This book explores issues of creation, distribution, and control of images through official and unofficial sources, aski
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This collection of essays, edited by Faye V. Harrison, focuses on the intersections between race, gender, sexuality, cla
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This article investigates on the concept of space, its production, use, and change processes, and uncovers the interrelations between social and spatical practices. Based on Lefebvre’s concept of the Right to the City, the article discussed two main spatial rights: the right to oeuvre and the right to appropriation. To justify these spatial rights on the ground of legal rights, a comparison method is used in this article and three main legal documents is set against each other. These documents are: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ‘World Charter for the Right to the City’ and the ‘European Declaration of Urban Rights’. As a result of this comparison 22 universal norms are identified. These norms and the awareness regarding them and their ethical and legal background can empower social / spatial activism and be used for performing and evaluating spatial practices. CONTEMPORARY URBAN AFFAIRS (2019), 3(2), 173-183. https://doi.org/10.25034/ijcua.2018.47x14
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Table of contents :
Table of Contents
Images and Human Rights
Images and Human Rights: Local and Global Perspectives Edited by
Nancy Lipkin Stein and Alison Dundes Renteln
Images and Human Rights: Local and Global Perspectives Edited by Nancy Lipkin Stein and Alison Dundes Renteln This book first published 2017 Cambridge Scholars Publishing Lady Stephenson Library, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE6 2PA, UK British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Copyright © 2017 by Nancy Lipkin Stein, Alison Dundes Renteln and contributors All rights for this book reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner. ISBN (10): 1-4438-9988-7 ISBN (13): 978-1-4438-9988-8
This collaboration is dedicated to our families, friends, colleagues, students, and to all who fight for human rights. Alison Dundes Renteln Nancy Lipkin Stein
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Chapter One ................................................................................................. 1 Images and Human Rights: Local and Global Perspectives Nancy Lipkin Stein and Alison Dundes Renteln Chapter Two .............................................................................................. 11 The Human Right to Photograph Michel Angela Martinez and Alison Dundes Renteln Chapter Three ............................................................................................ 41 Human Rights Films and Disability: Towards Observational Cinema as a Practice of “Shared Human Rights” Anastasia Klupchak Chapter Four .............................................................................................. 60 Perception of the Visual: We See With Our Brains Sarah Brown Chapter Five .............................................................................................. 74 The Nature of Being: A Sense of Meaning Virtue and Other Values of the Ovahimba Rina Sherman Chapter Six ................................................................................................ 94 “In God We Trust”: Islam, Photographs, and Imaginations of Bangladesh Fabiene Gama Chapter Seven.......................................................................................... 121 One Hundred Years of Suffering? “Humanitarian Crisis Photography” and Self-Representation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo Aubrey P. Graham Chapter Eight ........................................................................................... 153 Visions of Sex-Trafficking: The Filmic Representation of Suffering Katherine Wahlberg
Table of Contents
Chapter Nine............................................................................................ 178 An Evolutionary Process of Capturing Images of People Experiencing Homelessness Dr. Andra Opalinski, Dr. Susan Dyess and Dr. Nancy Stein Chapter Ten ............................................................................................. 200 Memes, Mashups, and the Battle for the Future of Human Culture Tok Thompson Chapter Eleven ........................................................................................ 213 Images of Trans: Framing the Way We See Transgender People Nancy Lipkin Stein
CHAPTER ONE IMAGES AND HUMAN RIGHTS: LOCAL AND GLOBAL PERSPECTIVES NANCY LIPKIN STEIN AND ALISON DUNDES RENTELN
Introduction Images, moving and still, are clearly powerful, and yet we really do not know exactly how they affect us and our world. Despite tremendous interest in the role of the visual in human rights advocacy, relatively little empirical research has documented its influence. This book offers reflections on the role of images as they circulate in both global fora and, in particular communities that contributors have examined carefully in context. The idea for this unusual collection was inspired by a panel Dr. Nancy Stein organized for the Royal Anthropological Society’s conference, Anthropology and Photography, that was held at the British Museum in June 2014. Evident enthusiasm for the subject in London and elsewhere inspired others to join the project. This interdisciplinary volume, Images and Human Rights, includes research from healthcare advocates, human rights scholars and activists, photographers, and visual anthropologists who see a need for more careful contextual interpretation of images in global and local settings. Although vast literature exists on the importance of images concerning global injustices in fields such as human rights, photography, and visual studies, few provide case studies of specific photographs in cultural context. This book affords insights into the role of the visual from various disciplines including anthropology, fine arts, folklore, human rights, healthcare, photography, politics, and law. The contributors offer detailed illustrations of images in various countries that have arguably influenced public perceptions of vulnerable groups as well as the members’ own selfunderstandings. Chapters touch on representations of individuals who are
homeless and seek medical attention for their feet, 1 persons with disabilities, women who have experienced enslavement through trafficking, transgender individuals, and victims of genocide and torture. The individuals who are subjects in these chapters have survived some of the most serious violations of human rights, and a basic challenge for photographers and commentators is how to deal precisely and sensitively with this material. How, if at all, should we show the experience of those who have suffered the most excruciating transgression of their rights without causing further exploitation and trauma? There is a striking divide in the literature about the status of images of suffering. For some, it is self-evident that they influence the course of history. Subscribing to this view are some journalists, activists, and historians. Books such as Photos That Changed the World appear to reflect this perspective (e.g., Stepan, 2013; see also Goldberg, 1991, p. 17). Another group comprised largely of social scientists contends that photographs do not have major effects because of compassion fatigue (Moeller, 1991) and mechanisms of denial (Cohen, 2001). One must concede that, at this time, there is an inadequate basis for deciding this matter one way or the other. Of course, it is likely that images sometimes are influential, depending on various factors. As there has been insufficient research on the impact of specific images in historical contexts, empirical evidence cannot answer the question as to the circumstances under which images can influence public perceptions or the behavior of masses and elites. While some have explored these situations, much more is needed (see Batchen et al 2012; Fehrenbach and Rodogna 2015; Hariman and Lucaites 2007; Zelizer 1998). Some of the most impressive research in this area includes works by social scientists like Shani Orgad (2012) and Bruna Irene Seu (2013). Their nuanced studies of the dissemination of images by humanitarian organizations and the reactions by audiences are exemplars of research. One remaining challenge, though, is the need to differentiate among various stakeholders whose views are part of the data to avoid a presumption that images always elicit specific emotions like empathy; that is, that there is a universal reaction to pictures. Anthropologists recognize that enculturation shapes perceptions and influences behavior. For them, it is more probable that at least some images generate culturally specific 1
Central to human rights issues are feet, e.g., footbinding, a form of torture known as falaka, and health concerns like hookworm. Also the goal of advocacy is often expressed as the need to get people to put themselves in the shoes of others.
Images and Human Rights: Local and Global Perspectives
responses, and, therefore, it is unwise to accept a presumption of universality (Renteln, 2015). Visual anthropologists offer other methodologies to understand how communities regard their representations. Jhala (2007), for example, an ethnographic filmmaker, has used “indigenous video innovation” as part of his work in India after the earthquake disaster in Gujarat, India in 2001 as a way to present the sufferings of the victims. His methodology highlights the ways visual anthropologists can also fill the role of activist or advocate for people in times of need. This approach considers the representation of the subjects and groups as well as their participation in the making of the representations. As a form of empowerment, this type of inclusive or collaborative project has its roots in the “shared anthropology” of Jean Rouch (1917-2004). In the chapter by Rina Sherman, a former student of Rouch, we see how this influence continues. Her reflections on working over the years as a photographer, a filmmaker, and an anthropologist reveal the ethical issues at hand when dealing with visual means of research and representation of others’ lives. More recent case studies such as Pink’s (2009) edited collection, Visual Interventions, showcase the effective work of visual methodologies in applied anthropology in numerous contexts. As part of the conversation about power relations, one initial move was to insist that individuals give consent to being photographed. While this is considered necessary, however, it is hardly sufficient. Greater care must be taken in the representation of the subjects so that they can embrace the images. We find a history of this in the filmmaking of Rouch and in the 1970s with Judith and David MacDougall developing the idea of participatory cinema. Indeed, as this shift has occurred, a growing consensus emerged that photographers should empower subjects by ensuring that they exercise control over the depictions as with “co-creative portraits” (Graham, 2016). This sometimes is expressed as the need to present individuals so as to emphasize their dignity and avoid reprehensible voyeurism. The trend toward stressing dignity corresponds to a movement in jurisprudence that likewise underscores the importance of this norm more generally in international human rights law (McCrudden, 2014; for the notion of “dignity cascade,” see Simon, 2014). In 2000, Jay Ruby collected his thoughts on how the visual plays a role in anthropologists’ work, both as a research tool “to explore the human condition” and as a tool to communicate those findings. He makes clear the distinctions between an emic approach, one that communicates the culture from an insider’s perspective, and an etic one, where the role of the anthropologist as the analyst remains distinct. The intentions of indigenous
filmic and photographic representations to take control of the image may work well on a political level, as we see in Gama’s chapter on depicting Islam in Bangladesh by an Islamic Bangladeshi photographer, but it is Gama’s analysis of the images that reveals the hidden and speaks of the human condition.
Human Rights Themes The essays in this book deal with a wide range of specific human rights. Although it is not the intention of contributors to discuss jurisprudence associated with the subject of individual chapters, interested readers may wish to conduct research on the types of issues that arise in connection with representations of the groups. They might investigate the international instruments designed to guarantee the human rights of a specific community as well as norms of customary international law. Human rights first were established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted by the United Nations in 1948 to clarify the meaning of obligations states had if they ratified the UN Charter.2 Due to ideological differences reflecting the Cold War, the UN recognized that countries were unlikely to embrace all different kinds of human rights. Therefore, the rights in the UDHR were divided up into two separate covenants, although a few rights are found in both, e.g., the right to form labor unions. The two major human rights treaties are the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), both of which entered into force in 1976. There are also important instruments focused on genocide, torture, race, migrant workers, and the disappeared. For certain communities, a specialized treaty exists to protect members of the group. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), for instance, was quickly ratified worldwide and adopted in 2006 as the first human rights treaty of the twenty-first century. Detailed information is available at the website, UN World Enable, and scholarship exists on its evolution (Sabatello and Schulze 2013).
While the UN Charter stipulates in Articles 1, 55, and 56 that member states promote and protect human rights, it provides no definition. The UDHR is thought to provide the authoritative interpretation of human rights obligations imposed by the Charter. As such, some contend the UDHR, despite being a declaration, which usually is not binding, has juridical force.
Images and Human Rights: Local and Global Perspectives
International human rights law also guarantees the right to housing and the right to the highest attainable standard of health, both of which are found in the ICESCR. These are relevant to the discussion in Chapter 9, where the contributors focus on the healthcare challenges of people who are experiencing homelessness. Every human rights treaty body has a committee of experts whose responsibility it is to ensure compliance with these rights. They consider complaints against states, provided they have also ratified an additional instrument known as an Optional Protocol. Non-binding instruments have been adopted that provide aspirational principles to guide countries toward improving their domestic standards. For instance, the Yogyakarta Principles on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (2007) elaborate on general principles of non-discrimination and equality that are also incorporated in the two main human rights covenants. Not only do treaty regimes safeguard human rights of various kinds, such as the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, but there are also other mechanisms. The United Nations appoints jurists as special rapporteurs to write reports about global compliance with the standards associated with each regime. Readers interested in the substantive treatment of particular human rights may wish to consult special rapporteur reports. While it is beyond the scope of this work to provide a comprehensive overview of all the human rights institutions and policies, readers may want to familiarize themselves with the activities of the United Nations Human Rights Council as well as those of regional institutions, for instance, the European, Inter-American, African human rights systems. The International Criminal Court is also an extraordinarily important institution with the potential to hold perpetrators of gross violations of human rights responsibilities (for an overview, see Schabas 2011). At the national level, human rights commissions sometimes investigate wrongs, and some countries permit the use of domestic courts for enforcement. The United States has had hundreds of lawsuits filed under the Alien Torts Claims Act, a federal statute that permits aliens to sue aliens. Essentially, individuals from abroad can seek justice in U.S. federal court for a tort involving a violation of the law of nations, provided jurisdictional requirements can be met. In the future, it is our hope that visual anthropologists will examine how images influence the disposition of cases tried in these various institutions. A part of our collection sheds light on censorship, which violates the fundamental right to freedom of expression guaranteed in Article 19 of the
ICCPR. Here, the visual is crucial as it gives individuals a way to protest against injustices. Examples range from the imaginative folk use of the Mud Grass horse to circumvent filters in China as Tok Thompson shows, through artistic renditions of women clad in Islamic dress wearing modern cosmetics in Bangladesh in Fabienne Gama’s chapter, through arresting images of protest as Martinez and Renteln discuss, or through startling filmic portrayals of persons with disabilities as in Klupchak’s contribution. Governments are concerned about the dissemination of particular images because they recognize their power to inspire individuals to act. This is particularly true in the twenty-first century when the Internet allows these images to go viral. Acknowledging the power associated with images in the digital age, there is a call to recognize a human right to the Internet (Rothkopf 2015). These examples show that the public is clever and finds ways to circumnavigate policies designed to prevent the use of visual representations as a means of protest. In these circumstances, our instinct is to challenge government attempts to criminalize photography. This issue is discussed by Martinez and Renteln in Chapter 2. Yet there are risks with images, to be sure.
Risks Associated with Images When images reinforce negative stereotypes about groups, there is cause for concern. Generally, images that have wide circulation may tend to resonate because they correspond to pre-conceived notions about how groups appear. Small wonder that visual anthropologists and imagemakers express reservations about photographing communities and worry about how to carry out their work in a culturally sensitive and ethical manner. Some of our contributors address these issues in detail. Gama’s work in Bangladesh examines indigenous photographic representations standing up to the stereotypical images pushed through the commercial representations by the foreigners’ lenses. This type of project underscores the power relations at work when conflicting views of reality are in circulation. Stein’s chapter also considers how images can reinforce stereotypes, while some reveal these conflicting views of reality through examples of images of people who are transgender. Her chapter ends on a hopeful note regarding a campaign launched by the Australian Education Ministry promoting a school curriculum that uses imagery to promote respect and to educate students about human diversity. Klupchak’s examination of filmic representations of people with disabilities addresses the ethical concerns associated with observed and observer. If self-
Images and Human Rights: Local and Global Perspectives
representation is the favored method for this century, then student access to studies such as photography, film, and visual anthropology should help develop this critical awareness and reflexive approach on a global and local perspective. They need to know their rights as image-makers, understand the potential effects of their image-making, and recognize the importance of contextual meanings for symbolic representations (Kurasawa 2009). The Wahlberg and the Dyess, Opalinski, and Stein chapters consider the risks involved when representing one culture to another. Wahlberg’s chapter examines the formal, textual, and aesthetic strategies through which an understanding of human trafficking is constructed in contemporary films. As a part of the broader humanitarian imaginary, images of human trafficking in both documentary and narrative feature films transform audiences into witnessing publics who construct a vision of the world and those within it who face exploitation. There is a crucial connection between media representation through images and public action and the social construction of the “victim” of human trafficking. Images of others in distant locales are imbued with a moral power that are deployed to criticize human action within “the system” as a whole and within this cognitively structured view of the world; solidarity with victims is created through images and socially constructed scenarios. The study of the human condition is, of course, well suited to anthropologists and nurses, but what is unique about the chapter by Dyess, Opalinski, and Stein is their emphasis on the interdisciplinary and collaborative nature of their methodology as part of a human rights project. They have documented their process in establishing a model that takes on the roles of academics, researchers, and community advocates and activists simultaneously. Here, their contribution may stand alone in this collection as an example of images as part of a methodology, even though anthropologists have a history of working in collaboration with healthcare projects (e.g., Chalfen and Rich 2009). Their chapter follows the “evolutionary process,” which is participatory in the ways persons experiencing homelessness become involved, while at the same time demonstrating a collaborative way to engage multiple communities.
Toward Solutions We are left with many questions about how images educate, communicate, and relate to the issues of human rights. As these essays show, we can become aware of the ways images identify and challenge our assumptions. Perhaps more innovative programs where universities with resources share
with institutions abroad can address these questions. The School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California has, for example, worked with the government of Jordan to establish a film school. Jordan also provides cameras to young filmmakers through the national film commission. Programs of this kind could serve to ensure that a wider range of cultural representations are part of our world. When global ideas of human rights become part of a localized context through familiar images, they become more accessible. Visual anthropologists have a role to play training future human rights activists. They can partner with organizations such as Videre (Smith 2013), Witness (Gregory 2006), and the International Criminal Court to document violations in ways that are useful to tribunals and that ensure respect for the dignity of the communities and individuals photographed. We see a great need for more collaboration between human rights advocates and visual anthropologists; we have much to learn from one another. Students often prefer to learn from visual representations of issues. The images, moving and still, bring human rights topics to life in a way that mere description and international texts cannot. For this reason, we hope this volume will inspire instructors to incorporate more visual material in their courses. This will enhance the experience of students and inspire them to seek greater involvement in humanitarian causes. If our goal is empowerment of younger generations, then paying closer attention to visual symbols of injustice will be critical. Although it is difficult to prove the precise effects of images, they can make a compelling case for social justice. We hope others will join this research program on images to find new ways to use visual messages to identify, examine, and promote human rights everywhere.
References Batchen, Geoffrey et al. (Eds.) (2012). Picturing Atrocity:Photography in Crisis. London: Reaktion Books. Belting, Hans. 2011/originally published 2001. An Anthropology of Images: Picture, Medium, Body. (Translated by Thomas Dunlap). Princeton: Princeton University Press. Bennett, Jill. 2005. Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press. Brown, Elspeth H. and Thy Phu. Eds. 2014. Feeling Photography. Durham: Duke University Press.
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Chalfen, Richard and Michael Rich. 2009. “Combining the Applied, the Visual and the Medical: Patients Teaching Physicians with Visual Narratives.” in Visual Interventions, edited by Sarah Pink, 53-70. Oxford: Berghahn. Cohen, Stanley. 2001. States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering. Cambridge: Polity. Fehrenbach, Heide and Davide Rodogno, eds. 2015. Humanitarian Photography: A History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Goldberg, Vicki. 1991. The Power of Photography: How Photographs Changed Our Lives. New York: Abeville Publishing Group. Graham, Aubrey P. 2016. “Pictures and Politics: Using Co-Creative Portraits to Explore the Social Dynamics of the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.” Visual Methodologies 4 (1), 10-29. Gregory, Sam. 2006. “Transnational Storytelling: Human Rights, WITNESS, and Video Advocacy.” American Anthropologist 108 (1), 195-204. Hariman, Robert and John Louis Lucaites. 2007. No Caption Needed: Iconic Photographs, Public Culture, and Liberal Democracy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Jayasinhji, Jhala. 2009. “Emergency Agents: A Birthing of Incipient Applied Visual Anthropology in the ‘Media Visible’ Villages of Western India.” in Visual Interventions, edited by Sarah Pink, 177-190. Oxford: Berghahn. Kurasawa, Fuyuki .2009. A Message in a Bottle: Bearing Witness as a Mode of Transnational Practice. Theory, Culture & Society 26, 92-111. McCrudden, Christopher, ed. 2014. Understanding Human Dignity. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Moeller, Susan. 1999. Compassion Fatigue: How the Media Sell Misery, War, and Death. New York: Routledge. Orgad, Shani. 2012. Media Representation and the Global Imagination. Cambridge: Polity. Pink, Sarah, ed. 2009. Visual Interventions. Oxford: Berghahn. Renteln, Alison Dundes. 2015. Sensational Jurisprudence: Visual Culture and Human Rights. Emerging Trends, online journal. Rothkopf, David. 2015. February 2. Is Unrestricted Internet Access a Modern Human Right? Foreign Policy. Ruby, Jay. 2000. Picturing Culture:Explorations of Film and Anthropology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Sabatello, Maya and Marianne Schulze, eds. 2013. Human Rights and Disability Advocacy. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Schabas, William. 2011. An Introduction to the International Criminal Court (4th edition). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Seu, Irene Bruna. 2013. Passivity Generation: Human Rights and Everyday Morality. Palgrave/MacMillan. Simon, Jonathan. 2014. Mass Incarceration on Trial: A Remarkable Decision and the Impact on Prisons in America. New York: The New Press. Smith, David James. 2013. August 29. Videre: The secretive group on a mission to film human-rights abuses. Wired magazine http://www.wired.co.uk/article/videre Stepan, Peter. 2013/first published 2001. Photos that Changed the World. Munich: Prestel Verlag. ten Brink, Joran and Joshua Oppenheimer. Eds. 2012. Killer Images: Documentary Film, Memory and the Performance of Violence. London: Wallflower Press. United Nations, Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/Welcomepage.aspx United Nations Enable http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/disabout.htm University of Southern California, School of Cinematic Arts, International programs http://cinema.usc.edu/international/index.cfm Witness https://witness.org/ Yogyakarta Principles on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (2007) http://www.yogyakartaprinciples.org/principles_en.htm Zelizer, Barbie. 1998. Remembering to Forget: Holocaust Memory through the Camera’s Eye. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
CHAPTER TWO THE HUMAN RIGHT TO PHOTOGRAPH MICHEL ANGELA MARTINEZ AND ALISON DUNDES RENTELN
Introduction Images of suffering play a key role in global campaigns designed to raise awareness of human rights and humanitarian issues. Pictures are often considered crucial for the “mobilization of shame” (Keenan 2004), which is presumably critical for motivating individuals and governments to render assistance to those in distress near and far. Yet the importance of pictures, both moving and still, for consciousness-raising is sometimes taken for granted. A burgeoning interdisciplinary literature highlights the influence of the visual in illuminating gross violations of human rights (Richin 2013; Martinez 2015). A debate has emerged that considers the extent to which images actually help ameliorate situations where atrocities have occurred.1 There is no question that the power of the visual is remarkable. The adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words” captures this idea and has inspired the law to take notice.2 Consequently, governments sometimes fear that dissemination of particular images will undermine their authority. Leaders, too, can be toppled by the publication of a photo revealing improper conduct. Images shape public perceptions of top government lead1
One seminal work is Stanley Cohen’s (2001). States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering. Cambridge: Polity. Another pioneering essay is Susan Sontag’s On Photography (1977), which sparked a lively set of exchanges over media ethics. 2 Consider the new field of “sensational jurisprudence,” which includes the visual. See, e.g., Richard Sherwin (2012). Visual Jurisprudence. New York Law School Law Review 57 (13), pp. 137-165.
ers, and elites pay a great deal of attention to their public personae. The fact that censorship of images occurs in virtually every type of political system shows recognition of their potential to influence the course of events. An informed citizenry requires the right of access to information on public affairs, which is crucial for protecting the right to know (Bishop 2009). In this chapter, we consider the normative underpinnings of a human right to photograph, including both legal and philosophical arguments. We use the term “photograph” broadly to include both still and moving images. After assessing the main theoretical arguments, we discuss policies that interfere with the exercise of this right. Next, we examine some ethical obligations of image-makers to ensure that they handle this responsibility appropriately. Then, we present examples where images appear to have contributed to positive social change to some degree. Finally, while we acknowledge the need for more research that is nuanced, we conclude that this right can empower activists and scholars in their quest for greater justice.
The Right to Photograph: Legal and Philosophical Arguments When individuals are prevented from taking pictures, they usually invoke arguments based on freedom of expression. While these claims may at times be grounded in rights enshrined in domestic constitutions like the First Amendment, they are also based on international human rights law. Specifically, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) guarantees the right to freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and access to information. A general comment (#34), issued by the Human Rights Committee that enforces the ICCPR, construes the rights in Article 19 broadly and explicitly mentions that protection of visual representations extends to images, objects of art and symbols (see clause 11). As this treaty has been ratified by almost every country, this standard affords a measure of protection to those invoking a right to disseminate an image as part of political expression. Another approach to protecting human rights involves a comparative analysis of domestic legal standards known as ius gentium. As the vast majority of legal systems guarantee political freedom, even if subject to limitations, this constitutes another basis for demonstrating that a consensus on this right exists.
The Human Right to Photograph
Figure 2.1. Free to Think, Article 19, credit to Benny Chung
We wish to emphasize that even if no formal recognition of political freedom or right to record can be identified in national constitutions, one can nonetheless make the argument that implicit in any political system is a basic right to record. Inasmuch as governments are designed to serve the citizenry as part of a social contract, their activities must necessarily be subject to public scrutiny. A key dimension of this political compact is transparency, and taking pictures is, in our view, critical for this purpose. For this reason, the press has often been designated as the fourth branch of government in the United States. It is, at the very least, meant to be a watchdog. Although the press may not play this role because of corporate control of the media or because the state owns the press, citizen journalists can function as guardians of the public interest. Indeed, in the twenty-first century, not only do professional reporters bear this responsibility, but so also do citizen journalists (Gregory 2015, 2006). We contend that a human right to take pictures, moving and still, should be recognized in order to have the means by which to hold governmental officials accountable. The ability to document requires that the public, among other things, has the right to record and share images of the abuse of authority.3 With the rise of new forms of technology, such as cell phones, this human right will likely assume even greater importance. Even though it has not been officially recognized, it is necessary to establish the right to photograph as a fundamental human right. This should be established as an independent right.
The Right to Record versus State Interest in Public Safety In many instances, police have arrested individuals who are in the process of documenting public protests and government misconduct. While recording what they perceive as injustices, they are subjected to harassment and sometimes false accusations.4 For example, police brutality in Fuller-
For an argument supporting our position, see Jonathan Turley (2011, November 8). Your Right to Record. Los Angeles Times, p. A15. For elaboration on this position, see Michel Angela Martinez (2015). Photography in Movement: The Right to Photograph, Ethics in Imaging, and the Art of Making Social Change. 4 After citizen Ramon Orta filmed the fatal chokehold of Eric Garner’s death, he was arrested and sentenced to four years in jail (Anon. 2016). When police shot and killed Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Chris LeDay circulated a “viral” video of this and says he was also targeted (Sammon 2016).
The Human Right to Photograph
ton, California, was caught on a cell phone by a citizen, Veth Mam.5 Officers harassed him and advised him to stop taking pictures or he would be arrested, which he was. After criminal charges against Mam were dismissed, he tried unsuccessfully to sue the police for violating his constitutional rights (Moxley 2013). When a New York Times photographer was taking pictures of police officers who were arresting a teenage girl, one told him to stop. When the photographer continued, another officer “…grabbed his camera and slammed it into his face” (Buettner 2013) and arrested him. The police officer was subsequently indicted for lying, claiming that the reporter had interfered with his law enforcement efforts by using a flash. In the U.K., a woman took photographs of two uniformed police officers while they searched her boyfriend. She used her cell phone to record the incident that occurred in the subway and was prosecuted under a new controversial amendment to the Terrorism Act that prohibited photographing a police officer “…if the images are considered ‘likely to be useful’ to a terrorist” (Lewis 2009). Although the law does authorize police to view digital images in cell phones, guidelines stated that “…the new offense relating to photographing officers does not apply in normal policing activities” (Lewis 2009). Those photographing police conduct directed against protest movements experience harassment and assault. One activist wrote extensively about police misuse of force when he took part in the Occupy Wall Street movement, used his camera and declined to relinquish it to officers (Rogouski 2011). There is also evidence of harsh treatment of videographers, e.g., at Reoccupy Minneapolis (HongPong 2012). Particularly cruel was police use of pepper spray against the young and the elderly, and one student’s photo of an officer became iconic because it was central to an Internet meme (O’Brien 2011).6 Targeting of journalists was also common with the Arab Spring movement and contemporaneous demonstrations over austerity policies in Europe, particularly in Greece and Turkey (International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations 2013; Smith 2013; Tagaris 2013).
Police in this same community later also received widespread media coverage for killing an innocent homeless man, Kelly Thomas, who had mental disabilities. 6 See examples on YouTube. Lt. John Pike, "The Casual Cop," meme, Montage: Pepper Spray the World - The UC Davis Casual Cop Meme Montage https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3UgIEi86x2Q
Figure 2.2. Occupy U.C. Davis, police attack peaceful student demonstrators with pepper spray, credit to Louise Macabitas November 18, 2011 See centerfold for this image in colour.
Although those taking pictures wish to document the misuse of force or other violations of the law, the supposed justification for taking photographers into custody is that the images they have captured will jeopardize public safety.7 Most of the time, however, charges against photographers are dropped, suggesting the falsity of these claims, but the result is that they were effectively prevented from taking pictures that could prove the misconduct. Thus, even if they prevail in the litigation, they fail to obtain the desired images. In the Case of Gillan and Quinton v. the United Kingdom (2010), the European Court of Human Rights considered a situation where a journalist wanted to film a protest and was stopped by police, although they did not have reasonable suspicion. After assessing all the arguments, the Court 7
Examples of police misuse of force in the U.S. are abundant. See, e.g., Michael Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo (2015, April 8). Officer Is Charged with Murder of a Black Man Shot in the Back. New York Times, pp. A1, 14; Matt Apuzzo and Timothy Williams (2015, April 9). Citizens’ Videos Raise Questions on Police Claims; Rising Use of Cameras. New York Times.
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held that the provisions in the Terrorist Act violated the right to privacy guaranteed in Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights. The ruling recognized that the domestic law in question enacted to protect public safety was excessively broad in scope. Although the Court declined to rule directly on arguments concerning freedom of expression under Article 10 or freedom of assembly under Article 11, this ruling conveys a clear message that government may not limit those engaged in image capture without adequate justification. Emerging jurisprudence in U.S. constitutional law related to the First Amendment supports the notion that the right to record enjoys recognition.8 The landmark case that is regarded as establishing this right is ACLU v. Alvarez (2012). Although the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari, the appellate court held that the First Amendment should be construed to guarantee the right to record. A fairly substantial line of cases also vindicates this right.9 Not only are events that involve protest or government criticism treated as though they are not subject to image capture, many public places are deemed entirely off limits. For instance, individuals may not take pictures in parts of airports, many government buildings (even those under constant surveillance), and other public spaces. One photographer, Carlos Miller, encountered such tremendous opposition to taking pictures on the Metrorail platform in Dade-Florida that he pursued litigation and established a blog, “Photography Is Not a Crime” (Efrink 2013). To our surprise, even the main reading room of the Library of Congress displayed a “No Photography” sign prominently at the entrance when we visited to conduct research on this topic! Corporations with powerful lobbies try to criminalize the taking of pictures on their premises, sometimes misusing arguments 8 Seth F. Kreimer 2011. Pervasive Image Capture and the First Amendment: Memory, Discourse, and the Right to Record. University of Pennsylvania Law Review 159, pp. 335-409. 9 The list of cases regarding the right to photograph, specifically, and the right to record, generally, is quite long—dozens in each state. The Supreme Court has taken only a few of them, and except for in the one instance from 1972, has always affirmed the constitutional right to record (ACLU v. Alvarez, 679 F.3d 583 (7th Cir., May 8, 2012), Fordyce v. City of Seattle, 55 F.3d 436 (9th Cir., May 16, 1995), Glik v. Cunniffe, 655 F.3d 78 (No. 10-1764) (1st Cir., Aug. 26, 2001), cert. denied, 133 S. Ct. 651 (U.S. 2012), Iacobucci v. Boulter, 193 F.3d 14 (1st Cir., Oct. 4, 1999), Kelly v. Borough of Carlisle, 622 F. 3d 248, 2010, Smith v. City of Cumming, 212 F.3d 1332 (11th Cir., May 31, 2000), cert. denied, 531 U.S. 978 (Nov. 6, 2000).
about trade secrets, e.g., Ag-Gag laws that apply to animal farms and slaughter houses.10 In some jurisdictions, citizens may not take pictures of police officers and other government personnel.11 Obviously, individuals do not have the right to take pictures at any time and in any place. This right must be balanced against other important rights like privacy. If the visual can actually identify threats to democracy posed by the improper allocation of funds, threats to public health in factories that fail to comply with food safety laws, or corporate misconduct that threatens the financial health of many people, then image capture can prove to be extremely important.12 Holding large institutions accountable, whether they are political, corporate, academic, or other, is a necessary aspect of a democratic order. So, while we acknowledge that the right to photograph is not unlimited, it should be broadly construed to permit image capture in the public interest. The notion that individuals may take pictures in the public interest begs the question as to what constitutes the public interest. In our view, holding government officials accountable for misconduct, identifying business practices that endanger the health and well-being of workers and consumers, and misuse of military resources that violate international law would all fall into the category of serving the public interest. We realize that the right to photograph will have to be subject to balancing against other competing interests.
10 Utah: Utah Criminal Code, Offenses Against Property, Property Destruction, Agricultural operation interference—Penalties. Title 76 Chapter 6 Part 1 Section 112. https://le.utah.gov/xcode/Title76/Chapter6/76-6-S112.html Missouri: MO CCS/HCS/SCS/SB 631, Sections 578.005 & 578.013 (2012, August 28)—Duty to Report Animal Abuse, http://www.senate.mo.gov/12info/BTS_Web/Bill.aspx?SessionType=R&BillID=9 2863 Wyoming: Senate File No. SF0012 (2015): Trespassing to collect data, http://legisweb.state.wy.us/2015/Introduced/SF0012.pdf 11 Jacobson and Ragan v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, et al. 2015. No. CV-14-02485-TUC-BGM. https://globalfreedomofexpression.columbia.edu/cases/jacobson-ragan-v-u-sdepartment-homeland-security-et-al/ 12 For commentary on sanctions against photography in airports, see http://www.welovedc.com/2010/09/09/tsa-warns-public-against-photographingplanes-yegad-no/ See also NYT article.
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Figure 2.3. TSA poster image (2010) See centerfold for this image in colour.
Philosophical Arguments for Image Capture Democracies guarantee that citizens and others who reside within the borders of states have access to information about the behavior of government officials. The ability of journalists to document their conduct and misconduct enables the public to judge the legitimacy of the regime and its actions. Blocking access to and the dissemination of information about decision-making, policy implementation, and other actions is fundamentally
undemocratic. Policies of state secrecy that are misapplied to prevent individuals from taking pictures should be regarded as presumptively invalid. The basic argument here is that the visual can help ensure limited government. Visual democracy takes as its premise the notion that the public can make better informed decisions if they can observe political processes and the results of government decisions. Some believe, for example, that public viewing of prison conditions and also of executions might erode support for current criminal justice policies. Allowing cameras in the courtroom might lead to allocation of resources to ensure more consistent compliance with due process standards. Having argued that normative principles support a right to take pictures in the public interest, we turn now to issues associated with the proper exercise of this right. Those who capture images must shoot responsibly.
Ethical Aspects of Image Capture One of the most basic ethical concerns is consent: Subjects should give consent before having their picture taken or used. Numerous incidents have occurred when individuals had their photos used without their authorization or taken under false pretenses.13 Although doctrines such as fair use enable photojournalists to publish some images in mass media, distribution of images for commercial gain is not protected by rules like this. Another problem with the use of images is the media hoax. Occasionally, a story released to garner sympathy turns out to be entirely fraudulent. “The babies in the incubator story” is a classic example of an “invented story” (Regan 2012). A public relations firm was hired to generate Ameri13
A famous example of misleading a subject is Dorothea Lange’s picture of Florence Owens Henderson, known as the “Migrant Mother”. Lange promised that her photograph would not be published and described it in ways she later said were inaccurate. Henderson felt ashamed being an icon of the Depression. This deception is discussed in more detail in Martinez (2015). D. Lange, Farm Security Administration, & LOC Staff. (1936/2004). Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” Photographs in the Farm Security Administration Collection: An Overview [Library of Congress]. Retrieved January 30, 2009, from http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/list/128_migm.html The work of photographer Stephen McCurry has also raised questions about compliance with ethical standards. He took the famous National Geographic cover photo of Sharbat Gula, known as “Afghan Girl” when she was a young girl. See, e.g., Raymer 2016. On whether he digitally altered her eyes to enhance their appearance, see Nagar 2016.
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can support for the first Persian Gulf War. A fabricated story was disseminated that Iraqi soldiers were stealing babies from incubators in Kuwait. The unsubstantiated stories were not verified and circulated widely as part of U.S. government propaganda to build public support for the war.
Figure 2.4. Florence Owens Henderson, “Migrant Mother” (1936), by Dorothea Lange
Even if use of a photograph has been authorized by subjects, serious questions may still arise about editing or altering pictures if that would result in misrepresentation.14 One striking example involves the UN High Commissioner for Refugees releasing an image of a four-year-old child, “Marwan,” apparently crossing the desert from Syria to Jordan by himself.15 With its initial caption, “Here 4 year old Marwan, who was temporarily separated from his family, is assisted by UNHCR staff to cross to 14
For example, in 2009 two female ministers in the Israeli cabinet were digitally removed and placed by men because: “[p]ublishing pictures of women is viewed by many ultra-orthodox Jews as a violation of female modesty.” In 2002 the Harvard Crimson settled a lawsuit that involved a story about prisons entitled “The Ceiling of America.” The student publication had taken a photograph from the files and had superimposed bars over the faces of two current undergraduate African American students! The students sued the Crimson based on libel and invasion of privacy. Anon. (1982). 15 United Nations staff gave him this name to protect him.
cross the desert,” the photograph did not generate a response. However, when Hala Gorani, a CNN news anchor, “retweeted” it with the caption “Crossing the desert alone after being separated from his family fleeing Syria,” the image went viral and caused a sensation. Although Marwan was, in fact, in transit as a result of political violence in Syria, he was in the company of many other refugees, including his family. After the “heart-rending picture” was widely circulated, it led to a huge outcry over what was perceived as a misrepresentation of the situation.16 The UNHCR representative “…clarified the circumstances surrounding the controversial picture of a Syrian boy seen crossing the Jordanian desert, saying that the boy was ‘separated’ and ‘not alone’.”17 Of course, the tragic circumstances that forced families to flee from armed conflict in Syria seem to have been largely overlooked by those reacting to media coverage of child refugees in this context. Other images that provoked controversy can be found in a book published by Jimmy Nelson, Before They Pass Away (2013). Emphasizing the risks of treating indigenous people as “exotic” and unchanged, Stephen Corry, director of Survival International, criticized the photographs in Nelson’s book. Corry says the pictures are staged, resemble colonial portraits, and depict “tribal” people in a way that does not correspond to any social reality, past or present. Sometimes, the image of a child is used for an appeal to provide financial assistance to needy communities. Donors contribute funds, assuming the support reaches the child whose photo inspired them to give. On occasion, there have been mistakes or fraud. For example, one donor decided to investigate the trail of funds, only to discover that while the child was in need and in the geographical location indicated, he and his family had never received any support.18 One of the most commonly cited examples of a self-aggrandizement through photographs is Kevin Carter’s 1993 picture of a little girl in Sudan with a vulture perched nearby as part of reporting on famine conditions
16 Harriet Sherwood and Shiv Malik 2014, February 18. Image of Syrian boy in desert triggers sympathy—and then a backlash. The Guardian. Online. 17 Anon. 2014, February 18. “UNHRC clarifies details of Syrian boy’s desert crossing incident.” https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/nowsyrialatestnews/535950-unhcr-clarifies-detailsof-syrian-boys-desert-crossing-incident 18 Diaa Hadid 2016, August 3. Tracking the Mystery of a Charity’s Sponsored Child. New York Times, p. A7.
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there.19 This image generated considerable discussion because 1) viewers worried about whether she was ever rescued (Carter chased the vulture away but did not carry her to a feeding station), 2) he received a Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for it, 3) he was excoriated for exploiting the subject, and 4) he committed suicide, partly due to the fallout from the image-making.
Figure 2.5. Famine in Sudan (1993), by Kevin Carter/Sygma via Getty Images See centerfold for this image in colour.
Iconography in famines has also sparked controversy. Since the 1970s, the public has been exposed to numerous images of starving people in Africa. This “iconography of famine” generated a discussion as to what constitutes ethical use of images and led some commentators to argue that the photographs had unmistakably negative consequences for perceptions of Africans (Campbell 2011). The recurring image of a famished child reinforces a negative stereotype of victimhood that implies individuals lack agency. Some go so far as to compare images of suffering and atrocity pictures to obscene material. They make the “allusion to pornography” 19
Griselda Pollock 2013. Photographing Atrocity: Becoming Iconic? In Batchen et al., Picturing Atrocities. See also the film “The Bang Bang Club.”
Figure 2.6. Miss Landmine. From MISS LANDMINE ANGOLA by Morten Traavik / photo by Gorm K. Gaare See centerfold for this image in colour.
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because of “…the way imagery of brutality and violence appeals to our prurient interests and the exploitative nature of graphic imagery of suffering victims.”20 It is this type of representation that many have condemned in harsh terms. Ultimately, unfavorable reactions to these visuals did cause some major aid organizations to reconsider the traditional framing—the so-called “flies on the eyes” images of impoverished children in Africa— and to adopt instead visual approaches that emphasized the “dignity” of subjects that seemed empowering. A compelling example of the shift in direction toward less problematic representations can be seen in the promotion of the human rights of persons with disabilities. In the past, cultural constructions were unappealing as the stigma associated with disability led to images reflecting the “politics of pity” as well as to policies banning individuals with disabilities from appearing in public (Schweik 2010). Well-intentioned campaigns to raise awareness about drunk driving and to remove landmines sometimes have included images of persons with disabilities, which may reinforce stigma.21 With the significant change in photography ethics to placing real emphasis on agency and self-worth, images are much more aesthetically pleasing. The beauty pageant, Miss Landmine, demonstrates this new ethos.
Impact of Images in Human Rights and Humanitarian Campaigns As we have argued, the human right to photograph can be construed as related to political expression guaranteed in domestic and international law. We contend that it should be afforded protection as an independent and basic human right. Those who take pictures should do so responsibly to avoid the pitfalls identified above. It is our view that the right to photograph deserves legal recognition irrespective of whether the images influence
Joel R. Pruce 2013. The Spectacle of Suffering and Humanitarian Intervention in Somalia. In T.A. Borer (Ed.), Media, Mobilization and Human Rights (216239). London: Zed, p. 221; see also Susie Linfield (2010). The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 40-42. 21 For an image disseminated as part of a campaign against drunk driving, see “Faces of Drunk Driving,” a project of the Texas Department of Transportation: http://facesofdrunkdriving.com/, http://facesofdrunkdriving.com/jacqui,and https://www.youtube.comwatch?v=Zd-QG-Yx_Ho
world events or public opinion. Yet while it is complicated to ascertain their impact, it is probable that some images matter at least sometimes. Although it is difficult to prove precisely how much images contribute to social change in specific cases, some images have proven influential, although not always in expected ways. After Los Angeles police officers beat Rodney King so savagely that his skull was fractured in multiple places, the extraordinarily shocking footage was seen around the world. Even though the police who attacked Rodney King were acquitted of all criminal charges, the incident led to efforts to reform the Los Angeles Police Department. Also, Amnesty International undertook its first factfinding mission in the U.S. and decided as the focus to investigate questionable practices of the LAPD.
Figure 2.7. LAPD officers beat Rodney King and it is caught on video (1991), credit to George Holliday See centerfold for this image in colour.
