now she is found"...Gibran
Lebanon - B'charre - A cross stands on a hillside in the Quadisha Valley near Khalil Gibran's birthplace, B'charre, Northern Lebanon. The Valley was the last refuge of the Maronire Christian hermits after the Islamic (Arab) invasions.
Lebanon - B'charre - A cross stands on a hillside in the Quadisha Valley near Khalil Gibran's birthplace, B'charre, Northern Lebanon. The Valley was the last refuge of the Maronire Christian hermits after the Islamic (Arab) invasions.

India’s ‘private’ parks

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.”

Arundhati Roy has recently commented that,

“… 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.

India - New Delhi - a bench in the early morning mist in Nehru Park
India - New Delhi - a bench in the early morning mist in Nehru Park
India - New Delhi - A yoga class in Lodi Gardens in front of the Bara Gumbad Tomb
India - New Delhi - A yoga class in Lodi Gardens in front of the Bara Gumbad Tomb
India - New Delhi - A couple in the grounds of the Purana Qila, New Delhi, India. Such parks are often the only place where young lovers can meet away from their parents and families
India - New Delhi - A couple in the grounds of the Purana Qila, New Delhi, India. Such parks are often the only place where young lovers can meet away from their parents and families
India - New Delhi - Men play cards on a traffic island in New Delhi, India whilst one of their friends sleep. The traffic islands in the centre of the city often have manicured lawns and are well cared for. Many people sleep here at night but in the daytime they are used as small parks by workers
India - New Delhi - Men play cards on a traffic island in New Delhi, India whilst one of their friends sleep. The traffic islands in the centre of the city often have manicured lawns and are well cared for. Many people sleep here at night but in the daytime they are used as small parks by workers
UK - Cirencester - A private Security Guard examines the licence plate of a vehicle outside a Gated Community,
UK - Cirencester - A private Security Guard examines the licence plate of a vehicle outside a Gated Community,
UK - London - A Private Security Operative patrols South London council estate
UK - London - A Private Security Operative patrols South London council estate

The green, green grass of… Delhi

I’ve been associated with Delhi in one way and another almost fourteen years. I’m sometimes based there for months on end and, although it is perhaps one of the most frustrating and brutal cities I can think of, I find endless fascination with it. Like London, Delhi is a palimpsest of perhaps nine, perhaps more cities built, destroyed and rebuilt. It’s usually recorded, with some notable exceptions (and again) as unknowable and unloveable. Choked with people and displaying more violence than India would like to admit, journalists tend to concentrate on its chaos poverty and pollution. I’ve done those pieces myself, most recently a film for More4 News about Water in the city that you can see here. But Delhi is certainly more than that. During that film I was working in Kusumpur Pahari, a thirty year old slum or jhuggi cluster. The slum is entirely illegal but is home to thousands of people. Some have rather nice houses and of course some have tried to beautify them as best they can. Many have little flat roofs where they have gardens made of pot plants. It struck me that this didn’t really fit with the poverty stricken Dickensian idea that we in the West have of helpless slum-dwellers and I started to photograph them. That led me onto an as yet unfinished body of work about imaging Delhi in a different way. I wanted to look at Delhi’s relationship with Gardens and space and so for the last couple of years have been trying to photograph not only the acres and acres of green space in the city but crucially in such a crowded conservative place, people’s relationship to it. A couple of weeks ago I was approached by Fabiano Busdraghi who publishes online the small but beautifully formed Camera Obscura magazine/blog. He asked me if I’d write something and I immediately thought of this project. You can see the piece, The Gardens of Delhi – Public Spaces, Private Lives, here. I hope that you enjoy it.

The text on the Camera Obscura site is pretty explanatory about the project so I won’t bang on about it here. Instead, here are some more images that I like from it.

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India - New Delhi - Boys play cricket in the park at India Gate.

India - New Delhi - An early morning yoga class in Lodi Gardens in front of the Bara Gumbad Tomb
India - New Delhi - An early morning yoga class in Lodi Gardens in front of the Bara Gumbad Tomb
India - New Delhi - A 'phool wallah' (or flower seller) delivering flowers on tricycle, Mehrauli
India - New Delhi - A 'phool wallah' (or flower seller) delivering flowers on tricycle, Mehrauli
India - New Delhi - A guard in a judging tent at a particularly Raj style event, The Delhi Flower show
India - New Delhi - A guard in a judging tent at a particularly Raj style event, The Delhi Flower show
India - New Delhi - The roots of a tree in the grounds of Humayan's Tomb in New Delhi, India. The tomb itself built in 1570, is of particular cultural significance as it was the first garden tomb on the Indian subcontinent. It inspired several major architectural innovations, culminating in the construction of the Taj Mahal.
India - New Delhi - The roots of a tree in the grounds of Humayan's Tomb in New Delhi, India. The tomb itself built in 1570, is of particular cultural significance as it was the first garden tomb on the Indian subcontinent. It inspired several major architectural innovations, culminating in the construction of the Taj Mahal.
India - New Delhi - A tear in the plastic of a greenhouse in the Rose Garden that is behind Safdardjung's Tomb
India - New Delhi - A tear in the plastic of a greenhouse in the Rose Garden that is behind Safdardjung's Tomb