Similarly, grotesque images of sadistic violations of human rights by U.S. military personnel at Abu Ghraib22 in Iraq also led to governmental 22
For a provocative account of the “uncanny” in these photos, see Stephen F. Eisenman (2007). The Abu Ghraib Effect. London: Reaktion Books. See also Peg-
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fact-finding resulting in profound criticisms such as those in the Takuba report, the court martials of some officers, and eventually repudiation of “enhanced” interrogation as well as cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment or punishment of those held in U.S. military facilities. Here, the motivation of the image-maker was not exposure of human rights violations; rather, the taking of the photograph was itself a violation of human rights! Of course, we realize that condemnation of the conduct has not eradicated it. Still, when images can open a conversation about social change, that in itself is beneficial. The visual may direct attention to much needed reforms. While hard evidence may not exist, some illustrations where images, still and moving, are thought to have effected changes in policies deserve consideration. We briefly mention a few examples of pictures that appear to have made a difference. In 1999, Connie Chung did a report on acid violence in Bangladesh that was produced by Teri Whitcraft. The subject of the story was Bina Akhter, a young woman who had been a victim of an attack. One of the horrific forms of violence against women, acid violence occurs mostly in South Asia (Agarwal 2008; Rodriguez 2012). During the program, viewers learn that although Bangladesh had the death penalty on the books for those convicted of this offense, it had actually never been imposed on anyone. Moreover, only a small percent of those accused were ever even arrested, and even fewer were prosecuted! One loophole in the law was the failure to criminalize the sale of acid and ensure strict compliance with the policy.23 After the program aired, the law was changed to impose penalties for improper sale of acid. The Prime Minister was interviewed during the program and commented that bribery of some politicians had blocked enforcement of the existing acid violence law. The network did not allow wide dissemination of the program (for sale), in part because of Bina’s safety. In fact, there is no way of knowing what part of the story may have been sensitive. Following the negative publicity, Nasreen Huq, a leading gy Phelan (2013). The Performative Force of the Abu Ghraib Photographs. In G. Batchen et al. (pp. 51-61). For an argument that the photos normalized images of torture by incorporating them in popular culture as with “Doing a Lynndie,” see Kari Anden-Papadopoulos (2008). The Abu Ghraib torture photographs: News frames, visual culture, and the power of images. Journalism 9 (1), 5-30. 23 Lisa Taylor 2001. Saving Face: Acid Attack Laws After the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law 29, 396-426.
activist calling for a ban on this form of violence against women, was killed when a car mysteriously drove up on the sidewalk and suspiciously hit her.24
Figure 2.8., Bina Akhter, Credit to ABC 20/20 See centerfold for this image in colour.
The “Faces of Hope” story led medical teams to provide reconstructive surgery to some of the young women. The program also apparently exerted pressure on the Bangladeshi government to revise relevant policies and to enforce existing laws on the books. It certainly raised public awareness of one of the most horrendous forms of violence against women and received an award.25 In 2012, a film “Saving Face,” a film about acid vio24 Anon. 2006, April 30. Nasreen Huq. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/news/2006/may/01/obituaries.mainsection 25 For a sharp critique of the Chung segment from a postcolonial perspective, see Elora Halim Chowdhury (2007). From Dhaka to Cincinnati: Tracing the Trajectory of a Transnational Violence Against Women Campaign. In Shamita Das Dasgupta (Ed.) Body Evidence: Intimate Violence Against South Asian Women in
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lence in Pakistan, won an Academy Award for best documentary short.26 One of the challenges has been the presentation of individuals with this facial disfigurement. In recent years, Europeans have created images of survivors that present them as alluring and dignified. Danish photographer Ken Hermann created a series of portraits of acid survivors described as: “…drawing attention to the positive and aesthetic dimensions of these otherwise tragic stories.”27 German photographer Ann-Christine Woehrl also photographed survivors, and her images were displayed in a special exhibition in Munich.28 While it is unclear to what extent Connie Chung’s report influenced the course of events that transpired after the segment aired, it appears to have contributed to worldwide awareness of this violation of human rights.29 Another story credited with influencing policy change is “The Sport of Sheiks,” about camel jockeys in the United Arab Emirates.30 Thousands of young boys, kidnapped mostly from South Asia and the Sudan, were kept in slavery-like conditions and starved so they could be jockeys in camel races, a supposedly popular cultural tradition in some countries.31 Boys weighing under forty-four pounds were preferred as jockeys, so they were denied food. The boys often suffered serious injuries, including permanent disabilities from racing or were trampled to death by camels after falling America (pp. 258-274). New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. See also Chowdhury (2011), chapter 3. 26 Anon. 2012, March 3. Face of an Angel. The Economist, 96. 27 Anon. 2013, July 14. Daily Mail Reporter. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2363858/Burned-memory-Survivors-acidattacks-Bangladesh.html 28 Ann-Christine Woehrl’s photos were an exhibition “IN/VISIBLE” [“UN/SICHTBAR”], which was on display at the Ethnological Museum of Munich in 2015 and featured in a book: http://edition.lammerhuber.at/en/books/in-visible 29 Interested readers may wish to follow the work of the Acid Survivors’ Foundation in London. 30 Although the United Arab Emirates officially banned the practice of using boys as camel jockeys in 1993, this practice continued, as they were seen on televised programs. Eric Talmadge (2006, December 6). Qataris pursue sport of the sheiks camel racing. Associated Press. 31 Sulayman Khalaf . 2007. contends this is a recently invented cultural tradition designed to enhance national identity. Although camel races did occur in the past, the modern version differs considerably from the ancient practice. Even with this effort, photographs play an important role for elites to portray themselves as guardians of cultural heritage. Poetics and Politics of Newly Invented Traditions in the Gulf: Camel Racing in the United Arab Emirates. Ethnology 39 (3), 243-261.
off their mounts.32 On ESPN, a segment showed how a human rights activist, Ansar Burney, and his organization rescued children from camps where they were held virtually prisoners.33 The children endured inhumane conditions that led to life-threatening health problems. Subject to brutal training, the majority of children could not remember their own names, had been subject to sexual abuse, and were forced to work eighteen-hour days. The practices violate many rights guaranteed in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, such as Article 37, the right against inhumane and degrading treatment and others guaranteed in ILO conventions (29, 138, and 182) that prohibit the trafficking of children. After the HBO program aired, the UAE apparently established a shelter for former camel jockeys and led the U.S. Department of State to exert pressure on UAE to address the problem of camel jockeys.34 The government also announced it would no longer use children as jockeys but instead use lightweight robot jockeys.35 Moreover, the law firm Motley Rice filed a class action suit on behalf of the boys from South Asia and Africa to challenge the practice (Liptak 2007). According to media coverage, the UAE government freed nearly one thousand children and helped repatriate them to South Asia in collaboration with UNICEF. In 2009, media reports announced that more than 1,100 had been returned to Bangladesh.36 Public awareness campaigns are believed to have played an essential role in this social movement.37
Dean Nelson. 2009, May 9. Former camel jockeys compensated by UAE. The Telegraph. 33 For the HBO program hosted by Bryant Gumbel on YouTube, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G51lJ-0L2eA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LoiOs2DXllM 34 UAE Crown Prince, Sheikh Mumannad bin Zayed al-Nahyan, said the documentary on the “plight of the young jockeys” inspired him to support the shelter. Associated Press. Associated Press (December 2, 2004). Center for underaged camel jockeys opens. http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1293281/posts. See also Alicia Mundy (2006, March 5). The Seattle Times. 35 Anon. 2006, February 6. Camel-bots. Los Angeles Times, p. A7. 36 Nelson, above note 32. 37 Peter Conrad 2005, March 25. Kidnapped Children Starve as Camel Jockey Slaves. The Sunday Times.
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Figure 2.9. Camel jockeys. Credit to Anti-Slavery International. See centerfold for this image in colour.
Anti-Slavery International, the human rights organization that first called attention to this issue, urged caution. Although one thousand were repatriated, there were approximately 3,000 child jockeys in the United Arab Emirates. Evidently, Anti-Slavery observers photographed abuses at the race course.38 Eventually, the vast majority of the boys were sent home
Paul Peachey 2010, March 3. UAE defies ban on child camel jockeys. Independent.
(NYT).39 In 2007, Ansar Burney visited the region and confirmed that the UAE had worked with UNICEF to repatriate the children and assist with rehabilitation. Although this story appears to have contributed to at least some positive social change, we must concede that media coverage of children’s rights does not always achieve this result. Exposure of violations can tragically backfire sometimes. For example, Iqbal Masih, a child who challenged exploitative labor practices and received the Reebok human rights prize, was subsequently killed. Unfortunately, one cannot presume that the mobilization of shame will have the intended results. Having discussed two illustrations of moving images associated with positive change, we now turn to examples of still images.40 In South Africa, when individuals were demanding fundamental changes in the racist apartheid regime, a turning point occurred. Although the Sharpeville massacre first drew attention to the injustices in South Africa, the image that many consider responsible for launching the anti-apartheid movement was a powerful photograph by Sam Nzima of Hector Pieterson. On June 16, 1976, Hector Pieterson was one of the first to die when police fired on high school students who were marching peacefully to protest the use of Afrikaanas as the main language of instruction. The image showing his lifeless body carried by another student41 captured public attention. As one scholar put it, “…because of the worldwide distribution of the shocking photographs, Hector’s death was transformed overnight into a symbolic expression of the callousness of the apartheid security forces… Hector’s life was cut tragically short, assumes historical significance of
Anon. 2005, April 3. Limits Set for Boy Jockeys in Emirates’ Camel Races. New York Times. The story noted the influence of the HBO story in instigating the reforms. 40 Another image that generated a fundamental change in discourse and policy is the photograph of Stephen Lawrence that was distributed in the United Kingdom. A young African American teenager, he was killed by other youths. The police failed to investigate properly, and when this eventually came to light, there were tremendous repercussions. His family called for an investigation and circulated a photograph of him. The campaign for justice resulted in adoption of the term “institutional racism” and two public inquiries. Those involved with the case of Stephen Lawrence make mention of the image in building public support for reform of law enforcement in the United Kingdom. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-26465916 41 Decades later, Mbuyisa Makhubu, the student who carried Hector Pieterson in the famous picture, was thought to have been identified in Canada (Sisibo 2014).
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enormous proportions” (Murray 2013, 90-94).42 Not only was the picture crucial at the time, but its symbolic importance endured through a memorial and museum. Many have compared it to the “Pietà” sculpture in assessing its evocative power. Other analysts have called attention to this image and note that protesters recreate the image.43 The photograph is considered an iconic symbol of protest (Simbao 2009, 54). One scholar remarked: The emblematic, emotionally charged photograph of Hector Pieterson immediately became an icon of the liberation struggle, encapsulating better than ‘‘a thousand words’’ the oppression of the apartheid regime and the determination for freedom. The photograph was quickly adopted by the liberal movements and made its way onto posters, T-shirts, into murals and a host of other media. Taken up by the international media network, it simultaneously entered millions of households around the world via magazines and television (Marshall 2006, p. 157).
Many refer to this photograph as having been transformative. One article, “How one photograph changed the world,” describes it as having illustrated “…the brutality of the apartheid regime” (Cartillier 2006).44 There is continuing recognition of the impact of this photo, as is reflected in Aryn Baker’s essay, “This Photo Galvanized the World Against Apartheid. Here’s the Story Behind It” (2016).
Martin J. Murray 2013. Commemorating and Forgetting: Challenges for the New South Africa. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 94-97. 43 Time called it one of the ten most powerful images. Darren Newbury (2005) Lest we forget: Photography and the Presentation of History at the Apartheid Museum, Gold Reef City and the Hector Pieterson Museum, Soweto. Visual Communication 4, 259-295. Newbury (2009). Defiant Images: Photography and Apartheid South Africa. Pretoria. 44 Sam Nzima was threatened, harassed by the police, and advised not to engage in “subversive activities.” Although the South African government tried to prevent dissemination of the image, the effort was futile.
Figure 2.10. Hector Pieterson (1976), by Sam Nzima See centerfold for this image in colour.
An image that captured public attention in 2015 was that of a threeyear-old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, lying on a Turkish beach that was taken by Nilufer Demir, a Turkish photographer. Aylan drowned after the ferry carrying him from Bodrum to the Greek island of Kos sank. After the picture appeared, images of his lifeless body went viral. The media claimed the image generated public outrage and embarrassed leaders.45 It caused them to acknowledge their failure at helping refugees adequately. The picture has touched a nerve; it registered in a way that some compare it to Nick Ut’s 1972 photograph of Kim Phuc or “Napalm girl.” Commentators speculated as to why the picture of the little boy resonated: “If nothing else, Aylan’s story puts a face and a name to a crisis so often viewed as a lump sum of faceless individuals.”46
45 Joe Parkinson and David George-Cosh. 2015, September 3. Image of Drowned Syrian Boy Echoes Around the World. Wall Street Journal. 46 Coleen Shalby. 2015, September 3. Why a Picture of a Dead Syrian Boy Touched a Nerve on an Enduring Crisis. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/photo-dead-syrian-refugee-boy-puts-facecrisis-rooted-numbers/
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Figure 2.11. Aylan Kurdi (2015), by Nilüfer Demir, Getty See centerfold for this image in colour.
Although we cannot know exactly how the image has influenced refugee policy, it has been mentioned prominently in the speeches of world leaders. Prince Zeid, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, started his speech to the United Nations Human Rights Council with the picture: It was the way he lay: asleep, terminal, so profoundly sad – as if by lying in supplication before the waves that killed him he was asking for a replay, with a different outcome this time; and his socks and little shoes told us he was ready to try life again. But his cheek on the soft sand whispered otherwise, it made us choke. Shamed and disgraced, the world wept before the body of this little boy. These speeches, these sessions, these protests by so many of us here for a world more humane and more dignifying of the rights of all humans, all humans—what good are they, when this happens? Not just once, not just to this tiny boy, Aylan Al Kurdi, but to so many across the world: the horror
Chapter Two they experience, relayed daily to us through the news media, shreds our hopes for some mercy, some relief.47
Commentators, policymakers, and world leaders have often referred to this image when calling for better policies to protect refugees. The photo symbolizes the tragic loss of life that could be avoided with more concerted global humanitarian efforts.
Conclusion Visual jurisprudence involves the law taking account of images. In this essay, we have offered our reflections on the importance of images, moving and still, for documenting misconduct. We have argued that the right to photograph should be established as an independent human right, and that the exercise of this right should take into consideration various ethical issues. While much more research is needed to trace the influence of particular images in human rights and humanitarian campaigns, pictures do matter. It is simply a question of how much and under what conditions. It is our hope that this essay will encourage others to investigate the role of images in social movements. Visual symbols can empower those championing social justice.
References Agarwal, Archana. 2008. Crimes of Honor: An International Human Rights Perspective on Violence Against Women in South Asia. Doctoral dissertation, Political Science, University of Southern California. Anden-Papadopoulos, Kari. 2008. The Abu Ghraib torture photographs: News frames, visual culture, and the power of images. Journalism 9 (1), 5-30. Anon. 2016, July 28. “Man Who Filmed Fatal NYC Police Chokehold of Eric Garner Sues City.” www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/Man-Who-Filmed-Fatal-NYCPolice-Chokehold-Sues-City--388476262.html
Opening Statement to the 30th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16414& LangID=E
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Anon. 2014, February 18. “UNHRC clarifies details of Syrian boy’s desert crossing incident.” https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/nowsyrialatestnews/535950-unhcrclarifies-details-of-syrian-boys-desert-crossing-incident Anon. 2013, July 14. Daily Mail Reporter. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2363858/Burned-memorySurvivors-acid-attacks-Bangladesh.html Anon. 1982, January 20. “Harvard Paper Settles Suit in Photo Dispute.” http://www.nytimes.com/1982/01/20/us/harvard-paper-settles-suit-inphoto-dispute.html Apuzzo, Matt and Timothy Williams. 2015, April 9. Citizens’ Videos Raise Questions on Police Claims; Rising Use of Cameras. New York Times. Associated Press. 1978, November 17. Never Saw a Cent From Photo: “Migrant Mother” Feels Exploited (alternate AP wire title: “Woman Fighting Mad Over Famous Depression Photo”). Los Angeles Times, pp. A1–A2. Baker, Aryn. 2016, June 15. This Picture Galvanized the World Against Apartheid. Time. http://time.com/4365138/soweto-anniversaryphotograph/?xid=emailshare Bishop, Cheryl Ann. 2009. Internationalizing the Right to Know: Conceptualizations of Access to Information in Human Rights Law. Dissertation, Journalism and Mass Communication, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Buettner, Russ. 2013, August 26. Officer Is Indicted on Charges of Lying About Photographer’s Arrest. New York Times. Cartillier, Jerome. 2006, June 15. How One Photograph Changed the World. Mail & Guardian. Chowdhury, Elora Halim. 2011. Transnational Feminisms. Albany: State University of New York Press. —. 2007. From Dhaka to Cincinnati: Tracing the Trajectory of a Transnational Violence Against Women Campaign. In Shamita Das Dasgupta (Ed.) Body Evidence: Intimate Violence Against South Asian Women in America (pp. 258-274). New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. Campbell, David. 2011. The Iconography of Famine. In Geoffrey Batchen et al. (Eds.) Picturing Atrocities. London: Reaktion Books. Cohen, Stanley. 2001. States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering. Cambridge: Polity. Conrad, Peter. 2005, March 25. Kidnapped Children Starve as Camel Jockey Slaves. The Sunday Times.
Corry, Stephen. 2014, June 1. Turning a Blind Eye to Pure Old Vibrations. Truthout, book review http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/ 23986turning-a-blind-eye-to-pure-old-vibrations Efrink, Tim. 2013, January 21. Miami New Times. http://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/photographer-carlos-millerroughed-up-yet-again-by-metrorail-security-guards-6550762 Gillan and Quinton v. the United Kingdom. 2010. European Court of Human Rights. Gregory, Sam. 2006. Transnational Storytelling: Human Rights, WITNESS, and Video Advocacy. American Anthropologist 108 (1), 195204. —. 2015. Ubiquitous witnesses: who creates the evidence and the live(d) experience of human rights violations? Information, Communication & Society 18, pp. 1372-1392. Hadid, Diaa. 2016, August 3. Tracking the Mystery of a Charity’s Sponsored Child. New York Times, p. A7. HongPong. 2012. Videographer attacked at Reccupy Minneapolis (Nicollet Mall), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2uDcMI71rs International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations. 2013. Back the Streets: Repression and Criminalization of Protest Around the World. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), Executive Secretariat of the INCLO. Keenan, Thomas. 2004. Mobilization of Shame. South Atlantic Quarterly 103(2/3), 435-449. Khalaf, Sulayman. 2000. Poetics and Politics of Newly Invented Traditions in the Gulf: Camel Racing in the United Arab Emirates. Ethnology 39 (3), 243-261. Kreimer, Seth F. 2011. Pervasive Image Capture and the First Amendment: Memory, Discourse, and the Right to Record. University of Pennsylvania Law Review 159, pp. 335-409. Lewis, Paul. 2009, July 21. Woman ‘detained’ for filming police search launches high court challenge. The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2009/jul/21/police-search-mobilephone-court Linfield, Susie. 2010. The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Liptak, Adam. 2007, June 3. Class-Action Firms Extend Reach to Global Rights Cases. New York Times, p. A27. Lussenhop, Jessica. 2012. Chad Nelson KSTP cameraman filing criminal charges.
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http://www.citypages.com/news/chad-nelson-kstp-cameraman-filingcriminal-complaint-video-6571190 Marschall, Sabine. 2006. Visualizing Memorials: The Hector Pieterson Memorial in Soweto. Visual Anthropology 19, pp. 145-169. Martinez, Michel Angela. 2015. Photography in Movement: The Right to Photograph, Ethics in Imaging, and the Art of Making Social Change. Dissertation, Political Science, University of Southern California. Moxley, R. Scott. 2013, April 22. Fullerton Cops Win Federal Lawsuit Alleging Police Harassment. Orange County Weekly. http://www.ocweekly.com/news/fullerton-cops-win-federal-lawsuitalleging-police-harassment-6450739 Mundy, Alicia. 2006, March 5. Camel jockeys become issue in port deal. Seattle Times. Murray, Martin J. 2013. Commemorating and Forgetting: Challenges for the New South Africa. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, Chapter 4, Collective Memory in Place: The Voortrekker Monument and the Hector Pieterson Memorial. Nagar, Kshitij. 2006, June 6. Eyes of the Afghan Girl: A Critical Take on the ‘Steve McCurry Scandal’. http://petapixel.com/2016/06/07/eyesafghan-girl-critical-take-steve-mccurry-scandal/ Nelson, Dean. 2009, May 9. Former camel jockeys compensated by UAE. The Telegraph. Nelson, Jimmy. 2013. Before They Pass Away. New York: teNeues Publishing Group. Newbury, Darren. 2005. Lest we forget: Photography and the Presentation of History at the Apartheid Museum, Gold Reef City and the Hector Pieterson Museum, Soweto. Visual Communication 4, 259-295. —. 2009. Defiant Images: Photography and Apartheid South Africa. Pretoria. O’Brien, Chris. 2011, November 23. How one student’s photo of pepper spray became an Internet Meme. San Jose Mercury News. http://www.mercurynews.com/chris-obrien/ci_19401731 Parkinson, Je and David George-Cosh. 2015, September 3. Image of Drowned Syrian Boy Echoes Around the World. Wall Street Journal. Peachey, Paul. 2010, March 3. UAE defies ban on child camel jockeys. Independent. Pollock, Griselda. 2013. Photographing Atrocity: Becoming Iconic? In Geoffrey Batchen et al. (Eds). Picturing Atrocity (pp. 65-78). London: Reaktion Books. Raymer, Sphene. 2016, May 25. NPPA, the voice of visual journalists.
Regan, Tom. 2002, September 6. When contemplating war, beware of babies in incubators. Christian Science Monitor. Ritchin, Fred. 2013. Bending the Frame: Photojournalism, Documentary, and the Citizen. New York: Aperture. Rodriguez, Alex. 2012, May 29. When a little girl loses her face: little justice for targets of acid. Los Angeles Times, pp. A1, 4. Rogouski, Stanley. 2011, December 19. Snatched for Photographing Michael Bloomberg’s Cops. http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/12/19/snatched-for-photographingmichael-bloombergs-cops/ Schmidt, Michael and Matt Apuzzo. 2015, April 8. Office is Charged with Murder of a Black Man Shot in the Back. New York Times, pp. A1, 14. Schweik, Susan. 2010. Ugly Laws: Disability in Public. Berkeley: University of California Press. Sherwin, Richard. 2012. Visual Jurisprudence. New York Law School Law Review 57 (13), pp. 137-165. Simbao, Ruth Kerkam. 2007. The Thirtieth Anniversary of the Soweto Uprisings: Reading the Shadow in Sam Nzima’s Iconic Photograph of Hector Pieterson. African Arts 40, 52-69. Smith, Helena. 2013, February 5. Greek police ‘battered four terrorist suspects then launched cover-up’. The Guardian, p. 16. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/feb/04/greece-police-localterrorist-arrests Sobisibo, Kwanele. 2014, June 13. Finding Mbuyisa Makhubu. Mail & Guardian. Sontag, Susan. 1977. On Photography. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux. —. 2003. Regarding the Pain of Others. New York: Picador. Tagaris, Karolina. 2013, February 4. Altered mug shots spur probe into Greek police beatings. Reuters. Talmadge, Eric. 2006, December 6. Qataris pursue sport of the sheiks camel racing. Associated Press. Taylor, Lisa. 2001. Saving Face: Acid Attack Laws After the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law 29, 396-426. Turley, Jonathan. 2011, November 8. Your Right to Record. Los Angeles Times, p. A15.
Figure 2.2. Occupy U.C. Davis, police attack peaceful student demonstrators with pepper spray, credit to Louise Macabitas November 18, 2011
Figure 2.3. TSA poster image (2010)
Figure 2.5. Famine in Sudan (1993), by Kevin Carter/Sygma via Getty Images See centerfold for this image in colour.
Figure 2.6. Miss Landmine. From MISS LANDMINE ANGOLA by Morten Traavik / photo by Gorm K. Gaare
Figure 2.7. LAPD officers beat Rodney King and it is caught on video (1991), credit to George Holliday
Figure 2.8., Bina Akhter, Credit to ABC 20/20
Figure 2.9. Camel jockeys. Credit to Anti-Slavery International.
Figure 2.10. Hector Pieterson (1976), by Sam Nzima
Figure 2.11. Aylan Kurdi (2015), by Nilüfer Demir, Getty
CHAPTER THREE HUMAN RIGHTS FILMS AND DISABILITY: TOWARDS OBSERVATIONAL CINEMA AS A PRACTICE OF “SHARED HUMAN RIGHTS” ANASTASIA KLUPCHAK
Goodbye Cp (dir. Hara Kazuo 1972) opens with a continuous hand-held, long take, as the camera moves through a dark hallway and emerges into the daylight, focused on a figure upon the street in Yokohama, Japan. Yokota Hiroshi travels towards the street at a busy intersection as he addresses the camera and directs its action. Hiroshi has cerebral palsy and decidedly moves through the city on the ground, partially as a statement of his right to determine his own mobility needs. The frame of the shot takes initiative from Yokota Hiroshi as he invites the camera to enter into his daily experience. He bids the spectator to engage with his embodiment as he interacts with the material and social space of the frenetic city. No voice-of-god narration compels the scene forward and there are no instructions to the viewer on how to watch the film. Instead, as Yokota Hiroshi makes his way towards the street, he remarks, “At intersections and stations I’m slow but much faster than a wheelchair” (1972). Hara Kazuo’s socially minded documentary serves as an early example of what I term, after Jean Rouch,1 a “shared human rights” ethos in the 1 In the 1950s, Jean Rouch advocated a “shared anthropology,” in both practice and theory. His films Les Maitres Fous (1954) and Jaguar (1957-67) demonstrate participatory, playful, and ethically minded representations. Within Rouch’s particular framing remains a prescient attention to concerns about observation. For Rouch, observation was an attendance to bodies in action and the relationships enacted therein. The interaction between subject and filmmaker resulted in a collaborative filmmaking process through the myriad and varying manners wherein filmmaker and subject connected. Despite his major contributions as one of the
production oof filmic repreesentations off disability in human rightss communication. In other words, I aim to elucid date the produuctive capacitties inherent to obserrvational cinema practice as a an alternatiive format in the creation of docuumentaries aboout human rig ghts and disabiility. The film m abruptly cuts to a whhite title screenn just as Yoko ota approachees the first striipe of the crosswalk. A As the title scrreen fades, thee film transitioons to Yokotaa crossing the street onn his knees film med in one co ontinuous takee (Fig. 1).
While he traavels across thhe street, he pushes his glassses over the ground g in front of him m. The subjectiive and sensuo ous interplay bbetween his movement m and the cam mera is explorrative and pro obes the intriicacies of hiss embodiment. As hee reaches the other side of the street, vehhicles stream past, and he addresses the camera nonchalantly,, “I was so sccared. I was afraid a it’ll first practitionners of the new w modes of emb bodied practice, his work was hard h to get a hold of andd was not affordded its place in n establishing ann emergent gen neration of filmmakers uuntil later. Rouuch is not addrressed in greateer detail in thiss essay because the focuus is on the obsservational cineema movement as seen in the mid-1960s m onward. Nevvertheless, Roucch’s innovativee approach to reexamining fiilmmaking practice greattly informs thiss essay and as such remains thee inspiration fo or delineating the argum ment towards “a “ shared humaan rights” practtice. See Ginsb burg 1991; Stoller 1992; MacDougall 20005.
Human Rights Films and Disability
turn red. My life was on the line” (1972). Still within the same shot, the camera swivels away from Yokota to another man holding a camera to his face and fades to a white screen with a definition of cerebral palsy in black text. As revealed in the opening minutes of the film, Yokota Hiroshi, in collaboration with documentarian Hara Kazuo,2 presents his own life, initiating an innovative occurrence in the shared representation of a disabled person in the history of documentary film and disability. Goodbye Cp departs from conventional documentary film style in favor of an observational approach and exemplifies a prescient method of representing disability and the disabled body visually. In contrast to Kazuo, humanitarian organizations represent disability and disability experience through “shock effect” appeals and “positive imagery” via photography and film (Chouliaraki 2010, 107). Although conversations have raged since the 1980s about the production and dissemination of images of suffering to garner resources for human rights organizations’ projects, disability and the disabled body continue to be steadily depicted through objectifying lenses. Lilie Chouliaraki notably describes ascendant humanitarian communications as operating within the “politics of pity,” a too familiar cultural location in the history of the visual representation of disability (Chouliaraki 2010). Contemporary human rights discourses about disability and the disabled body testify to the ethical and moral concerns at the intersection of humanitarianism, human rights, and disability rights as circulated and mediated through visual channels. What productive methods can human rights organizations discover about representing disability from Yokota Hiroshi? Human rights discourse has always had some visual affiliation to disability or disabled individuals. 3 Unlike representations of other socially subjugated identity-based groups, representations of disability have inundated visual media and print concomitant with the marginalization of disa2
Hara Kazuo, a Japanese documentary filmmaker, is known for making controversial films on taboo subjects. He calls his films “action-documentaries.” He was isolated from the filmmakers in the observational cinema movement as well as the direct cinema movement because he was in geographical distance. However, his work dialogically contends with the films made by Frederick Wiseman (1967) and Tim Asch, Judith and David MacDougall, John Marshall, Gary Kildea, and Jorge Preloran. He is also the author of Camera Obtrusa: The Action Documentaries of Hara Kazuo (2009). 3 See Karen Halltunen, “Humanitarianism and the Pornography of Pain in AngloAmerican Culture” The American Historical Review, Vol. 100, No. 2 (Apr., 1995), pp. 303-334
bility identity (Mitchell & Snyder 2000). As disability studies scholars have noted, the pitiable cripple has always been present in the cultural imaginary depicted in medical images, sideshows, and charity crusades (Garland-Thomson 1997).4 In this way, visual images of disability and the disabled body have served as prescriptive indicators for what “normal” embodiment is supposed to look like at the cost of stigmatizing and dehumanizing the “abnormal”.5 In a human rights context, disability and disabled bodies have been visually deployed unremittingly since the advent of humanitarianism, although designated variously under a number of pejorative monikers. The visual rhetoric of disability and the disabled body in human rights discourses is situated in this broader history of images of pathology. The epistemic frame of rational science and early anthropology was constituted by a “way of seeing” difference as pathological—in effect naturalizing bodies to exercise social control, but also to mediate a cure mentality. As many scholars have noted, this history was a product of wider trends in science that functioned through classificatory logic, which demanded that physical difference or disability be eradicated. Disability historian Paul Longmore notably observes, “Reinforcing the medical model, charity images portrayed them as dependent objects of beneficence whose most important needs were medical” (Longmore 2013, 38), a statement echoed by Eunjung Kim in a recent critique of contemporary visual representations of disability in human rights documentary films. By elucidating the entwined histories of human rights communication on disability and the history of disability images, we can move beyond such reductionist models and towards a new mode of producing human rights communication via observational film in a style informed by Goodbye Cp. Even as representations of disability have become less stigmatizing through “positive imagery appeals,” scholars have been critical of the dangerous heroic, overcoming narrative in these representations and the implications of neoliberal transcendent individualism. Less attention has been paid to ways to create and form images of people with disabilities outside of these tensions. I turn to the observational cinema movement 4
Garland-Thomson ironically reclaims the utility of the taxonomy so often used historically in the classification and discipline of pathological bodies. She writes: “They are the wondrous, the sentimental, the exotic, and the realistic. This template of visual rhetorics complicates the often restrictive notion of images as being either positive or negative, as communicating either the truth of disability or perpetuating some oppressive stereotype” (2001, 58) 5 This has been a foundational idea in Critical Disability Studies. See Sander Gilman (1985, 1988) and Lennard Davis (2002).
Human Rights Films and Disability
within visual anthropology, characterized broadly “as a sensuous, interpretive, and phenomenologically inflected mode of inquiry” (Grimshaw and Ravetz 2009), as an alternative practice in the production of representations of disability in human rights communication through film. In a contemporary landscape marked by new media and the porous borders facilitated by the internet, in what ways can disability centered human rights organizations undertake filmic projects with attention to reflexivity, transparency, collaboration and an emphasis on the subjectivity of disabled individuals? To begin to answer this question, I will discuss three examples of documentary films produced within a broad human rights agenda. I follow Lilie Chouliaraki’s tripartite framework to critique human rights communication through film; she categorizes visual materials produced in the interest of disability human rights within I. “shock effect images,” II. “positive imagery,” and finally, III. “a post-humanitarianism sensibility” (Chouliaraki 2010). In Part I of this essay, I analyze the use of disability in Disability Rights International’s (DRI) films that fit within the broadly critiqued medical model of disability and exhibit the suffering body of “shock effect appeals.” Part II turns to a recent documentary of people with disabilities disseminated by the UN Enable Film Festival that attempts to show the triumphant strength of people with disability, thus configuring into “positive imagery appeals” rooted in the portrayal of the “sufferer’s agency and dignity.” In Part III, I offer an alternative to the first two types of human rights films, drawing from Chouliaraki’s6 articulation of a “post-humanitarianism sensibility,” linked in the promise of observational cinema’s participatory and improvisatory mode of inquiry. Ultimately I argue that observational film practice offers an alternative to the reductively inspirational or pitiful representations of people with disabilities most commonly recognized in human rights communication through film.
Lilie Chouliaraki has discussed public action in response to humanitarian communication as being broadly contingent on an “emotion-oriented discourse of suffering” precipitated by “universal ethics” (2010, 108). She asserts that this in part constitutes the “politics of pity” which is largely based within “the language of grand emotions about suffering” (2010, 108). This essay, however, is based in an interrogation of practice in the production of human rights film regarding disability, and thus I utilize her language but engage with a different facet of the issue.
I. In Relief: The Prevailing “Shock-Effect” in Human Rights Film The Disability Rights International (DRI) film, “Abandoned and Disappeared (Mexico),” shows the director of the organization speaking at a young girl in a crib. He clarifies, “Again, clef palate is completely operable,” while the camera zooms in on the child’s face. The young girl is reduced to an “operable” condition and her name remains unknown. As an example of “shock effect” entreaties, the films produced by DRI suggest a problem to be fixed. This “problem” is symbolized through the medicalized disabled body that has been rendered subjectless. As I’ve briefly remarked upon, images of disability and the disabled body have been largely situated within medical discourses of normality and pathology, emphasizing bodies that evoke pity and thus a cure mentality or medical intervention. Goodbye Cp marks an unprecedented attempt to show disability in a specific social location directed through the subjectivity of Yokota Hiroshi. Nonetheless, Kazuo’s film is an anomalous example. The self-determination exhibited by Yokota Hiroshi as he crosses the street contrasts with the “shock effect” films reflected in displays of pathologized, suffering bodies (Chouliaraki 2010). Yokota challenges this characterization, asserting, “Pity, I can do without” (1972). In stark contrast to Yokota’s castigation of pity are the more prevalent documentary films produced by human rights organizations like Disability Rights International (DRI). Disability Rights International (DRI) is a non-governmental organization based in Washington, D.C. that focuses on mental disabilities, and broadcasts photographs and films in an effort to unveil the “torture” endemic to non-Western institutional spaces for the disabled. DRI’s lofty mission is to eradicate the institutionalization of children with disabilities in nonWestern locales (DRI website, accessed 2014). To situate my call for major shifts in practice in human rights film production, I examine the muchcritiqued documentaries made by DRI. These films bring into relief the cultural meaning-making potential for disability representations in films made in the style of Goodbye Cp. DRI’s documentary film production is emplaced in a discourse reliant on a history of pathologized images of disability. So, DRI’s documentaries rely on visual techniques that emphasize the unruliness of the disabled body while simultaneously erasing the environmental, social, and cultural location of these disabled individuals. As Rosemarie Garland-Thomson discerns of this historically rooted-practice exhibited in DRI’s films, “being visually conspicuous while politically and socially erased” (Garland-
Human Rights Films and Disability
Thomson 2001, 56); the person with disability is reduced to a symbol of pity. DRI relies on a visual rhetoric wherein white, western people speak at a camera while photographs and film clips of disabled children cycle in the background. Utilizing the convention of the talking-head interview to convey authority, DRI effectively erases the subjectivity of the individuals shown. Ostensibly based in a photorealist tradition, the humanitarian films made by DRI work to render the person with a disability recognizable only through a lens of sickness, abnormality, and pathology. This form of shock imagery circulated by DRI adheres to a “politics of pity” mentality wherein disability requires medical intervention based on a moral impetus to rescue. Chouliaraki perceives this impulse to be the legacy of the aesthetics of humanitarian shock appeal images based in a moralistic appeal to the spectator. Not only does the display of the young girl in the crib affirm a pathologizing theory of difference, it plays directly into an imagined divide between Western and non-Western nations. Eunjung Kim’s reading of DRI’s documentary films extrapolates a pervasive geo-political trend embedded within these representations, in part, stemming from the medicalized body within the films as evidenced by the statements mentioned above. Kim regards the political landscape of non-governmental organizations through a polemical lens, paying attention to the polarization of the “developing world” versus a perceived Western idealized “developed world” for disabled populations. She explains, “to describe a society as disabled people’s “heaven” or “hell” places the experiences of disabled people and other marginalized populations in a rather mythical and dichotomous dimension removing the complexity of diverse individuals living with diverse disabilities” (Kim 2011, 94). Kim argues that these types of films make statements about nations through the way they consider the disabled population therein. To Kim, DRI makes a pejorative statement on the countries these individuals inhabit through the myopic perspective of such one-sided documentaries. The films tend to focus only on the abject situation of the disabled figure rather than the systemic cultural and historical contexts attached to disability and disabled individuals. The disabled body becomes a symbol for a network of conceptions about certain countries, but especially about the undisputed bio-medical dominance of the West: “the disabled bodies signify the underdevelopment of their nation via its inability to provide a cure” (Kim 2011, 95). These examples run rampant as a central approach in the display of disability in human rights communication. Kim locates this problem precisely in how these images: “rel[y] on “abjection” toward the presence of disability rather than the situation” (Kim 2011, 97).
Kim’s persuasive critique of DRI’s filmic representations of institutionally abused disabled children and the implications of transnational iterations of disability pleads for a different mode of practice in the production of human rights film concerning disability. Kim’s critique concludes with some alternative methods of human rights communication. She suggests, “attention should be paid to selfrepresentations of everyday experiences and struggles of disabled women and men in the contexts of their relationships with other minorities beyond being a symbol of the quality of their society” (Kim 2011, 104). These alternative representations resonate with a central idea in the observational mode of inquiry. Her analysis is similar to arguments made by anthropologist Faye Ginsburg in the early 1990s about the expanding potential for selfrepresentation for indigenous populations making ethnographic film.7 Beyond a film practice that can offer self-determination to disabled individuals, observational film practice also works to locate disabled social bodies within larger spheres of interrelations. Observational film is not a panacea for human rights communication through film, nevertheless, as a genre rooted in the anthropological tradition and historically attached to the complexities of representing the subjugated other, observational film provides a unique avenue of representation for dominated cultural and social bodies. As a practice, observational film grapples with more than just the pro-filmic event but the “systemic workings” that incubate and reproduce human rights abuses (Kim 2011, 97).
II. The Limits of Positive Imagery and Resilience Narratives Inspiring notes from an excited piano play as an adolescent woman begins to speak about disability. The camera’s close focus on her face cuts to her laughing, back to her face, and then to her smiling and rolling away in her wheelchair. The sentimental music blares on. Characterized by quick cuts 7
Faye Ginsburg notes, “By enlarging and changing the terms of the field so that we recognize media work as a form of social action, we are obliged to revise our comfortable and taken for granted narrative conventions that fetishize the text and reify “culture” and “cultural difference”” (Ginsburg 1994, 14). In regard to human rights communication and disability, “social action” can be characterized by a new practice in the representation of disability and disability cultures through observational film.
Human Rights Films and Disability
and earnest faces, Listen Up! Children with Disabilities Speak Out (2014), was featured in the United Nations Enable Film Festival (ENEFF) in 2014. The film is short, approximately four minutes, and uses tight shots on faces and bodies in interview style frames. Postured by Plan International as a media piece to “highlight some steps which have helped them overcome discrimination in their lives, and inspire us with their ambitions for the future. The film highlights their ability as powerful advocates to the global community for the promotion of the rights of all children” (Plan International, Youtube), the film frames disabled children in a discourse of inspirational and overcoming narratives. This section evaluates the role of positive imagery appeals in human rights documentary that seeks to reclaim the disabled body by creating positive representations with the aim of exhibiting “the sufferer’s agency and dignity” (Chouliaraki 2010). Although more invested in individual agency than the shock and pity based films of DRI, these representations often slide into a resilience narrative entangled with a neoliberal transcendent individualist ideology—both of which place the responsibility for disability on the disabled person, not their disabling environments and social settings. The prevalence of the resilience narrative in the films selected by ENEFF is suggestive of a broader trend in human rights film festivals. Human rights film festivals emerged in the late 1990s, beginning with the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in New York (Tascon 2012). Human rights film festivals have since become commonplace extending across the globe. A more recent addition to the circuit in 2009, the United Nations Enable Film Festival (ENEFF) centers on disability and human rights. The passage of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2006 marked a momentous occasion in disability human rights despite difficulties in wide scale implementation. ENEFF showcases the film work of activists, human rights organizations, and independent filmmakers from the Global North and South, and operates as a subset of the larger framework within UN Enable initiatives focusing on disability human rights (ENEFF website, accessed 2015). These inspirational films focus heavily on the individual overcoming their hardship placing the responsibility for disability on the disabled person, not their disabling environments and social settings. While not specifically speaking to human rights film, Alison Kafer’s insights on the Foundation for a Better Life’s image campaign resonate in regard to positive
imagery appeals of disability and the disabled body.8 Kafer questions who these campaigns are for. By asking the question of who’s “better life” the FBL touts, Kafer locates the FBL’s campaign through a visual rhetoric focused on responses to grand emotion that illicit a savior reaction to the body and not the social environment (Chouliaraki 2010). In particular, this savior reaction is in response to crips that can supposedly help themselves, therefore deserving of public action. Kafer squarely locates a major dilemma within the imageric rhetoric of the FBL’s campaign troubling the transcendent individualism associated with neoliberal capitalist ideology. This deployment of the disabled body within a resilience narrative, as Kafer argues, is a visual rhetorical device that erases the experience of queers, crips, and other non-normative groups. As Kafer puts it: “According to the FBL and its billboards, disability is not a political issue but a character issue, and should be addressed as such” (Kafer 2013, 87). Kafer locates a troubling trend in contemporary visual representation of the disabled body that not only popularizes inflated images of resilience, but also wields these images to perpetuate a myth of personal responsibility, while using the disabled body to at once erase the political viability of this body and simultaneously conceal social and institutional failures. The production of positive imagery or resilience narrative based films perpetuates the perception of disability as an embodied location that must be fought, overcome or changed. Chouliaraki grounds her argument with an emphasis on the performative aspects of humanitarian communication and gestures towards the importance of aesthetics in a critique of past conventions in the production of photographs and films. She observes, “the ways in which it [humanitarian communication] uses imagery to establish emotional connectivity between spectator and sufferer, can provide insights into the moral proposals for action that this form of communication makes possible in our culture” (Chouliaraki 2010, 110). By reading humanitarian communication as performative, Chouliaraki emplaces the desired response to suffering, from an unknown public, within the very construction of the visual object. In effect, positive imagery humanitarian campaigns still operate under the assumptions of rescue, cure, and outside intervention by virtue of the way the imagery is conceptualized and then produced in order to stimulate public action. 8
The Foundation for a Better Life’s billboard campaign is characterized by the phrase “Pass it on.” These billboards range from pictures of Einstein to Kermit the Frog, to Christopher Reeve, usually accompanied by a tagline word like “overcoming” or “believe.”
Human Rights Films and Disability
The task, then, is not only to represent people with disabilities in positive ways but also to render them more than symbols of either pity or heroism. Becoming Bulletproof (dir. Michael Barnett 2014) is an interesting example of a documentary that operates in a positive imagery appeal register, while also incorporating moments more in line with an observational cinema mode of inquiry. While not specifically created within a human rights agenda, the film showcases a productive scene wherein the lived experience of disability is central. The documentary is a film about another film—attentively following the production of a fiction film wherein the cast is comprised of actors with various disabilities. In general, the film utilizes the techniques of the conventional documentary—talking heads, a thumping soundtrack, and a somewhat resilient narrative wherein the completion of the project elicits an inspirational, upbeat mood; however, there is one scene in particular that breaks away from this narrative. During a sequence at an old Hollywood set in the desert, the camera explores the everyday rituals and body-habits of the diverse cast. Much of this highlights hygiene and personal care matters. Yet, seen continuously in a purposeful long take, a young man with Down syndrome prepares his coffee—adding sugar and milk. The camera’s attentiveness to this process emphasizes, through the form of the hand-held long take, the everydayness of such an act that shapes an unremarkable occurrence, which nevertheless suggests the seemingly simple actions that comprise the lived experience of a disabled man. This scene rejects sensationalism or spectacle, and in so doing represents the diversity of experience through the simple act of stirring one’s own coffee. By bringing together the way the disabled body is conceived of in the “shock effect” mode, and in the “positive imagery” mode, I hope to bring to light discontinuities in the humanitarian depiction of the positive or resilience narrative of the disabled figure. While the narrative of resilience in human rights film focuses on transcendent individualism by depicting trauma and suffering as the cause—and overcoming as the effect— observational film offers a medium wherein subject-directed action stimulates the movement of the film. The everyday is not proposed as a triumph of character, rather, like in the distinctive scene in Becoming Bulletproof, to represent the simple act of stirring one’s own coffee is an act of radical everydayness that doesn’t play on the medicalized, sentimental or resilient attributes of extraordinary embodiment. The pro-filmic event is not limited to conventional narrative arcs or married to definitive character development, rather, it allows for organic and collaborative knowledge production based in phenomenological sit-point perspectives (Wendell 1995; GarlandThomson 2000). In other words, the filmmaker and the subjects and the
space come together in a complex web of resonances, connections, intersubjectivities, and dramas based in an improvisatory way of being in the world—much like the way life unfolds (Ingold 2011). Observational film offers a simultaneity that does not privilege just the body of the individual, but pays attention to environment, culture, and the bodies therein. Rather than, in Kafer’s words, representing individuals in such a way wherein, “disability is depoliticized, presented as a fact of life requiring determination and courage, not as a system marking some bodies, ways of thinking, and patterns of movement as deviant and unworthy” (Kafer 2013, 87). This style draws attention to more than just the failures or successes of discrete individuals, but rather situates these individuals in broader cultural, political, and social contexts. By following the action stimulated by the individual, unexpected knowledge and insights arise.
III. Observational Cinema Towards a “Shared Human Rights” Observation was first and foremost understood to be an ethical stance. —Anna Grimshaw (2009)
There are ways to produce human rights films centered on disability that invite viewers to observe and engage with the subject’s life amidst the material conditions of diverse environments and complex social relationships. When practitioners adhere to representational politics grounded in collaboration and shared authorship in film production, the subsequent product “(1) disengages public action from pity, that is from the activation of grand emotion towards suffering and (2) engages the reflexivity of the spectator, inviting us to rely on our own judgment as to whether public action is possible or desirable” (Chouliaraki 2010, 114). Perhaps, Chouliaraki is suggesting something akin to observational film.9 In observational film practice, geopolitical location, social webs and material environments are central to contextualizing the disabled subjects in dialogue with and impacted by “the global economic systems of ine9
Chouliaraki makes clear her reservations with “a post-humanitarian humanitarianism” in her discussion of the ramifications of producing representations unattached to a moralistic imperative: “The danger, then, in removing the moral question of ‘why’ from humanitarian communication, may lie in the perpetuation of a political culture of communitarian narcissism – a sensibility that renders the emotions of the self the measure of our understanding of the sufferings of the world at large” (Chouliaraki 2010, 121).
Human Rights Films and Disability
quality, racial and gendered violence, warfare, and capitalism, and the histories of colonization” (Erevelles, qtd in Kim 141). The experiences of disability are mediated through these systems and histories in the profilmic moment, then also in the rushes and help to position subjects within broader spheres of influence. In so doing, filmic modes of inquiry that foreground extended acts of looking together with filmmaker and subject refute the easy binary of a resilient and successful subject or the unsuccessful and failing disabled subject based in personal accountability. The cultures of disability are multiple and diverse, but “looking at media made by people occupying a range of cultural positions, from insider to outsider, can provide a kind of parallax effect, offering us a fuller sense of the complexity of perspectives on what we have come to call culture” (Ginsburg 1994, 6). This culture Ginsburg remarks upon is so multifarious in scope when it comes to disability and disabled individuals, and necessitates new approaches in filmmaking geared towards highlighting vastly different experiences of embodiment as cultures of value rather than those of incapacity. While not a new genre, there is much potential for fecund relationships between observational cinema and disability through attention to multisensory aural and visual techniques. Many of the sensory methods utilized in the production of observational films have the capacity to capture the nuance of varying disabilities by highlighting the specificity of the everyday. Guided by the volition of disabled subjects acting within their own experiential sphere, observational cinema practices can attend to barriers within material and social environments and highlight the regularity of such encounters and the affective responses of the subjects within the moment. In turn, this attendance to daily-life emphasizes the vast spectrum of disability experiences while simultaneously demonstrating to the viewer the very real things necessary for disabled individuals to participate fully in social, political, and cultural life. In this way, observational film practice follows some of the main thrusts of Chouliaraki’s articulation of a “post humanitarian humanitarianism.” In her words By foregrounding the act of representation rather than emotional response towards suffering, this style acknowledges that compassion fatigue lies not so much in the excess of human suffering that transcends our individual capacity to feel for or act on it, but rather in the excess of discourses of morality around which we are called to organize our feelings and action towards suffering (Chouliaraki 2010, 120).
This act of representation is vital in my articulation of “shared human rights” practice, as it gestures towards practice as the fulcrum in human rights films about disability.
The praactice of makking films eth hically is inddispensible to o director Kazuo. In G Goodbye Cp, the film was made in the spirit of colllaborative authorship aas central to the t project an nd therefore eelicited new and a unexpected know wledges. In a climactic sceene in Goodby bye Cp, Yokota’s disabled wife, Y Yoshiko, dem mands for him to quit the ddocumentary. She contends that tthey will nevver effectively y participate iin mainstream m society because shee believes the film is portray ying them as freaks. Yoshiiko warns divorce as a possibility iff he does not abandon the project. Laterr, a group of Yokota’ss friends visit his home and d discuss the ramifications if he decides to resiign from the project. p The sccene unfolds iin Yokota’s ap partment, as his peers,, who are alsoo disabled, con ntend that Yookota needs to o continue with the proj oject and asserrt his opinion to t his wife. Thhis scene exprresses the organizationn of a commuunity and the dialogues d thatt are happenin ng within the group off peers rather than t the repreesentation of a disability as a solitary and lonely ssocial positionn (Fig. 2).
Subsequuently, Yokotaa and Yoshiko o get into a heeated discussio on, which Hara Kazuoo captures on film. Yoshik ko confronts H Hara and yellls, “How dare you in my house. This is too much, I’m callinng someone. How H dare you” (1972)). By includinng this momeent in the film m, Kazuo gesstures towards the vvery real tensions and comp plexities of m making a film in an observational rregister whereein representaation is mediaated on the inttersubjec-
Human Rights Films and Disability
tive exchanges of everyone involved. Even as Yokota and Yoshiko enact a marital dispute, Hara’s camera maintains an interest in the relationship between their bodies and in the intimacy of such ordinary interactions. As the fight escalates, Yoshiko closes herself into a separate room. A second afterwards, a little face peers out of a crack in the door and grins mischievously. This moment emplaces the scene within a larger context of family social life and through the child’s playfulness—the everyday lived context and relationality of these specific bodies emerges. The child seems totally unconcerned and begins to hum to himself before closing the door again. Yokota Hiroshi continues his involvement with the film. Approximately six inches off the ground, the camera rapidly rolls towards a figure on the street. Yokota Hiroshi holds a piece of chalk and begins to draw his name. The camera holds the shot low to the ground as he writes, “poem.” The poem, “Legs,” involves Yokota drawing a circle around his body in chalk. The camera pulls out to frame Yokota within a wider context of the crowd amassing around him as he continues to write his poem onto the sidewalk. Yokota’s voice streams through in a voiceover as he recites the poem you who stand there all around me. You have legs on which to stand. You forbid me to walk, that is how you keep your legs. All the people around me All the legs surrounding me You for what reasons forbid me to walk? (1972)
The camera tilts up towards the sky, as someone inquires, “who is in charge here?” The camera maintains a shot of the sky in a haphazard frame, while a quick discussion ensues, culminating in, “You’re bothering people. This is a freak show. Please stop.” By including this scene in the final edit of the film, Kazuo highlights Yokota’s performance as a radical act of protest. At the same time, mainstream society, as suggested by the antagonistic presence assigning the term “freak” to Yokota, aggressively denounces this act of social dissonance thus exhibiting the reality of stigma and segregation characteristic of the disabled everyday experience of Yokota Hiroshi. The film abruptly cuts to a symmetrically framed shot of Yokota Hiroshi naked in the middle of a vacant street. Again, in the long takes characteristic of the film, the viewer is slowly acclimated to the surroundings while Yokota begins to speak. Exploring the space of his body, the camera interacts with Yokota as he contorts and moves on the street. He says, We set out to make this film, to show that we can’t do anything, but I was hoping I could do something to make a different kind of film that was what
Chapter Three I, what I thought. But while we went through the process of making the film my hopes were completely shattered. How can I say, after all, in many levels, I require some form of protection, that’s the only way I can survive (1972).
Through the presentation of his naked figure, Yokota invites the viewer to grapple with his embodiment. The frame of the shot emphasizes this profound act of vulnerability by sustaining a stark immediacy with Yokota as he speaks about his experiences of making the film but also about how the practice illuminated his interdependency within his relationships and the larger social and cultural landscape in Japan. Furthermore, the display of his naked body is an act of defiance for Yokota—as he remarks on the necessity of “some form of protection,” thus challenging his country to look and acknowledge the needs of the disabled population therein.10 In this way, Goodbye Cp as a model for producing human rights communication through an observational film practice is capable of eliciting a response from the spectator that eschews a moral imperative, but rather incites a political and cultural response. Goodbye Cp was not made for humanitarian purposes, yet it did have a broader effect for people with disabilities in Japan. After the film was finished, Kazuo became invested in the rights of people with disabilities. As Jeffrey Ruoff notes, “After the film's release, both Hara and Kobayashi Sachiko, the producer of Hara's three films, authored articles calling for changes in the treatment of the handicapped, criticizing state interference in the question of whether disabled individuals should bear children” (Ruoff 1993), suggesting the larger implications of the film in the decades following, but also in the contemporary context of pre-natal testing. Rather than appropriating disabled subjects into a pre-existing narrative of suffering or of resilience in the face of suffering, observational film practice explores daily lived experience wherein successes and challenges arise organically within the frame. Most importantly, an observational film practice seeks to explore social environments alongside the individuals portrayed in the films. In an effort to explore the day-to-day lives of disabled individuals, observational film foregrounds a practice that asks the viewer to imaginatively explore a different subject-position. Tim Ingold’s iteration that anthropology can work as a practice with people and not 10 See Eunjung Kim’s “The Specter of Vulnerability and Disabled Bodies in Protest” (2014). Kim writes “it is also important to recognize that minoritized people deploy visual and corporeal expressions of radical vulnerability as a way to protest society’s systemic failures” (Kim 2014, 150)
Human Rights Films and Disability
about them affirms a general ethos central to the observational practice I propose as an alternative mode in film production for human rights communication about disability. What observational film animates, then, is a disruption of stagnant representations that constrain and marginalize through stereotypical tropes— what disability can and should look like in the visual terrain. Observational film conceives of bodily experience through an attention to how the “body itself seems to speak” (MacDougall 2006), which as seen in Goodbye CP, is constituted first and foremost through collaborative authorship. What would it mean for the disabled body “to speak” in the context of human rights film rather than a pre-articulated idea of the body as perpetuated by a detached filmmaker as seen in the DRI films? In a move for public scholarship, anthropologists should be employed by human rights organizations and collaboratively work with disabled subjects to create short observational films ranging from five to fifteen minutes. These could serve as human rights communications—observational films made collaboratively with the subjects, highly reflexive, and with attention to subject directed action. There is already a forum in which these films could be disseminated through human rights film festivals, beyond the accessibility furnished by the Internet. “The circulatory reach of electronic media is the key factor in the creation of what we call mediated kinship” (Ginsburg Rapp 2013, 197), thus through mediated kinship and more participatory, or “shared” forms of representation that value the subjectivity of the disabled individual as integral—and more importantly—essential in the practice of representing the disabled body, can observational cinema as a “shared human rights” film practice fully emerge?
References Abandoned and Disappeared (Mexico). nd Produced by DRL. http://www.driadvocacy.org/video-gallery/abandoned-diappearedmexico/ Becoming Bulletproof, directed by Michael Barnett (2016;USA:Virgil Films and Entertainment),DVD. Chouliaraki, L. 2010. Post-humanitarianism: Humanitarian communication beyond a politics of pity. International Journal of Cultural Studies 13, no. 2: 107–26. Davis, Lennard. 2002. Bending Over Backwards: Disability, Dismodernism, and Other Difficult Positions. New York: New York University Press.
Garland-Thomson, R. 1997. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York: Columbia UP. —. 2009. Staring. London: Oxford University Press. Grimshaw, A and Amanda Ravetz. 2009. Observational Cinema: Anthropology, Film, and the Exploration of Social Life. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Ginsburg, Faye. 1994. Culture/Media: A (Mild) Polemic. Anthropology Today 10, no. 2: 5-15. Ginsburg, Rapp 2013. “Enabling Disability: Rewriting Kinship, Reimagining Citizenship” in The Disability Studies Reader. 4th Edition. New York: Routledge. Goodbye CP, directed by Hara Kazuo (1972; Chicago, IL: Facets Video 2007), DVD. Halltunen, K. 1995. “Humanitarianism and the Pornography of Pain in Anglo-American Culture” The American Historical Review, Vol. 100, No. 2: 303-334. Ingold, Tim. 2011 Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description. New York: Routledge. Kafer, Alison. 2013. Feminist, Queer, Crip. Bloomington: Indian University Press. Kim, Eunjung. 2011. “Heaven for disabled people”: nationalism and international human rights imagery. Disability and Society 26, no. 1: 93106. —. 2014. “The Specter of Vulnerability and Disabled Bodies in Protest.” In Disability, Human Rights and the Limits of Humanitarianism, eds Michael Gill and Cathy J. Schlund-Vials, 137-154. Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Company. Listen Up! Children with Disabilities Speak Out. 2013. Produced by Plan International. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CE9M2R1nulo. Longmore, Paul. 2013. “Heaven’s Special Child”: The Making of Poster Children” The Disability Studies Reader. 4th Edition. New York: Routledge. MacDougall, David. 2006. The Corporeal Image: Film, Ethnography, and the Senses. Princeton University Press. Rouch, Jean, and Steven Feld. 2003. Cine-Ethnography. 1st ed. University of Minnesota Press. Ruoff, Jeffrey with Kenneth Ruoff. 1993. Iris: A Journal of Theory on Image and Sound 26, 115-126. Snyder, S. & Mitchell, D. 2006. Cultural Locations of Disability. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
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Stoller, Paul. 1997. Sensuous Scholarship. University of Pennsylvania Press. Tascon, Sonia. 2012. Considering Human Rights Films, Representation, and Ethics: Whose Face?. Human Rights Quarterly 34, 864-883.
CHAPTER FOUR PERCEPTION OF THE VISUAL: WE SEE WITH OUR BRAINS SARAH BROWN
Introduction The visual dominates our global culture and has become an essential tool for universal communication. The information landscape is embedded in contemporary culture through the internet and social media; wi-fi and remote access to library resources enable immediate access to information. The visual has become an essential resource and source to share. Images cross boundaries and non-verbally illustrate information —a global language that unifies all cultures. Therefore, when communicating human rights issues, images narrate the past and present. How do our brains process these visual resources, and what influence does this neurological process have on interpreting visual images of culture or human rights? The visual triggers a physiological process in our brains that catalyzes memory recall and creates new beliefs. Our environment and cultural memory can influence our visual perception as the physiological process follows the
Perception of the Visual: We See With Our Brains
neurological pathways. By understanding the neuroscience behind visual perception, researchers can use the perspective to generate deeper scholarship and understand of the intangible aspects of culture, including human rights.
Access to the Visual Access sets the stage for the information that builds beliefs. The United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the global leader for human rights and culture, declared that access to information is a human right, which includes visual information.1 In reference to Part II of Act 6, UNESCO states, “Every citizen has a right of access to information and records in the possession of the State or any public body.” In 2015, they declared September 28th as International Day for Universal Access to Information.2 Because the internet has enabled global access to information, the visual is the most significant resource and means of communication. Termed as visual literacy by the American Library Association (ALA), the visual plays a significant role in scholarship because of its nonverbal narrative.3 The images themselves are considered elements of 21st century information literacy skills, and the ALA developed “Visual Literacy Standards” in 2011 to outline the skills necessary to use visual resources. Additionally, the ALA recognizes the duality of visual information. The visual is both an information resource and a cultural object or expression. “Images often function as information, but they are also aesthetic and creative objects that require additional levels of interpretation and analysis.”4 In many academic libraries, a Visual Resource Librarian is
UNESCO, "THE ACCESS TO INFORMATION ACT, 2005.," Access to Information Act, July 19, 2005, 6, http://portal.unesco.org/ci/en/files/26148/12047263733Uganda.pdf/Uganda.pdf. 2 UNSECO, "PROCLAMATION OF 28 SEPTEMBER AS THE “INTERNATIONAL DAY FOR THE UNIVERSAL ACCESS TO INFORMATION," UNESCO, November 3, 2015, accessed June 10, 2016, http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0023/002352/235297e.pdf 3 "Visual Literacy Standards," Association of College and Research Libraries, October 2011, http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/visualliteracy. 4 "ACRL Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education", American Library Association, October 27, 2011. par4. http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/visualliteracy (Accessed June 9, 2016) Document ID: 4d02961f-23ff-b874-7d6d-9f8d0b87e7c2
available to guide scholars through retrieval and usage. The visual is not only relevant; it is imperative. “Cultural diversity and multilingualism on the Internet have a key role to play in fostering pluralistic, equitable, open and inclusive knowledge societies.”5 UNESCO coined the term, “Internet Universality,” which sets forth the basic four principles represented in “the mnemonic ROAM: rights-based, open, accessible, multi-stakeholder driven.”6 Internet Universality leads to questions about the role of visual perception and belief systems. Understanding that access to visual resources is a human right and a standard skill set of information literacy, researchers must consider visual perception paramount in scholarly communication. Applying the physiological principles of brain activity, scholars generate a deeper examination of visual information communicating issues of human rights.7
Figure 4.1 8
(par 5, http://en.unesco.org/themes/access-information) UNESCO states that access to the internet has become an inherent human right to access both for retrieving and sharing information. Par 7 2014.7/3 News and In focus articles. Retrieved from http://www.unesco.org/new/en/communication-and-information/resources/newsand-in-focus-articles/allnews/news/open_consultation_on_unesco_new_concept_internet_universality/#.V 1l791fjBFI 7 UNESCO defines human rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights created in 1947. The consensus brought forth competences: “right to education, cultural life, benefits of scientific progress and its application, and freedom of opinion and expression,” which includes access to information. http://www.unesco.org/new/en/social-and-human-sciences/themes/human-rightsbased-approach/60th-anniversary-of-udhr/unesco-and-the-declaration/ 8 Kock, Wikipedia 2007 6
Perception of the Visual: We See With Our Brains
Seeing is an evolutionary sense and a universal commonality. Regardless of species, “vision does not occur in the eye. It occurs in the brain.”9 Our neurological activity generates what we see and defines our beliefs. Yet, the process is not simple. Memory, attention, and the environment factor into visual processing, creating a new belief or perception that leads to predictions followed by action. Multiple sensory processing occurs simultaneously, and our multitasking brains are both receiving and retrieving information. Not only are neurons firing to bring new information in, but our memory storage is activated to identify and create organization with visual information. Neural pathways activate to assemble some order for internal understanding of our external world. “Many factors, therefore, influence what we experience, and people will respond differently to what they are looking at.”10 In figure 4.2, the visual images can be perceived in two ways: a white vase or two side profiles of a person’s face. Our response may not be the same as our colleague’s, but the neurological process is the same.11
Figure 4.2. In examining the visual image, what do you see? A white vase or two faces?12
V S. Ramachandran, The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human (New York: W.W. Norton, ©2011), 1. 10 Richard D. Zakia, Perception and Imaging: Photography--a Way of Seeing, 3rd ed. (Amsterdam: Focal Press, 2007), 65. 11 K.A. Lindquist and L.F. Barrett 2012. A functional architecture of the human brain: Emerging insights from the science of emotion. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 16(11), par. 9. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2012.09.005 12 "Law of Figure Ground," digital image, Gestalt Principals, 2016, accessed August 2, 2016,
Historically, Gestalt laws explain how visual information is grouped or organized in order for us to define the visual information and group it with similar information. Max Wertheimer originated his principles of Gestalt psychology in 1914 and pioneered the ideas that the human brain groups visual stimuli in order to organize and define the visual information.13 Intuitively, the brain groups things with similar characteristics based on what is present in the visual information and what is recalled from our memory. Zakia explains Gestalt’s law of Pragnanz: “We tend to organize our world so that we can cope with it.”14 In referencing how the brain organizes visual information, Zakia presents the psychology of how we see because “what people experience depends on external and internal factors—what they are looking at and what they are looking for.”15 In essence, our brains are forming experience patterns. The patterns associate and decipher our visual reality. Therefore, when viewing visual resources during research, our brains input and code the visual information with metadata tags or keywords. In Tom Wujec’s 2009 Ted Talk titled “3 Ways the Brain Creates Meaning,” he describes how cognitive psychology interprets the brain’s neurological processing: “Cognitive psychologists now tell us that the brain doesn’t actually see the world as it is, but instead, creates a series of mental models through a collection of “Ah-ha moments,” or moments of discovery, through various processes.”16 Our brains cannot help but associate things in categories in an effort to define or understand the visual. “The processing, of course, begins with the eyes.”17 When visual information is observed, the available light enters through our cornea straight through to our retinas, which is made up of lightsensitive tissue with photoreceptor cells. “Each of your eyes has an estimated 130 million photoreceptors [rods and cones] that provide the raw materials for vision.”18 These cells convert the light into electrical signals
https://gestalt-principles.wikispaces.com/file/view/oi_rubin_vase01.jpg. 13 Ibid, 28. 14 Ibid, 65. 15 Ibid, 64. 16 Tom Wujec. 2009.” 3 Ways the brain creates meaning,” TedU. Long Beach, CA. https://www.ted.com/talks/tom_wujec_on_3_ways_the_brain_creates_meaning?ut m_campaign=iosshare&utm_medium=social&source=email&utm_source=email#t-250922 17 Ibid, 1:26. 18 Beverly McMillan, Human Body: A Visual Guide (Richmond Hill, Ont.: Firefly Books, ©2006), 128.
Perception of the Visual: We See With Our Brains
that travel through the optic nerve.19 From there, the visual information is delivered to the brain, and the visual system becomes a sensory neurological process. Initially entering the brain, the information from the optic nerve separates, differentiating by the left and right eye. The visual information proceeds separately in the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) of the thalamus.20 Here in the mid-brain, visual processing begins deciphering motion, colors, and basic shapes.21 As the information is sent to the back of the brain to the occipital lobe in the primary visual cortex, the categorized information is delivered to the striate cortex, where some interpretation and collating happens. “The visual system is split into two processing streams: a ventral stream that receives color and form information [the physical attributes of the visual] and a dorsal stream that receives motion information.”22 This is significant because it means our brains are accessing what visual information receives attention: “There is evidence to suggest that there is integration of both dorsal and ventral stream information into motion computation processes, giving rise to intermediate object representations, which facilitate object selection and decision making mechanisms in the dorsal stream.”23 Selecting visual information, our brains are also categorizing the information into short- or long-term memory. With activity in the visual cortex, our brains are identifying and categorizing, as well as reading the physical space. Light is interpreted by identifying patterns, lines, and density. The eye scans for features while the brain retrieves information from memory, trying to attach the present visual information with something similar from the past.24 “Information coded and carried by one million retinal ganglion cells are distributed to 19
"How We See," National Eye Institute, accessed May 15, 2016, https://nei.nih.gov/healthyeyes/howwesee. 20 Valentin Dragoi, "Visual Processing: Cortical Pathways (Section 2, Chapter 15) Neuroscience Online: An Electronic Textbook for the Neurosciences | Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy - The University of Texas Medical School at Houston, 2016, accessed May 02, 2016, http://neuroscience.uth.tmc.edu/s2/chapter15.html. 21 Ibid. 22 Carolyn Jeane Perry and Mazyar Allah, "Feature Integration and Object Representations along the Dorsal Stream Visual Hierarchy," Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience 8, no. 84 (2014). par 1. doi:10.3389/fncom.2014.00084. 23 Ibid. par. 1. 24 Ibid. par 2.
hundreds of millions of cortical neurons in the occipital, parietal and temporal lobes.”25 The two pathways—ventral, physical traits of the visual,
and dorsal, spatial information and depth perception—refine the information and prepare the brain to retrieve information from memory. Visual processing is deceivingly complicated. The categorized visual information that retains our attention experiences parallel processing, retrieving stored information. Memory is defined in two main categories: declarative or explicit and non-declarative implicit.26 Stored in the temporal lobe, the declarative [knowing what] represents conscious knowledge and past memories, and the non-declarative [knowing how] represents unconscious skills, habits, learning, and emotional reactions.27 Because memories can be tagged with short- or long-term retention, each type and subtype of memory has short- and long-term information. We begin to store memories at birth. Our visual memories— termed as Iconic Memory—play a significant role because they influence our visual perception, which affects our beliefs. “Information in memory may be represented as scripts for guiding behavior, some of which are acquired from actual experience and some are a result of mental simulations.”28
Visual Perception: Seeing With Our Brains What we see and how the information is processed is called visual perception. “Our perception of the environment relies on memory as much as it 25 Dragoi. "Visual Processing: Cortical Pathways (Section 2, Chapter 15) Neuroscience Online: An Electronic Textbook for the Neurosciences | Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy - The University of Texas Medical School at Houston, 2016, accessed May 02, 2016, http://neuroscience.uth.tmc.edu/s2/chapter15.html. 26 John H. Byrne, "Learning and Memory (Section 4, Chapter 7) Neuroscience Online: An Electronic Textbook for the Neurosciences | Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy - The University of Texas Medical School at Houston," Learning and Memory (Section 4, Chapter 7) Neuroscience Online: An Electronic Textbook for the Neurosciences | Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy - The University of Texas Medical School at Houston, accessed May 15, 2016, http://nba.uth.tmc.edu/neuroscience/m/s4/chapter07.html 27 Ibid. 28 Moshe Bar. (2009). The proactive brain: memory for predictions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364(1521), 1235–1243. par 2. Retrieved from http://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2008.0310
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does on incoming information, which blurs the border between perception and cognition.”29 This convergence of new information includes memory. In a 2014 publication, Coutanche and Thompson-Schill’s study proved that our brains have multiple convergence zones.30 Their study also “found that the top-down retrieval of object knowledge leads to activation of shape-specific and color-specific codes in relevant specialized visual areas, as well as an object-identity code within the left ATL.”31 These zones primarily reside in the anterior temporal lobe (ATL) and work in tandem with the visual cortex. Some information is passed on to other areas of the brain because it is categorized as useful. Yet, all these sections of our brain contribute to how we identify what we see, how we store the new information, and how our beliefs may or may not have changed. Also important to note: Our mindset directly influences the result of all neural activity. Our environment can influence our thoughts and beliefs. We know “cortical representations are triggered either by perception or internally retrieved with recall, imagery and simulations. But mindsets would imply that we have a sustained (though updatable) list of needs, goals, desires, predictions, context-sensitive conventions and attitudes.”32 Therefore, when viewing human rights issues, for example, all these elements play into visual perception and, ultimately, usage or action. Another factor worth noting is the influence of our emotions that controls our limbic system. “Emotion determines how we perceive our world, organize our memory, and make important decisions.”33 This is important because emotions can be especially intense in dealing with human rights. Visuals of human rights—whether they depict a positive social change or an atrocity—trigger our emotions.
Barr. page 1240 Marc Coutanche and Sharon L. Thompson-Schill. “Creating Concepts from Converging Features in Human Cortex.” Cereb. Cortex (2015) 25 (9): 25842593.doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhu057 31 Ibid, 2589. 32 Moshe Bar. (2009). The proactive brain: memory for predictions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364(1521), par. 20. http://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2008.0310 33 Tobias Broscha, Klaus R. Schererb, Didier Grandjeana, David Sander. " The impact of emotion on perception, attention, memory, and decision-making." Swiss Medical Weekly. May 14, 2013. Accessed May 16, 2016. http://www.smw.ch/content/smw-2013-13786/.doi:10.4414/smw.2013.13786 30
The Visual of Human Rights What happens when we are exposed to images of human rights issues? Our emotions are central to interpreting the visual information. “Emotional stimuli may draw attention more rapidly,” and the visual “cueing may not only lead to faster detection times, but also directly augment our perceptual capacity.”34 Old memories influence opinions or preset cultural definitions. Regardless, visual perception influences have an emotional processing layer based in the amygdala. Human right issues communicated through visual information are a significant example because our visual perception is not consistently objective. We must remember that “vision does not accord with reality but with perceptions and behaviors that succeed in a world.”35 The balance between biology and environment is delicate. When visuals communicate meaning or represent an issue, the verbal is not at play; the visual tells a narrative, sharing a collection of moments. In handling issues of human rights, the visual can narrate a powerful and visceral reaction by the viewer. The physiological process, memories, mindset, and established beliefs generate what we see. Keeping in mind, however, that “how vision works is the discrepancy between these perceived qualities and the physical parameters of objects and conditions in the world.”36 When communicating information about cultural practices, imagery is a nonverbal means of illustrating and expressing the information—the primary purpose of visual information. In communicating issues of human rights, the internet and media sources use the visual to connect with viewers. An example of bringing about positive social change through visual information is the 2014 Tunisian government’s move to enact constitutional equity for Tunisian women. This enactment was a progressive move toward equality during a period of political change and worthy of documenting visually. The NGOs, watchdog groups, and the UN released statements, with the media following up with news stories. The textual infor34
Ibid. par 9. Dale Purves et al., "How Biological Vision Succeeds in the Physical World," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 111, no. 13 (April 1, 2014): page 4754. accessed August 2, 2016, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1311309111. 36 Dale Purves, Yavin Morgenstern, and William Wojtach."Perception and Reality: Why a Wholly Empirical Paradigm Is Needed to Understand Vision," Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, November 18, 2015, November 18, 2015, accessed May 18, 1016, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnsys.2015.00156. 35
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mation was readily available. In searching for visual information, YouTube housed a collection of videos that gave voice to the energy and empowerment of the movement. The visual recreates the experience, even two years after the events. Viewing the imagery and video stimulates our neuropathways that perceive and define the scene. The visual becomes a means to connect despite geographical differences or past occurrences. When viewing the empowered Tunisian women speak and protest, our brains analyze and define the visual reality of the Arab Spring.
Figure 4.3. Screen shot of YouTube video on the Arab Spring.37
Social media and the immediacy of online access have made viewing of human rights issues instant, often unfolding in the present moment. Using the visual empowers viewers to raise awareness to generate positive social change. Ushahidi, a web–based, open-source network for entities to crowdsource, serves as a platform and network for sharing information, including visual, about specific human rights issues. The non-profit began in 2008 as a means to report violence after the election in Kenya, Africa. Sharing visual information to solve global problems is the primary mission. Now a leader in civic action and a global network to communicate human rights issues, the group has publicized Haiti’s earthquake and political turmoil in Africa, and continues to expand open-source software to aid in organizing, connecting, and accessing points for human rights visual information. Invisible City, a recent research initiative by Western Sydney University, Australia, and supported by Ushahidi, focuses on mapping 37
"Tunisian Women Maintaining Equality after the Revolution." YouTube. November 25, 2015. Accessed July 30, 2016. https://youtu.be/vzdRAQTVZuE.
how young people, ages 16-26 years old, feel about the city, which will influence future city planning and design.38 In creating a visual means to record emotions with mobile phones, the city of Parramatta and researchers at Western Sydney University used an open source platform to gather visual information. In creating a visual map with images and color coded for emotions, researchers computed visual references with the goal of improving the quality of life and wellness for residents.
Conclusion From the fundamental aspects of city planning for wellness to human rights events, the visual dominates communication in our world. Visual perception interprets the visual information into pieces that our brains use in order for us to see. Visual perception is both a physiological process and attributes of cultural memory that influence how we interpret and define the visual. Our individual visual perception interprets the visual information into pieces that our brains use in order for us to see. From the fundamental aspects of city planning for wellness to human rights events, the visual dominates communication in our world. With the understanding that access to visual resources is a human right and a standard 21st-century skill characterized by the ALA, we can apply the visual process of how we see to the visual perception of human rights. “The goal of perception is to take in information about the world and make sense to it.” Whether on a computer screen or print material, the visual prompts neurological activity. The eye computes the visual stimuli, sending messages through two separate pathways to the internal processing area of the brain. With the multiplicity of activity occurring in the layers upon layers of pathways, this simplification of neural activity ultimately creates a belief or a decision. Mindset and memory, simultaneously with the neurophysiology of processing, skew or define our perceptions. Styles states, “perceptual processing is a direct outcome of the biological and physiological nature of the visual system whereas other perceptual processes involve the use of knowledge gained from experience with the visual world”39. It is this usage or action that influences scholarly and cultural exchange about human 38 "Invisible City," Ushahidi, accessed July 28, 2016, https://www.ushahidi.com/case-studies/invisible-city. 39 Elizabeth A. Styles, Attention, Perception, and Memory: An Integrated Introduction (Hove, East Sussex: Psychology Press, 2005), 49.
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rights. With the understanding of neuroscience and visual perception in a global culture that communicates visually, the scientific influence should be embraced as a means for more effective and precise communication. This awareness creates unlimited potential for accessing and sharing information about humanitarian issues and, in real time, addressing injustice, current events, city planning, and education.
References "ACRL Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education", American Library Association, October 27, 2011. http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/visualliteracy (Accessed June 9, 2016) Document ID: 4d02961f-23ff-b874-7d6d-9f8d0b87e7c2 Bar, Moshe. "The Proactive Brain: Memory for Predictions." Biological Sciences, 2009, 1235-243. 2009. Accessed May 15, 2016. doi: http://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2008.0310. Blausen.com staff. "Blausen gallery 2014". Wikiversity Journal of Medicine. DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010 Broscha,Tobias, Klaus R. Schererb, Didier Grandjeana, David Sander. “The impact of emotion on perception, attention, memory, and decision-making." Swiss Medical Weekly. May 14, 2013. Accessed May 16, 2016. http://www.smw.ch/content/smw-2013-13786/. doi:10.4414/smw.2013.13786 Byrne, John H. "Learning and Memory (Section 4, Chapter 7) Neuroscience Online: An Electronic Textbook for the Neurosciences | Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy - The University of Texas Medical School at Houston." Learning and Memory (Section 4, Chapter 7) Neuroscience Online: An Electronic Textbook for the Neurosciences | Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy - The University of Texas Medical School at Houston. Accessed May 15, 2016. http://nba.uth.tmc.edu/neuroscience/m/s4/chapter07.html Coutanche, Marc and Thompson-Schill, Sharon L.Cereb. title. Cortex (2015) 25 (9): 2584-2593.doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhu057 Gregory, R L. Eye and Brain: The Psychology of Seeing. 5th ed. Princeton Science Library. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997. "How We See." National Eye Institute. Accessed May 15, 2016. https://nei.nih.gov/healthyeyes/howwesee. "Invisible City." Ushahidi. Accessed July 28, 2016. https://www.ushahidi.com/case-studies/invisible-city. “Keystone to foster inclusive knowledge societies: access to information, knowledge, Freedom of Expression, Privacy and Ethics on a Global In-
ternet.” 2015 the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization; Paris France. "Law of Figure Ground." Digital image. Gestalt Principals. 2016. Accessed August 2, 2016. https://gestalt-principles.wikispaces.com/file/view/oi_rubin_vase01.jpg. Christof Koch (2004) "Figure 1.1: Neuronal correlates of consciousness" in The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach, Englewood, Colorado: Roberts & Company Publishers, p. 16 ISBN: 0974707708. Lindquist, K. A., & Barrett, L. F. (2012). A functional architecture of the human brain: Emerging insights from the science of emotion. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 16(11), 533–540. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2012.09.005 McMillan, Beverly. Human Body: A Visual Guide. Richmond Hill, Ont.: Firefly Books, ©2006. Perry, Carolyn Jeane, and Mazyar Allah. "Feature Integration and Object Representations along the Dorsal Stream Visual Hierarchy." Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience 8, no. 84 (2014). 2014. doi:10.3389/fncom.2014.00084. Purves, Dale, Brain Monson, Janani Sundararajan, and William Wojtach. "How Biological Vision Succeeds in the Physical World." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences · 111, no. 13 (April 1, 2014): 4750-755. Accessed August 2, 2016. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1311309111. Purves, Dale. "Perception and Reality: Why a Wholly Empirical Paradigm Is Needed to Understand Vision." Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, November 18, 2015. November 18, 2015. Accessed May 18, 1016. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnsys.2015.00156. Ramachandran, V S. The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human. New York: W.W. Norton, ©2011. Siegel, Daniel J. The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being. New York: W.W. Norton, ©2007. Stanford University Psychology Department. "Perception” (Chapter 2) Cognitive Psychology Online: An Electronic Textbook for the Cognitive Psychology | Department of Psychology – Stanford University." Accessed June 9, 2016. Retrieved from http://www-psych.stanford. edu/~ashas/Cognition%20Textbook/chapter1.pdf Styles, Elizabeth A. Attention, Perception, and Memory: An Integrated Introduction. Hove, East Sussex: Psychology Press, 2005. "Tunisian Women Maintaining Equality after the Revolution." YouTube. November 25, 2015. Accessed July 30, 2016. https://youtu.be/vzdRAQTVZuE.
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UNESCO. "THE ACCESS TO INFORMATION ACT, 2005." Access to Information Act. July 19, 2005. http://portal.unesco.org/ci/en/files/26148/12047263733Uganda.pdf/Ug anda.pdf. —. "PROCLAMATION OF 28 SEPTEMBER AS THE “INTERNATIONAL DAY FOR THE UNIVERSAL ACCESS TO INFORMATION." UNESCO. November 3, 2015. Accessed June 10, 2016. http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0023/002352/235297e.pdf. Valentin Dragoi. "Visual Processing: Cortical Pathways (Section 2, Chapter 15) Neuroscience Online: An Electronic Textbook for the Neurosciences | Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy - The University of Texas Medical School at Houston. 2016. Accessed May 02, 2016. http://neuroscience.uth.tmc.edu/s2/chapter15.html. Wujec, Tom. "3 Ways the Brain Creates Meaning." TED U. 2009. Accessed May 2016. https://www.ted.com/talks/tom_wujec_on_3_ways_the_brain_creates_ meaning?utm_campaign=ios-share.
CHAPTER FIVE THE NATURE OF BEING: A SENSE OF MEANING VIRTUE AND OTHER VALUES OF THE OVAHIMBA RINA SHERMAN
Figure 5.1. Rina Sherman at Mutiri Mbendura’s cattle post in Otjiheke, Province of Cunene, Angola, 2003. Courtesy of the Ovahimba Years Collection. © Rina Sherman. See centerfold for this image in colour.
Figure 5.1. Rina Sherman at Mutiri Mbendura’s cattle post in Otjiheke, Province of Cunene, Angola, 2003. Courtesy of the Ovahimba Years Collection. © Rina Sherman.
Figure 5.2. An Omuhimba man getting a yellow ox to jump over a red and white spotted ox to remove a taboo that makes it sacred; this allows him to sell the beast. Courtesy of the Ovahimba Years Collection. © Rina Sherman.
Figure 5.3. Omukurukaze and her daughter Kakaendona calling the ancestral spirit Omakumuka to the house built for him. Videogram from Keep the Dance Alive, 2007/8.
Figure 5.4. Jan Hendrik Pierneef (1886-1957), Leadwood trees—Bushveld, 1944, oil on canvas, 610 x 810 mm, South Africa, 1945. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pierneef_1945_Hardkoolbome__Bosveld.jpg
Figure 5.5. Rina Sherman filming Michou et Mlle Callas à la Vachalcade, (2013) parade in Montmartre in 2013. © Claire Willemann.
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“What are you doing here?” The researcher, finally inside the antechamber of the Old Sage and ready for that exclusive interview, had no answer to this question. He was repatriated the next day and was unable to write anything of consequence for many years. A friend told me this anecdote on the eve of my departure for Namibia to undertake a visual ethnographic study of the culture of the Ovahimba and other Otjiherero language speaking communities. The answer, I thought, was twofold: First, what did the Old Sage mean, and what did the researcher understand? Second, in absolute terms, the answer is, nothing. During my stay of seven years with an Omuhimba family, I lived in apprehension of being asked this question. The time came when a Paris Match journalist arrived at the homestead of the king of Etanga for a story on women leading extraordinary lives. Tapping on his wristwatch, he kept asking, “What are you doing for the next twenty minutes?” I had an open-door policy at the camp and had been host to people from all walks of life, including journalists, despite concern about misrepresentation of my opinions on their behalf. I kept saying, “I don’t know. We’ll see what happens.” Visibly in haste to get the story, he then asked, “What are you doing here?” My hour had come. I had known all along that I had no answer. So, “I’m looking for love,” I said, which was not untrue, but it was no good as an answer for the paper, as he later confided. The journalist’s head turned to the small hut covered with a torn blue plastic canvas and the members of the Ovahimba family huddled in blankets around a fire in the early morning cold. “Out here, alone, all by yourself?” he asked. “Meet the family,” I said, “Kakaendona, Kapandi, Kukatepa, Kozondana, Omukurukaze, and Uapepererua. Both incidents have remained a yardstick for me ever since, as they raise both the question of legitimacy and motivation. Many a social scientist may be on a quest of knowledge for questionable or unquestioned reasons, following in the wake of the early missionaries, discoverers, or state ethnologists, who became interested in the cultures of others to make sense of the foreignness of the world in which they found themselves.1 More so, our brief exchange—“what are you planning to do now” and “I’m here for love”—alerted me to the fundamental notions of time and virtue in the thinking I encountered in my exchanges with a number of Ovahimba communities and how critical their conception of such notions would be in 1
Charles Estermann (Ilfurth, Haut-Rhin 1895—Lubango 1976), a Spiritan priest who published numerous ethnographic articles and books during his 52-year stay in various missions and posts in Angola, is but one example of a priest as author of important ethnographic texts.
my quest to make sense of their lives, and also of my seven years of living with them in their home.
Elements of the Social Organization and Belief System of the Ovahimba The some twenty thousand Ovahimba cattle farmers are one of the dozen or so Otjiherero language speaking communities in Botswana, Namibia and Angola.2 They live on both sides of a border formed by the Kunene River, the only perennial river in Namibia, in the north-western Kunene North Region of Namibia and the south-western Cunene and Namibe Provinces of Angola. They remained in this region in the early eighteenth century when a part of the Otjiherero speaking community, known as the Ovaherero (and Ovambanderu, who settled in the Sandveld), moved southwards to the Namibian Highveld and in the early 20th century, some 2000 fled over the border into Bechuanaland, a British protectorate (18851966) under “indirect rule”, to escape from German colonial troops. The Kunene North Region covers a surface of approximately 35,000 square km and is bordered by the Etosha basin in the east, the Skeleton Coast in the west, and in the south by the Hoanib dry river bed as well the Red Line, first established in 1907 by the German authorities to mark the border of the European settlement or Police Zone (Miescher 2012: 101-104). It later became a veterinary sanitary border to prevent un-inoculated livestock from crossing into commercial farmlands. In 1905, the German administration declared the Kunene region a nature reserve. In the late 1960s, it became a homeland, and in the 1970s, it was in part the theatre for the war for independence.3 The Ovahimba are primarily cattle farmers, but they also raise small livestock, goats, sheep and chickens, for minor 2
The other communities are: Ovaherero, Ovambanderu (Gobabis area), Ovahimba, Ndamuranda (Ovaherero from Botswana or Okambumba or large group), Maharero (Okahandja area), Zeraua (SeTswana & Ovaherero origin, Omaruru area), Ovakuvale, Ovacarocua, Ovadhimba & Ovahakaona (knowledge of plants), Ovatjimba-Herero (Otjimbumba or small group), Ovatjimba-tjimba, Ovagambwe, Ovatwa (iron smiths, hunters)… 3 In south-west Africa, the Odendaal Commission issued a report calling for the creation of ten “homelands”, which would require relocation of 28% per cent of the African population. See: Report of the Commission of Enquiry into SouthWest Africa Affairs, 1962-1963 (RP No. 12/1964 - Odendaal Report). Pretoria: Government of the Republic of South Africa, 1964. For further information, see Du Pisani: 2010.
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rituals and exchanges, as well as occasional food consumption. However, they live mostly off the milk products and fat of their livestock. When summer rainfall is sufficient to flood the submersible riverbanks at least twice per season—once for sewing and once for growing—most families grow maize, pumpkins, beans and melons in semi-permanent gardens. In general and with variations, depending on their locality and exposure to, amongst other things, urban living and Christianity, the Ovahimba observe double descent, following rules for inter-marriage or religious participation that ensure social interaction between matrilineal (Eanda, representative of the umbilical cord) and patrilineal descent groups. Ovahimba prohibits sexual relationships with uterine relatives such as mothers, aunts, daughters, sisters, etc., as well as with fathers, uncles, grandfathers, etc. Each group holds symbolically different cattle: the matrilineal segment’s cattle, inherited from a man’s maternal uncle, are non-sacred, can be sold and slaughtered, and can, through ritual, be made sacred. The patrilineal segment’s cattle are sacred, as is their flesh and milk; they are related to the Supreme Being (Njambi) and the Ancestors. Their use is regulated by a set of taboos prohibiting ownership of certain types or colors of cattle, as well as commerce of taboo cattle, amongst other things.
Figure 5.2. An Omuhimba man getting a yellow ox to jump over a red and white spotted ox to remove a taboo that makes it sacred; this allows him to sell the beast. Courtesy of the Ovahimba Years Collection. © Rina Sherman. See centerfold for this image in colour.
The Ovahimba society follows matrilocal rules for childbirth: A woman gives birth at her mother’s homestead. It follows virilocal rules for postnuptial residency: A man and his kin must reside near the sacred shrine of his father, the centre point of the patriarchy and the spiritual symbol of God—with a coincidence between land and blood; place of birth determines access to land and subsequent place of residence. It is
extended by the age-set groups, which men and women may belong to and that function as an association within the society. Cross-cousin marriage is preferred by the Ovahimba in order to consolidate wealth within a kinship group, or as Jekura Kavari says in the film When Visitors Come (Quand les invités arrivent, 2006), “it keeps the cattle in the family.” Ovahimba girls are betrothed at puberty to a circumcised man, a kind of engagement to avoid the risk of children being born without bride wealth. In this way, inheritance rights regulate the transfer of rights to property, over maternal, paternal and neutral properties of the estate,4 and over people and hence a set of social relations that are negotiable and expandable. They are determined at birth, and each new birth may modify an individual’s inheritance rights. Hence, the rules of inheritance and marriage are closely linked. At the end of World War I, the Peace Treaty of Versailles was signed and “full powers of administration and legislation” of German South West Africa were transferred to the Union of South Africa as the mandatory power under the supervisory authority of the League of Nations (Du Pisani 2010: 53). The country was divided horizontally into the “reserves” in the north where “natives” lived and a larger southern sector referred to as the “Police Zone” where “whites” lived. People from either group were not allowed to move freely into one another’s zone. Since independence in 1990, Namibia is governed by common law, formalized in the 1990 Constitution of Namibia, which is the fundamental law of the country. Customary law is regulated by the 2000 Traditional Authorities Act 25, which includes almost anyone of African origin born in Africa, and considers customary laws in place at independence in 1990 to be legitimate. It makes provision for traditional authorities and considers the leaders of the communities to be responsible for preserving customs, language and values, promoting affirmative action and gender equality amongst other things (Chigovera 2010: 18). In effect, this situation leads to a system of legal pluralism, albeit understood that customary law is subject to common law. The 2002 Communal Land Reform Act of Namibia stipulates that land rights are valid for life and are transferred to the surviving spouse or child of a deceased (Art. 26). Marriage unites families as much as it unites individuals. Hence, divorce and widowship are also family affairs as shown extensively in the customary law case study, Wiping the Tears (Essuyer les larmes, 2012). 4
Estate, or in Otjiherero the noun eÞa (pl. omaÞa), which is derived from the verb okuÞa, “to die” (Kavari 2005: 63).
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This film covers the story of a woman, her husband, and her friend, and the trial that opposes them. The consequences could be dramatic for them, their respective families and members of their community because the central question is the division of the cattle, the principal source of wealth in this cattle-farming culture. During the successive detailed trial hearings, each of the three protagonists delivers their own version of the events that have transformed their lives. Whilst women are generally precluded from witnessing in court, in this case, the adulterous woman is called in to the side of the court for interrogation during the hearings. Her brother acted as spokesman for her family since her elderly father was unable to travel from his homestead. As procedures unfold, we get to know elements of the customary law organization. The court is held in a place (often the same place, but not always) designated by the elders. Younger men are responsible for the physical layout: a circle of stones often around a large tree in a dry riverbed with an opening serving as a door. Anyone not using this door to enter the court is punishable by law for one or more goats that are offered as a meal to the other court attendees. Walking canes are left outside and collected by one of the young men at the door. The younger men are also responsible for cooking for the members and attendees of the case. One of the younger men is nominated as a court order or “omupolisa” (policeman) and is responsible for keeping the accused and witnesses apart and calling them for cross-questioning. The elders attending the trial recall in minute detail their ancestors’ history, place of origin, and genealogy, as well as the laws governing marriage, women’s rights, the sharing of cattle and land rights. We learn, amongst other things, that a woman, a wife, is considered to be the property, like a child, of her husband. If a woman wants to leave her husband, she has to return to her family. Her father and brothers then mediate the separation from her husband and her return to her parents’ home. If it is agreed that she may leave her husband, there will be another negotiation for the return of her dowry, a certain number of head of cattle and other livestock, if not all that was paid for her. At the end of the case, the woman had to return to her husband, since he had, in accordance with the law, confiscated all the cattle of her friend, and the latter was hence unable to feed her and her children. In fact, she had to feed him; he had become like a child. The customary law of the Ovahimba communities is practiced as a constantly evolving response to the general and local situation, responding both to internal and external needs of the society. However, under customary law, a widow does not inherit the land rights of her deceased husband. Levirate succession is not obligatory. A widow can choose to remain alone, return (sometimes with her children) to her family, or be
“inherited” into a sororatic marriage with the deceased’s brother or other elder male relative. The inheritance is divided in part amongst the main heir who “enters” the estate by replacing the deceased and the secondary heir, who “bites” or receives a minor share (Kavari, 2005: 65). But inheritance concerns more than material division; in Otjiherero, it is said that “a woman is the homestead,” and the father of the home would be nothing without the house (ondjuwo or female space), and by extension, the wife’s relatives and kinship group. Both men and women can sometimes engage in more or less long—lasting, polyamorous relationships with their cross-cousin or joking relations that contribute to reinforce ties within the group (Van Wolputte, 2016: 5-7). Through this type of organization, the Ovahimba tie genealogies and morality into the landscape, inscribing them into time and space with meaning and history through praises, song and dance playing (ondjongo). People hence tend to have a complex set of relationships amongst themselves and to their cattle, which as symbols, primarily represent people, immortal (patrilineal) and mortal (matrilineal), that change as individuals are born and pass away. David P. Crandall (1998: 101-114) explains that time has two dimensions for the Ovahimba: “temporality and timelessness.” Cattle relationships symbolizing aspects of a perceived stable, timeless, encompassing reality are symbolically superior to cattle relationships reflecting the temporal, unstable and encompassed aspects of human life.
As individuals and as a group of communities, the Ovahimba live according to a set of values, to which ancestral worship is central. To varying degrees, in the Ovahimba belief system, the ancestors continue to partake meaningfully and actively in family and societal decisions. The ancestors are the mediators with the Supreme Being (Ndjambi, or more recently used terms, Omukuru or Mukuru), who oversees their lives and is a source of goodness, providing blessings to his children through the intermediary beings, the ancestors. Unity of a descent group is reaffirmed by members of one patrilineal group drinking water from a bowl filled with leaves around an ancestral grave or at a sacred shrine, marking forehead and chest with ash from the sacred fire, and planting poles of a Leadwood tree into a hole, hence marking the place for future commemorations. Ancestorhood is an unchanging, timeless frame of reference, in which the material ceases to play a role. The manifestation of the ancestors can be seen in several scenes in the film, Keep the Dance Alive (Que la danse continue, 2007/8)—the women building a house for the ancestral spirit (omakumuka), or the spirit possession of Katjekere by a lion, of Kakaendona and Kukatepa by birds—and ancestors continue to
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participate in decisions regarding everyday life, ceremonial organization and family life.
Figure 5.3. Omukurukaze and her daughter Kakaendona calling the ancestral spirit Omakumuka to the house built for him. Videogram from Keep the Dance Alive, 2007/8. See centerfold for this image in colour.
Ovahimba adults convey notions of virtue to their children as values to be upheld, rather than duty. Children are taught that certain values in relation to others are held in high esteem by others, and they are encouraged to adopt them. These values are conveyed with words such as, “This is what we think,” “My father told me of these things,” “This is what we’re taught,” and, “This is how we’ve always done it” (Crandall, 2004: 314), referring to custom and parental authority in acceptance and without questioning. In Effa Okupa’s study of children’s rights, she explains that the Ovahimba hold virtue as an umbrella principle that conditions the socialization of children (Okupa 1996). Throughout their youth, Ovahimba children will be taught general organizational aspects of their society, such as the rules determining marriage, family life and parenthood. Parents, relatives, and mentoring adults consider notions of duty and punishment to be unnecessary if virtuousness is attained and encourage children to develop attitudes of goodness, love, and compassion. In this way, through the virtue of ethics, they encourage the essential ingredient of integration, that of individuals considering the wellbeing of the group to be above their own welfare. Crandall reflected this
notion of virtue by subtitling his thesis, A Study of Dual Descent and Values (1992). “The other of the Other was not exactly the same as the other of the Same.” —Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Métaphysiques cannibals
A World of Imagined Perspectives In this world of imagined perspectives, learning starts with a sense of awareness of another person or other people. The relationships we have with one another are made of arrangement, allowing us to see ourselves in others. Whilst universalism may be at the root of human rights law today, which is that there are underlying human rules that entitle all human beings to basic minimal rights, the question is still asked: To what degree can rights be human, or should rights rather be considered as a creation of humans? Also, can human rights be considered universal; can rights be universal attributes of humanity, or are they rather the general principles of right or justice (Turner 1997:273)? This is a complex question, both for anthropology and human rights. In terms of the universalization and the interculturalisation of human rights, of law and of the negotiated order Robert Vachon states: There are no universal criteria that enable us to judge everything under the sun. Not only is God not a cultural universal, but neither is Man and the Cosmos (2000: 9, translation by author).
The question of perspective, interpretation, and point of view is particularly pertinent in Namibia in that the war of the Germans against the Ovaherero and the Nama communities is generally considered to be the first genocide of the twentieth century, with a loss of some hundred thousand lives between 1904 and 1908. The Ovaherero and Germans viewed land differently. For the Ovaherero, their wealth was measured by the number of head of cattle they owned. The Ovaherero cattle were not quantified as beef production; they did not use their cattle, but built up herds (Thornley, 2012: 19-20). They did not sell land. Land is not conveyed or alienated; it is communal. They used it and allowed others to use it. They hence would not sell their land to the Germans. During the colonial period, the Germans practiced strict segregation between ‘native’ and ‘non-native.’ The constitution of Namibia in 2016 reflects a mixed past with a fusion of Dutch-Roman, English and customary law (a set of norms, customs and beliefs) that was adopted after
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30 years of struggle for independence, and is considered to be one of the most democratic and liberal constitutions in the world, integrating international law into the law of the land in Article 144. Customary law is subjected to constitutional provisions, as regards fundamental human rights and freedoms (Chapter 3). Community courts are created by the Community Courts Act (2003) that stipulates requirements for Community Courts in traditional communities (Ruppel and Ruppel-Schlichting, 2011: 41). Furthermore, customary law is important in the sustainable development of natural resources and the protection of biological diversity. For instance, the cultural landscape of Ovahimba knowledge and practice of summer and winter grazing management is composed of many of the above mentioned socio-religious elements, including flexible household membership and the interaction between livestock herds and the state of available vegetation (Bollig and Schulte 1999, 493). In 2000, in partnership with the Northern Regions Livestock Development Project (Nolidep,5) I filmed several fodder walks during which Ovahimba farmers identified and explained the role and use of various plants in grazing management. I also filmed community mapping exercises in which the farmers created a map of their homesteads, interestingly always in relation to the water points The Ovahimba associate virtue with success, excellence, and goodness—all essential qualities to live in peace in a tight-knit community that go hand in hand with reason and a deliberate, permanent disposition involving practices and actions (Okupa 1996, 188). A given act may be accepted as right because it is beneficial for the community. In my experience, people in positions of authority would at times not come forward to defend certain ideas in public meetings or in groups, but would prefer to mediate with small groups or individuals separately until such time that a consensus was reached by most, if not all. The leader would then announce this as his decision. The Ovahimba notion of virtue is secular and not related to the Supreme Being; it is the ancestors who watch over their virtue ethics, since they had lived on earth, and what they agreed on to be virtuous underscores the concept of virtue in the upbringing of Ovahimba children. Their values of virtue are rooted in the homestead, the holy shrine and the age-set groups functioning in society at large. The notion of virtue is one 5 Northern Regions Livestock Development Project (Nolidep) was a US$ 15.1 aid project aimed to improve the economic and social well-being of rural populations in the northern communal areas, partly funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the “Agence française de développement” (AFD), the Belgian Survival Fund and Luxembourg Cooperation funds.
with the notion of human being, and to ensure cohesion in the community, notions of value and rights matched by obligations are conveyed by parents to their children from an early age. All members of Ovahimba society are thought to have equal human rights, as acquired by the fact of being human and from a particular duo-lineal heritage. Rights are not demands; rights are obligations and constraints, such as making cattle provision for one’s children or one’s own funeral, or looking after the aged, taking care of funeral arrangements and attending the vigil and ceremonial services of relatives. All of this is aimed at creating a good life for the family, home and livestock living together in a just society (Okupa 1996, 188-196). David P. Crandall describes this process in two different instances. First: Throughout childhood and adolescence it is common for wealthier fathers to give their sons and daughters cattle on a very occasional basis to be used in building up a herd. Fathers are also expected to make cattle donations (or small stock if he is poor) towards communal meals in which his children participate with age-mates during critical rites of passage: teeth removal, circumcision, menstrual rites and marriage. Himba say a father who provides animals for building up a herd but, more importantly, who furnishes a beast for slaughter at meals celebrating transitional rites, demonstrates not so much wealth as ‘his love for his child’. Such gifts, drawn from one’s matrilineal cattle, generally require no repayment to one’s matrilineal relatives (Crandall 1998, 103).
And then in relation to help generally provided by kinsmen amongst themselves and the perceptions such deeds may evoke amongst fellow men: Helping a kinsman by donating or loaning cattle that allow him to gather together requisite bride wealth, to repay a debt, or to fulfill some other obligation are typical cattle transactions for any Himba man. Giving cattle to persons so distantly removed that no ‘felt’ kinship obligation exists, or giving to completely unrelated persons, is not so typical. This kind of cattle transaction is normally reserved for a category of men in Himba society known as superior men (ovahona). The superior man is one perceived to give generously; he does not expect reciprocation of the gift in kind, but in the form of respect, loyalty and quiet affection. Indeed, the superior man is often compared to God because he, like God, is ‘kindly’, ‘genuine’, ‘desirous to help’, ‘his heart is good’, ‘he loves people’ and ‘gives only what is good, never what is ‘bad’. Extraordinary wealth is essential to superior manhood, yet there is a corresponding qualitative component: superior manhood is rooted in demonstrated character that affects the conceived and experienced nature of God. A man may accumulate great
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cattle wealth, but if he lacks the requisite character he will not become a superior man (Crandall 1998: 105).
During my seven years in the field, I often encountered this notion of virtue as it expressed itself in a myriad of ways. My first surprise was to learn just how nonjudgmental people were in their way of describing others and their actions, even reprehensible actions. In one case, the family member who was thought guilty of bewitching an infant in good health who had died was present at the homestead during funeral rites with everyone else. During the haruspication of a sacrificed ox, accusations pointed toward him, but nobody so much as looked in his direction. Back in the house, when I asked the women why everyone was saying it was him but no one was accusing him, they put their fingers to my lips, as if to say: Don’t say that; it may bring bad luck. I was subsequently told that the spirits of young children made good herders and hence will enrich a man. That was the conceptual explanation being put forward. Some time later, I learned that the matter was more complex. It was about the spirit of the infant being a good herder, but it was also about a complex and several generations old cattle inheritance conflict with the man’s relatives in Angola that had not been solved due to restrictions of animal movement across the border between Namibia and Angola. The man remained in the community, functioning as always. The social contract is not easily broken. There is kind of general acceptance of life and people as they are, of live and let live. In my own case, learning about human rights—at the time, mainly the rights some have and others do not—started in South Africa years after the 1948 adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It began in my pre-school days when I was listening to the strife and misery of our piece-work gardener, a man I only ever knew as ‘Ou Goeieman’ or Old Goodman. He called me “Nonnatjie” or little Mistress, as was the custom. In racial segregationist South African nomenclature of the early 1960s, he was classified as a coloured, but judging from his smoothly combed–back wavy dark hair, it was said he was Malay or Cape Malay.6 I was hunched down next to him as he was clearing a flowerbed of snails and weeds, telling me about his ill health and lack of resources, when, from behind, the stern voice of my mother called me inside and told me to keep my 6
In South Africa, the legal definition of Coloured that includes Cape Malay as a sub-group changed over the years, but basically refers to any person of mixed European and native descent, including the Cape Malay (Sheila Patterson 1999: 361).
distance. There were other incidents, but this is my first memory of imposed separation due to physical difference. In Apartheid South Africa, for us as children from a traditional Calvinist Afrikaans family, the transmission of values was about keeping the appropriate distance between ourselves and the various groups of others, of which the three main categories were: White, Black, and Coloured (which included Asiatic)7, but there were also the Jews, the English, the Catholics… albeit they were classifieds as “white”. In 1927, the Immorality Act No. 5 of the South African parliament placed a ban on sexual relations between whites and blacks, which was extended by the Immorality Act No. 21 of 1950 that placed a further ban on sexual relations between whites and any nonwhites. This was one of the worst among an arsenal of laws regulating contact between segments of society classified as racially different that was repealed only in 2007. In 1933, the Afrikaner Broederbond, a male secret society, issued a document recommending that “total mass segregation” become implemented immediately, which eventually led to the creation of the homeland or Bantustan systems in South Africa and South-West Africa, then still under the mandate of South Africa. As a result, the policies of Apartheid, implementing not only racial segregation, but also inferior educational systems for non-whites, ended up permeating every moment and aspect of the life of every individual in South Africa. Since they arrived on the African continent, Europeans, far away from their known social organizations, and ignorant of the social organizations they encountered, set out to create separation and continued to constantly measure distance between themselves and the Africans. As generations passed and they started thinking of themselves as home-grown, their love for South Africa was almost entirely turned to the land, the vast landscapes and vistas, and the fauna and flora, devoid of human beings, as much of the literature and painting they produced shows.
7 Coloured referred to Cape Malay, Cape Coloured, Bushmen, Hottentots, Oorlams (mixed with varying degrees of Khoesan, slave, European and Sotho-Tswana who emerged along the Cape’s northern frontier during the late eighteenth century), Griquas (pastoral, mixed race community with Khoesan, slave and European ancestries; settled along the Trans-Gariep frontier), Namaquas, Korannas (Oorlam group with Khoesan and Sotho-Tswana admixture), St Helena Islanders, Chinese, Other Asiatic and Other Coloured), much like the classification by blood decree in the southern states of the U.S.
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Figure 5.4. Jan Hendrik Pierneef (1886-1957), Leadwood trees—Bushveld, 1944, oil on canvas, 610 x 810 mm, South Africa, 1945. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pierneef_1945_Hardkoolbome__Bosveld.jpg See centerfold for this image in colour.
This love of the land, however, developed in the abstract ended up eroding the love of fraternity and its counterparts, liberty and equality. At the height of the segregationist regime, the majority of people were not considered to be citizens of their own country by the small White minority that controlled them by armed force, progressively turning life into one of entrapment for one and all. White South Africans, who emerge from this mentality of bondage often, at least at first do not have a sense of Africans having a complete inner life with feelings, emotions and contradictions as they do. Laurens Van der Post formulates a basic difference in perception between Europeans and Bushmen: Some of my companions were continually worried by the apparent inability of Africans in general, and Bushmen in particular, to say thank you for any help or gifts made to them. Ben answered him, not without a certain amused irony. “But surely you would not expect thanks from anyone for the little we have done? Surely you do not want to be thanked merely for having behaved well? Do you expect a woman to say ‘thank you’ every time you raise your hat to her? Well, however much we appear to have done for the
Chapter Five Bushmen here, to them it is just good manners and no more than was to be expected of properly brought up people. If our positions were reversed, they would without hesitation do the same for us or anyone else, but they would not expect to be thanked for it. No! They would not risk insulting you by suggesting with a ‘thank you’ that it was unusual for you to behave well!” (Van der Post, 1961).
Many years later, in 2000, David P. Crandall—though from a different perspective than Van der Post—in his cultural portrait of the Ovahimba, The Place of Stunted Ironwood Trees: A Year in the Life of the CattleHerding Himba of Namibia, makes a similar statement: …become recognizable only after we come to know something about the people behind the faces—their lives, their preferences, and their habits. Strangely, not only do their faces vary according to physical appearance, but once their characters and personalities are known, their very countenances seem to change (Crandall, 2000).
Indeed, I have always advocated that contact is important to counter divisions and discrimination. During my seven-year stay with the Ovahimba, I learned of the subtleties of the ways in which people interrelate. Oftentimes, when I did something to help someone, they would come to me and say: “I do not thank you for what you have done,” meaning that the help was of too great importance to be thanked and also that in our common humanity, it is normal for this to happen. Other subtleties when it comes to helping others appear in the language: When someone says “give me” or ndji pao, one can refuse politely by saying you do not have what they want (even if you do!), but when someone says “help me” or me ndji vatera, it is very difficult not to concede to their demand, and this formulation is mostly only used when someone is in dire need of help. What was most striking was their acceptance of people, of their own group and of strangers, and their reserve in judging other people and their actions. Describing the action of white visitors, there is a song people sing when they see white campers driving fast through the landscape: The white man comes to our land. He drives fast. He shares nothing. At night, he builds a house that he destroys in the morning. He sleeps in the dry riverbed. He shares nothing. The man drives fast. He’s looking for his house, he goes away.
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This song describes white holiday makers who bring food and drink for the entire period of their stay, pitch tents in the dry riverbeds, often in the livestock pathways, where the Ovahimba would not sleep for fear of floods, insects and snakes, and the next day take down their tents and leave in a hurry to find another spot further along. In my presentation, Une anthropologie partagée: Le partage de Jean Rouch at the Project Rouch (2009) conference in Paris, I evoked the legitimacy of the ethnographer in the field. I was reminded by Adandé Thomas Sourou—a friend of Jean Rouch and the son of an ethnographer who worked with Théodore Monod in Dakar—that in African culture in general, there is an obligation to welcome a foreigner. True, in Ovahimba custom, neither does one ask a visitor why he came nor how long he will stay. Whilst I have never thought it necessary to become like other people in order to be close to them, and to know and respect their codes, I have, to a degree, in learning the Otjiherero language and living with an Omahimba family, absorbed elements of their thinking as a pluralism of thought into my own thinking. However, according to Kakaendona, the youngest daughter of the King of Etanga, a certain “doubling” did take place between us. In the film, When Visitors Come (Quand les invités arrivent, 2006), when asked why she named her last-born after me, she said, “Rina came here to study our culture. We exchanged our spirits. She took us to Windhoek when I was carrying this little one, and when she came, I called her Little Rina.” Finally, be it in anthropology or beyond, the “arrangements” our relationships undergo as forms of evolving and constantly renewed negotiations—as part of a dialogue open to discussion either way, often from ambiguous vantage points and however steeped at times in contradiction—hold the possible outcome of an encounter. I do not pretend to embrace any kind of truth as regards Ovahimba cultural heritage, but rather a broad point of view that reflects my experience of seven years of life shared, and that I try to share as widely as possible. All the while, taking into consideration that behind my archival collection— photographs, filmed images, drawings, objects, text—real lives are continuing to be lived, and that I am, through those images, responsible for those lives. The bottom line, that of non-contradiction in terms of this responsibility, is discernment as an answer to the question: What can I make public or not? As the uninvited visitor I was initially, who became an adopted member of the family and who has returned “home,” I consider the link between the Ovahimba and me to be lifelong and open-ended. Whilst I may still not answer in a simple way to the question, “What are you doing here?” I can say that despite not knowing why I was there, I did
find love. My stay with the Ovahimba was both the period of my life that had the greatest and most long-lasting influence on me; it was also one of the greatest privileges that life has bestowed on me. Toward the end of my seven-year stay with the Ovahimba in Namibia and later in Angola, I did begin to yearn for Paris, for the intellectual stimulus a large city could provide. Returning to a mass-consumption society after seven years of living with an egalitarian, cattle-raising society was no easy move to take. To apprehend the foreignness that life in Paris held for me for a long time after my return, I did what corresponds most to my natural way of being: film life around me. The first result of this process of re-appropriation filming was the film, Paris of My Exiles (Paris de mes exils, 2009), a visual poem filmed after 2004 during the first years of my return. In her review of the film, Nancy Lipkin Stein (2011) quotes a question asked in the film: “An anthropologist, how does he acquire knowledge of the society he studies? That which we learn and know no doubt has an influence on what we are. Inasmuch as seeing is more than a mere vision of the world; it constitutes a total involvement with that world.” Ultimately, it is a mutual relationship that the anthropologist develops with the people around him, rather than a relationship of subject and object. I subsequently moved on to create, over the past eight years, a visual ethnography of Montmartre, its inhabitants, and particularly of Michou, the director of Cabaret Michou and the transformist show, “Michou’s Folies.”
Figure 5.5. Rina Sherman filming Michou et Mlle Callas à la Vachalcade, (2013) parade in Montmartre in 2013. © Claire Willemann. See centerfold for this image in colour.
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Time and again, during these three years, questions, issues, and problems arose in my work regarding what to film or not to film, how to film it, how to deal with the people I met and filmed, how and when to practice feedback… These were the same problems and questions I encountered during my seven years of fieldwork with the Ovahimba, even though the two spheres are worlds apart, literally. But people are people, more of the same. Whoever and wherever they are, they require the same basic ethical notions from the ethnographer filming them: respect, dignity, honesty. Finally, be it in Paris with the Montmartrois or in Etanga with the Ovahimba, the work is the same, the aim is the same: to gather as large a body of data from which, beyond understanding, interpretation and clarification, to convey essentially a sense of having been there. Paris, 16 July 2016
References Bollig, Michael and Anja Schulte. “Degradation and Indigenous Knowledge in Two African Pastoral Communities,” in Human Ecology, 1999, 27, 493-514. Chigovera, Andrew and Clement Daniel (Comments). Country Report of the Research Project by the International Labour Organization and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the constitutional and legislative protection of the rights of indigenous peoples: Namibia. 2008. Crandall, David P. The Ovahimba of Namibia: A Study of Dual Descent and Values. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Oxford, 1992. —. “The Role of Time in Himba Valuations of Cattle,” in The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 4 (1), 1998. [Wiley, Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland]: 101–14. Doi: 10.2307/3034430. —. The Place of Stunted Ironwood Trees: A Year in the Life of the CattleHerding Himba of Namibia. New York: Bloomsbury, 2000, 272. —. “Knowing Human Moral Knowledge to Be True: An Essay on Intellectual Conviction,” in The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 10, 2 (2004), 307-326. De Castro, Eduardo Viveiros. Métaphysiques cannibales, (Transl.) Oiara Bonilla, from Portugese (Brazil). Paris, PUF, 2009, coll. Métaphysiques. 216. Estermann, Carlos. Etnografia do Sudoeste de Angola, I: os povos nãobantos e o grupo étnico dos Ambós, com Mário de Oliveira - Lisboa:
Junta de Investigações do Ultramar, 1956. Etnografia do Sudoeste de Angola, II: grupo étnico nhaneca-humbe, com Mário de Oliveira Lisboa: Junta de Investigações do Ultramar, 1961. Etnografia do sudoeste de Angola, III: o grupo étnico Herero / Carlos Estermann, com Mário de Oliveira - Lisboa: Junta de Investigações do Ultramar, 1961. Gibson, Gordon D. “Double Descent and Its Correlates among the Herero of Ngamiland,” American Anthropologist, 1956, 58, 1, 109-139. Kavari, Jekura Uaurika. (2005) “Estates and Systems of Inheritance among Ovahimba and Ovaherero in Kaokoland” in R. Gordon (Ed.), The Meanings of Inheritance: Perspectives on Namibian Inheritance Practices. Windhoek: Gender Research & Advocacy Project, Legal Assistance Centre, 2005: 63-70. Miescher, Giorgio. Namibia's Red Line: The History of a Veterinary and Settlement Border. Palgrave Macmillan US, 2012, 327. Okupa, Effa. Ethno-jurisprudence of Children’s Rights: A Study of the Himba of Namibia. Ph.D. Thesis, University of London, 1996, 714, n.p. Patterson, Sheila. Colour and culture in South Africa: a study of the status of the Cape Coloured people within the social structure of the Union of South Africa, 1st Edition, Routledge, 1999, 408. Pisani, André du. “State and Society under South African Rule” in (Ed.) Christiaan Keulder, State, Society and Democracy: A Reader in Namibian Politics, Windhoek: Macmillan Education Namibia, 2010 (2000), 321. Ruppel, Oliver C. and Katharina Ruppel-Schlichting. “Legal and Judicial Pluralism in Namibia and Beyond: A Modern Approach to African Legal Architecture?” Journal of Legal Pluralism, 2011, 64: 41. Sherman, Rina. “Le dit et le non-dit en ‘Ni Man’s Land’,” Civilisations 35, 1, 1986: 69-83. Online. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41229314 (accessed 16 July 2016). —. When Visitors Come (Quand les invités arrivent), video, 30 min, 2006. —. Keep the Dance Alive (Que la danse continue), video, 75 min, 2007/8. —. Paris of My Exiles (Paris de mes exils), video, 50 min, 2009. —. “Une anthropologie partagée: Le partage de Jean Rouch” presentation: Le projet Jean Rouch?: Vers une connaissance hors texte, croiser les regards, partager les interrogations. Comité du film ethnographique, Bibliothèque nationale de France, le Centre national du cinéma Archives françaises du film and the Centre national de la recherche scientifique. Paris, 2009. Online. Available at: http://www.canal-
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u.tv/video/cerimes/projet_jean_rouch_j2_5_communications_3_versio n_francaise.5995 (accessed 16 July 2016). —. Wiping the Tears (Essuyer les larmes), video, 75 min, 2012. —. Michou et Mlle Callas à la Vachalcade, video, 20 min, 2013. Stein, Nancy Lipkin, “An Exercise in Reflexivity.” Reviewed Work: Paris of My Exiles by Rina Sherman (2009), Current Anthropology 53, 6 (2012): 814-15. Thornley, Coleen Michelle. “Heaps of Sand: Genocide in German South West African and Press Silence in 1904.” Master of Arts Dissertation, Graduate School-Newark Rutgers, State University of New Jersey, 2013. Vachon, Robert. “Au-delà de l’universalisation et de l’interculturalisation des droits de l’homme, du droit et de l’ordre négocié,” in Bulletin de liaison du Laboratoire d’Anthropologie Juridique de Paris, 2000, 25: 9-19. Van der Post, Laurens. The Heart of the Hunter: Customs and Myths of the African, New York: Morrow, 1961. Van Wolputte, Steven. “Sex in troubled times: moral panic, polyamory and freedom in north-west Namibia,” in Anthropology Southern Africa, 2016 Vol. 39, No. 1, X–XX, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/23323256.2016.1147967.
CHAPTER SIX “IN GOD WE TRUST”: ISLAM, PHOTOGRAPHS, AND IMAGINATIONS OF BANGLADESH1 FABIENE GAMA
Introduction “An independent media institute. Inclusive. Innovative. Independent.” That is what we read when we access the website of the Pathshala South Asian Media Academy. 2 Pathshala is a media institute created by the photographer and activist Shahidul Alam. It started as a photography institute in 1998 through a partnership between Drik Picture Library,3 a Bangladeshi photography agency, and a 3-year-old World Press Photo 4 educational initiative. The agency and the school, which are part of Alam’s project to empower Bangladeshi photographers, also feature a photography agency based in the UK for photographers from the Global South.5
This research was presented at the 22nd European Conference on South Asian Studies held in July 2012, in Lisbon, Portugal. I thank Benjamin Zeitlyn, Manpreet Janeja, and José Mapril for their comments. Thank you to Munem Wasif for the collaboration and authorization for using his photos. 2 Hereafter I will use Pathshala to refer to the school. Their website is available at: www.pathshala.net. 3 Hereafter, I will use Drik to refer to the agency. Their website is available at: www.drik.net. 4 Their website is available at: www.worldpressphoto.org/. 5 “Majority World” [www.majorityworld.com] is the result of a partnership with a British organizational consultant. The name proposed by Alam rejects terms such as “developing countries,” “third world,” and “South,” which he considers pejorative. This new expression defines this population in terms of what it is rather
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These initiatives are products of Alam’s efforts to reverse power relations between northern and southern countries as well as to change negative images the “West” (Europeans and North Americans) has about Bangladesh and Bangladeshis in terms of poverty, tragedies, and violence. In particular, they challenge the preconceived idea that Bangladeshis are poor and hungry victims of natural disasters, an image which they say has worsened since 9/11 when they also became typecast as potential Muslim terrorists. A political challenge is at the core of these initiatives, especially at Pathshala, which specialises in social issues and teaches its pupils to take political and critical stances that go beyond technical and theoretical issues related to photography. Their interlocutors are not a specific, distinctly-named group, but an amorphous, abstract, and imagined entity presented as the “West”.6 Their imaginations about the “West” and what the “West” thinks about them (and Islam), as well as what it means to be Bangladeshi (and especially a Bengali Muslim), appear throughout their photographic practice. These imaginations (theirs and those of the Westerners) are not simple fantasy, but social practices that define performances, behaviours, beliefs, relationships, and security practices (Appadurai, 1996). They have an agentive and creative role in producing the world (Deleuze 1994; Gonçalves and Head 2009). This chapter focuses on the creative use of photography to attain power positions. Reflecting on the representations about Islam produced by a Pathshala photographer, I also consider how these representations encourage Bangladeshi photographers to seek power positions in the photographic global arena. To become empowered, they use a “strategic essentialism,” i.e., a political tactic to act on the basis of a shared identity in the interest of the group to struggle for equal rights (Spivak, 1988). They demand the right to represent themselves, “the Bangladeshis,” as if they were a homogeneous, uniform group. They also mimic Western practices of communication and aesthetics (the creation of stories, the reproduction of photo-documentaries and visual styles, and emotional appeals related to authenticity and selfrepresentations) to build counter-hegemonic and agentive discourses about Bangladesh.
than what it lacks, and highlights the fact that it constitutes the majority of the world’s human inhabitants. 6 In this sense, when I use “West” or “Western” in quotation marks, I refer to this imagined group of interlocutors and not the West or Westerners in general.
To understand how this works, I analyze an essay produced by Munem Wasif, a former student of Pathshala who worked at Drik and later became a tutor at the school. His work on Islam in Bangladesh is pertinent not only for understanding Drik’s and Pathshala’s performances, but also their acceptance in the Global market. Wasif’s story will be addressed using photographs, texts, videos, and verbal discourses he produced, to which I had access on location (through participant observation and interviews), through the internet, and by secondary sources. This research is based on a long-term qualitative research project entitled “Photodocumentation and political mobilization: A comparative study between Brazil and Bangladesh.” 7 My work is not aimed at unveiling some “truth” about the representations produced by the photographers, but rather to understand what it means for them to act politically through photography, and what they define as being a good or bad representation of themselves. As Dziga Vertov has argued, the camera is “not as a model for seeing the truth but as a new kind of seeing that created its own peculiar truth” (Feld, 2003: 13). This project reinforces the power relations intertwined with photographic representation by showing that photographs are not indicating some objective reality; rather, and more interesting, they are our version of reality.
The Context for Research: A Political School Pathshala offers a 3-year bachelor course, 1- or 2-year diploma courses, as well as shorter introductory programmes on photography. Until 2010, the school focused mainly on documentary photography inside Bangladesh; approximately 20 photojournalists were graduating from Pathshala when I did my fieldwork in Bangladesh that year. The majority were Englishspeaking males between the ages of 20 and 30. Most of the photographers graduating from the school at the time were interested in building their own images of the country. Some of them portrayed themes related to their Independence War and the emergence of a country based on a majority of Bengali Muslims. Thus, many essays
For this research, I used a comparative approach to analyse forms of political mobilisations through the photographic practices of photographers of the so-called Global South. The research was developed between 2009 and 2012, partly in Dhaka, Bangladesh; partly in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and partly on the Internet (Skype, Facebook websites, and email).
Islam, Photographs, and Imaginations of Bangladesh
were produced on Madrassas,8 freedom fighters,9 Biharis,10 and indigenous groups of Chittagong Hill Tracks. Global issues like climate change, refugees, and ship breaking also were photographed widely.11 Despite the extensive range of images produced around the world that document Bangladesh, Pathshala is concerned about varying degrees of sensationalism captured in the depictions of foreign photographers. Accordingly, international development and news agencies are the biggest producers of these stereotypical and biased images. The photographers maintain a tense and close relationship with these agencies, both criticising them and building important partnerships with them and, at times, having their works prized by these “opponents.” These apparently contradictory relationships generate much criticism and underscore the stakes at play in these symbolic struggles for representations and power. The fact that Bangladeshi photographers present themselves as marginalized yet maintain connections with major international (European and American) photography centres provokes strong negative responses. Dutch anthropologist Lotte Hoek (2003), for example, sees Drik’s partnerships in these terms: What Abir’s story also illustrates is how what may be considered more marginalised publics are in fact linked, both dialectically and cooperatively, to more dominant and exclusive public domains and discourses. (…) I would argue that these spaces are in fact linked, overlap, play off each other and are connected at many levels. Opposition and dominance are complex flows. Drik may be oppositional to some discourses, such as mainstream photojournalism, but not to all, such as mainstream photojournalism’s foremost forum, the World Press Photo organisation. (Hoek 2003: 90).
Drik’s relationship with World Press Photo, which was the very basis for creating Pathshala, drew even stronger criticism from the French photographer Gilles Saussier (2007), who had lived in Bangladesh for two 8
Munem Wasif’s essay on Islam in Bangladesh can be found at http://www.munemwasif.com/in-god-we-trust. 9 See, for example, Abir Abdullah’s essay on war veterans at www.abirphoto.com/war-veterans. 10 The Biharis are a minority ethnic group in Bangladesh. Largely pro-Pakistan during the Liberation War, they opposed the independence of Bangladesh. They have been marginalized and persecuted in the country since then. See Andrew Biraj’s project ‘‘State Excluded’’ at www.andrewbiraj.com. 11 See, for example, Saiful Huq Omi’s work at www.saifulhuq.com.
years mostly doing voluntary work for Drik: Some decisions were milestones, such as stopping my teaching of photojournalism to Bangladeshi photographers to avoid inculcating in them the pictorial habits from which I was trying to wean myself. There was also the end of my collaboration with the Drik Picture Library, whose role as World Press agent in Bangladesh seemed to me to be propagating the worst categories of Western photographic aesthetics rather than encouraging the emergence of any independent indigenous viewpoint. Drik’s demagogic chauvinism – ‘Third world by third world photographers’ – reminds me of that of Nargis Dutt, a Bollywood star who attacked Satyajit Ray in the Indian parliament in the following terms ‘Why do you think the film Pather Panchali should have been so popular abroad? Because Westerners want to see India in an abject position. This is the image they have of our country and a film that confirms that image appears authentic to them.’ (Saussier 2007).
The expectations people have about Drik’s “independent endogenous point of view,” which plays an important role in the verbal or visual discourses produced by Drik and Pathshala photographers, do, in fact, reveal more about the spectators than about Bangladeshis. To understand the connection between the acceptance of photographs by the market they criticize, it is important to note the ruptures and continuities in the network within which they operate. Berntsen (2011) points to a more interesting direction for us to reflect about this complex relationship: To maneuver between political and ideological interests on the one hand and economic constraints on the other, Drik has adapted to a set of strategies that attempt to lock the interpretative space of the photograph as well as to take control of the relation between the agency and its clients. Could the counter-Orientalist measures taken by Drik be seen as a form of mimesis in Taussig’s (1993) sense, whereby Drik and affiliated photographers imitate the strategies of their opponent, in order to attain the power possessed by Western media agents? (Berntsen 2011: 23-24)
If we look at these practices through Taussig’s concept of mimesis, we would observe that by mimicking the strategies of their opponents, these photographers simply are not copying “Western” strategies, but gaining power. According to Taussig (1993), people in a social group can adopt the cultural characteristics of another through a process of mimesis to acquire power over them while at the same time distinguishing themselves as others, thereby reinforcing their alterity. It is by reversing the relations of power that they acquire capacities to remain the same. These processes are, indeed, complex and connected. The Bangladeshi photographers were
Islam, Photographs, and Imaginations of Bangladesh
paying attention. Drik and Pathshala’s photographers usually present their work through personal stories and experiences, as we may see in Saiful Huq Omi’s testimony about his essay on the Rohingyas. 12 When Omi, another Pathshala alumnus, speaks about his experience among the Rohingyas, he also speaks about his family’s memories of the Bangladesh Liberation War. I was born 10 years after Bangladesh’s war of liberation ended, but I grew up with stories about our own refugees. Part of my family was killed and part became refugees and went to India. When I was very young, my mother used to talk about how bad those days were, what horrible things happen to a refugee. The minute I went to Kutupalong camp I remembered the face of my mother. I remembered how my father used to talk about those days in 1971. When I heard the stories of the children, the men, the women, and I walked around the camp, I really, really strongly felt I should do something. It was my story also because I grew up with these refugee stories, the stories of 1971. (Omi, 2010)13
This style is seen in story creations that mix photos and texts (and sometimes videos) capable of adding a dramatic dimension to the proposed representation. This sympathetic way of telling a story – where it is about himself and others at the same time – highlights their peculiarity: they are not foreigner photographers unaware of the reality, but “insiders” speaking about “themselves.” I use quotes for these words because these
The Rohingyas are an ethnic minority group living in the state of Rakhine, in Burma, that borders Chittagong in Bangladesh. They have their own language, are Muslims, and were considered one of the most persecuted groups in the world by the United Nations. Although there are 800,000 of them living in Burma, the government does not recognise them as citizens, making them stateless. Deprived of nationality, the Rohingyas have no right to move freely in the country and face numerous violations of rights, especially human rights. Many migrate to escape the violence they suffer. But when migrating, they often are regarded as illegal immigrants rather than refugees. Bangladesh is the country that receives the largest number of Rohingya refugees (300,000, with the majority in Chittagong). For Omi’s essay, see: www.kickstarter.com/projects/2077429965/the-disowned-andthe-denied. 13 From an interview published on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) website, see www.unhcr.org/4c18bfed6.html.
photographers are not always as “insider” as they preach, but simply more “insider” than their foreigner counterparts.14 This emotional experience is what allows the viewer of the images to identify with the group. It is what is supposed to change their behaviour towards the Bangladeshis. The ways that the photographers create a story based on their personal experiences mimics Western photographic agencies’ social practices. This is used to build an argument through a mix of different sensorial information, as is clearly reflected in Munem Wasif’s essay, “In God We Trust.”15 In this essay, Wasif produces a representation of what he believes to be Islam in Bangladesh, which includes a wide range of different practices. A detailed look at the essay demonstrates how the political discourses and engagements of photographers emerge in their work and how these representations are designed to recreate the images of Bangladesh and its people. The aim, ultimately, is to give them agency through these alternative visual representations.
The Role of Munem Wasif, a “Politically Muslim” Photographer Munem Wasif is one of the most important contemporary young photographers in Bangladesh. Born in Comilla in 1983, he studied sociology before graduating from Pathshala as a photo-documentarist, an experience that, according to him, changed his life. He initially worked at the Daily Star, a local newspaper published in English, and DrikNews,16 another Drik initiative, until 2008 when he became part of the French VU,17 an agency known for its critical stance on the photography market and for its production of authorial work on contemporary subjects. He received his first important award early on as a professional photographer and has been teaching at Pathshala since 2010. Despite having attained an unusual level of important success in his early career, Wasif’s trajectory is representative of the many other photographers also trained at the school who frequently work for the agency and/or end up teaching at the school. He had concentrated on themes such as the
About the limits of the photographic self-representations see Gama (2006, 2009, 2012). 15 Available at: www.munemwasif.com/stories/in-god-we-trust/. 16 See their website at: www.driknews.com. 17 See their website at: www.agencevu.com.
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production of jute, Old Dhaka, and environmental issues before he started developing his ongoing investigation of religion.
Figure 6.1 See centerfold for this image in colour.
The idea of a story on Islam in Bangladesh came in 2008 after an internship at Fabrica, 18 a laboratory research centre for young people supported by Benetton. During this period, Wasif met Piero Martinello, an Italian photographer who was developing a story about terrorism. Martinello asked Wasif to pose for him because of his appearance. At first, Wasif found it amusing, but then he took it seriously and used the picture with a political purpose. The photo was published on the cover of the Colors magazine, edited by Fabrica. The picture was published under the headline “Cease-fear,” a pun on the word “ceasefire,” which is the first step towards a peace treaty in an armed conflict. According to Wasif, the Colors editors chose the picture because they saw something in his eyes that expressed both innocence and arrogance. Besides the headline, the Colors website carries the following text: “Colors 75 examines the fear of terrorism and its consequences: From traveling, daily life and the little frailties we can smile at, to the often-concealed violations of human rights committed in the name of security.”19 The text highlights important issues that are part of Wasif’s experience. Public fear because he is a Muslim leads to profiling and the violation of his rights, ostensibly for the safety of others. Wasif affirms that people look at him with suspicion or even hostility in the subway and at airports. He claims to have suffered the effects of prejudice against Muslims while traveling, especially after the attacks on the U.S. Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. The link between fear and religion creates a connection between security and identity that affects his relationships with others. According to Mamdani (2002), the association of terrorism to Islam produced new “culture talks,” i.e., “the predilection to define cultures according to their presumed ‘essential’ characteristics, specially as regards to politics” (Mamdani, 2002: 766), and transformed religious experiences into political categories. The author suggests that after 9/11, people began distinguishing themselves (and others) as “Good Muslims” as opposed to “Bad Muslims.” Being a Bangladeshi Muslim was not a main part of Wasif’s identity before the first bad experiences. The fact that others regarded him as a threat made Wasif start to present himself as “politically Muslim,” using this ascribed identity in an attempt to reverse the bad experiences. 18 19
See their website at: www.fabrica.it. See www.colorsmagazine.com/magazine/75.
Islam, Photographs, and Imaginations of Bangladesh
Disturbed by the negative reactions he encountered while traveling abroad, Wasif, as well as other Pathshala photographers, learned to make strategic use of “culture talks” to create new forms of action. By using their opponent’s discourses and practices to reverse their positions in the world, they also incorporated new political identities for themselves and developed actions to become empowered and to improve their performance in the market. Like this, counter-orientalist discourse, which collaborates with the binary logic they criticize, also works as a tool for the photographers to offer their representations. They appropriate for themselves the relationship described by Mamdani (2002) on their behalf.
In God We Trust Wasif’s essay begins: The thought of this project crossed over my mind when I first came to Europe. I was stopped at every immigration counter in airports because I have a beard. I am Muslim and I am coming from Bangladesh. I still remember suspicious eyes in Paris Metro. I remember careful voices asking me, is that your bag? (Munem Wasif, In God We Trust - first panel)
The title refers to the phrase printed on U.S. dollars.20 The motto and its reference to God (one, in singular, as Muslims believe) is meant to be an ironic and provocative way of attracting people to the subject that has supposedly become one of the greatest enemies of the United States: Islam. For the essay, Wasif photographed people participating in rituals and in moments of entertainment, study, happiness, and suffering. There are scenes of everyday life, celebrations, mourning, and protests. Some of the pictures were staged to attain the best result, while others were taken on the spot. There are portraits depicting moderate and conservative Islam, but no conflict. The essay is presented in the format of a story where a
This phrase on U.S. dollar bills is in itself reason for much controversy in the United States. Some people believe that it contradicts the separation between Church and State, while others say that it infringes on the rights of those who believe in more than one God (by making reference to only one God, in the singular) and of those who do not believe in God at all.
narrative is built by combining photographs and texts. The sequence of photos and panels allows the viewer to follow the author’s argument.21 For the intimate portraits of “In God We Trust,” Wasif photographed people who belong to his familiar network, such as his sister, his wife, and some friends. Each one of them experience Islam in a different way, but with one common thread: they all are moderate. Wasif chose to photograph them to present a version of Islam based on the concept of tolerance, or the capacity of living close to people with different beliefs. Tolerance is presented as opposite to radicalism, the way Islam often is presented in Western news and media. Among the many topics that appear under the main theme of Islam, there are performances related to Ramadan, weddings, funerals, prayers, and studies of the Koran in a Madrassa. The essay opens with pictures of the Eid Al-Adha festival, followed by a photo of Topu, one of Wasif’s closest friends as well as Pathshala professor and alumnus. Topu, known among his friends as a very loving person, follows the orthodox principles of Islam in an exceptional way. In the photo he is wearing a tupi and kurta and is lying on a jainamaz (prayer rug) in a fetal position, acting as if he was sleeping after the midday prayer. The portrait of Munmun itself does not show much. We see a girl putting on lipstick in a place that is probably her room. The image is not about her, but about the hijab, which has become one of the most famous symbols of oppression against women; a symbol frequently presented as a tool to hide women’s beauty, the opposite to lipstick. But these objects appear as complementary in the image, not contradictory. Between the pictures of Eid and the one of Munmun, the second panel reads: I found my sister Munmun, who starts ‘Hijab’ after coming back from hajj last year. Since then “Hijab” has become a completely new meaning for her life. She now seems confident than ever she was. (Munem Wasif, In God We Trust - second panel)
21 Wasif continues working on his essay. Between 2010 and 2016, he has changed the photos and the order in which they appear more than five times. These changes reflect the dynamic way in which he looks at Islam and wants to portray it. Nevertheless, despite the changes, the main argument of his essay holds and is drawn upon in this article. The photos are not published here due to editorial limitations.
Islam, Photographs, and Imaginations of Bangladesh
Figure 6.2 We see the same unexpected combination of sacred and profane through the use of Muslim symbols as in the picture of his sister, Munmun, shown putting on makeup while wearing a hijab.
By choosing to show the after-prayer nap between a picture of a cow killed for Ramadan celebrations and the classic picture of Muslims at the Jumma-tul-bida, the last Friday prayer of Ramadan, Wasif presents a breath of intimacy and relaxation, a portrait of a profane use of the jainamaz in an everyday non-extremist performance. It is as if there were two different performances: a public and a private one; the private acts as a zoom lens in the non-ritualized way of experiencing the religion. We see the same unexpected combination of sacred and profane use of Muslim symbols in the picture of his sister, Munmun, who is shown putting on makeup while wearing a hijab.
Through the photo and the panel we learn that to use a hijab was Munmum’s choice. Something new to make her feel better about herself. For her, it has become an icon of empowerment, not submission or oppression. Munmun’s picture is important to Wasif because it points to dilemmas experienced in his own family: So this is my sister, Munmun, with whom I grew up with. So suddenly she went to Hajj with my father. Of course my father was so happy because my sister was going to Hajj with him. But I didn’t get it. And asked her: Why did you have to go for hajj? And then she came back, and she told me she wanted to wear this hijab. I thought that was crazy! I couldn’t believe that my sister would wear a hijab. Because my family is not at all a typical conservative family. And I really did not understand her. And I was angry with her for a long time. I didn’t know what to say. And I did realise, after six months, that she was much more confident of herself than she used to be before. And she never looked so beautiful. Not in this picture, because now she has hijab from like maybe 30 different countries in the world. And she looks really beautiful. And she is really confident. And she really believes in Islam. Then I realised that if it is her own decision to wear this hijab, why would I have so many problems with that? And then I started
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talking to different people and ask how they are interpreting the religion and I found it so complex within a small country like Bangladesh. (Wasif, 2011)
Through the Munmun portrait, Wasif’s remarks demonstrate how his personal experiences become a motto for his work and how his political identity emerges. Here, as it was in Omi’s work, the photographic work shows his perception of others, but also points to his own experience. He seeks to affect the viewer through his own story too. Initially, Wasif did not understand his sister’s decision to wear the hijab. For him, the hijab was worn by conservative people, something that his sister should not be since their family was not. When he states that his sister is more beautiful and confident now, Wasif is voicing his expectations about globalisation and consumption: his sister looks beautiful with her hijabs from 30 different countries. Later he emphasises: she really believes in Islam; thus stating that she can be both a cosmopolitan girl and follow a religion. Wasif’s comments on his sister’s behaviour follow Mamdani’s (2002) propositions on how culture should be de-territorialized (so Islam could be seen as global) in order to stand against wars on specific territories or populations (war on terrorism) and against the criminalisation of religions. Speaking of his own difficulty in accepting his sister’s relationship with Islam and in exposing the conflict he experienced within his family, Wasif also demonstrates his own attempts to understand and interpret the religion to which his country adheres in such complex forms through the research he conducted for his essay. His attempts to understand the different practices of Islam also are an attempt to understand his sister’s decision to wear the hijab. Wasif’s comments, his initial inability to understand his sister’s decision to wear a hijab, and his subsequent acceptance of it also are related to what another Bangladeshi visual activist, Naeem Mohaiemen, declared about the hijab in a statement published by the Visible Collective, 22 a group of activists, artists, and lawyers interested in the discussion of panic and security: This sort of thing is an interesting dynamic because now you find, for example, speaking for myself, growing up in a country like Bangladesh, my forming experience is to consider the hijab something to fight against. And now I find myself in an uncomfortable situation of having to defend 22
For their website, see www.disappearedinamerica.org.
Chapter Six the hijab against the French State. Simply because it’s the French State. So you find yourself in strange alliances. We’re having to defend that which maybe is not really defendable. But it becomes a symbol of other things. (Mohaiemen, n/d)
Wasif’s discussion of the photograph of his sister points to an important aspect of how Pathshala photographers document: frequently, it is not about the picture itself, but about how the picture injects a meaningful subject into a political discussion. Wasif’s attempts to represent different modes of experiencing Islam, whether orthodox, liberal, or conservative, demonstrate multiple ways of seeing Muslims. Insofar as Wasif presents most of them as moderate, he does not address the question of how to distinguish between a good and a bad Muslim, but instead depicts them like anyone else.
Figure 6.4. Reetu, in the sea with his friend Topu at Cox’s Bazar.
After the picture of Munmun and some other photos of family life, we see a photo of Wasif’s wife. The photo is followed by the text:
Islam, Photographs, and Imaginations of Bangladesh
On the other hand Reetu, my wife, is a theatre activist whose form of belief in Islam is completely different than the conventional way. Topu, a young photographer, practices orders of Muhammad, the last prophet of Islam, which is a special form of practice. (Munem Wasif, In God We Trust third panel)
The picture of a smiling bearded Muslim man, whom we have seen before taking a nap on a jainamaz and who is now presented as having fun and sharing moments of intimacy in the sea with a woman wearing western clothes, offers a counter-description to most common sense representations of Muslims, especially of women, who often are presented fully covered and restrained. The fact that each of them has different ways of practising Islam is important, and the message is clear: they can be close and happy while accepting their differences. An image of a young man in traditional clothes and accessories, followed by another one where he is in the sea with a woman who is not kin, may seem contradictory to an unsuspecting viewer. It also may seem paradoxical the fact that Reetu is a theatre activist - a characteristic frequently related to open minded women - and a Muslim. But these facts are not conflicting to Wasif, who seeks to humanise the different characters and religious practices through representations of compassion and acceptance. It is one of the images of religious tolerance that Wasif presents to combat the idea of violence related to fundamentalism. Between the panel and the picture, we see another photo of his sister, this time praying; one of a woman mourning the death of her son; his burial; and a photo of two women wearing a hijab. These are followed by another panel: Beard, Tupi (cap), Turban and Veil (Borka) have been made the most visible symbol of Islam by media and development interventions. But beyond these symbols lies a very different reality in the practice of Islam I grew up [with]. It transforms, and is always in a process of transformation. (Munem Wasif, In God We Trust - fourth panel)
The panel introduces a sequence of photos showing very different practices of Islam in Bangladesh: a portrait of Shadab, another Pathshala photographer, in a studio; a photo of a private party given by Himika, a young businesswoman hosting friends during the holiday of Eid to celebrate the end of Ramadan; and a picture of bearded men in white kurtas drinking tea in a gathering. We see images of beer, tupi, and kurta, but we also see alcohol, cigarettes, western clothes, and a party. Again, public and private images show completely different performances.
Without additional information, we cannot know if these men are followers of a religious leader gathered to protest against a reformist government policy on women’s rights. However, the exclusive presence of men, their traditional clothes, accessories, and expressions portray a mode of behaviour that differs from what is depicted in previous photos. And it is radically different from the one we see immediately before:
Islam, Photographs, and Imaginations of Bangladesh
In this image we see Himika lying back on a couch with a cigarette in her hand. We also see two men, one on each side of the image, in an intermediate position between Himika and the table with bottles of wine. The alcohol appears in the foreground. Despite being out of focus, it is the first thing we see in the photo. The blurring points to the fact that although alcohol consumption is illegal in Bangladesh, it is available at some private parties. Alcohol prohibition in the country is even more strongly enforced during Ramadan, when the portrait was made, and especially for women, two facts that point to the significance of this representation. By choosing to publish this picture of a woman smoking among bottles of alcohol in a celebration during the Ramadan, Wasif presents a depiction of a liberal middle class way of experiencing Islam. By inserting Himka’s picture immediately before the Islamists’ protest one in the essay, he highlights the contrasts of their practices. The Islamists are the exception in the representation: they occupy 2 of the 30 photos in the essay. After their pictures and the one of a boy having his hair cut, the panel reads:
Chapter Six Islam in Bangladesh has always been practiced and performed as one of diverse religious forms. Islam has been one such discovery after 9/11, which was brutally bruised all over in the name of ‘War against Terrorism.’ (Munem Wasif, In God We Trust - fifth panel)
Then there is a photo of a Muezzin, the person responsible for the call to prayer, reciting the adhan. We also see three photos of children in a Madrassa, followed by another panel: Our hearts and minds, even our visual constructs, have become preoccupied with western thoughts and ideas. Islam in Bangladesh is like multiple colours of mirror under sun as veil and lipstick, verses and azans, jeans and beard altogether. On one hand, people here go to the grave without the hope of ‘rebirth,’ on the other, fakirs and saints in mazars keep chanting a prayer for eternal soul. (Munem Wasif, In God We Trust - sixth panel)
Here we see other practices and followers of Islam: a hiker devotee; three women (one wearing a burqa, another a hijab, and the other with no veil) in a gathering for the celebration of Ashura; a picture of a spiritual leader, the Mourning of Muharram; a traditional band; and a protest. Picturing different forms and practices of the religion, Wasif wishes to represent “the various shades of Islam” to present a counter-narrative to the one that presents the religion as synonymous with radicalism and terrorism. While creating his narrative, he underscores his own symbols of Islam: a global cultural blend that mixes verses and prayers, beards and jeans, veils and lipsticks. His symbols and ideas point to how Bangladeshis became preoccupied with Western ideas and corroborate Mamdani’s (2002) reflections on “cultural talk.” Of the various colours that Islam may have, Wasif presents us with at least five different experiences: those of his sisters, his wife, his friend Topu, Islamists, and the supporters of the syncretic form practised by Bauls. By sharing his story and recounting his own way of looking at this religion through images, he also is showing us the way he experiences it: in a politically Muslim way, as he defines it. To be “politically Muslim,” however, is not to experience a political Islam in terms of what has become to be known as Islamism. It is an awareness of the political uses of the religion. In Wasif’s case, his activism emerges in his photographic practice. Wasif verbally and visually explains this political engagement in a coherent manner in his essay. The goal of his story is to show images that differ from those depicting oppression, terrorism, violence, and religious intolerance. In this sense, it is precisely the photo of Mourning of Muharram that shows his strongest counter-image, a photo that had
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opened his essay on his website for several months.
Most of the known images of the celebration of the mourning in remembrance of the Battle of Karbala depict a specific Shia version known as instrumental Matam (the practice of chest beating). In this form of mourning, male participants tie knives or razors to strings and beat them against their bodies, soaking themselves in blood. However, Wasif chose to present a Bangladeshi Sunni version where men embrace each other in memory of Imam Husayn’s suffering, relating it to Matam. For Hyder (2006), Matam in South Asia is the most significant and sensitive Shii identity maker (...). Matam is the ritual practice much criticized by Sunnis, many of whom believe that the Prophet Muhammed explicitly forbade such acts of mourning. (...) The criticism levelled at this practice, at times even within the Shii community, is aimed at another kind of matam, the instrumental
Chapter Six matam, in which Shii men use chains, knives, and blades to express their sorrow. (2006:52)
In Wasif’s representation of mourning, we see love and compassion among the believers, who are shown embracing one another in memory of pain instead of inflicting pain on themselves through blood and violence. Immediately after this picture, we see a portrait of a musician playing traditional music and two photos of peaceful protests (one with young people wearing artificial beards and another with artists and intellectuals holding candles). Between the photos of the protests there is a final panel explaining Wasif’s purpose: I wanted to produce a parallel work to stand on the opposite ground of conventional photographs of ‘fanatics,’ ‘fundamentalists,’ ‘terrorists.’ I wanted to show the inherent presence of Islam in people’s life than [as more than] a symbol of suppression. This is a story [of] my family and friends, this is a story about little fragments which we don’t see in the head-lines of newspapers, this is a story about how ‘we’ see Islam. (Wasif, In God We Trust)
Wasif starts by stating what he wants to portray in this essay: a work that can oppose conventional depictions of fanatics, fundamentalists, and terrorists. He finishes his argument (and simultaneously, his essay) using the plural to place himself beside his family and friends, to say that this is a story about how they see Islam. The “we” that concludes his essay is the same one that initiates it in the title, “In God We Trust.” His arguments, then, gain strength not only through the counter-images, but also because who is producing them is part of the portrayed group. Self-representations are seen as stronger than exogenous depictions in contemporaneity, especially regarding photo-activisms (Gama, 2006, 2009, 2012, 2015).
Reflections on the Contemporary Imagination of Bangladesh By using the plural to place himself alongside those he portrays, Wasif brings the personal and subjective character to his work, which is so important for Pathshala photographers. They speak about their territory, their families, their friends, their neighbours, and their social practices to produce images as well as identities and (self) representations. There are many disputes regarding what constitutes a “good” representation of Islam worldwide and Wasif’s representations receive a great deal of criticism, even inside Bangladesh. Many people believe that
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the portraits he creates, often through staging, are not “authentic” representations of Islam in the country. The picture of his wife, Reetu, embracing his grandmother, for example, is seen by some as a representation of the opposite of what a “true” (i.e. conflicted) relationship is between a woman and her in-laws. The fact that he chooses to present the daily lives of his friends and relatives to counter the predominant images of “critical events”23 related to Islam also generates criticism among his peers. Saiful Huq Omi, for example, sees the religion in a very different way. For him, the way Islam is practised in the country is one of the biggest problems people face: it is violent and brings suffering. So he portrayed a different version in the book “Heroes never die: Tales of political violence in Bangladesh,” highlighting the political violence in the country (Omi, 2006). According to Omi, Wasif’s essay elicits a misinterpretation of Islam in Bangladesh that conveys the impression that it is moderate. Although this form of religion can be experienced by wealthier groups of society (the ones Wasif documents), it is not the lived experiences of the majority, who have experienced suicide bomber attacks by Islamist groups, even before the foundation of the country, that have intensified since 9/11. The criticisms aimed at Wasif suggest that when he and other Pathshala photographers omit violence and conflicts, they may fall into the same trap they criticize: by seeking to counter stereotypical representations, they often build stereotypes with the objective of creating images as powerful as the initial ones. This approach of using stereotypes (either positive or negative) results in theoretical and political pitfalls because it reduces groups to non-complex images (Stam and Shohat, 1995). However, operating with positive stereotypes also reveals that investing in the transformation of one’s own image is more than a “symbolic cleansing,” i.e., “the need to demonstrate being a good person (or group) to acquire the trust of the Other” (Machado da Silva 2008:15).24 It is a symbolic struggle for power. The way in which Pathshala photographers chose to participate in this battlefield is not by means of a rupture with those whom they criticize, but through mimesis. By copying their opponents’ strategies, they acquire power over them, who are simultaneously their partners.
Veena Das defines “critical events” as violent events that institute “a new modality of historical action” (Das 1995:5). 24 Translated by the author.
Conclusion: Using Photography for Human Rights Drik is part of a worldwide network of organizations campaigning for human rights and social change through photography, information technology and media activism. It also provides support for creative individuals who challenge the hegemony of Western media. (Drik Picture Library)25
Most of the photographers gathered around Pathshala and Drik do not join the agency or the school only to study or sell photography. They strive to be part of the global market of photography, but also to make social changes and to act for human rights. The right to communicate, to religious freedom, to freedom of expression, and, especially, to be equal in dignity and rights to other human beings are part of their main objectives. Coming largely from the middle and upper classes of Bangladesh as Wasif does, the other photographers are also accustomed to traveling and facing prejudices abroad. Aware of how the relationships among security, politics, culture, and identity define a whole range of social practices, they seek to intervene in it. Bhabha (2004) points to the fact that security has become a cultural issue: The notion of security is now not simply a political issue but a cultural issue. Security is the lens through which you look at somebody and decide whether they are good Muslims or bad Muslims, whether they are terrorists or not. Security has become a rich cultural defense now. And I think we should see it as such. One of the ways in which we think about difference now, one of the ways in which we think about identity now, is through the lens and through the technologies of security. Not simply security as surveillance, but this is an idea that somebody who is next to us, somebody who is in proximity to us, somebody who is away from us or distant from us is a security threat. Security has become a fully cultural apparatus. (Bhabha, 2004)
We look at people, whether close or distant, in terms of the threat they represent to our security. This is the basis on which we decide whether someone is “good” or “bad” (Mamdani, 2002). Because cosmopolitan middle class Bangladeshi photographers do not identify themselves with bad Muslim stereotypes faced abroad, but because they suffer the consequences of it, photographers like Munem Wasif started producing representations of the images they want foreigners to have about Bengali 25
See their website at www.drik.net.
Islam, Photographs, and Imaginations of Bangladesh
Muslims, or Bangladeshis. Although Wasif’s work aims to demonstrate that Muslims are not the threat some people imagine them to be, it goes further than that. His representation of Islam collaborates with the current imagination of a Bangladeshi middle class that seeks to participate in today’s global world, differentiating itself from fundamentalists. The representation of Bangladeshis as liberal, moderate, and tolerant people also resonates with Western notions of or demands for good Muslim behavior. Still, it is by distinguishing themselves from the West that Wasif and his peers gain power and space in the photography market, reinforcing their alterity and authenticity. They understand that these categories – alterity and authenticity – are highly valued in the market. Through photography, they question and build their place at the same time as part of, and as others do, in the global market. Their activism and paid work do not appear as being opposing fields, or contradictory practices, as we often see in photo-activism performances. It is by becoming empowered that they are capable of changing social relations. As I pointed out previously (Gama, 2015), a wider circulation of images through the market allows a better circulation of their ideas. By creating their own photographic representations of a “good” Bangladesh and its people, these photographers strive to change the way Westerners look at Bangladeshis, while at the same time they have changed their own global circulation. In 2010, they published and showcased their work around the world. They participated in juries for the most important documentary prizes in the West, disseminating their point of view in the most widely read international newspapers and photography magazines. In this way, while copying photographic Western practices, Bangladeshi photographers produce agency through mimesis: they present themselves as they would like to be seen. There are multiple identities that are revealed according to what they intend to display at a given moment. Caiuby Novaes (1997) talks about an interdependent relationship between the image of self and the image of others, demonstrating that there is no independent way of presenting oneself. Self images affect and are affected by the images the others have, which are constantly transformed in these relationships. Wasif is a political Muslim because of the prejudices he experienced in the West. Without Western discourses regarding terrorism, his work would lose strength. Khatun (n/d) suggests that history has fostered the idea of Islam as a counter-power ideology of resistance to Western/American hegemony. This relationship between Islam and leftist activism seems to have
intensified after the attacks of 9/11. This wave of religiosity with multidimensional facets has been crystallised in dominant and subordinate discourses on social and political life, and can be captured in the dialogues, conversations, media, attitudes and behaviours, rituals, and public celebrations in Bangladesh (Khatun, n/d). There is an interdependence of representations, themes, and also markets. But Drik and Pathshala photographers try to control various stages of production to direct how the narratives will be understood. While one cannot control audience reception, these photographers work through the various stages of the production from conception to exhibition. They created a school, agencies, galleries, publications, websites, and even a publishing house. They also produced closed stories (visual narratives that combine images and text) as a way to decrease the likelihood that there would be external interventions in their representations of Bangladesh. These actions highlight a significant dynamic where activism and market are not opposite forces, but rather present a political demand for self-representation and human rights. At the same time they create commercial proposals to enhance their actions in the global photographic market. This work points to the role of images and imagination in symbolic struggles, and to economic and social practices. Thus, to enjoy the right to freedom of speech, to movement, and to be recognized as a person, they feel the need to control and diffuse (exhibit/commercialize) their representations about themselves.
References Alam, Shahidul. 2007. “The Majority World Looks Back”, paper presented in the Visible Rights Conference. Harvard University, 14-15/12/2007. Anderson, Benedict. 1983. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. New York: Verso. Appadurai, Arjun. 1996 Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Bauman, Zygmunt. 2001 Community: Seeking Safety in an Insecure World. Cambridge: Polity. Becker, Howard. 2003 “The politics of presentation: Goffman and total institutions,” Symbolic Interaction, 26 (4), 2003, pp. 659-69. Berntsen, Maria S. 2011 Challenging the Gaze. The study of a Socially Conscious Photographic Initiative based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the M.A. degree Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen. Bhabha Homi. 2004, April 10. “Writing, Rights, and Responsibilities”
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[video file] Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yER4QwiSl14 Das, Veena. 1995 Critical Events: An Anthropological Perspective on Contemporary India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Deleuze, Gilles. 1994 Difference and Repetition. New York: Columbia University Press. Feld, Steven. Editor’s Introduction. In: Rouch, Jean. Ciné-ethnography. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003: 1-25. Gama, Fabiene. 2015. “Photo-documentation, culture and stereotypes: how the Global South is struggling for visual forms of power”. In: Lidia Manzo. (Org.). Culture and Visual Forms of Power: Experiencing Contemporary Spaces of Resistance. 1ed.Illinois: Common Ground Publishing, 2015, v. 1, 70-86. —. 2012. Fotodocumentação e participação política: um estudo comparativo entre o Brasil e o Bangladesh. PhD thesis (PhD in Cultural Anthropology, and Social Anthropology and Ethnology). Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro/École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales. —. 2009. Etnografias, auto-representações, discursos e imagens: somando representações. In: Gonçalves, Marco Antônio; HEAD, Scott. (Org.). Devires Imagéticos: Representações/Apresentações de Si e do Outro. Rio de Janeiro: 7 letras. —. 2006. A auto-representação fotográfica em favelas: Olhares do Morro. Master’s degree dissertation (MA in Social Sciences). Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro. Gammerl, Benno. 2012. “Emotional Styles: Concepts and Challenges”. Rethinking History: The Journal of Theory and Practice, 16(2): 161175. Goffman, Ervin. 1959. The presentation of self in everyday life. New York: Anchor Book. Gonçalves, Marco Antonio Teixeira ; Head, Scott, ed. 2009. Devires Imagéticos. A etnografia, o outro e suas imagens. Rio de Janeiro: Sete Letras. Hoek, Lotte E. 2003. Picturing the Post-national: Photography, Politics and the Drik Picture Library. Social and Cultural Anthropology Department, University of Amsterdam. Khatun, Sayema (n/d) “Examining the Discourses of Political Islam in Bangladesh.” Retrieved from: juniv.academia.edu/SayemaKhatun/Papers/393669/Examining_the_Dis courses_of_Political_Islam_in_Bangladesh Machado da Silva, Luiz Antonio, ed. 2008. Vida sob cerco: violência e
rotinas nas favelas do Rio de Janeiro. Rio de Janeiro: Nova Fronteira. Mamdani, Mahmood. 2002 “Good Muslim, Band Muslim: A Political Perspective on Culture and Terrorism.” American Anthropologist. Vol. 104 n.03: 766-775. Mohaiemen, Naeem,nd. “Naeem Mohaiemen & the Visible Collective.” [video file] Retrieved from http://vimeo.com/20846275 Omi, Saiful Huq. My own war. In: Facebook. [Publicado em 10/01/2011] Disponível em: https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=162409257137991 Acessado em 3 de setembro de 2012. —. 2010 June 16. “Q&A: Bangladeshi photographer dedicates life to changing lives of others”. [video file] Retrieved from: http://www.unhcr.org/4c18bfed6.html (Accessed on 01/08/11). —. 2006. Heroes never die: Tales of political violence in Bangladesh. The documentary photography of Saiful Huq Omi, Bangladesh. Disponível em: http://www.saifulhuq.com/#mi=2&pt=1&pi=10000&s=0&p=2&a=0& at=0 Acessado em 3 de setembro de 2012. Rouch, Jean. 2003 Ciné-ethnography. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Saussier, Gilles. 2007 Studio Shakari Bazar. Paris: Le Point du Jour. English version available on: www.gilles-saussier.fr/textes/studioshakhari-bazar-25.html?lang=en Spivak, Gayatri. 1988 “Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiography.” in Guha, Ranajit and Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty, eds.. In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.197-221. Stam, Robert and Ella Shohat. 1995. “Estereótipo, realismo e representação racial”. Imagens, São Paulo, n. 5, p.70-84, agosto/dezembro. Strathern, Marilyn. 2004 Partial Connections. Updated Edition: AltaMira Press. Taussing, Michael. 1993 Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses. Nova York: Routledge.
CHAPTER SEVEN ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SUFFERING? “HUMANITARIAN CRISIS PHOTOGRAPHY” AND SELF-REPRESENTATION IN THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO AUBREY P. GRAHAM
In 1905 Mark Twain published King Leopold’s Soliloquy, a spiteful indictment of King Leopold II’s abuses of the people of the Congo Free State. Twain’s text was sold with the purpose of “furthering the effort for relief of the people of the Congo State” (Twain  1970). Specifically, it lent support to the Congo Reform Association, an early humanitarian organisation, which pursued the goal of stopping the region’s “crimes against humanity.” While his words are scathing, Twain’s inclusion of brutal but well-crafted images helps to show both the brutality of the situation and the suffering of the Congolese population. One of the Soliloquy’s powerful visuals is a collage of nine frames, each of which displays a portrait of a Congolese individual wrapped in a white sheet. Despite the variety of faces, genders, and ages, the most notable part of these images is not the subject’s likeness, personality, or individuality, but rather the severed limb that they display. Missing hands are shown in high contrast against the cloth that wraps their body, conceals their nudity, and provides a background to highlight their absent appendage (Sliwinski 2006; Peffer 2008). Such images of atrocity captured by missionaries, researchers, and traders added a seemingly unquestionable edge of visual reality to the quest to expose and topple Leopold II’s regime. Writing sardonically from Leopold II’s point of view, Twain contextualised the role of the camera saying, The Kodak has been a sore calamity to us. The most powerful enemy that has confronted us, indeed […] [with] the incorruptible Kodak – all the harmony went to hell! The only witness I have encountered in my long experience that I couldn’t bribe. Every Yankee missionary and every inter-
Chapter Seven rupted trader sent home and got one; and now – oh well, the pictures get sneaked around everywhere in spite of all we can do to ferret them out and suppress them. (1905, 40)
The camera, while no longer as novel as it was a hundred years earlier in its ability to mimic reality and show the effects of humanitarian suffering, nonetheless continues to be a central tool of aid agency advocacy. Over the past century, international humanitarian aid and advocacy have increased markedly. The number of international agencies has grown from just over 400 to more than 25,000 today (Kelly 2009). However, certain forms of visual representations employed by aid organizations have remained surprisingly static despite the exponential change in the number of agencies, the shifts in the dynamics of conflicts, and changes in the types of atrocities humanitarians endeavour to salve. What I refer to here as “humanitarian crisis images” indicates photographs created and published by aid agencies and journalists for the purpose of drawing attention to ongoing emergencies. Importantly, this category does not reflect all humanitarian images, which span representations intended to show need, salvation, aid-helped survivors, and the broader situational context (Graham 2013). Rather, humanitarian crisis images focus on photographs that reflect the human outcomes of violence, conflict, and war.1 In contemporary aid agency discourse such images fall within the labels of both “urgence” and “plaidoyer”2 – indicating that the photographs pursue the goal of visually representing the given “need” in order to obtain immediate humanitarian relief, as opposed to longer-term development. Such humanitarian crisis images perpetuate century-old visual trends in their depictions of violation, victims, and perpetrators. By comparing the so-called “atrocity images” (Sliwinski 2006; Peffer 2008; Twomey 2012) from the Congo Free State, made popular by the Congo Reform 1
One photographic topic that falls under urgence and plaidoyer, but is not touched upon in this chapter is that of the “refugee.” Refugee images showing fleeing populations and the misery of the resulting encampment are complex. While linked and overlapping with the humanitarian crisis image category discussed here, they warrant a study in their own right. Interestingly, the well-worn visual trope of individuals running from conflict shows “action” (or perhaps re-action) as opposed to the passivity of victims, and begs for a nuanced analysis 2 Plaidoyer is the francophone means of describing images whose primary goal is to plead for financial help, while urgence (in English the equivalent of “emergency”) is the category of the aid effort. I retain the French version here as it is the way in which the images are described by contemporary aid agencies functioning in francophone Africa, including the DRC.
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Association (CRA), and current humanitarian images of the conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), this chapter shows how despite subtle shifts in visual form, the ideas and intentions underpinning humanitarian crisis photographs remain largely consistent through certain formal types and genre-based subject depictions. Specifically, I examine the repeated use of closely cropped (body-focused) portraits over time, wider-angled textually dependent narrative scenes, and the means of visually casting perpetrators versus victims. For over a hundred years, such images have motivated western financial donations while also contributing to a systematic means of understanding the regions they depict and determining what becomes visually imaginable and what is rendered invisible. Employing the Congo (DRC) as an example, this essay will point out that photographers, be they journalists or humanitarians, employ wellestablished notions of victims and perpetrators to illustrate and further the humanitarian cause. However, the agency of the individuals featured within the photographs and the politics the images carry, play important and often unquestioned roles in the creation and continuation of such visual tropes. Through the interplay of a subject’s agency and the photographer’s goals, the complex and ongoing social life of the Congolese is systematically removed from the photographic frame, rending the depictions of suffering and arms-wielding violence prominent in representations of what Congo is, and for over a hundred years, has been. Humanitarian crisis images have been studied in the past for their simplification of the individual featured, their decontextualisation, or their skewed representation of the situation, and the imposition of the photographer’s power on the subject (Sontag 1977; Benthall 1993; Moeller 1999; Moro 1998; Campbell 2007; Linfield 2010). However, few have questioned the subject’s agency and active collaboration in the image’s creation. This chapter adds a comparative approach grounded in analysis of the images as material representations, as well as spaces of creative interaction between the subject and photographer. By examining the potential role of the subjects – and not just the photographers – in the creation of humanitarian crisis images, this essay pushes beyond the idea of photographs as objective, iconographic representations of reality. Rather I raise questions about the way in which the subjects themselves actively collaborate in the construction and perpetuation of these century-old visual tropes.3 Drawing from my current dissertation project, which tackles the 3
Stereotypes or perpetual visual forms have been widely studied, for instance in relation to the notions of the hunter-gatherer and the pastoralist (Gordon 1997;
dynamics of aid and local photography in the eastern DRC, this analysis furthers the examination of photographic constancies in light of how individuals in modern-day North Kivu Province subjectively navigate the various forms of photography from inside and outside of aid agencies. Further, this work strives to shift the emphasis from a reification of the passive victims or malicious aggressors featured, to an inquiry into the subjective processes that “make” such victims and perpetrators visible while hiding other conceptualisations of the Congolese from view.
Century-Old Abuses and Current Conflicts The Congo Free State (1885–1908) was formed as King Leopold II of Belgium’s privately held colony. Riding on the anti-slavery movements of the early 1800s, Leopold II cast his colonial ambitions under the auspices of humanitarian needs of the local African population. Drawing the Arab slave traders as convenient demons, he argued that his colony would secure the region, free the helpless Africans from the tyranny of slave trading, open the interior of the Congo for free trade with Europe, and make space for the missionary salvation of the local people (Hochschild 1998; Grant 2001; Pavlakis 2010). Once approved by his European neighbours, Leopold II began a distinctly non-humanitarian colonial project, grounded upon military rule, resource exploitation, and giant transportation projects to facilitate the ivory and wild rubber extraction from the interior of the Congo to Belgium. Despite the rose-coloured light in which Leopold II cast his Congo endeavours in Europe, the early years of the twentieth century began to show a distinctly contradictory means of colonisation. With investigations from Europe underway, including Roger Casement’s Report to the British Consulate (1904) and E. D. Morel’s publications in the West African Mail (1903), a document and photographic trail emerged, detailing the abuses of the Congolese people through forced portage and labour, unjust imprisonment, flogging,4 bodily mutilation, torture, rape, murder, and the severing of individuals’ hands (Hochschild 1998; Hunt 2008; Twomey 2012). Cumulatively, the abuses committed by King Leopold II’s
Kratz and Gordon 2002). However, the humanitarian crisis, victim, or perpetrator tropes have yet to receive substantial analysis. 4 Flogging individuals with the chicotte, a hippopotamus-hide whip was both common and deadly. Like the body-focused portrait and narrative scene Peffer (2008) argues that flogging images equally created a “type” photograph, widely created and reproduced in the Congo.
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leaders, rubber sentries5 and the Force Publique army led to the deaths of an estimated nearly 10 million individuals and the depopulation of entire regions within the Congo (Hochschild 1998; Hunt 2008). In reaction to the reports from this violent political milieu, the Congo Reform Association (CRA) was born. Central to their European campaign and their intense popularity in Great Britain were their “atrocity meetings” composed of “lantern lectures” that employed photographic slides, hymns, and oration to move audiences (often numbering in the thousands) to the outrage and compassion that drove monetary donation. Photographic images shown within these lantern lectures, and later published in Mark Twain’s King Leopold’s Soliloquy ( 1970) and E. D. Morel’s King Leopold’s Rule in Africa (1904), were central to the politicisation of the campaign. Such images and their associated text worked to connect King Leopold II himself and his rule to the abuses of Congolese civilians (Grant 2001; Thompson 2002; Hunt 2008). Ultimately the camera was critical to their efforts. The photographs that were published in Europe and America provided a visual “reality”–a form of unquestionable witnessing–to the atrocities (Peffer 2008; Twomey 2012). These resulting photographs can be categorised within seemingly distinct styles including close-framed portraits of victims and widerangled scenes of grief and suffering. In the present, despite a change in the circumstances and politics of the region’s conflict, such formal types and styles have not lost their worth as a means of both displaying and simplifying the Congo’s violation to Western audiences–particularly in North America and Western Europe. In the current conflict in the now Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the victimisation of the Congolese people remains both a dominant visual and discursive means of framing humanitarian engagement and the conflict itself. Nearly a hundred years after Leopold II’s exploitation, the DRC continues to experience the instability of war and the continued deterioration of its state infrastructure. From 1965–1997 President Mobutu’s kleptocratic regime oversaw the demise of the Congo’s social services and the dismantling of the state. Set in this context, the Congo has recently borne the brunt of two international wars and remains the site of ongoing conflict. In 1996 volatile instability in the eastern provinces relating to the refugee 5
During the Leopoldian era rubber sentries were armed local militias charged with protecting Congolese rubber concessions and ensuring the steady collection of wild rubber specifically on Anglo-Belgian India Rubber (ABIR) Congo Company land. Such sentries were known for their brutality in forced labour, slavery, torture, murder and massacres.
influx from the 1994 Rwandan Genocide combined with in-country and regional efforts to oust President Mobutu and sparked the “First Congo War.” By 1997 Mobutu’s regime was overthrown, but the peace was short-lived. On the heels of the First Congo War, the Second Congo War began in 1998 and lasted until 2002. Despite an official end to the war with the South African peace accords, conflict between armed groups, especially in the country’s eastern provinces remains ongoing. Throughout the current period of war and conflict, the Congolese civilians have struggled with disease, death, displacement, genocidal massacres, and a continuation of countrywide infrastructural and social service deterioration (Reyntjens 2009; Stearns 2011). Since 1996, the violence has produced the deadliest conflict since World War II, leading to the deaths of at least 5.8 million individuals (International Rescue Committee 2008) and driving the establishment of one of the world’s largest ongoing humanitarian efforts (Kelly 2009; Autesserre 2010). The conflict itself revolves around regional and nationalised politics and economics, access to land, resources and the role of the crumbling Congolese state, yet it is the civilian tragedies, stemming both directly and indirectly from the violence, that aid agencies most commonly endeavour to treat (Jackson 2002; Raeymaekers and Vlassenroot 2004; Reyntjens 2009; Steiner et al. 2009). Combatant groups share the commonality of targeting civilians in relation to their location, presumed support of opposition groups and social identities, including: gender, region, politicised ethnic differences (particularly “Hutu” versus “Tutsi”) and categories of belonging (“étranger” versus “autochthon”) (Vlassenroot 2002; Geshiere and Jackson 2006; Jackson 2006). As a result of the civilian victims and media attention, the aid response in the east of the DRC has been one of the densest in the world. In the eastern provinces, aid agency headquarters populate major eastern towns and work to quell the symptomatic humanitarian conditions of the conflict. Currently the United Nations OCHA estimates 13 UN organisations, 100 international organisations and at least 300 local organisations based in the province of North Kivu alone – with most of them based in the provincial capital of Goma (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2013). Many of these humanitarian programmes funnel their funds and efforts not towards politics as in the Leopoldian era, but rather towards treating individuals whose bodies and lives have borne the brunt of the conflict. Humanitarian symptoms of the conflict include the perpetration of innumerable and violent rapes, severe levels of malnutrition, the proliferation of preventable diseases, the rise in developmental disability from lack of access to maternal care, the destruction of critical infrastructure,
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and over the duration the displacement of multiple millions of people (Holmes 2010; Médecins Sans Frontières 2013; International Organization for Migration 2013). Despite the atrocious variety of potential suffering the conflict produces, aid agencies tend to cast those touched by the conflict under the broad policy labels of “victims” / “survivors,” “les maladies” (the ill – indicating those who had experienced sexual violence), or more simply, “les femmes” (the women) or les enfants (the children), depending on the agency’s discursive framing. Despite the commonality of such categories of victims, such labels6 are not alone in producing an exportable representation of the humanitarian outcomes of current violence. The often-overlooked humanitarian crisis photograph plays an equally important role.
Medicalised Bodies and Generalisable Individuals Humanitarian crisis photographs have for the past century drawn from existing photographic formal types and reproduced specific gazes. Constructed in part within the familiar portrait genre at the turn of the twentieth century, humanitarian crisis photos “proved” the mass of inhumane actions of Leopold II’s regime by medicalising the body (Peffer 2008)–by foregrounding injury and containing as much excess in the image as possible, it is visually transformed from the sentient individual sat before the camera into a narrow representation that shows them as a product of their damaged physical self – and constructing a repetition of an expected form. Using the confines of a highly regulated scene, the images’ tidy and consistent nature enabled CRA activists to keep physical injustice visible without overwhelming viewers with gore. Rather, portrait-type photographs, like those shown in the CRA’s atrocity collage, show the physical wounds committed by Leopold II’s regime in a controlled and contextneutral fashion. While shock may accompany these images, it is their groomed stillness that enables the viewer to be able to keep looking. These “atrocity” images were intended to “speak for themselves” (Twomey 2012, 40). Similar to the common portrait of the time, which relied upon the construction of a neutral background and a closely cropped framing to draw 6.
Such labels and their impact within both humanitarian and development policy and practice have been much discussed in the anthropology of development/humanitarianism literature (Ferguson 1990; Escobar 1994; Bornstein and Redfield 2011; Fassin 2011).
out the unique identity of the sitter (Tagg 1988; Pinney 2011), these humanitarian crisis images systematically removed the local, social context, leaving only a portion of the individual to focus upon. Repetition too was crucial. However, unlike the standard portrait, be it the three-quarterturned image of the elite, or the face-forward identity portrait of those under the state’s control (Sekula 1986; Tagg 1988; Werner 2010), atrocity images narrowed the frame to gaze upon only the individual subject and their bodily abuses. These images, as exemplified in the collage of nine truncations (Figure 1), follow the style of the “ID” photograph. The individuals are set against a mostly neutral or non-specific background, facing the camera, and situated within a frame that encourages the viewer to focus on the subjects’ bodies – predominantly their torso and head (Werner 2010). The photographer’s intention for the subject’s placement in each of these images is clearly established through the consistent amount of space left between the subject and the edges of the image, the cropping just below the hip, and the way in which the affected arm is placed, both in relation to the white wrapping cloth and to the other hand, which becomes superfluous to the image. The tightly cropped, early humanitarian crisis images close down the frame to control any photographic excess and show just the barest of necessities – enough of the individual and their face for a viewer to connect with their humanity.7 The atrocity of the image becomes inescapable through its formulaic staging. The viewers’ eyes go to the points of bodily rupture, fracture and literal disconnect – to a repetition of severed limbs. Additionally, this ID-portrait-like framing and subject position was familiar to the viewers of the turn of the twentieth century through popular-culture “type” photographs. “Type” photos showcased the images of exotic peoples, focusing on them not as individuals, but as generic representatives of a place or culture (Pinney 1990; Edwards 1992; Peffer 2008; Pinney 2011). In both cases, the “type” and the portrait photograph work to make populations and individuals respectively legible to an “other,” be it the general Western population or the State. However a tension exists between these two formal types. The portrait, through its framing is aimed at showing the particularities and the identity of the individual (Tagg 1988, 7.
The portrait, while perhaps the most effective form to reduce images’ encompassment of the random, the excess and the uncontrollable interpretations (Barthes 1982; Pinney and Peterson 2003; Poole 2005; Morton and Edwards 2009), still can’t quite close out variation. Working without the artificial backdrops of early anthropometric or ethnic type images (Edwards 1992), variation nonetheless enters the frame through the textures of the fauna and construction behind each individual.
Onee Hundred Yearrs of Suffering??
Figure 7.1. “P Photos of mainnly children wh hose hands or ar arms have been cut off as part of the ppunishment used to enforce th he production oof rubber in th he Belgian Congo.” Alicce Harris and W. D. Armstrrong (before 19905). Provided d by AntiSlavery Internnational.
137; Yannicck 1990; Kratz 2002), while the type phootograph was intended to stand as an example of o an entire population. Thhe tension bettween the generalisablle and the indiividual within n humanitariann crisis imagees worked to make succh photographhs effective fo or enabling vviewers to relaate to the
individual subject’s pain, while driving moral outrage, compassion and action for the broader Congolese population. The images expose enough of an individual to spark compassion, while through repetition of this form, generalising, constructing a depersonalised unit that exemplifies the scale of the atrocity committed upon the generic Congolese body. Despite a century-wide time gap and significant shifts in the causes of violence, the portrait-based visual representation of bodily abuses holds fast within the current humanitarian crisis images of the Congo. Where a white sheet was once used as a background in images portraying bodily mutilation, now the contrast is reversed – white medical gauze or bandages often signify the injury that lies beneath. The portrait form is retained through the tight frame and the reduced context surrounding the subject, which frequently portrays the head and upper torso of individuals.87 Their injuries and general identity remain entwined, often aided by text, which explains the specificity of the abuse, while leaving the subject labelled, not as an individual, but often broadly as only a Congolese woman, girl, boy, or man. Through this close crop, use of contrast, foregrounding of the injury, and the still isolation of the subject, humanitarian crisis portraits repeat in form and function across agencies and journalistic depictions, and create tensions between the specificity of individuals and their application as generic representations of the abuses in the Congo. A 2009 Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) photograph exemplifies this trend. Within this closely cropped photograph, a man is featured turned in profile to the camera, with white gauze swaddling much of his head. Despite the shift in the position of the subject from facing the camera to a side-view, violation from the conflict in the Congo is highlighted by drawing out the contrast between darkness of his skin, and the white medical wrapping that, like the white sheets in the century-earlier photographs, medicalises the body and brings victimisation to the fore. Equally, this trend exists in photo8 While the close-crop portrait appears to be a predominant means of visually depicting individual violation both a hundred years ago and at present, there also exist less common full-body portraits. A primary example is that of Boali, a woman who both shot and had her foot amputated by Force Publique officers (see Hunt 2008). Her portrait shows her standing for the camera, half nude with her missing limb highlighted by the tidy, light-coloured earth that acts as a background. These full-body portraits follow similar trends to the cropped portraits, using contrasting colors or shades (the colour of the dirt in the case of Boali) or bandaging, as in the case of tightly cropped full-body portraits of bedridden individuals swaddled in white cloth, to indicate their bodily injuries. The lack of broader context around the individual also remains a constant.
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graphs created by Congolese photographers working for local and international aid agencies. Such a trend persists in Congolese-run aid agencies, and is equally used by Congolese photographers. For instance, after the M23 rebel violence of July 2013 victims of the bombings were brought to Heal Africa Hospital in Goma, North Kivu, DRC. There, the aid agency’s media team took photographs to “plaidoyer” for additional funding to cover the increased hospital need for the growing influx of victims. The photograph shows the young boy seated, facing the camera with a white cast on his arm drawing attention to the wounds beneath the plaster. The gray, computer-edited rectangle placed over the child’s eyes has hidden his identity, yet in framing and the composition of the subject, this image strongly echoes the visual past. As with the atrocity images, these photographs employ the techniques of visual contrast to highlight abuse without too much gore. Whether showing a gauzewrapped head, leg, chest, or arm, the image maintains the notion of emergency and abuse by foregrounding the body, and removing context and photographic ambiguity. As such, the photographs continue to effectively draw the viewer’s eye to the wounds the contradictory “generic Congolese individual” has suffered. While strong continuities remain between these two eras of humanitarian crisis photographs, they are not without differences. Slight shifts in the composition of the images reflect changes in both recent trends in portraiture as well as the type of conflict injuries that have come to dominate humanitarian concern. Formally posed styles of photography have lost headway to current visual trends that emphasize candid, documentarylooking images. The tightly cropped frame remains a feature of humanitarian crisis photographs, yet the unquestionable staging and centring of the subject in the photograph, as in the Leopoldian-era portraits, has lessened – though as is clear in the example from Heal Africa described above – it has not disappeared entirely. Currently photographed to protect anonymity and dignity of the subject, portraits no longer have to follow either the standardised rules of early twentieth-century portraiture. As such, contemporary images, like the MSF portrait described above, reflect off-centre subjects whose wounds are not uniformly denoted by consistent subject placement or the use of props – the chair and sheet – to standardise the form. Despite the small shifts from formal towards more “found” or “documentary” portraiture, the body-focused, often medicalised gaze remains prominent in humanitarian crisis portraits. The de-contextualised frame and the focus on the body of the subject continue to goad compassion and moral outrage by signifying the inhumanity of the injuries suffered and by
employing the hint of an individual’s identity as a means to humanise of the results of conflict and crisis. A shift has also taken place in what wounds are featured through the humanitarian gaze and its associated portraits. Where once amputations were centred, now more superficial though no less scarring injuries are represented – in fact wounds that provide no visible scars have become prominent within the contemporary genre. In the DRC, the notion of rape as a weapon of war has become central to the humanitarian cause. The exact figures of military versus civilian rape and the best means of addressing the causes and symptoms of sexual violence are contested. However, humanitarian aid agencies that deal with sexual violence have become one of the fastest-growing aid entities in the city of Goma (Kelly 2009). Maintaining the visual trends set with the humanitarian crisis images of the last century, images of sexual violation predominantly feature women and retain the tight portrait crop and the bodily foregrounding, highlighting medically superficial wounds while connoting a different type of suffering: psychological hardship. While at the time of the CRA, victimisation was shown by the lack of hands and predominantly direct gazes into the camera, now it is often a woman’s downcast eyes and placement of her hands, set near her face, which index the wounds that the viewer cannot see: loss, desperation, depression, and violation that psychologically accompany sexual violence.9 For instance, in a 2006 Médecins Sans Frontières colour image of a woman who had experienced sexual violence, the viewer is given a narrow view of one-third of a woman of uncertain young age, whose hands cover her face. It is a close-up portrait that features her partial form, from her upper torso to the crown of her head, leaving the rest of her to be cropped away from view. The light in the photograph directs the viewer’s eye to the subject’s shoulder and her blue-patterned cloth dress. Visible in the image is her bright, patterned shift, her bare arms, hands, nails and the small braids across the crown of her head. Seated and unmoving with her head bowed and face hidden, this image’s cropped composition drives forward the woman’s assumed emotion that visually is connoted but not directly represented. The caption that contextualises her image, “April 9
Sexual violence images require a level of permission and anonymity that differs from general conflict images. An additional technique of photographing women who have experienced sexual violence is to capture their likeness as a silhouette. Nonetheless such silhouettes frequently retain the portrait attributes, with a minimal inclusion of context, and a focus on the individual person, and the victimisation that she represents.
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2006, Kabyabiynga. A woman covers her face as she describes her rape to a health worker” (Platt 2006). Despite the fact that viewers know through the caption that she’s talking to someone, that person is not visible. She’s alone with her story and fragmentarily framed to heighten her perceived vulnerability. With no identifying features exposed, this woman could be nearly any woman in the DRC, her body and her caption make her a generic representation of an epidemic of gender-based violence. Platt’s photograph both is, and is not, unique. The images by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), V-Day, Merlin, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and MSF (among others) echo the form of the medicalised portrait. In these photographs, the frame excludes the broader context of the body and the surrounding world, hands indicate suffering, and downcast eyes confirm emotional trauma. In cases like this, where a humanitarian “type” photograph has been constructed, meaning is created “not in, but between images” (Wexler 1997, 167). Representing this particular woman as representative of others is important not only for anonymity but also for the repetition of this form of image, which like the repetition of CRA atrocity photographs, provides “evidence” that this atrocity is indeed occurring, and worse, occurring en masse. Between the images, an idea of the DRC is formed, highlighting its population’s victimisation by focusing on their bodies and excluding the complexity of ongoing life from the view.
The Narrative Scene: Controlling Meaning through Text While de-contextualised portraits control meaning and guide viewers’ responses using tight framing to exclude excess, another set of humanitarian crisis photographs instead relies upon text to bind meaning and emotion into a significantly more inclusive frame. At the turn of the twentieth century, such wider-angled, narrative scenes were structured so that the composition of the image resonated along an emotional wavelength. Alice Harris’s missionary photographs are the best example of this work in the CRA era. Like her medicalised portraits, her narrative images were clearly and consciously constructed, including the emotional and contemplative aspects of a scene, which helped to spark the needed moral outrage and compassionate responses in the West (Peffer 2008). Perhaps the most renowned of these images is the iconographic image of Nsala (Figure 2), a man whose photograph shows him sat at an angle to the camera gazing down at a small hand and a foot while three figures look on in the background. Excess enters this image through the expressions of the onlookers, the potted plant, and the contrast between the tidy veranda and the yard
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beyond. How wever, the naarrative told at a lantern lectuures worked to t control the excess aand ambiguityy that this scen ne provided, w while giving the t image meaning beyyond its iconicity. Accordin ng to Harris, N Nsala came to o the mission to repoort an attack onn his village by b rubber senntries. The attaack led to the death off his wife and the cannibalissation of his yyoung daughteer, whose hand and fooot are featureed. This image, and those w which follow its form, relied both on the implieed photograph hic reality andd the contem mplation it provoked.
Congo atrocitiees – Nsala of Wala W with seveered hand and foot f of his Figure 7.2. “C five-year-old daughter murddered by ABIR R militia (Angglo-Belgian Ind dia Rubber Company) – Belgian Congoo.” Alice Harris (1904). Proviided by Anti-S Slavery International.
In other words, the im mage linked atrocity a to the individual in n the photograph not directly throuugh the visuaality of the suubject alone, but b rather through the careful and intentional i fraaming of the iimage within a textual narrative. Inn such cases, thhe camera ang gle is often farr wider than th hat of the portrait; it aallows more excess into thee frame, and tthereby requirres a caption to guidde the reader to t the atrocity y it depicts. W While text also o helps to connect porrtraits to broaader trends off victimisationn, the text surrrounding
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narrative images not only needs to create connections, but also needs to override the included visual excesses. Taken together, the portrait and narrative scenes, and their encompassing stories, supported a successful political campaign, which in 1908 led to the transformation of the personally managed Congo Free State into a Belgian colony (Hochschild 1998; Twomey 2012). In contrast, it is common that within current humanitarian endeavours, aid agencies no longer justify their existence by their broader political cause. Rather, their work is frequently premised on the supposedly apolitical work of helping victims of unnecessary distress and violence (Bornstein and Redfield 2011; Fassin 2011). Instead of linking discourse and images to the politics of the ongoing conflict and lack of state intervention, local and international agencies use text to connect photographic subjects to broader trends of humanitarian suffering. Local aid agencies (such as ODH [Organization pour les Droits Humaines] and Heal Africa), as well as large international agencies (such as the Norwegian Refugee Council, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, and the IRC), situate and silence the ambiguity and excess in the photographs they use by embedding them within or next to a guiding caption, title, article, report, or heading. Situations, such as sexual violence or survivor’s grief, which push beyond obvious bodily harm, require information beyond the image itself to attain the connection between the individual featured, the associated emotions (such as heartbreak, depression, or loss), and the broader humanitarian issue. Visually, like in the photograph of Nsala, a wider-angled representation of an individual is able to provide flexible visual material to be cast in a direction that is useful for the agency’s programmatic causes. For instance, Marcus Bleasdale’s image of the “Christmas Killings” in Oriental province, DRC 2009 (Figure 3), shows a man sitting on the floor with his knees drawn up towards his chest, staring blankly out an open door. The photograph, used by MSF, is open for interpretation until the caption hems it in. It states, “MSF gathered testimonies from survivors who told disturbing stories of what have been termed ‘the Christmas killings.’ This man witnessed the massacre of 60–70 people in a Batande village church on December 24. He later discovered that his own son and pregnant wife were among the dead” (Bleasdale/VII 2009). In an eerie similarity to Nsala’s 1904 image, the echoes of the visual past speed into the present in this image. Narrative links the man to a grief, which cannot be medicalised and creates an emotional entanglement by connecting the violent situation and humanitarian need to the otherwise ambiguous nature of the photograph. While not all images of indirect suffering bear such a
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close resem mblance to Nsala’s photo frrom 1904, takken more bro oadly, the trend of creating wider-aangled, pensiv ve images andd situating theem within story-based text, indeed remains promiinent.
Figure 7.3. “M MSF gathered testimonies fro om survivors whho told disturbiing stories of what have been termed ‘tthe Christmas killings.’ k This m man witnessed the t massacre of 60–70 people in a Battande village ch hurch on Decem mber 24. He latter discovered that his own son and pregnant p wife were w among thhe dead. Provid ded by VII with permissiion from Marcuus Bleasdale.” Bleasdale, B Marccus (2009).
For instaance, in situattions of sexuaal violence, w when not phottographed within the cclosely framed portrait, wo omen are anoonymously rep presented using a widder angle. Thhe larger visu ual frame freqquently conteextualises them with ttheir spaces of o healing or treatment t – ooften lying on n an ironrung bed wiith the mosquiito net hanging in a net from m the ceiling, or sitting hunched, aw way from the camera. In th hese cases, succh as in the photos p for Oxfam, the IRC and Unitted Nations Po opulations Funnd to name on nly a few, the immediaately associateed text clarifies that the sccene featured is related to sexual viiolence and itss prevalence in i the Congo.. Yet again, in ndividual bodies and contexts becoome generalissable. For insstance, Oxfam m’s April 15, 2010, reeport shows thhe silhouetted back of a wooman lying on n her side
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in a bed. The wider angle shows most of her body and the two other beds on either side of hers. The title in place of the caption reads: “New report shows shocking pattern of rape in eastern Congo” (2010). The potential ambiguity of the image is held in check by the narrative the text that is so quickly layered on top of the visual. Within such situations the image provides a semblance of visual evidence of a hard-to-communicate emotion. However, by surrounding the photographs with text, the image, its excess and its own resonance, is quieted if not silenced by the word-based context. Such photographs help promote the agencies’ goals of raising awareness, gaining donations, working towards easing suffering for victims, and creating a brighter future for survivors. However, unlike the political campaign of the CRA, the current images help agencies adhere to a humanitarian’s central tenet of “neutrality.” Such depictions rarely point fingers (or viewers) at the deeper, political, root causes of conflict, violence, and civilian victimisation, but rather provide a way forward by encouraging donations to the organisation’s projects to treat the symptoms.
Constructing the Subject: Victims, Perpetrators, and Their Photographic Agency To effectively treat even the symptoms of a humanitarian crisis, agencies and their donors must appear to be effective at separating victims from perpetrators. There must be no ambiguity as to who is being aided and who is contributing to the crisis. Photographers and editors are conscious of how their subject is represented; they know what tropes, themes and visual configurations “sell” (Benthall 1993; Moeller 1999). Additionally however, I argue here that subjects also perpetuate their own representations as passive victims or equally as arms-wielding perpetrators. The subject – both in the case of the victim and the perpetrator – is often conscious and active in their own visual construction. This of course is not possible if being photographed inconspicuously from a distance. However, all of the images and the broader genres discussed here, require interaction between the photographer and the subject. Such an interaction is often a negotiation, which produces the visual way in which an individual is identified to the outside world. To apprehend the implications of the polyvalent articulations of images and the subject’s identity, it is critical to step beyond the Western gaze, which focuses on the photographer’s power (Sontag 1977, 2003; Moeller 1999; Manzo 2008), and to explore the local and personal tensions surrounding the subject and their visual selfrepresentation.
Importantly, the photographic encounter is not simply a site where the photographer wields the unyielding power of representation. The camera holder neither captures untainted objective reality, nor do they simply control the scene and inscribe their conception upon a passive subject. Such a view would correspond with the somewhat outmoded view of media critics which argues narrow-mindedly that the camera is a weapon that is aimed and fired, objectifying the subject in front of its incisive, singleeyed lens (Sontag 1977; Tagg 1988). This form of theoretical orientation only sees the “photographer’s attempts to steal the sitter [subject] from him or herself” (Lury quoted in Orjasaeter 2012, 235). Despite the presumed unidirectional power vector from photographer to subject, identity is implicated within the image, as something that is both “inscribed” upon the individual and “described by the photographer” (Tagg 1988, 37). Identity is indeed brought to the fore within the portrait. However, rather than conceptualising identity as objectively inscribed by the photographer, I argue that the zone of interaction created by the camera becomes a site of intersubjectivity and self-making (MacDougall and Taylor 1998; Pinney and Peterson 2003; Grimshaw 2001), even in images of victimisation. In this intersubjective space, an individual’s self-representation is imbedded in complex politics and notions of agency, subjectivity, and an active engagement with the space created by the camera. In front of the lens a performative space arises where the enactment and the making of subjective identities comes to light. The victims and perpetrators’ selfportrayal is a complex means of negotiating their self and society in relation to their surroundings, the photographer, and their anticipations of the use of the photos. Critically there exists a tension between the creation and the interpretation of the humanitarian crisis image. For while the camera initiates room for the subject to self-present and engage with both the camera and the photographer, the final material object of the image instead shows a supposedly objective form centred upon the subject’s assumed passivity. Nonetheless, the creative intersubjective space of the photograph is rarely coded as such. Photographs, like all forms of communication, are constructed with specific intent. These intentions are later “read” under distinctly different personal and contextual situations, take on new meaning, or are “re-coded” (Pinney and Peterson 2003). As such, when viewers interpret these images, they often ascribe new meanings, setting the negotiated, subjective image within the expected “documentary” genre. Such documentary photography implies a relationship to objective, candid, representative photographs that appear to mirror observable reality, obscuring the presence of discourse and negotiation (Caldarola 1988). The intersub-
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jectivity of the photographer and subject is often left invisible. Instead, the ascription of them as objective “captured real” carries high exchange value (Poole 1997), allowing the humanitarian crisis image to stand as evidence of abuses, and as tools with which to evoke compassion, drive moral outrage, and even politicise a situation, as in the case of the Leopoldian-era photographs. The circulated photographs connote victims and victimisation by focusing on a subject’s passivity and their deficiency, as discussed above. In the Congo Free State atrocity images, subjects are marked as victims by their bodily lack – the void of where a hand or foot should be. In the contemporary humanitarian images, the passivity of the victims is shown through the focus on their body as a space where violence is done, in opposition to being a space where one actively engages with the world. The subjects’ hands, which gesture to the suffering of body and the mind, rarely hold material that enables one to participate actively with the environment around them. Absent are the hoes, the pencils, the cash, the books, the matches, and the omnipresent mobile phones. These items, and the ongoing social life of those so frequently cast as visual victims remain photographically invisible. Even in the wider, narrative-dependent images, the common stillness of the body gestures to their victimisation. The repetition of the visual constructions of a still victim make things such as daily life, social networks, means of continuing on, loving one’s family, visiting with friends, working the land, or learning new skills distinctly difficult to imagine.10 In direct contrast to the emptiness of victim’s hands and passiveness of their bodies, perpetrators are made identifiable precisely by what their hands hold and by their actions. Where perpetrators are present in images from Alice Harris’s lantern slides for the CRA and in images appearing in Human Rights Watch, MSF and the United Nations publications, it is what young men carry, hold, or actively engage with that marks them as differ10
There exists another set of images, which temporally follow victim images and take the form of the “flourishing aid-helped survivor images,” which posit that the continuation of life is possible because of the aid, skills, and mentoring provided by the affiliated agency. These share similarities with the salvation images of early mission work, and deserve their own comparative examination. There, the visual passivity is removed to show active skill use, such as sewing, baking, or learning – but only through the channels provided by the organisation. Hands then become active, showing individuals and their ability to carry on, to be the positive outcomes of humanitarian programmes, and temporally mark individuals as “helped,” and therefore able.
ent from the victims. Harris’s flogging image from the CRA era is an early, and extreme example that shows both the victim and perpetrator dynamics. In it, a nude individual lays prone on the ground and a uniformed individual stands tall, with a chicotte raised in the air showing his intention to strike.11 Such perpetrator images are important catalysts, aiding in the construction of a victim through the connection between the images; the perpetrator photographs create a time-aligned narrative of violence and victimisation, which contextualises the victim images as “outcomes” of the actions of the often dangerous-looking young men. It is equally important to note that in nearly all of the images the perpetrators are young men, while women, children and the elderly are subjects in the vast majority of victim photographs. Aid agencies themselves are no longer prominent producers of photographs depicting perpetrators – journalistic outlets dominate in this respect.12 Nonetheless the images that show who commits the violence retain similar tropes to the photographs created a hundred years earlier. Equally, perpetrator images continue to contextualise the humanitarian victim images by providing a sense of both who victimises the subjects and with what weapons. Perpetrator images are often wide-angled enough to show the scale of the potential violence without being so wide as to allow visual distraction by a broader context. By depicting often multiple well-armed men or trucks loaded with men whose hands grasp their weapons, photographers link the movement and action of the men, the truck, and the conflict. Alternately, when closely cropped photographs are created, the images often ignore the faces of the perpetrators altogether, focusing specifically on the masculine hand gripping the barrel or the magazine of their semi-automatic weapon. The visual inclusion of their possession of a 11 This photograph has recently been captioned with “re-creation,” however, the image was part of the lantern shows portrayed as a reality, contextualising the victim’s sufferings and the power and ease and dominance of the perpetrator (Peffer 2008; Twomey 2012). It also became an iconic image that has been recreated, re-appropriated and given new meaning as definitions of who are the victims and perpetrators continue to shift (Fabian 1996). 12 Journalists and humanitarian agencies (for example, World Vision, Oxfam, IRC, Save the Children, and MSF) frequently work together, in the end often sharing access to the images that the photographers produce. Journalists provide the ability to publicise the situation and mark the agency as one competently carrying out their work. The aid agencies provide journalists access to the given situation (especially important in spaces of conflict), transportation, translation, housing, security, and frequently even a direction to the journalist’s stories.
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weapon marks their status as a perpetrator, connoting a person of power who is capable of violence. Additionally, there are often a multitude of subjects within a single frame, which serves to indicate the prevalence or potential scale of the violence. While photographers commonly frame victim and perpetrator images within respective passive or active tropes, my research in North Kivu, DRC between 2009 and 2013 has shown that the subjects featured in the images play an active role. When a camera is raised for the purpose of capturing a humanitarian scene for an American or European audience, subjects actively enact, negotiate, or resist the idea of how to visibly embody either a powerful perpetrator or passive victim. For instance, in relation to the idea of the victim, when interviewing women who had experienced sexual violence in the eastern DRC in 2009, seven out of the 10 noted that for an American or European audience they wanted to be photographed in ways that showed them as sad, suffering, or upset. The women interviewed came from various parts of the eastern part of the country and had stayed at the aid agency’s sexual violence treatment and counseling centre for varying lengths of time – spanning from three days to nearly a year. Despite their region of origin and amount of time receiving aid from a Goma-based aid agency, these women possessed a clearly defined sense of what a humanitarian crisis image should look like. Sarah exemplifies the trend. Before I raised my camera, she explained, “For the West, I want to be shown to suffer.” She placed her hand on her head and cast her eyes away from my lens. When asked how she wanted to be represented in an image she could keep, she tidied her clothing, brought her children close and looked straight at the camera. In another example, Neeta struck a similar pose for the West, but asked me to follow her to two locations in one, she pulled a flower to her face, and said, “I want you to show me as beautiful” in the other, she showed me her new cloth and emphasised how happy she felt (Figure 4). Whether drawing from previous experiences having been photographed at the agency or from images they have seen published in brochures for distribution, aid agency reports, or pulling from a locally trafficked sense of what a victim looks like, it was clear that the women linked a sense of visual suffering with the West to the potential of further aid or benefit. Occasionally, the connection between enacting a position of victimisation and humanitarian aid was directly explained: “If you show me as suffering the West will give more money,” one woman stated.
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Neeta holds up her h newly acqu uired cloth, enggaging with the camera to Figure 7.4. N show parts oof her life thatt step beyond passive victim misation. Aubrey y Graham (2009). Persoonal photographh from the auth hor’s fieldwork in conjunction with Heal Africa, Gomaa.
Conversely, when woorking with yo oung men in N North Kivu on n a photographic projject showing their “identity y,” David annnounced that he h would like to be pphotographed so to show himself h enactiing his futuree job as a soldier. He led me to a wall and stoo od against it ““at attention”” – hands resolutely byy his side, hiss chin up, and d back straightt. His friends,, witnessing this, interrupted the photographing p g, and handedd him a stick to represent a gun. H He took it andd held it again nst his side, aat attention. With W more cajoling theey encouragedd him to poin nt the “gun” at the cameraa to look more like a soldier. He foollowed their lead, glaring down the barrrel of his make-believve gun at my camera (Figure 5), embodyying the idea of power and violencee, a far cry froom the prestig ge and discipliine his initial pose had evoked. Thiis process of embodying aggression a fo r the camera parallels
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images I hadd previously co-created c witth a group of Mayi Mayi so oldiers in Muhanga, N North Kivu. Knowing K whatt was expecteed for a Westtern audience and a Western phottographer, theey held their w weapons high h, pointed them towardds the camera, or posed meenacingly withh them, staring g fiercely at the lens, oonly to later resume r what that t day was a jovial mood, chatting casually with their felloow combatantts and townsppeople, their weapons slung looselly at their sides (Figure 7.6 6). The perforrmance for th he camera was not an oobjective reprresentation of daily reality, but rather a subjective s means of craafting oneselff in a known fo orm for an asssumed audience.
D follows his h friends’ encoouragement, an nd enacts a Figure 7.5. Inn Goma, DRC David well-recognissed pose showing power throu ugh his (pretennd) weapon. Au ubrey Graham (2012). P Personal photograph from thee author’s fieldw work in conjun nction with CAMME asbbl.
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Soldiers for Maayi Mayi and FD DLR rebel grou oups greet each other and Figure 7.6. S relax in Muhhanga, DRC. Aubrey A Graham m (2012). Personnal photograph h from the author’s fielddwork.
A few thhings are strikking about these examples. The first is th hat the interaction bettween the subbjects and the photographerr led to an active negotiation of hoow the individdual would bee featured. At no point weree the passive victim or aggressivve armed man n photographss simple snap pshots of reality; theyy were dually constructed c by y the photograapher and subjject. This negotiation provides a means m to underrstand how suubjects activelly inhabit the commonn photographicc tropes, and gives g the comm mmon victim/peerpetrator forms an am mount of staying power acro oss time, as thhe tropes are anticipated by both the photograppher and the subject. Secoondly, the incclusion of beauty, famiily, or self-com mposure for th he victims, orr jovial, casual soldiery for the perppetrators, hintts at that which is excludded from hum manitarian crisis imagees. In so doingg, it raises queestions about oother systems of visual culture and social life thhat these subjects inhabit. For instance: How do featured inddividuals wishh to be represented for diffferent audiencces or for
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themselves? While these anecdotes show the way in which humanitarian image tropes are known and actively chosen as photographic representations, they do not lessen the potential violation of victims or the power of perpetrators. In fact, by embodying either respective role, a paradox is constructed within these images and their processes. As spaces of agency and selfmaking, the active embodiment of victim and perpetrator tropes also acts as a means of self-circumscription within the known field of representation. As subjects intentionally imagine themselves into the narrowly defined, externally crafted, and lasting visual script, they are at once enacting a position of power – they define how they are featured – and giving power up to the assumed audience. What this means for the Congolese population and those individuals, has yet to be seen. Nonetheless the tension of anticipation of aid or finances and the active embodiment of an expected yet supplicating position raises questions that step beyond the documentary “reality” often evoked in order to goad both horror and compassion.
Conclusion There remains a striking continuity between early humanitarian photographs and the contemporary humanitarian crisis depictions in the Congo. Whether within the body-centred portrait or the wider, narrativedependent scene, the repetition of such visual tropes has constructed a set of visual expectations surrounding who the Congolese are in situations of conflict and atrocity. Congolese hands or the lack there of, have been central to the configuration of how to understand the photographs of victims and perpetrators. However by regarding their limited photographic placement and use, it becomes clear that the everyday use of one’s body, outside representations where hands connote perpetrators or victims, has been left out of the frame. By contrast, Congolese self-representations provide an initial means to contextualise humanitarian crisis images. The physical image produced and the associated subjects’ agency in the photographic process shed light on how individuals actively traverse zones of visual culture. Building on a history of African vernacular photographic inquiry (Sprague  2003; Behrend 2003; Kratz 2002; Vokes 2008), I am currently undertaking anthropological research that works to understand what zones of photographic meaning-making conflict-affected individuals navigate on a daily basis. This research is centered within the conflict-affected town of Goma, North Kivu, where humanitarians and local Congolese spaces both overlap and remain separate. In Goma, aid agencies’ offices and hostels populate the
lakefront, their signposts lay claim to their charitable activities at each crossroads, their white (or now purple, yellow, and rainbow-coloured) SUVs line the city’s roads, and “expat” workers identify themselves not by where they are from, but which agency they are “with.” However, as humanitarian crisis photographs continue to be produced en masse within this space, vernacular Goma photographers create day-to-day portraits, as well as images of weddings, funerals, birthdays, and nights out on the town. Goma boasts over 1000 licensed photographers and countless photo studios, with four wet-labs where black-and-white film can be developed. Within this milieu, ID-type photos remain common, used for identity cards, driver’s licenses, passports, and nearly all applications or interactions with the Congolese state. Yet, outside of that standard 2cm x 2cm framing, the local photographs vernacular photographers create are often used to reflect their subjects’ feeling, generally explained as “bien” or “mzuri” – both indicating a general sense of “good.” Such photographs produced of the Congolese for the Congolese challenge the objective notion of reality, and instead, like Buckley’s study of the Gambian photographic sense of elegance (2006), endeavour to show the sentiment of individuals as they mark themselves as fashion-forward, “sapeur” (MacGaffey and Bazenguissa-Ganga 2000), and modernised. Instead of placing one’s hands against their heads to indicate suffering, early findings from this research show that the average “Gomaen” or “Gomatricien” (Vlassenroot and Buscher 2009) is more apt to fill at least one of their hands with a mobile phone, or shove them in their new jacket’s pockets and lean against a stranger’s 4x4 vehicle and ask for a photograph, or even “Photoshop” luxury into the background (Figure 7). Dressed well and wanting to capture that feeling, individuals often borrow props – phones, sunglasses, or cars from their friends and their surroundings and pose in distinctly modernised poses. “They want to show they are globalised,” claimed a Congolese photographer from the Agfa pro studio after taking a picture of a young woman leaning flirtatiously against a parked car. Such a stance correlates well with the sense that despite humanitarianism’s dominant presence in Goma, the city is a bustling urban space of chameleon-like social identities and bootstrap entrepreneurialism (Vlassenroot and Buscher 2009), where individuals must navigate the intersecting situations of conflict and daily life, aid, and politics. Despite this expansive local photographic front, the West rarely consumes the daily images that Congolese non-humanitarian photographers produce. Thereby such “vernacular” representations of Congolese life, and imagined sense of how they wish to be visually shown, rarely travel the
Onee Hundred Yearrs of Suffering??
same paths, or carry simiilar social biographies (Edw wards 2012) as a the humanitarian crisis imagees. Instead, despite the prevalence of nonhumanitariaan photographhs within the DRC, comm mon visual kn nowledge from outsidde the Congo remains centred upon its passive victim ms, grief, and violent perpetrators, leaving the sense of “bieen,” of modernisation, and of pridee, literally out of view.
Figure 7.7 Inndividual portraait poses like this t one show ooff the notion of feeling “bien” and brring the imaginnary into the photographic reall by connecting g the social world of the photographic subject s with theeir visual conteext. In this casee David, a photographerr, shows off thhe portrait he edited, e linking hhimself, his sty yle, and a pricey new A Audi. Aubrey Graham G (2012). Personal photoograph from th he author’s fieldwork.
While raaising many yet-unanswerab y ble questions,, this article has h shown that both tw wenty-first cenntury and hund dred-year-old standard hum manitarian conflict imaages deserve another look. What is visiible and whatt remains hidden– thee ongoing livees and agency y of the “victiims” and the potential
normalcy or even kindness of “perpetrators”–need to be placed in conversation with locally desired self-presentation in order to complicate the overly-simplified visual histories of the Congolese, both past and present. For over a century the visual content and framing of the subjects within humanitarian crisis images has influenced how the wider world understands the Congolese and their supposed violent, victimised heart of darkness. It is time to place these well-worn image ideas within the vibrant and complicated daily context occurring just behind and to the sides of the photographs and make equally visible what, unphotographed or unpublished, has remained literally unimaginable.
Acknowledgements This chapter, "One hundred years of suffering? 'Humanitarian crisis photography' and self-representation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” is reprinted courtesy of Social Dynamics 40 (10, 140-163) by permission of the publisher, Taylor & Francis Ltd, http://www.tandfonline.com.
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Caldarola, V. J. 1988. “Imaging Process as Ethnographic Inquiry.” Visual Anthropology 1 (4): 433–451. Campbell, D. 2007. “Geopolitics and Visuality: Sighting the Darfur Conflict.” Political Geography 26: 357–382. Edwards, E. 1992. Anthropology and Photography, 1860–1920. New Haven, NJ: Yale University Press Edwards, E. 2012. “Objects of Affect: Photography Beyond the Image.” Annual Review of Anthropology 41 (1): 221–234. Escobar, A. 1994. Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World (New in Paper). Princeton University Press. Fabian, J. 1996. Remembering the Present: Painting and Popular History in Zaire. University of California Press. Fassin, D. 2011. Humanitarian Reason: A Moral History of the Present. University of California Press. Ferguson, J. 1990. The Anti-Politics Machine: Development, Depoliticization, and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho. New York: Cambridge University Press. Geshiere, P., and S. Jackson. 2006. “Autochtony and the Crisis of Citizenship: Democratization, Decentralization, and the Politics of Belonging.” African Studies 49 (2): 1–14, Gordon, R. J. 1997. Picturing Bushmen: The Denver African Expedition of 1925. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press. Graham, A. 2013. “Intentional Photographers, Innovative Subjects: Using Photography to Explore Social and Political Identities in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.” European Conference of African Studies. Lisbon, Portugal. June 26–29. Grant, K. 2001. “Christian Critics of Empire: Missionaries, Lantern Lectures, and the Congo Reform Campaign in Britain.” The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 29 (2): 27–58. Grimshaw, A. 2001. The Ethnographer’s Eye: Ways of Seeing in Modern Anthropology. New York: Cambridge University Press. Hochschild, A. 1998. King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in the Congo. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. Holmes, J. 2010. “A Scandal which Needs to End”. Forced Migration Review: Democratic Republic of the Congo. 36. P. 4-6. Human Rights Watch. 2009. “‘You Will Be Punished’ Attacks on Civilians in Eastern Congo.” Human Rights Watch Reports, 1–189. Hunt, N. R. 2008. “An Acoustic Register, Tenacious Images, and Congolese Scenes of Rape and Repetition.” Cultural Anthropology 23 (2): 220–253.
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Figure 8.1 Still from the film SOLD: Lakshmi looks out the barred window from the Happiness House brothel in India. Photo Credit: soldthemovie.com
CHAPTER EIGHT VISIONS OF SEX-TRAFFICKING: THE FILMIC REPRESENTATION OF SUFFERING KATHERINE WAHLBERG
Visual images, aesthetic choices and strategies of representation chosen by filmmakers’ narratives of sex-trafficking in films construct a particular vision of the world for viewers. Constructed images are complicit in shaping attitudes, laws, and humanitarian efforts, as well as functioning to maintain existing structures of society or even to perpetuate apathy. Human trafficking most often receives attention in documentary and narrative feature films that focus on human trafficking in terms of sex-trafficking of females, to the exclusion of other forms of human trafficking. This conflation skews the view of the public while conveniently skirting the complexity of factors involved and ignoring the tension between exploitation and complicity on the part of victims, who are situated within structures of society that define and limit possible choices for women. Yet, even within a seemingly black-and-white world where victims are represented as powerless and passive, issues of representation and solidarity arise. A consideration of the way that sex-trafficking victims are portrayed in film affords insights into how invisible victims are made visible, as well as the constructed nature of this gendered vision. The intertwining of technology, media and the body is ubiquitous in contemporary society. A deconstruction of the visual representation of the victim of sex-trafficking aids in understanding how ideology is realized in concrete images that structure both the portrayal of the victim and the response of the audience. Images of others in both local and distant locales are imbued with a moral power that seeks to critique human action within “the system” as a whole, and within this cognitively structured view of the world, solidarity with victims can be created through images and socially constructed scenarios. Because representations of victims of sex-trafficking often rely on the stereotypical structures of exploitation, insights emerge regarding the way that those who suffer within the constraints of sex-trafficking are con-
structed as subjects within a socially-imposed world. An act of imagination is implied in viewing films, that of identifying with the characters in the films, and imagining the world as a particular kind of place. The act of watching a film and imagining distant (geographically or socially) human beings becomes part of understanding one’s own experiences (Iordanova 2010a, 13) Thus, ultimately, the target audience must be considered in understanding the construction of the sex-trafficked woman, as filmmakers present a worldview that aligns with that of their viewers. Despite the fact that victims of sex-trafficking have little or no influence over how they are portrayed in film, media act as dynamic sites for the struggle over representation, and offer complex spaces within which subjectivities are constructed and identities are contested. (Spitulnik 1993, 296-7). The figure of the sex-trafficked woman is most often constructed from a Western perspective, and power over this sort of representation is routinely retained for Westerners (Shohat and Stam 1994, 5). Narratives regarding sex-trafficking are intimately tied to a Western perspective of humanitarian efforts, and a concern with exploitation is implied in all films which visualize the lives of the women involved. The implication is that the film exposes a societal problem that needs to be changed, but another core issue is how the filmic vision of that problem is formulated through the aesthetic choices that comprise the narrative. Theatricality lies at the center of the narrative, and these “staged images” legitimize the necessity to act. When considering how characters act within the diegesis of a film, one needs to consider the worldview from which they operate. Chouliaraki argues that humanitarian concerns exist within a “communicative structure of cosmopolitan ethics that mundanely acts as a moralizing force upon Western public life” (2013, 3). So we can recognize that these filmic narratives are composed of a repertoire of staged images and stories that are used to legitimize the need to act on vulnerable others as part of one’s own moral order. It is within this particular theatrical communicative structure of suffering that a sympathetic identification with another’s pain is engendered. The theatrical nature of the structure of the images evokes emotions in spectators, engendering solidarity with the victim, which may be accompanied by identification with the actions of a few exceptional individuals, who are portrayed as central within these zones of suffering to shape the moral dispositions of the spectator (Chouliaraki 2013, 28-29). This provides a means for engaging the spectator through a personal emotive response, thus constructing an emotional solidarity with the sufferers. This moral response appears to be a part of all genres of media that include representations of sex-trafficked women, but the specifics of representation
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result in essential differences that reflect the motivations of the producers and their target audiences. In this chapter, I discuss three narrative fiction films produced in the United States between 2014 and 2016 that focus on the sex-trafficking of girls. They include a mainstream film, Skin Trade (2014) directed by Ekachai Uekrongtham, a faith-based narrative, Caged No More (2016) directed by Lisa Arnold, and a fictional narrative documentary, Sold (2014) directed by Jeffrey D. Brown. These films illustrate some of the differences between genres of films that represent sex-trafficked women, and the importance of the producer and genre in the filmic representations. These were among the most salient films produced in recent years, but it is noteworthy that they were produced after an era when numerous films were produced about sex-trafficking. After two decades of “virtual silence,” during which little attention was given to sex-trafficking, filmmakers produced at least fifty-five films addressing the subject between 1996 and 2008. Films about sex-trafficking “struck a chord” during this time, and offerings range from big-budget Hollywood dramas to independent documentaries. With narratives situated in diverse regions from around the world, including Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and Southern California, it was clear this was a global concern. Many films were marketed to mainstream Western audiences, as well as non-Western “at-risk” subjects and students of women’s studies. (Small 2012, 416-417). In comparison, although only a few films on the topic were produced between 2014-1016, meaningful trends continue to evolve in response to socio-cultural changes as well as changes in humanitarian approaches.
Representations, Solidarity, and Voyeurism A tension exists between two major constituents of those representations: the goal of engendering solidarity between the victim audiences and the inclusion of images that engage the audience in spectacle-based voyeurism. The role of voyeurism, a secret viewing the exotic other, cannot be dismissed when considering visual representations of sex-trafficked women. It is most often unacknowledged, but present, and as an emotive strategy is definitive in the structure of solidarity created between viewers and the women constructed as victims. Lilie Chouliaraki notes the plasticity of solidarity as a concept, and that the nature of solidarity has changed over time within the context of humanitarian activism (9). Solidarity is intimately connected to the communication of cosmopolitan dispositions, those public dispositions that are shaped by particular moral stances which support a “distinct aesthetic logic” that informs viewers’ response to dis-
tant sufferers (3). The nature of the solidarity felt with the other not only changes with historical trends, but also varies by the context within which it is situated. When examining films about sex-trafficking, it is important to consider the context within which they were produced, as perceptions about these sufferers are built within the context of a particular morality of ethics and truths attached to the particular societal issue being represented, the motivations of the producers and the target audience. Visual images and other aesthetics are central in conveying a particular morality of ethics, and choices of producers reveal much about how solidarity is constructed in filmic representations. Given the nature of the abuses that sex-trafficked women suffer, the question that arises is whether the inclusion of sexual images and scenarios aids in engendering solidarity, the nature of that solidarity and how it interfaces with other strategies utilized to represent the women. Do the particular visual images included distance the viewer from the plight of the victim or are they necessary to inspire solidarity? How can invisible victims of sex-trafficking be made visible in a way that does them good rather as opposed to harm (W. Brown 2010, 47). Given that victims of sextrafficking are significantly worse-treated, more threatened and more deprived of their freedom than those who are victims of economic exploitation or human smuggling, how can their experiences be realistically represented (Lehti and Aromaa 159)? However, the inclusion of visual images that promote voyeurism has broad implications in terms of how audiences build solidarity with the other. The relationship between solidaritybuilding and voyeurism seems to define the context of the film for the viewer, within a range of films and other media representing sex-trafficked women. A variety of stakeholders, ranging from filmmakers, politicians, journalists and activists, translate the events surrounding sexual exploitation to present a spectacle of “sex-trafficking” that reflect their agendas, which may function to the detriment to building solidarity. In essence, all narratives highlight particular aspects of sex-trafficking, while other aspects are diminished in importance or omitted. During this process, discourses are established, challenges and contradictions emerge, and the promotion of human rights may be conflated with consumerism, as well as the motivations of entertainment and human rights organizations. The outcome is often sexualized narratives justified by a litany of protestations regarding the “realness and urgency of the social problems that they articulate.” While this strategy does individualize social problems, it also participates in the commodification of human rights advocacy. This approach, to “put a face on” social problems by individualizing them, relies on a single narrative of oppression that precludes multivocality and con-
Visions of Sex-Trafficking: The Filmic Representation of Suffering
structs a subject/object relationship between audiences of the Global North and “performers” who are often from the Global South. This approach reproduces a generic victim status that ignores the diversity of the women affected (Small 2012, 418). Although strategies of representation vary, an approach that follows the experiences of an individual are common, using one woman’s story to represent the mistreatment of women in general. Dina Iordanova notes that in an overwhelming majority of mainstream films, the plot centers on a young woman who is sex-trafficked (Iordanova 2010b, 106). The problem is how to represent this sex-trafficked woman. She is irrevocably an “other” for the viewer, a position that lends itself to exoticization and an unacknowledged scopophilia that legitimizes the secret pleasures of voyeurism, even while she is constructed as an object of concern (W. Brown 35, 37). Sexual images take on a patina of voyeurism and judgment, yet are presented alongside a plea for the rescue of innocents and an end to mistreatment of the women that seeks to create solidarity for the victim (Small, 419). Voyeuristic scenes can be a strong draw for audiences, as well as a major trope of sex-trafficking films. Yet, when this is the case, victims become part of the spectacle that is presented to audiences, perpetuating their status as other and a Western-centric view of the problem. The tension between voyeurism and solidarity centers upon questions surrounding the female body and the way that power relationships are enacted upon it. Cinematic representations of the sex-trafficked woman are embedded in gender politics in our wider society as well as the motivations of the filmmakers, whose strategies draw upon common tropes that reflect values of our society regarding women. William Brown suggested that efforts to liberate others, here translated into representations of women in films about sex-trafficking, are always already paternalistic, suggesting the imbalance between the Global North and other nations is expressed in this type of portrayal (46). This paternalistic attitude is common in sextrafficking films, and suggests that structures of globalization play a role. Leshu Torchin’s argument that films about human trafficking offer a medium for expressing our anxieties about globalization offers some additional insight (49). This suggests that sex-trafficking, as the “face” of human trafficking in general, has an underlying concern with globalization that is expressed through cinematic representations of the way that power is enacted upon the female body, and the visualization of that power is often expressed through sexually titillating scenes. In her examination of an early film about white slavery, Traffic in Souls (1913), Torchin remarks that the “promise of titillation” may have been an enhancement for this genre, tapping into anxieties emerging due
to changes in the cultural and social landscape (51). Although much time has passed, this issue has not disappeared. Although titillation is tamped down to various degrees in cinematic representations of sex-trafficked women, it conflicts with the process of creating solidarity, and the resulting films range from deliberate exploitation of sexual images to enhance box office returns to documentary and humanitarian-based films that are more concerned with building solidarity as part of efforts to effect change in the world. Yet, the visual construction of the sex-trafficked woman remains problematic, in spite of the good intentions of the filmmakers. The real contrast between constructions of women in box office hits and documentaries might suggest opposing approaches, but within the aesthetic choices of filmmakers one finds a range of representations that exhibit various expressions of the tension between solidarity and voyeurism, situated within the context of the themes of each film. Cinematic representations of sex-trafficked women are grounded within various socio-political factors that influence what is made visible to the public. This is expressed through the motivations of the producer and the purpose to which these films are put is a core part of their production and choice of visual images. A variety of formal, textual and aesthetic strategies are used to construct these cinematic representations of women as victims of sex-trafficking in contemporary film. The question of how invisible sex-trafficked women gain visibility relates directly to the question of how sex-trafficking is represented in cinema, as well as other media. Real-world sex-trafficked women are rarely visible to the general public, and not easily recognized as such on the street, so most of what audiences know about them is filtered through media like cinema (Iordanova 2010b, 83). Evidently, visual images presented to the public become the primary representation of the sex-trafficked woman (Iordanova 2010b, 84) and even of the trafficked woman more generally, which conflates the position of the victims of human trafficking in a reductive manner. For example, Jennifer Suchland found that the image of the sex-trafficked woman from a former state socialist country has become the symbol for both the global crisis in sex-trafficking as well as a referent for the failure of state socialism (Suchland 2013, 362). This reductive image of sex-trafficked women has become fodder for genre-based crime dramas that situate victims within ambiguous spaces somewhere in Eastern Europe. Genre filmmaking offers a comfortable stance from which to approach the topic of sex-trafficking because it is familiar, and viewers can cope with what is shown, it is very recognizable because of its genre status, and this is significant to the representation of the sex-trafficked woman. Genre allows audiences to internalize cultural messages and visu-
Visions of Sex-Trafficking: The Filmic Representation of Suffering
al images in a naturalizing manner (W. Brown, 48). We should distinguish the messages embedded within this kind of representation of sextrafficking. Within the context of genre, we often find the presentation of women as objects of the male gaze, aligning with the voyeuristic sexualized violence depicted in films. (Suchland 363). The exoticization of the foreign female body is central to many films, and as such participates in gender inequality as well as supporting the hierarchy of nations that underlies the Western-centric nature of many films that portray North Americans as “saviors” who rescue women. The sex-trafficked person is essentially “other” in this representation. However, an alternative representation is found in the (often blond) innocent Westerner sold into slavery in a foreign land, joining her neighbors from the Global South as a rarified object of exploitation, such as is found in the film, Taken (2008), as well Skin Trade (2014), one of the films discussed below. A number of central themes can be identified in films about sextrafficking. However, the image of the sex-trafficked woman is commonly built from two sorts of scenes that represent her victimization. First, there is the visual construction of the sex-trafficked woman as a sexual object; it is through her transformation to a sexualized being that she becomes the object of exoticized male sexual fantasies that represent her sexual abuse. This is in contrast to another type of scene that utilizes images of constraint and physical abuse to construct the sex-trafficked woman as a passive victim whose agency has been wrested from her. These scenes are offered within the context of a specific narrative, employing a number of strategies to construct specific meanings surrounding the sex-trafficked woman. However, the visual exoticization of the women and their passive state of non-existence goes hand-in-hand with the plot, in terms of the societal context within which her victimization is constructed. Films rely on the use of common tropes that play out sexual fantasies, often connected to what local or world market the women are slated to fill. The sextrafficked woman is situated within an exploitative global economic system and often constructed as a victim of a major crime ring. In this context, we no longer have to be concerned with unequal power relationships, but merely have to stop the “bad guy,” an understanding of criminal activity that reflects our privileged stance. Ultimately, the particular vision of the victim of sex-trafficking constructed in a film is grounded in genre and the motivations of the producers who seek an audience, as well as their understandings of political and socio-economic factors. While sextrafficking is most often portrayed as a side effect of globalization, the sociopolitical hierarchies that situate women within vulnerable positions are not the primary focus of the films, and most films focus on these side
effects rather than presenting a global overview of trafficking (Brown, et. al, 6). Visual images of both sexualized and passive victims form part of the representation of sex-trafficked women across genres despite the conventions particular to each genre, so it is important to assess how these images are incorporated into narratives that take different approaches.
Mainstream Cinema: Skin Trade The mainstream film, Skin-Trade (2015), directed by Ekachai Uekrongtham, offers a stereotypical fictional rescue narrative about an international crime ring that sex-trafficks young women. Implicit in all media offerings that focus on sex-trafficking purport is the notion that the film is produced for the purpose of drawing our attention to this topic as a social problem. However, producers of mainstream films have quite different motivations from documentary filmmakers, who are likely to be mounting a campaign to promote awareness, support for their film, and activism. Rescue scenarios are central to many films about sex-trafficking, and mainstream cinema has much in common with television in that the primary story is commonly more about the rescuers, or solving the crime. No blockbuster Hollywood film about sex-trafficking was released during 2014-2016, but Skin Trade, a B-movie hybrid drawing stylistically from Taken (2008, directed by Pierre Morel), Commando (1985, directed by Mark L. Lester) and Rush Hour (1998, dir. Brett Ratner) has many of the same characteristics as earlier blockbuster movies. A highly formulaic film, Skin Trade acts as a vehicle for martial arts exhibitions by superstar, Tony Jaa and star-producer-writer Dolph Lundgren, who plays a toughguy cop. The use of human trafficking as a storyline can be seen as incidental, and human trafficking as “just window dressing for standard revenge-driven action” in this film. (Schager 2015, 1) As such, this film relies on generic stereotypes surrounding sex-trafficking, allotting considerable time for the spectacle of fighting. Skin Trade starts with an establishing shot showing an ethnic looking young woman with a suitcase traveling alone by foot through the countryside in an Asian country. This scene offers a cautionary note, that she is making a bad choice that determines her future. She makes it to the city where she seeks a job, but in a graphically depicted scene, she is tied down, injected with drugs and readied to be sent out as part of a shipment. However, intervention comes when she is saved by the sudden appearance of Tony, a martial-arts expert local Thai policeman, setting him up as a sort of superhuman rescuer who specializes in investigating this crime. Meanwhile, in the United States, in a seemingly unrelated story arc, Nick
Visions of Sex-Trafficking: The Filmic Representation of Suffering
(Dolph Lundgren) has a run-in with the Russian mob after finding dead bodies of sex-trafficked women in a shipping container. Their revenge for the killing of a son of the boss is to kill Nick’s wife and abduct his daughter for the sex trade. Although he thinks his daughter is dead as well, Nick goes rogue to search out the mob boss in Thailand for revenge. The film offers a well-worn scenario, where the hero takes extraordinary actions to achieve his goal. The two policemen from West and East clash, but in the end, Tony and Nick realize that they share the same goals, to stop the mob who is sex-trafficking women. This operation is shown to be global in scope, spanning Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, as well as European countries and the United States. Throughout this film, many young women who have been victims of sex-trafficking are portrayed alongside their abusers. Their lives are constructed in two limited ways that are characteristic of representations of sex-trafficked women, primarily through scenes in night clubs, but also as victims who are existing within cages and shipping containers, often beaten and passively compliant. Night club scenes act as the primary vehicle for sexual themes and rely on stereotypical images. Men in charge wear leather jackets, snort cocaine and use foul language. They talk about the women as “stock,” rough them up and threaten them with knives to gain compliance. Scantily clad women act as exotic dancers, while numerous men watch and stuff money in their scanty clothing. Min, a young woman dressed in a crop-topped, short skirted sailor outfit works at a club, but is soon shown to be spying for Tony, who is her lover. Min is constructed as an Asian woman who was sold into the sex trade by her mother, and suffered much brutality before escaping. Despite her escape, she is still defined as a sex worker by the narrative, and visual images and aesthetic choices support this at various times during the film. For example, while working undercover wearing the sexy sailor suit, she is chosen for a project and is thrust into a spectacular blue-lighted room with a round bed and a beaded curtain. A cameraman with a salacious expression makes a sex movie of three men stroking and kissing her while they remove her clothes. They treat her roughly, but only get so far before Tony intervenes, subduing the abusers as a hard-faced madam appears to watch. Tony helps her redress and she gives him the information that she gathered. The scene emphasizes her identity as a sex-worker, which is reinforced by her other scenes that emphasize this aspect of her self-image. A central scene shows young women dressed like little girls in “baby doll” pajamas, on offer in a modernistic nightclub dubbed “Baby Doll.” An older Asian man is shown having sex with a young girl in satin pajamas. There is an ambivalence in the scene as she looks and sounds like she might be enjoying the sexual
activity, but she reaches out to Nick for help when he appears in the room. Out front, this club is patronized by both Asian and Western men dressed nicely in casual clothing. Dressing women like children and thrusting children into sexual trade brings to mind sexual proclivities of men for children, and this is emphasized in the baby doll scene. These images invite scopophilic engagement on the part of the viewer, and are likely emphasized to boost the appeal of the film to the targeted audience for this genre. This sequence alternates between a fight scene and scenes of the girls in pajamas, drawing out the time in which these images are used. In contrast, women are also presented as chattel in cages and containers in Skin Trade. The “stock” is shipped in containers and stored in windowless rooms and cages at the warehouse. When Nick enters the lightless room populated with debris and girls at the warehouse, the dirty, bedraggled captives assume that someone will be taken, and they react in palpable fear. One girl begs him to take her rather than her sister, a 10-12 year old naively saying, “I’m older,” drawing attention to their youth. Nick hides, and a guard comes in, laughingly asking the same filthy girl, “Do you want this?” as he starts to take off his belt. When Nick disables him, she starts to beat him, and then picks up the gun and shoots at him in small acts of agency. These girls become part of the spectacle; they are younger than the girls in the nightclubs and their physical abuse is shocking. Do spectators get just as much pleasure in looking at women who are treated as less-than-human caricatures of off-beat sexuality? Is this a horror that speaks to gender power relationships? At the climax of the fight with the warehouse crew, Nick is awe-struck at the massive number girls in cages. They are not hysterical and do not beg for help. They stand without moving, calm, expressionless, looking at him, holding the wire, looking down as the camera pans across them. These visual images have implications that these girls are passive and accepting, despite the agency seized by the young woman who shot at the guard. This film offers spectacles of sexual and physical abuse that contrast greatly between the nightclub and the warehouse, suggesting that the compliance at the nightclubs is achieved through the extreme physical abuse of the young girls. However, Nick’s relentless search for the mob boss places the emphasis on shutting down an international crime organization rather than rescuing the victims in these locales. This is enhanced by the scene immediately after the warehouse fight, in which Tony explains to Nick that many of the girls are not abducted but sold by their parents, without offering an explanation of the conditions that lead to this decision, a narrative choice which enhances the position of the girls as just chattel in an international operation.
Visions of Sex-Trafficking: The Filmic Representation of Suffering
Skin Trade is formulaic and reiterates stereotypical characteristics of successful blockbusters, and one theme echoes an underlying cultural message that is unspoken. The primary motivation for the hero is similar to other films including, Taken (2008), which has been discussed in detail by other authors, including Dina Iordanova (2010b), Jamie L. Small (2012), and Leshu Torchin (2010). The heroes are placed within remarkably similar circumstances, and a particular visual construction is significant in creating both symbolic meaning and motivation for the underlying outrage felt by these heroic men whose daughters have been stolen and compromised. In both films, teenagers with long straight hair from affluent Western families are kidnapped in a home invasion, and taken to a foreign locale for the purpose of sexual exploitation. This kind of sudden removal is reminiscent of threats of white slavery, and evokes feelings of protection for girls that exemplify a Western visual image of innocence. The difference is that in Skin Trade, Nick finds out much later that his daughter has been a victim of sex-trafficking, so there is more focus on revenge and less on rescue. Nick’s daughter is constructed as a special victim who has joined the numerous faceless Asian women who are sextrafficked in this film. The horror of the capture of her innocence is made evident by the construction of her life before she is taken. She is white, pretty and thin, with long straight hair, which is a very common cinematic image of Western girls who are victimized by sex-traffickers. Unlike Min, she lives a refined life with a warm loving family in an upper-class home and quotes poetry to her father. Nick finds out that Sophie is alive, and has been trafficked, which gives him a new resolve to continue to fight the crime ring after killing the mob boss. Although Nick breaks up the mob, he never finds his daughter, and this provides a lesson at the end of the film. His personal pain represents the horror of plight of Western victims of sex-trafficking, and he avows, “No matter what it takes, I’m going to find her.” The films both act out scenarios that elicit fear through the encroachment of borders and attacks on boundaries, and leaves Westerners aghast at the permeability of borders protecting home and nation, allowing unwary innocents to be put in danger (Torchin, 57). While this film overtly addresses sex-trafficking, the way that it constructs sex-trafficked women is exploitative, and renders them as stereotypes, whether of Western innocents or exotic others. The reduction of their experiences to codified images reduces the experiences of women to manifestations of abuse. In essence, the cinematic process of representing women’s real lives translates their experience into cultural imagery that highlights particular aspects while silencing others. Narratives of abuse, such as those found in Skin Trade, are monolithic and stereotypical. They
leave little to no room for the complexities of individual lives (Small 419). Agency becomes a problematic issue, and films depict their lack of agency and as they make mostly small efforts to claim agency in a variety of situations. Often, attempts to gain agency end badly for the women. In Skin Trade, agency is sought by the young girl offering herself instead of her sister and then acts to protect herself. Skin Trade does have one former sex-trafficked woman who speaks out as a survivor, but Min clearly still self-identifies as a sex-trafficked woman, which is emphasized later in the film when she is recaptured by the mob boss. Constructing a character who is working undercover in a nightclub to aid her lover’s efforts to shut down the operation, putting herself in danger for this cause, conveniently discounts any psychological damage that she suffered as a victim of sextrafficking. She expresses more pain about being sold by her mother than what happened to her afterwards. At the end of the film, she is instrumental in the downfall of the mob boss, by physically fighting with him, in a sort of gratuitous revenge and exhibition of her agency. It may be meant to be symbolic of giving the women back their agency, but if so, it is a rather opportune way of doing so.
Documentary Film Motivations for making films about sex-trafficking often revolve around humanitarian concerns and activism, and documentary films are constructed within this paradigm. Cultural productions that represent sex-trafficking in an effort to educate the public are constructed and contextualized in culturally specific ways (Suchland, 363), but it is most often not a national project. Instead, motivations of a number of stakeholders figure largely, such as filmmakers, humanitarian groups, and entrepreneurs. As humanitarian film offerings, producers of documentary sex-trafficking films seek to promote intense feelings that will generate the motivation to take action. Yet this is not always the end result for viewers of these films. Lilie Chouliaraki argues that there is something very distinctive about the specific way that the self is constructed in response to contemporary humanitarianism, engendering an ironic stance, a kind of “detached knowingness,” that requires us to attempt to resolve the political, economic, and technological tensions that are pressed upon us by our times (Chouliaraki 2013, 2-3). Humanitarianism communicates its moral message through heartbreaking spectacles, but within a context that separates spectators from vulnerable others. This theatrical arrangement of separation invites us to engage from a safe distance (2013, 27-28). Thus, creating solidarity with the victims becomes an important motivation for documentary
Visions of Sex-Trafficking: The Filmic Representation of Suffering
filmmakers, but there is still a need for imagery that will evoke emotion, which can be problematic in terms of representation. Below, I will examine two narrative fiction documentary films, including a faith-based rescue that takes a team to Greece and an account of a girl who is trafficked from Nepal.
Faith-based Narrative Fiction: Caged No More The film, Caged No More (2014) directed by Lisa Arnold, offers a fictional narrative that is based on a true story, but faith plays a major role in the message and the choices of visual images. The plot revolves around the rescue of two sisters, Skye and Elle who are taken to Greece at separate times and sold by their father as sex slaves to pay his drug and gambling debts. Although this faith-based film was inspired by real events, the grandmother who searches for her grandchildren is replaced by Aggie Prejean, a black godmother of the children. Aggie has a special connection with God. Set in New Orleans, the film relies on the implication that her spiritual connection is based on her heritage, which is implied with her name, dialogue and flashbacks of her relationship with the girls as they were growing up. Before the story begins images and narrative are used to establish Aggie’s value, tying her faith to the land, and the resilience of generations people in Louisiana who refuse accept defeat. The plot revolves around Aggie’s faith in the face of the crisis and her determination to get “her girls” back. Aggie’s success is achieved by following God’s path, as she is led to approach some wealthy relatives of the girls, moral people who provide a team for the rescue. While some mainstream sex-trafficking films like Skin Trade are structured in a way that enables and even enhances the spectator in maintaining a separation from the issues of sex-trafficking by presenting exotic stories of foreign places and do not ask spectators to evaluate their own society, some documentaries do ask this of their viewers. The film, Caged No More, situates danger at home and abroad, placing the likelihood of being a victim within the context of a dysfunctional family, but this dysfunctional family is so debilitated that it is not too close to home for comfort. Likewise, the film places the sex-trafficking brothels safely in Greece, when they could have been located in New Orleans. Caged No More constructs the notion that dysfunctional families put girls at risk of being sextrafficked, but connects the dysfunctional family to a rather fantastical narrative in which the daughters are sold at auction to a brothel overseas. The voiceover at the beginning of the film gives the viewer a hint about the source of danger, obliquely referencing sociopolitical causes as well as
the family. The first thing heard is the voice of the yet-to-be-met wealthy cousin of the girls, Wil, who will later lead the rescue team to Greece. After his voiceover waxes poetic about the wonderful people of Louisiana juxtaposed with a bird’s-eye view of the bayou, a nightscape of the city of New Orleans appears as Wil says, “But since I came back from serving in Iraq, I’ve seen the tide turning. A darkness lurks here that I don’t remember existing before. Maybe it’s everywhere in the US, not just here. I don’t know when this door opened or how, but our family was about to be shaken to its core by something so unimaginable.” The use of an urban image to foreground a lurking evil draws from values of Middle America, but leaves the interpretation of that evil to the viewer. Caged No More offers an initial judgment of declining family values, but this is tied to the threat of foreign sex-traffickers in an unrealistic manner. The dysfunctional family is revealed as the girls are taken by their father, Jack, but their drug-addict mother is not present either. In a flashback, the mother is shown being beaten by Jack, as Aggie intervenes, using a small shovel as support. The mother’s solution to a troubled family life is to take an overdose of drugs, and the visual image of her drug-addled dying scene emphasizes her passiveness as she opts out of restoring a family life to the girls. Aesthetically, the film relies heavily on visual images and repeated flashbacks of the innocent girls before they were victims of sextrafficking. Aggie’s faith is ever present, but the visual contrast between innocence and lost innocence and exploitation is continually emphasized. The film creates a sense of urgency through the use of crosscutting to establish parallel action, showing Elle in the process of being sold by her father, while foreshadowing Elle’s future by following what is happening to Skye, who has already been a brothel for months. The scenario presented in this film draws from a theme of threatened white innocence, and the urgency for rescue. Once again, both girls have long, straight hair, and fetch higher prices than other girls. Jack even tells Elle that she is special and will “win” the contest, and she is sold for a much larger price than the other girls. The visual construction of young women in the film supports a stereotypical hierarchy of their monetary and moral worth as well as global structures. What is singular about this film is the continual reiteration of the value of the innocence of the girls and a strong symbolic connection between their innocence and freedom that suggests a connection between family and nation. The juxtaposition of scenes, including flashbacks to earlier days when Aggie was with the girls, are central to establishing symbolic meanings surrounding innocence in Caged No More. Flashbacks function to evoke
Visions of Sex-Trafficking: The Filmic Representation of Suffering
emotions connected to innocence and freedom, and visual images of birds participate in creating meaning. Birds, which figure largely in visual images of both flashbacks and the present, are symbolically associated with the captivity that accompanies sex-trafficking. The film begins with a wide shot of bird soaring high above the bayou of Louisiana, while Wil’s voiceover evokes nature as a place that inspires peace and reflection, and then moves on to establish Aggie’s heritage. At the same time, this associates the image of the bird with the core American value of perseverance in the face of difficulties as well as freedom. In one flashback, Aggie gives Skye a bird bracelet for her birthday. The point is driven home when Aggie tells her that she was “made to soar the sky” and hugs her as she admonishes, “Don’t you ever let anyone put you in a cage.” In the next scene, Skye is seen in a dimly lit brothel room, drawing a bird on the rough wall. She hides the drawing by placing the mirror on the wall. Skye’s fear is later demonstrated by her reaction to being awakened by an ominous knock on the door. While Skye is shown with smeared makeup, cowering under the covers, Elle is being chastised by her father for not being ready for the “beauty contest” judging. Because this faith-based film, it is not surprising that there is little that is sexually titillating in scenes in the brothel. Elle is dressed modestly in her own clothes while with her father and “auditioning” at the auction, and Skye’s clothing is very normal looking and not revealing. As a replacement for sexually titillating scenes depicting the way the girls are treated, the film inserts clips of televised new shows, showing Kathie Lee Gifford explaining the horrors of sex-trafficking. The newscaster talks about a mother who tried to sell her own 12-year-old daughter into the sex-slave business, and Gifford is presented as a human rights advocate. Gifford explains that it is going on in our own neighborhoods, in our own country, to girls as young as 10-12 years old, legitimizing the device of the father taking the girls to Greece to be sold. With its obsessive focus on innocence, Caged No More promotes a Western moral panic surrounding sex-trafficking as a type of modern day slavery that harks back to the beginning of the twentieth century. At that time, tensions surrounding migration, urbanization and social changes tied to industrialization evoked fears that women and girls were being sold into sexual slavery. Investigations proved that this had little basis in fact, and economic conditions were far more relevant in forcing women into sexual labor (Bernstein, 49-50). In addition to the images of Skye and Elle as innocent girls before the narrative begins, the largest number of visual images of the young women at risk are at an auction, but they have not yet been sold. Voyeurism is primarily directed toward the spectacle of selling
girls rather than toward displaying their sexuality. Among this targeted audience, fears of sexual slavery may be resurfacing during our present era of globalization, and reinterpreted through rescue scenarios surrounding innocent white girls at risk of being whisked off to foreign locales. In Caged no More, the girls are sold by a family member, which is much more likely to happen in places other than the United States, and is usually tied to economic and gender-based inequalities that are absent in this film. The economic issues that leave other girls vulnerable in the United States are minimized in Caged No More by situating Jack’s decision to sell his daughters within such a spectacular context. On the surface, the story is about dysfunctional families, faith and the power of faith to accomplish the seemingly impossible. However, the messages seem jumbled and the knowledge constructed by aesthetic choices point toward something different. A psychological separation of the viewer from the plight of the movie characters is effected by the unrealistic nature of the sex-trafficking transaction, but the urgency to rescue women is prevalent and is situated within warnings that connect the danger with the viewer’s own community. Because its production value is not the best, Caged No More is somewhat opaque in tying together these ideas, but rescue and innocence are clearly central tropes around which other ideas are organized.
Fictional Narrative Documentary: Sold The documentary, Sold (2014), directed by Jeffrey D. Brown, is a fictional narrative based on a compilation of the experiences of sex-trafficked women. This film is firmly situated within the documentary market, rather than aiming for mainstream distribution. Based on an award-winning book by Patricia McCormick with the same name, the plot revolves around a 12-year-old Nepalese girl who is sold by her family, who are told that she is going to work as a domestic servant for a family in India. Lakshmi travels to India, where she soon finds herself sold into a brothel. In this film, art is used effectively to offer a window into the world in which Lakshmi is trafficked. Scenes in the brothel offer a disquieting mix of normality and abuse. For example, one scene shows the girls being awakened by a blow with a large spoon, followed by a scene where they routinely brush their teeth. Lakshmi acts as conduit for learning about this world, as shots cut to her expressing her shock and uncertainty. Rather than sitting passively, through her facial expressions the viewer is shown that she is always actively assessing and processing what is going on around her. Many of the girls, like Lakshmi, are from Nepal and as she
Visions of Sex-Trafficking: The Filmic Representation of Suffering
develops relationships with them, viewers get insights into their histories, their lives and experiences in the brothel. Through these scenes, other scenarios of sex-trafficking and the socioeconomic conditions which inform their family situations are exposed. Lakshmi’s process of discovery at the brothel, which might be termed disillusionment if she were not so resilient and the footage so artistic, becomes the viewer’s process of discovery of sex-trafficking. The artistic qualities of the film help to create solidarity with Lakshmi as a sex-trafficked girl. The filmmaker, Jeffrey Brown, conceptualized this art film to be the centerpiece of humanitarian efforts against sextrafficking, both in Nepal and India and in other places around the world. The film is not in Hindi, but dialogue is minimal so that it can be sub-titled or dubbed easily (YouTube Interview). This is important for the dissemination of the film, but also contributes to the aesthetics that motivate audiences to action. It is in many ways a feel-good movie, but it purposefully focuses on hope as a way to inspire viewers. Scenes are aesthetically pleasing, and the country of India plays the role of exotic other. The beauty and hues of India are salient in the tone and style of the film. Images of the brothel give it all the appeal of an exotic India, with lush colors and fabrics, and the girls are dressed in a culturally specific manner, with local styles. Their magnificence comes from many bracelets and lush saris, and makeup and there is no sign of the Western-based sexual fantasies that are seen in Skin Trade. This film is regional in scope, rather than trying to make huge jumps from local action to a world-wide sex trade. It is about India, and girls sex-trafficked across borders to supply the sex trade in India. Since about 60-80% of the crime of sextrafficking is domestic, and most border crossing is regional, Sold grounds its narrative within a realistic environment, rather than exaggerating the role of trafficking in international prostitution, as does both Skin Trade and Caged No More (Lehti and Aromaa 133). In comparison, these films seem to appropriate sex-trafficking as sort of accessory for other concerns, namely busting international crime rings and building a strong faith. Attributing agency to the victim is central to both the plot and the construction of visual images in Sold. She continually tries to find a way to escape her situation, telling another girl from her region, “We have got to get out of here.” Visual images are essential in constructing the agency of the lead character in Sold. Her innocent life at home is illustrated with shots of helping her family and flying a kite, which is echoed later in the film as she flies a kite with the young boy living in the brothel. She prepared for her first client by dressing in gauzy, but not revealing clothing and the application of heavy mascara and eyeliner, but a light
colored lipstick. Perhaps the point is that the client wants a childlike virvirgin, but the image functions to minimize the titillating aspect of the scene. She exercises her agency by refusing to cooperate, kicking the client. The result is that she is threatened and locked in a room. She is progressively slapped, beaten and drugged to gain her compliance. When Lakshmi cries and the makeup runs, it is a visual image much like those seen in other films, but it is less static because she never stands motionless in a passive acceptance of her fate. However, our heroine does not wear makeup in most scenes and even the older girls do not expose their bodies, dressing quite modestly when they are not working. Violent sexual interactions are included, but minimized and the breaking of glass objects is utilized as a means of emphasizing the brutality. The agency shown by Lakshmi also conveys that she has not lost her sense of self. Although perhaps possible only because she is at the brothel for a short time, she remains a child throughout the film in spite of the brutalities that she suffers. She is always actively seeking a way out, saving bits of cloth or rope that might prove useful. The children at the brothel join her in moments of play or watching fireworks. In spite of her situation, scenes of her playing in the brothel are quite lighthearted and idyllic, perhaps unrealistically preserving her childhood, which effectively constructs the possibility that humanitarian efforts can preserve children’s childhood by fighting sex-trafficking. The frequent use of close-up shots of Lakshmi’s face aids viewers in feeling that they know her interior mind. Rather than passive, her expression is often pensive, and fear and hopelessness are less frequent emotions seen on her face. Sold effectively creates solidarity with the victim through aesthetics, and identification with her experiences. However, for the audience she is hardly the usual victim. Viewers can identify with her, partly because what she is doing most of the time is so normal. Visual images show that she plays, gets to know people, and cherishes her secret belongings. Lakshmi is shown behind bars, but this is the barred window of the brothel, and she is forming familial type relationships with the other girls as well as young children within the household. Lakshmi is not listless but seeking escape, and in a familiar rescue scenario a white, blond, Western photographer taking pictures on the street sees her at the barred window and begins to investigate the brothel. However, the narrative is recast in a more realistic context, as the photographer is deeply embedded in local efforts to combat sextrafficking. She enlists a Western humanitarian worker, who visits the brothel and tells Lakshmi about his place of rescue, Hope House, and promises to come back with the police. Hope House is presented as a
Visions of Sex-Trafficking: The Filmic Representation of Suffering
resource that Lakshmi can utilize and when she is given information about its existence and location, she begins plans to get there. The humanitarian worker shows her respect and allows her to exercise agency in accepting his help. Unlike Western teams that swoop in to rescue sex-trafficked girls in exotic far away places, in this case, he and the photographer are established workers in this locale who routinely take risks to intervene, and the help that they offer is effected by working with local institutions. They are instrumental in getting the local police to raid the brothel, and they persevere even though their first raid is not successful due to a tip-off by a corrupt police official. The intervention of Westerners is again central to effect a rescue, but it is handled in a much different manner. If the question is how activists might attract audiences, create solidarity with the victim, and promote social change without utilizing visual images that promote voyeurism, then Sold provides some insights. One might criticize this film in that it is too beautiful, and too engaging a story and that this girl is too unaffected by this devastating abuse, but it has been very successful on a number of fronts. For the aesthetics alone it has won awards at a number of prestigious film festivals in the United States and abroad. It also has created numerous alliances with partner organizations that fight sex-trafficking in India as well as globally. (https://www.soldthe movie.com) Some strategies are familiar, including the rescue scenario and visual constructions of her quest for freedom. For example, here again we find the symbolic icon of a bird, as she on the brothel rooftop with arms outstretched, looking up at the outline of a bird that soars high above her. Like Caged No More, titillation is tamped down and remains a small part of the story. Many of the same tropes are present, including being tricked by promises of legitimate work, bringing girls across borders, making victims disappear, the need for Western intervention, exotic places and the sexual exploitation of women by men, and the presence one hardened woman who handles procuring and/or managing the girls. Although the risk to innocence is still present, in Sold, it is now aligned with complex societal problems rather than simply a global crime ring or threat of white slavery. Sold offers a feel-good representation of the victim that circumvents some, but not all, of the issues surrounding representation of the sextrafficked woman. The representation of victims of human trafficking through an aesthetic structure that relies on the interplay between individual agency and structures of exploitation offers an alternative approach to create solidarity with the sex-trafficked victim. Media act as “dynamic sites of struggle over representation and complex spaces in which subjectivities are constructed and identities are contested”
(Spitulnik 296). It is in the relationship between human action and strucstructural systems that individuals exist, exercising agency within the constraints of their situation (Ortner, 149). Sold negotiates the relationship between the structures of the sociocultural environment in which trafficking takes place and the actions of the individual in a way that builds solidarity with the victim, which is reflected in the great success of the film and its ever-increasing number of partner organizations. All that is missing is the reality that the self-identity of the sex-trafficked woman suffers great change. In our narcissistic “me” centered society, films that promote humanitarian activism by portraying characters that viewers can identify with are more successful. In our post-modern society, solidarity privileges the pleasures of the self as a way of making a difference to distant others (Chouliaraki, 75). Sold is very appropriate for our times, as it presents an emotive visual feast that focuses on an extraordinary girl who exercises agency rather than passively accepting her fate. The depth of character of our victim is explored in this film and her agency makes her attractive to viewers, rather than remaining a flat character who is interchangeable with any other victim. Perhaps that degree of agency is unrealistic, perhaps not. However, the tension between titillation and solidarity is minimized, primarily through the use of aesthetics, including the rich tapestry of color that is found in India, artistic framing of the environment in the brothel and symbolic imagery that conveys hope and salvation for the victims.
Conclusion The strategies of cinematic representation utilized to construct the sextrafficked woman vary considerably between these fictional narrative films, and the specific choices of the filmmaker fit into broader cultural understandings. An analysis of a particular film shows how visual images construct sex-trafficked women within the milieu of cultural knowledge, but a wider consideration of the contemporary body of work is needed. Films participate with other media in building a malleable body of cultural knowledge that informs public opinion. With the proliferation of more casually constructed independent projects produced for viewing on the internet, it seems likely that the public is receiving mixed messages about sex-trafficking, and these messages transfer to public opinion, which may result in the isolation of formerly sex-trafficked women in society. The temptation to shock and awe with a spectacle of sex-trafficking seems ever present. Within the kinds of visual images used in films to construct the sex-trafficked woman, a host of messages are perpetuated. Among these
Visions of Sex-Trafficking: The Filmic Representation of Suffering
are negative evaluative beliefs, such as: their mistakes led them to this treatment, they are forever broken and flawed, some women are more worthy of rescue than others, and sex-trafficking is just a side-effect of the international drug trade. However, more valid messages about sextrafficking and the women who are affected exist within these narratives alongside problematic messages, such as the role of dysfunctional families, and the socio-economic and political structures that limit women’s choices. Often it is the way that these messages are fleshed out through the use of dialogue and visual images that gives them positive or negative connotations.
Figure 8.1 Still from the film SOLD: Lakshmi looks out the barred window from the Happiness House brothel in India. Photo Credit: soldthemovie.com See centerfold for this image in colour.
The construction of the sex-trafficked woman is more complex than just a negative or positive image. Depth of character and the complexity that provides a window into the individuality of the victims play an important role for the viewers’ internalization of messages. The individuality attributed to the sex-trafficked woman and the range of visual images and dialogue used in the construction of her character and narrative varies between films. Sex-trafficked women are portrayed with much more depth in Sold than in Caged No More, through the use of a greater number of images. Similarly, when compared to Skin Trade, Sold can be recognized to build depth of character through type of image used, with far fewer images that might stimulate sexual titillation. The issues of voyeurism and sexual titillation are complex, and visual images function to illuminate complex ideology surrounding the cinematic construction of sex-trafficking. A comparison of these three films shows that although Skin Trade had more sexually titillating shots of sextrafficked women, it also fleshed out the character of one of these women, Min, with more depth than either of the girls depicted in Caged No More. Even so, the producers of both Caged No More and Sold are perhaps more sensitive about the sexual images used than Skin Trade or other films, but for very different reasons. Caged No More avoids sexually titillating scenes and the display of the female body because religious audiences are targeted and there is a preoccupation with preserving innocence. Its spectacle lies in the sale of innocents and the muted scenes in the brothel. In contrast, Sold, wishes to construct sex-trafficking in regional terms avoiding visual images that stereotype sex-trafficking as a side effect of international drug and crime organizations. Likewise, rescue scenarios are constructed within different contexts, but visual imagery is an essential part of the way that audiences conceptualize how they fit into the world of sex-trafficking. Overly fantastic fictional narratives construct sextrafficked women as passive victims, flat characters who lack substance. The films discussed above utilize various approaches to represent sextrafficking and the women who are affected. However, the visual images and aesthetics of each of the films construct meanings that are more relevant to motivations of the filmmakers, and the portrayal of sextrafficking as a societal issue takes on the patina of those choices. Central tropes, drawn from cultural understandings of sex-trafficking, play a significant role in how visual images are utilized and ultimately in how women are perceived by viewers. The context in which the images are used allows them to be reinterpreted to fit into sociocultural structures surrounding the narrative of the film. From a broad perspective, representations that decry the abuse of women through sex-trafficking are
Visions of Sex-Trafficking: The Filmic Representation of Suffering
found in all three of these films, but much of the difference is found in the choice of images that inform the construction of the cultural knowledge. The presence of these tropes despite the differences in the way they are interpreted illustrates the persistence of certain cultural understandings between genres. Within these social constructions of the sex-trafficked woman, we find various solutions for dealing with the tension between voyeurism and the desire to build solidarity, but this tension cannot be entirely resolved through aesthetic choices. Films about sex-trafficking construct sex-trafficked women and girls in many ways, so it is crucial to make sense of the cultural understandings that emerge. Because the producers of Sold are sensitive in their use of sexually titillating images, we might think that documentaries designed to elicit support for humanitarian purposes are less problematic in their use of visual images to construct the sex-trafficked woman, but this, in fact, is not the case. Many documentaries, both fiction narratives and nonfictional exposés, include spectacle as a means of conveying the experiences of the women involved. Also, in other films not covered here, there are other solutions for constructing the sex-trafficked woman without using these sexual images, such as disrupting voyeurism by focusing on their recovery after the rescue. Still, attracting audiences in a media rich world is a challenge, and some films seek viewers by evoking a moral panic. The need to attract audiences through spectacle is inherent to our times, and participates in both factual accounts and engaging fictional narratives, and fiction may be no more problematic than non-fictional documentaries. Skin Trade, Caged No More and Sold all promote both positive and negative constructions of the sex-trafficked woman. What may be more relevant than any one film is the repetition of themes across the range of all genres of the sex-trafficking films that constitute the mediascape, creating a body of cultural understandings that informs public opinion and action.
References Barnard, Alyssa M. 2014. “The Second Chance that They Deserve: Vacating Convictions of Sex Trafficking Victims.” Columbia Law Review 114 (6): 1463-1501. Bernstein, Elizabeth. 2010. “Militarized Humanitarianism Meets Carceral Feminism: The Politics of Sex, Rights, and Freedom in Contemporary Antitrafficking Campaigns.” Signs 36 (1) Feminists Theorize International Political Economy Special Issue Editors Shirin M. Rai and Kate Bedford: 45-71.
Brown, Jeffrey D. 2011. YouTube Interview. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7T9GzriaYLA. —. 2014. Indian Film Festival of LA 2014 Opening Remarks + SOLD Q&A https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VfFyzfbBtmo Brown, William. 2010. “Negotiating the Invisible.” In Moving People, Moving Images: Cinema and Trafficking in the New Europe. St. Andrews, St. Andrews Film Studies. Brown, William, Dina Iordanova and Leshu Torchi. 2010. Moving People, Moving Images: Cinema and Trafficking in the New Europe. St. Andrews, St. Andrews Film Studies. Chouliaraki, Lilie. 2013. The Ironic Spectator: Solidarity in the age of Post-Humanitarianism. Malden, MA: Polity Press. Iordanova, Dina. 2010a. In Film Festival Yearbook 2: Film Festivals and Imagined Communities, edited by Dina Iordanova and Ruby Cheung, 12-44. St. Andrews: St. Andrews Film Studies. —. 2010b. “Making Trafficking Visible, Adjusting the Narrative.” In Moving People, Moving Images: Cinema and Trafficking in the New Europe, edited by William Brown, Dina Iordanova and Leshu Torchin. St. Andrews, St. Andrews Film Studies. Lehti, Martti and Kauko Aromaa. 2006. “Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation.” Crime and Justice 34 (1): 133-227. University of Chicago Press. Ortner, Sherry B. 1984. “Theory in Anthropology since the Sixties.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 26 (1): 126-166. Schager, Nick. 2015. “Film Review: ‘Skin Trade.’ Variety May 8, 2015. http://variety.com/2015/film/reviews/film-review-skin-trade1201491402/ Shohat, Ella and Robert Stam. 1996. “From the Imperial Family to the Transnational Imaginary: Media Spectatorship in the Age of Globalization.” In Global/Local: Cultural Production and the Transnational Imaginary, edited by Rob Wilson and Wimal Dissanayake, 145-170. Durham and London: Duke University Press. Small, Jamie L. 2012. “Trafficking in Truth: Media, Sexuaity, and Human Rights Evidence.” Feminist Studies 38(2): 415-443. Spitulnik, Debra. 1993. “Anthropology and Mass Media.” Annual Review of Anthropology 22: 293-315. Suchland, Jennifer. 2013. “Double Framing in Lilya 4-Ever: Sex Trafficking and Postsocialist Abjection.” European Journal of Cultural Studies 16(3): 362-376.
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Torchin, Leshu. 2010. “Foreign Exchange.” In Moving People, Moving Images: Cinema and Trafficking in the New Europe. St. Andrews, St. Andrews Film Studies. Yahr, Emily. 2013. “A&E pulls heavily criticized show ‘8 Minutes,’ which claimed to help sex workers leave the trade.” Washington Post: May 5, 2013. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entert ainment/wp/2015/05/05/ae-pulls-heavily-criticized-show-8-minuteswhich-claimed-to-help-sex-workers-leave-the-trade/
CHAPTER NINE AN EVOLUTIONARY PROCESS OF CAPTURING IMAGES OF PEOPLE EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS DR. ANDRA OPALINSKI, DR. SUSAN DYESS AND DR. NANCY STEIN
An Evolutionary Process of Capturing Images of People Experiencing Homelessness Interdisciplinary approaches that respond to the cries for human rights, peace, and justice occur in numerous communities. Still, the processes that support the development and advancement of such approaches are not considered often enough. Responding to the calls of disparity for community members, and harnessing unique professional talents of varied disciplines fuels innovative action. The purpose of this chapter is to share an evolutionary process of engaging several communities of people in response to issues around homelessness with the use of visual ethnographic research methods as part of a social intervention. Using applied anthropology to represent other people's experiences to themselves as well as to share with the general public requires ethical considerations and cultural sensitivity. The images captured depict human connection within and among the various groups and communicate specific health challenges. The photographs created a heightened awareness of experiences among health providers, community workers, and community members. This heightened awareness is the foundation for better communications among the various stakeholders as well as future responses for social change, and research. The endeavor to capture images of humanity may not be the original intent of an initiative, but can become an outcome of the process. Our original catalyst was to engage in meaningful work by offering needed
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services to a disenfranchised people; capturing the images of the work helped build relationships that would facilitate future efforts/collaboration. Photographs provided a way to tell a story about human connections and health challenges that face people experiencing homelessness in South Florida. The right to health is included in the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).1 Our fieldwork for this project recognizes that people define sickness and health within their own networks, but for those who have either lost their connections to their traditional networks for reasons of mental or physical health or for those who have fallen out through economic difficulties, these populations tend to slip through the system. Access to regular healthcare is not a reality for many. Circumstances, including transience, precludes continual supervision or development of a relationship with medical providers. Unique health issues become a part of the homeless experience, not always recognized in more traditional healthcare settings. Our goal was to provide a venue where all participants have an opportunity to open up a dialogue about their unique understandings and needs, whether by the healthcare service providers themselves or by patients' defining their specific needs.
IESCR, Article 11 states 1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right, recognizing to this effect the essential importance of international co-operation based on free consent. Article 12 states 1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. 2. The steps to be taken by the States Parties to the present Covenant to achieve the full realization of this right shall include those necessary for: (a)The provision for the reduction of the stillbirth-rate and of infant mortality and for the healthy development of the child; (b) The improvement of all aspects of environmental and industrial hygiene; c) The prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases; (d) The creation of conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness.
The Population What distinguishes an evolutionary approach begins with the involvement of diverse members of several communities representing multiple professions, ethnicities, and genders, but the overall shared goal was to provide service to the local population of people without permanent shelter. In an annual “Point in Time Count” (PIC), 2032 individuals were identified as experiencing homelessness in a southeastern county of Florida. This is a statistically reliable count of all individuals and families experiencing homelessness within a 24-hour period (thus, “Point in Time”) and the count represents those living in shelters and transitional housing as well as unsheltered homeless (Count 2016). For these 2302 people, many suffer from significant health challenges including serious mental illness (22.8%), substance use disorder (19.5%), HIV/AIDS (10%), and domestic violence (7.3%) (Count 2016). Men and women who find themselves homeless suffer a tremendous range of health concerns. Their living situations make treating and managing these conditions difficult. The outdoor environment, particularly in Florida’s humid climate, can make individuals susceptible to serious illnesses and aggravate existing health problems.. One particular health challenge for people who are living without decent stable housing is the condition of their feet. In one survey of individuals who were homeless, 5 of the top 10 health challenges related directly or indirectly to issues of the feet: 1) unintentional injuries (burns, cuts, bruises, blisters), 2) musculoskeletal disorders-including foot disorders, 3) skin issues related to the feet, 4) infectious diseases, 5) chronic diseases that may carry foot health implications such as diabetes2 (Hub 2015). Given this focus on feet, it is not surprising that “socks are the number one most requested clothing item at homeless shelters” (Bombas 2016). Skin conditions of the feet and legs are extremely common and can lead to cellulitis resulting in lengthy and expensive hospitals admissions 3 (Homelessness and Health 2011). Common minor injuries and conditions fester if individuals lack access to proper care. This is the type of situation that leads to an increase in emergency room visits and acute care visits that 2
Homeless Hub,. 2015. What are the top 10 health issues homeless people face? February 6. Accessed July 15, 2016. http://homelesshub.ca/blog/what-are-top-10health-issues-homeless-people-face 3 2011. Homelessness and Health: What's the Connection? Accessed July 30, 2016. http://www.nhchc.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Hln_health_factsheet_ Jan10.pdf.
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could have been avoided (Homelessness 2016). Despite these health and housing challenges, we found that human connection remains a priority. One local faith community, a United Methodist church, located in a large metropolitan area of south Florida, historically strived to meet the expressed needs of the poor and underserved, particularly people experiencing homelessness. The congregation conducts a feeding ministry outreach (meal program) to a group of individuals experiencing homelessness each Sunday afternoon. The feeding ministry started in July 2015. From July 2015 to June 2016, this weekly outreach of food provision expanded from 70 to 180 participants and continues with incremental growth each week. A large percentage of the participants are attending consistently each week. Through this meal program, the Church strives to provide a holistic caring approach to meeting identified needs including spiritual needs, social support, clothing distributions, haircuts, certification of homeless status to qualify for grant funded health insurance within the county, and assistance with obtaining identification cards.
The Evolution of Community Partnerships Our fieldwork experiences underscore the dynamic evolutionary approach that connected like-minded professionals and community members. The idea to address one specific health challenge for the local homelessness population originated with a simple conversation between two nurses. From this idea, we followed up with the development of a project to impact countless people. Dr. Opalinski, who is a faculty member at the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) and a volunteer at the meal program for people who are a part of the local homeless population intuitively sensed that there were potential health needs within the community. She recognized these could be addressed through the weekly engagement with the people who came. An informal assessment of health challenges for participants attending the weekly program occurred through simple inquiry of participants and regular volunteers; “What is your biggest challenge in taking care of your health while you are homeless?” Caring for one’s feet became a regular theme among those involved. During the conversations, some participants would remove their shoes and reveal cuts, blisters, and sores on their feet and legs. Without exception, the queried volunteers who were working with those experiencing homelessness expressed concerns about the implication of foot issues. Volunteers voiced their feelings of being ill equipped to address the important health challenges brought to their attention on a
weekly basis. There were descriptions of the challenges of keeping clean dry socks. Often those experiencing homelessness would find it necessary to use the socks for basic hygiene, for use as toilet paper, and/or sanitary napkins for menstrual cycles. The need for using socks to replace hygiene products was their priority, higher than using socks for their foot protection. Using socks for hygiene issues met an immediate need. Within the same timeframe, Dr. Opalinski was actively involved with a growing group of nurses engaged in Faith Community Nursing (FCN) through an acute care hospital in Southeast Florida. A colleague from FAU (Dr. Susan Dyess) as well as key hospital leaders (Valerie Fox and Dr. Kim Saiswick) supported this network of FCN. Faith Community Nursing is a recognized specialty of nursing practice that addresses health through faith communities. The goals of FCN are the protection, promotion, and optimization of health and abilities, the prevention of illness and injury; and the alleviation of suffering in the context of values, beliefs, and practices of a faith community. 4 In a conversation with these nurses practicing FCN, the health challenge of caring for one’s feet for the population of persons experiencing homelessness again surfaced. Then, our group was made aware of a twenty-five year program, an annual foot washing and foot care event offered as a ministry outreach though another United Methodist faith community in a neighboring southeastern county of Florida. One of the professional nurses in our group enthusiastically stated, “Let’s do that foot care initiative in our community”. She followed that declaration with a question, “Will the Church and the University College of Nursing do it with us?” That excitement and question of possibility began the initiative and the first members of a community partnership were connected. Once the community partners merged, the momentum and excitement of supporting persons experiencing homelessness through the approach of enabling human connection and responding to health challenges by providing clean feet, dry socks, and shoes advanced quickly and spiraled beyond expectation. In addition, a Church, a Hospital, a University, and a Sheriff’s Office and their Homeless Outreach department joined to become key members of the community partnership. The partners believed, although the societal issue of homelessness resists easy solutions, nurses and health care providers can support human connections that envision and implement creative solutions to address key health concerns. The hope was 4
ANA/HMA. 2012. Faith Community Nursing: Scope and Standards of Practice. 2nd. American Nursing Association.
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that merging nursing care with a willing and compassionate community would result in enhanced dignity and improved quality of life for the individual who is homeless as well as lessen the societal burden of overuse of emergency and hospital services.
An Unexpected Turn Toward Capturing the Images Initially, the intent of this project was to meet a community health need in a creative way. However, synergy around the project continued with efforts to fine tune ideas and engage in academic scholarship from the University. These efforts served 1) as a catalyst to ground the work in a human justice perspective and 2) as an incentive to include additional partnerships to capture the story of these people experiencing homelessness. A seed grant from the University was developed that coalesced to form a “research or creative cluster.” An anthropology faculty member, Dr. Nancy Stein joined the group. The cluster advanced the idea of employing photographic images with the anticipated concrete outcomes, including but not limited to extramural funding requests, peer-reviewed publications, and/or juried or invited creative performance/exhibition in notable external venues. The current climate of photo blogging/photo storytelling and the potential to tell a powerful story through images, generated an interest in adding a visual aspect to the project. As it was initially a group of nurses attempting to meet a health challenge, the resources and know-how of capturing meaningful images was not in the skill set of the original team. These nurses recognized the need to expand the team, thus adding Dr. Stein. The knowledge of story and story theory was important to the evolutionary process. The original group of nurses invited the expertise of a story scholar to frame the ongoing development of the project and research. Story theory 5 (M.J. Smith 2008) guides intentional storygathering, capitalizing on the “healing potential of story sharing”. Simply stated, story theory describes a narrative that occurs through intentional dialogue 6 (2005) and exemplifies a deliberate search for what matters most to persons. By using this approach, we not only found an initial 5 MJ Smith and Liehr, P. 2008. "Theory-Guided Translation: Emphasizing Human Connection." Archives of Psychiatric Nursing 175-176. 6 MJ Smith and P Liehr. 2005. "Story Theory: Advancing Nursing Practice Scholarship." Holistic Nursing Practice 272-76.
framework for the project, we would be creating an applied use of our work beyond the immediate healthcare goals and making a theoretical contribution as well. We next asked the question, “how do we capture the story of this health challenge through a human rights lens?” To address the life strain and health burden of experiencing homelessness, we decided on the “field to forum” research approach to make use of a creative albeit systematic translation of findings. “Field to forum” describes a process of translating research findings from the field through creative expression with the intention of fostering “understanding of uniqueness that separates one person from another.” 7 The research group decided to use photographs as the medium to capture the experiences that were key to the fieldwork. The team met with Dr. Nancy Stein, a specialist in visual anthropology, to decide how to use the visual for the "Forum" as a way to tell a story about the human condition of a marginalized community by focusing on their health challenges. We turned our attention to how to use the images to raise awareness about homelessness. The visual display is the data for the “Forum.” It provides the avenue to communicate the complex nature of the culture and expresses those complexities by using a platform that speaks to a broad audience moving from “Field to Forum”. These images can create an avenue to expose complexities in a way that plants a seed for the development of compassion and respect for people experiencing homelessness. As such, the target subjects anticipated for engagement with the photographic display data included the following: Nursing Students – Experiencing the humanistic side of caring through active involvement in community health and experiencing visual representation of the care provided by nurses, health professionals and volunteers Anthropology Students – Experiencing the power of telling the human story through “showing” and experiencing the power of the visual in shaping a worldview Faith Community (venue for the project) and their congregational members – Experiencing the impact of the doing and caring as a community 7
P. Liehr, Morris, Leavitt, Takahashi 2013. Translating research findings to promote peace: moving from "field to forum" with verbatim theatre. Adv Nurs Sci. 2013 Jul-Sep;36(3):160-70. doi: 10.1097/ANS.0b013e31829edc7b.
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Individuals/volunteers of the community – Witnessing compassion and human respect and opening the opportunity to envision other creative solutions The broader community – Experiencing the impact of creative community solutions with significant health impact
Human Right of Informed Consent At this point in the process, multiple questions surfaced. Who do we capture in the images? How do we do this with respect and dignity for all involved? What aspects do we want to show? How do we assure informed consent for having photographs taken for each individual, whether volunteer or participant? What process can we put in place to identify informed consent at the point of care? First, we decided on the categories or kinds of images to capture of the people experiencing homelessness. In addition, the team felt it was important to include images of the volunteers in the community engaging with people experiencing homelessness. Another key category would include the activities and goings-on of the homeless community to help to tell the story. Events, faces, and personal belongings also seemed significant details. The range of issues related to the care of feet would also establish a major theme. As an ethical concern, we went through the University’s Institutional Review Board approval process (IRB). As such, insuring informed consent for each participant undergirded the human rights perspective of this project. We established a sign at the entrance of the event to obtain informed consent from each individual for foot care services and also for the use of the still photograph representations. After signing an informed consent form, each individual at the foot care event was given a name tag. Regarding the photographs, each individual (whether volunteer or person experiencing homelessness) could consent to one of three options: 1. Photos can be taken that include a person’s face which will be identifying information. This was identified by green dots on the name tags. 2. Photos can be taken excluding any part of the face. This was identified by yellow dots on the name tags. 3. Refusal of photographic participation. This was identified by red dots on the name tags. These individuals may still participate in the foot care program, but no photo images were obtained.
Using a visual cue of color coded name tags provided a process to allow for the identification of informed consent at the point of care throughout the day. The process also provided a safeguard during the analysis of photographs. The color coding gave the team a sign to remove any photo of a person that showed a color indicating that individual had not consented to use of a photo or a facial image.
The Project The project day unfolded with overwhelming numbers attending and smooth collaboration. None of the original partners predicted the evolution of a simple idea to the large undertaking of service provision and human engagement. The four-hour event occurred on a Sunday at the church. More than 400 persons were involved; 260 people received a meal, (of those, 175 persons chose to received foot care, clean socks, and shoes), 125 congregation members and community volunteers engaged in activities of foot washing, filing buckets of water, emptying water, sanitizing basins, distributing shoes and socks, greeting people, serving food, 10 nurses supervised activities of students and supported level of care decisions 24 nursing students supported the basic health assessment and foot care work 1 podiatrist, 2 physicians, and one physician’s assistant provided higher level podiatric care 3 social service professionals refereed individuals to community resources 20 haircuts provided by a stylist 2 police officers provided crowd control 581 photographic images were taken.
Making Meaning Out of a Sea of Data The overall visual images captured totaled 581 photographs. From “Field,” the next step was to organize the visual data to a reasonable and creative medium for a “Forum” engagement of the story. The team began to develop a process to manage the photo data. We created a system to
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analyze the images within the photos, then take preliminary findings back to stakeholders for the next round of analysis. Initially, the team established decision rules for each phase of analysis. After a preliminary joint viewing by members of the research group, we narrowed the selection from 518 images to 389. The final decision rules were as follows: a.) b.) c.) d.)
e.) f.) g.) h.)
Eliminated pictures that did not represent physical people. Images did not necessarily have to show a face. Images needed representation of human connection in some way. Blurry images/Poor lighting were eliminated; something within the image had to be in focus. Some images were retained because one part of the image was in focus and in another part of the image blurry movement showed the pace of the event Images of people with a red dot on name tag were not be used. If there was a duplicate or similar image, the clearer image was retained. Single person in images were retained which represented human connection with the photographer. Final selection of exemplar photos to represent each phase of the foot care event and key aspects of experiences of homelessness.
Using the established decision rules, the team continued with rounds of data analysis to pare down the number of images to 50 representative photos. This first circle to “Forum” was an internal circle of researchers. The next step was to take the images back to the people who experience homelessness as part of everyday life. We wanted to hear from them what photos best “tell their story” and to engage an external circle. This was, in essence, an attempt in research to “not do it to you,” but rather “do it with you.” As a good practice in participatory or collaborative anthropology, the researchers were actively engaged in shaping the research, but also taking the “shaping” to those experiencing homelessness for their involvement in continued shaping. Team discussions involved whether to take the images to those who received the care, those who volunteered to provide the care, and/or health providers providing the foot care. A decision was made to focus only on the people who came from the homeless community as a way to be inclusive of their participation. The team selected a date to engage the meal program community a second time. Photo images were shared with the community in three separate ways. First, a slide show of all 581 images was displayed for everyone to view. This allowed many people to see their image. Second,
100 printed photos were available on the tables for participants engaged in the weekly meal program ministry to view. Participants could take a photo with them if they identified one they wanted. Finally, participants were invited to view a display wall showcasing fifty numbered photographs. Participants of the meal program could view the images and select their favorite photos from the display. Three members from the research team were available to talk to participants and collect stories (comments) of why they selected certain photos. Our project consisted of a multitude of layers. We saw the need to understand people's relationship to healthy feet, clean shoes and socks, and what a lack of this kind of relationship meant. This allowed health providers to gain a better understanding of the health priorities and needs through the individual's life circumstances. The project increased our awareness of the implications of lack of access to information (from all sides), to healthcare, and to clean shoes and socks. Linking our university students and our own practices to the non-academic world allowed for applied anthropology and nursing practice to engage in interdisciplinary practice. A long-term impact was to connect to a wider public by showing the lives, experiences, and needs of fellow human beings who are often in difficult situations and misunderstood through their homelessness. This long term goal will continue through linking audiences with these photo stories. The team sought to challenge our own assumptions. The stories told through photos brought this population to life in ways beyond statistics and news representations, a transformation from statistics to people.
The Unexpected Truths Found in the Images and in the Process As this project unfolded, there were a multitude of unexpected experiences for those involved and findings generated by the image data. The opportunity to care for persons experiencing homelessness in this way touched and motivated volunteers to get involved. Volunteers saw an avenue to provide more than impersonal monetary support for a cause, they found an avenue to interact with individuals providing hands on care. Many anecdotal conversations prior to the foot washing/foot care event with expected volunteers revealed how many felt “a call” or “divine nudging” to step outside their comfort zone to actually wash the feet of individuals experiencing homelessness. They expressed how they really weren’t sure they could do it, but were anticipating acting on the inner nudging to care for another human being in this way. As the project began,
Capturing Images of People Experiencing Homelessness
there was trepidation as to whether we could gather enough volunteers to do all the care that had been envisioned. As enthusiasm increased, 125 volunteers of adults, youth, and children coalesced to make the event possible. Throughout the process, people from the homeless population came forward to help, to give back to the community in their own ways. Individuals who routinely benefitted from the meal program asked if they could take on more of a role. Staff at the congregation and nurses coordinating the event worked with them to set up the space as well as size and package shoes and socks in advance. On the day of the foot care event, volunteers from the homeless community chose to wash feet of other individuals. The day designed to provide care by health professionals to a group in need became an opportunity for persons in need to find value by getting involved and giving back to the community in a unique way. Evaluation and analysis of the photos revealed several unexpected findings and ethnographic details. Evaluation of the health challenges of caring for one’s feet in the face of homelessness, an unknown quantity when seen from the perspective of those who have not experienced such a lifestyle, acted as the catalyst. A growing knowledge of these challenges and aspects of homeless life emerged through the visual information. For instance, sun exposure as a major health challenge became visible in the photos and the extent of sun exposure was surprising. We also saw ambulation issues as a recurring theme. Images captured individuals with walkers, crutches, canes, motorized scooter carts, and both manual and motorized wheelchairs. Comments from participants about musculoskeletal pain preventing them from reaching their feet to attend to basic foot care such as clipping nails reinforced these problematic health concerns. All these elements provided context to better understand the vast health challenges homelessness brings. Another reality of homeless life not previously considered became evident in the images; the reality of waiting. Many photos showed people waiting outside to enter the building, waiting in the brief rain that occurred, waiting to sign in, waiting for food, waiting for a next care station, waiting for shoes. The team soon realized, that these images captured a significant daily reality of this lifestyle. When someone is dependent on others for basic life necessities, waiting becomes an inevitable part of obtaining those necessities. When someone is also experiencing challenges of ambulation, this time in waiting may further exacerbate that health challenge. Perhaps the most unexpected truth that emerged related to the images of homeless life materialized during the process of taking the images back
to the community to share with them and to further shape the story. Being open to allow the process to inform the story, challenged the assumptions of the research team that the images themselves would contribute to significant aspects of this story of homelessness. What we found out was the organic evolution of the process is as important in telling the story as the images themselves. The team began with the idea that the care was about the feet. Through the research project, we realized that the care was also about connecting humans to other humans. Several aspects of the process shaped the story about human connection that those experiencing homelessness wanted to tell. First, when the team took the images back to the community, we posted 50 images on a display wall. The participants in the meal program were invited to view the photos and choose their favorite images. The meal program allows individuals attending to enter the space approximately an hour before food is served. During this time a coffee bar is available as well as donated pastries and snacks. In the venue, long communal tables are generally full of people waiting and visiting 45 minutes before meal time. The church is intentional about creating a space of welcome and sense of community for the attendees. As an outcome of establishing this social environment, only 13 individuals chose to leave their visiting time, sitting, drinking coffee, and being in conversation with those around them to walk over to the wall and select a picture. When several individuals at tables were asked if they would like to choose a photo, they responded that they were okay and just wanted to visit with their friends. They chose conversations with others rather than leave that human connection to engage with the photo images. Next, of the 13 images that were chosen, almost all were of human connection in some way. These showed friends smiling while hugging one another, active pictures of volunteers washing feet while making eye contact with the participants, and people involved in physical touchwhether holding a hand or placing hands on someone’s shoulders. Finally, the explanations of why a person chose a photo involved a show of human connection. Participants described liking images because they showed friendship or that rubbing the shoulders of someone really expressed what caring means. Another person said the one he liked showed the lady in the image looking at the person in a way that really meant she was caring for his feet. In the end, what started out with concern over foot health became a lesson in human connection, and feet were only the catalyst for demonstrating the importance of compassion.
Capturing Images of People Experiencing Homelessness
Conclusion As the various communities interacted, information that was not previously considered became identified. We established an interdisciplinary team of professionals to take a creative approach to the calls of disparity. The project evolved from an idea, to the attempt to meet a health challenge, to sharing the story of those experiencing homelessness in order to heighten the awareness of a larger population including health providers, community workers, and community members about the daily realities of homeless life. Capturing the images of this work became an avenue to augment meaning and provide an avenue for persons experiencing homelessness to share their story. No matter in what circumstances of life individuals find themselves, humans connection is valued. Photographic images provided our opportunity to participate, to learn, and to tell this story about the need for human connection and the right to health care for those experiencing homelessness in South Florida.
References ANA/HMA. 2012. Faith Community Nursing: Scope and Standards of Practice. 2nd. American Nursing Association. Bombas. 2016. Our Story. Accessed June 15, 2016. http://www.bombas.com/our-story-bombas. Count, Broward County Point-in-time Homeless. 2016. Facts about homelessness. Accessed July 30, 2016. http://www.browardpointintime.org/#!facts-about-homelessness/c1qdf. —. (2011). Homelessness and Health: What's the Connection? Accessed July 30, 2016. http://www.nhchc.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Hln _health_factsheet_Jan10.pdf. Homelessness, National Alliance to End. 2016. Health Care. Accessed July 30, 2016. Hub, Homeless. 2015. “What are the top 10 health issues homeless people face?” February 6. Accessed July 15, 2016. http://homelesshub.ca/blog/what-are-top-10-health-issues-homelesspeople-face. IEHCR http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CESCR.aspx Liehr P, Morris K, Leavitt MA, Takahashi R.2013. “Translating research findings to promote peace: moving from "field to forum” with verbatim theatre.” Adv Nurs Sci. 2013 Jul-Sep;36(3):160-70. doi: 10.1097/ANS.0b013e31829edc7b.
Liehr, P, and M J Smith. 2011. "Refining Story Inquiry as a Method for Research." Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 74-75. Liehr, P, and M J Smith. 2007. "Story Inquiry: A Method for Research." Archives in Psychiatric Nursing, 120-21. Smith, M J, and P Liehr. 2005. "Story Theory: Advancing Nursing Practice Scholarship." Holistic Nursing Practice,272-76. Smith, MJ and Liehr, P. 2008. "Theory-Guided Translation: Emphasizing Human Connection." Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 175-176.
Acknowledgements The individuals experiencing homelessness, as well as Valerie Fox and Dr. Kim Saiswick of Holy Cross Hospital. The pastors, members, and volunteers of Christ Church United Methodist, Broward Sheriff’s Office Homeless Outreach, Florida Atlantic University Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing and Anthropology Department, and Dr. Patricia Liehr.
Capturing Images of People Experiencing Homelessness
Images All photos from the author’s fieldwork
Figure 9.1 Footwashing. After registration, this is the first stop, by Nancy Lipkin Stein, 2016
Figure 9.2 Diversity in action, by Nancy Lipkin Stein, 2016
Figure 9.3 Human connection, by Nancy Lipkin Stein, 2016
Capturing Images of People Experiencing Homelessness
Figure 9.4 Waiting, by Nancy Lipkin Stein, 2016
Figure 9.5 Friendship, by Nancy Lipkin Stein, 2016
Capturing Images of People Experiencing Homelessness
Figure 9.6 Waiting, by Nancy Lipkin Stein, 2016
Figure 9.7 Basic Footcare by nursing students, by Nancy Lipkin Stein, 2016
Figure 9.8 Sun exposure evidence, by Nancy Lipkin Stein, 2016
Figure 9.9 Deep wound NLS 2016
Capturing Images of People Experiencing Homelessness
Figure 9.10 Gnarly toenails, by Nancy Lipkin Stein
Figure 9.11 Spiritual connection, by Nancy Lipkin Stein, 2016
CHAPTER TEN MEMES, MASHUPS, AND THE BATTLE FOR THE FUTURE OF HUMAN CULTURE TOK THOMPSON
Introduction: The New Everyday Criminal More than three billion people participate in Internet culture, and memes, mashups, and other forms of user-generated art fill our social media. Every day, innumerable images, including moving ones, are created, copied, transformed, published, and republished, as well as observed, commented on, laughed at, held meaningfully, and shared by millions— perhaps billions—of people. The sheer amount of visual art created, absorbed, and shared on a daily level throughout the world is staggering. Yet many legal interpretations would contend that much, if not the majority, of this art is illegal. Yes, that’s right: Much of the everyday expressive culture is illegal, and those who produce, use, and share it are engaged in illegal activities. Powerful institutions view people who share memes in their Facebook feeds or a mashup on their blog as criminals or thieves, engaged in continued, deliberate theft, and at times sedition. In this chapter, I will primarily focus on two genres of visual arts: the meme (in the stricter usage of the image-and-text graphic) and the mashup. 1 Consider, for example, the case of the “socially awkward 1
In this chapter, I use the word “meme” in the stricter usage of the image-and-text, widely shared and modified graphic image. I purposefully do not wade into the contentious debate over the more general use of the term “meme” (which often refers to any idea or theme that is passed along in “viral” form), but there is a rich literature in folklore studies on this. See, for example, Schrempp 2009; Oring 2014a, 2014b. As for “mashup,” this also has two primary levels of meaning: the stricter sense of a music-and-video compilation deriving the source materials from a variety of sources, and the looser sense of any digital “mashing up” of various
Memes, Mashups, and the Battle for the Future of Human Culture
penguin.” This meme is just one of the many everyday visual arts that people share, modify, and pass on. The image consists of a photo of a penguin, a marked blue triangular background, and various text inserted over the top. There are hundreds if not thousands of varieties of “socially awkward penguin,” most with a bipartite textual comment humorously regarding incidences of feeling socially awkward, e.g.: “Can’t pronounce menu item/ Doesn’t order it.” “Tries to jump in conversation/ Gets completely ignored.” “Looks away to avoid eye contact/ Ends up making eye contact with someone else.”
In 2015, Getty Images began a series of aggressive letters to various bloggers demanding money for the meme. 2 It turns out that the penguin in the image was taken from an image owned by Getty Images. Yet that image has been re-used, and recontextualized, over and over again, thousands upon thousands of times, by all sorts of everyday users, using the meme to discuss life. Getty Images appears to employ automatic searches to try to find and target users of their images, and it appears to be, for them, a lucrative endeavor.3 While this is, perhaps, a silly example, it is meant as an illustration of how even those using the most non-confrontational examples of everyday art are still threatened by claims of illegality. The idea that trivial, jovial artistic communications between people can be subject to criminal prosecutions should be frightening to anyone. 4 Media industries are not the only corporate group attempting to assert control and ownership over these everyday visual arts. Governments, too, are often involved in attempting to control everyday artistic expressions, materials, including software, websites, and images. The common phrase of the current online zeitgeist as “mashup culture” refers to the broader usage. 2 How copyright is killing your favorite memes. Caitlin Dewey. September 8, 2015. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/ 2015/09/08/how-copyright-is-killing-your-favorite-memes/ 3 Getty Is Quietly Charging Bloggers For ‘Socially Awkward Penguin’ Meme. Sara Boboltz. Huffington Post. September 5, 2015. http://www.huffingtonpost. com/entry/getty-socially-awkward-penguin_us_55e9dbece4b03784e275c935 4 Indeed, the various legal claims preclude me from pursuing publication of the memes in this book, even though I would have preferred to do so. Even in an academic publication, and even when the same memes can be seen by anyone with internet access, this point itself illustrates the larger point of how proprietary claims restrict everyday discourse.
as the global digital discourses threaten their own control over their citizens.
Nation-States and Censorship The Russian government has taken increasingly aggressive steps to control internet communication. On August 1, 2014, President Putin signed into law the requirement that “popular” bloggers must register with state authorities and comply with strict controls in terms of acceptable statements. Within a year, it became clear that this law would apply to memes as well. On April 7, 2015, Roskomnadzor (Russia's state internet regulator) posted a reminder about the law on the home page of the popular Russian social network Vkontakte, stating that the law prohibited "using a photo of a public figure to embody a popular internet meme which has nothing to do with the celebrity's personality." 5 This reminder seemed to respond directly to the recent proliferation of memes featuring public figures, including, of course, Vladimir Putin. Although many of these memes were laudatory, the form of expression also allowed for easy expression of dissent in critical or sardonic memes. The popularity and ease of production and distribution of these images allowed for a much freer range of discourse than was available from state-approved media outlets. Alongside restricting the memes themselves, such moves restrict everyday artistic communication in general. A similar situation occurred in Turkey, where insulting the president is against the law. Dr. Bilgin Çiftçi, a physician, was arrested and put on trial for a meme that placed photos of the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, next to photos of Gollum, the creature from the Lord of the Rings movie series. Simply placing the photos next to each other was taken to be a crime, since it seemed to insultingly suggest a remarkable physical similarity between the two. 6 In general, more authoritarian and nationalistic nation-states are attempting to reinforce their control over their citizens’ communication, particularly their international communications. China maintains the most extensive effort at controlling culture ever attempted, in what has become known as the “Great Firewall of China.” China maintains a veritable army 5
Russia’s (non) war on memes? 16 April 2015. BBC Trending: What's popular and why. http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-32302645 6 See footnote #4.
Memes, Mashups, and the Battle for the Future of Human Culture
of censors to monitor communications of its citizens and block external websites. In place of global forums, China has encouraged the development of China-based social media sites. On the international front, China has taken the lead in being a proponent of “internet sovereignty”— meaning, in other words, the right of the state to control their citizens’ online cultural exchanges. Unsurprisingly, state attempts to control the communication of their citizens are often met with pushback from the people. In China, this struggle has been represented in the enormously popular story of the “grass mud horse” (cao ni ma). The “grass mud horse” is a new folkloresque (as per Foster 2016) character with the accompanying story of the invasion and song of the invasion of the evil river crabs. The “grass mud horse” song and story appear in many mashups, with various user-generated illustrations, as well as utilizing various doubtless-copyrighted material, including stock footages of alpacas as often representing the “grass mud 7 horse.” Eventually, the song goes, the crabs will be defeated, and the grass mud horses will once again be able to enjoy themselves peacefully. Presented in the style of a children’s folklore tale, the story was sung by a children’s choir, in a standard folkloresque presentation. The grass mud horse became enormously popular in China: Alpaca dolls became best-sellers, and memes and mashups surrounding the creature proliferated throughout the country. The meaning of all this becomes clear when the puns are revealed: The phrase “grass mud horse” is a clever tonal pun on the phrase “fuck your mother,” while the “evil river crabs” are clear references to the army of Chinese censors. In this construction, the profane everyday citizens, the folk, are peaceful grass mud horses, while the “evil river crabs,” the censors, are evil and doomed to failure. The upshot of such artistry is that now the phrase “grass mud horse” is illegal in China. This may be too late—the government cannot reasonably ban all images of alpacas, after all, and the cultural connection has been established. The government revealed a profound insecurity in banning funny videos of singing alpacas. What’s more, the “grass mud horse” prompted the government of China to later pass laws banning puns altogether. The nervousness of autocratic governments makes good sense. Consider the mashup (song and video) “Zenga Zenga.” This piece was composed by an Israeli DJ, Noy Alloshe, using snippets of Libyan dictator 7
For more on this story, see Thompson 2012.
Muammar Gaddafi’s own speech and images along with a dance track culled from American rapper Pitbull (and featuring T-Pain). The song became an anthem of the revolution, using the dictator’s own words to mock his attempts to control dissent, and assisted in bringing down his autocratic regime. Gaddafi, who had ruled with an iron fist for decades and lived a sumptuous life, lost his grip on power, and was subsequently beaten and killed by an angry mob.8
Owning Culture As the above examples demonstrate, there are large corporate claimants toward ownership of culture, particularly governments and corporations. These two groups are often in bitter legal disputes with the general populace of global internet users over the ownership of cultural expressions: governments through assertions of intangible cultural heritage and censorship (the two can overlap), and corporations through assertions of copyright, trademarks, and other forms of mercantile proprietary claims to culture. The assertions of proprietary claims are interwoven in overall cultural discourses regarding originality and authorship. Most of the arguments claiming corporate ownership of culture stem from modernity’s long involvement with mechanical reproduction of culture, and the (linked) development of the nation-state. To a great degree, the crisis surrounding ownership of culture stems from the differences between these two epochs: the digital versus the mechanical; the global versus the national; and the postmodern versus the modern. The legal claims of the ownership of culture are expanding dramatically, while at the same time more and more culture is being shared freely. This is the battle for the future of human culture—whose culture is it? Who gets to say? The question has already toppled dictatorships and met fierce reaction from insecure autocracies around the world. Corporate control of expressive culture—both of media corporations and governments—is profound, and at the same time, being profoundly challenged. Technology outpaces limits placed on it, and the people of the world want to communicate freely.
For more on this, see Thompson 2002.
Memes, Mashups, and the Battle for the Future of Human Culture
Cyberfolk and the Gutenberg Parenthesis It may seem a bit strange to some readers to view visual arts through a folkloric lens, yet for most of the existence of humanity, this has been the primary model. In the folkloric model, culture is created via interpersonal sharing: a story is heard, then repeated later. This allows folklore to be constantly adapted to new times, new situations, and new groups. My own definition of folklore is that folklore is “the stuff we learn from other people,” which is to say, not from books or formal institutions. Other attempted definitions include Daniel Ben-Amos’ that folklore is “artistic communication in small groups” (1971, 13), while Alan Dundes noted that folklore always exhibits “multiplicity and variation” (Dundes 1999, vii). All these definitions converge on the notion that folklore is being replicated through performances, and this process ensures that folklore continues to change, adapt, and mutate. This slipperiness and changeability of folklore is precisely its greatest strength. Unlike literature, folklore is always contemporary, always current.9 When ordinary people began using the internet for their daily lives, folklorists quickly noted the amount of folklore that people were sharing (see, e.g., Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 1995). Urban legends spread like wildfire. This early trend followed pace with the explosion of digital communications around the turn of the millennium. Many younger folklorists focused their research efforts more and more on online folklore, noting the ways in which scholars can view much of the online communication as inherently folkloric in nature. This allowed folklorists to be able to use many of their usual disciplinary tools, theoretical outlooks, and approaches. Other scholars have also taken note of vast changes in the modes of communication in the digital age. Prof. Lars Ole Sauerberg of the University of Southern Denmark coined the phrase “Gutenberg parenthesis” to describe that brief, five-hundred-year period when culture was influenced by mechanical reproduction. This phrase has been given prominence in the work of his colleague, literary and cultural historian Thomas Pettitt, and has now become used by numerous scholars as a way
This may seem counter-intuitive, since so many books on folklore are archaic. But actually, this is precisely the point: These are books on folklore, not folklore itself. It is the process of writing itself that preserves performances through time, allowing them to be represented in a time period different from that of the audience.
of thinking of digital communication (see Pettitt 2010). 10 The phrase captures a view of modernity in hindsight: the impact of the Gutenberg era and its replacement by digital communications. Converging on the same conclusion as folklorists, Pettitt proposed viewing the emerging online culture as a “secondary orality” (as per Ong 1982). “Orality” may be a bit misleading, since not all folklore is oral and much of internet culture is also visual. In 2012, folklorist Anthony Buccitelli investigated how digital performances are often a better fit for the category of “folk objects” than for orality, due to the temporal “stickiness” of both folk objects and internet communications. Another key difference between cyber lore and traditional folklore is that in cyberlore, performer and the audience may be (and often are) at opposite sides of the world. Space is often re-imagined online (for a theoretical perspective, see Buccitelli, 2013). Still, this postmodern, digital form of culture is noticeably folkloric in its “multiplicity and variation,” loose sense of authorship, acknowledgment of collective creativity, and general ways in which the culture is shared in a largely non-hierarchical sense. Memes and mashups both display a form of “folk visual art” in their communicative processes. 11 The internet is largely, still, a visual medium, and the debates that surround the ideas of free expression, or the lack thereof, result from the tension between models of folkloric communication, and those based on models of authorship, descending from modernity and the Gutenberg era.
Copyrights and Wrongs At the present moment, images of all of Renoir’s paintings are—and always have been—free to use, but the “socially awkward penguin,” taken from an obscure photograph, is not. The history of this legal difference stems from the introduction of the copyright regime during late modernity. Copyright emerged in England as part of the “royal charter” system of allowing business monopolies. Early on, copyright was mostly limited to books, and provided limited monopolies for a limited time to a small number of commercial printing ventures. Over time, more and more parts of culture were granted copyright. Copyright has become a tremendously big business, potentially covering most of what can reasonably be described as human culture. 10
A Google search at the time of this writing revealed over 750 academic books that utilized the phrase. 11 For a discussion of mashups as folk music, see Thompson 2011.
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The copyright regime was enacted to limit publishers in terms of what they could reproduce. “But with the birth of the Internet, this natural limit to the reach of the law has disappeared. The law controls not just the creativity of commercial creators but effectively that of anyone” (Lessig 2004,19). Prompted by the money to be made via copyright claims and the growth of the Culture Industries, copyright claims themselves grew, and grew, and grew. Now implied in copyright is ownership not just of the item, but of the art, the image, and ultimately the very idea itself. At this point in time, in the US, any creative thing one crafts is automatically assumed to be copyrighted—even a doodle on a scrap of paper or graffiti scrawled on a bathroom wall.12 Such formulations have at their root a belief in originality, which is to say a belief that the origins of creative expressions are singular, and to be located within a singular individual. Yet, as Valdimar Hafstein proposes, we can instead view each performance in terms of both tradition and novelty, a sliding-scale of originality that acknowledges the act of “creative copying” as well as “social creativity” (2004). Opposing “traditional” and “original” then (the cornerstone of “literature versus folkore”) is revealed to be a false dichotomy, infused with cultural value statements (originality good; traditionality bad). This more complex view of the process of artistry, because of differing philosophical assumptions, does not fit well within the copyright regime as a whole. The emerging mashup culture, therefore, is inherently a difficult match for the expanding legal regime of copyright derived from the printing press. As Lessig put it, “There has never been a time in our history when more of our ‘culture’ was as ‘owned’ as it is now” (2004, 12).
State Property: “Protecting Heritage” Besides outright censorship and enforcement of prevailing copyright regimes for the purpose of the culture industries, nation-states have one more arrow in the quiver for proprietary claims for owning culture: heritage. Heritage is an assertion of a particular inherited proprietary
In retrospect, it may seem strange to consider that these “great pieces of art,” such as those by Renoir, were denied the same copyright protections that are accorded to such “lesser works,” but this would have been true for even lesser works of literature in Renoir’s lifetime (1841-1919). The two examples point toward different eras, and different modes of production and overall zeitgeists.
relation to culture, often through the prism of ethno-nationalist strains of governance. Heritage is an up-and-coming word that has generated an enormous amount of literature, legislation, and funding in recent years and has been investigated by numerous legal, political, social, and cultural scholars.13 While the concept of “world heritage” does allow for global claims for culture, the heritage regime more often embraces the ideology that the “heritage of” means a specific—usually corporate—group. Heritage invokes the idea of inheritance, and being an heir, and this connects legalistic claims to culture. This takes particular rhetorical form in the case of tangible heritage—items claimed to “belong” intrinsically to one nation-state—and takes an even more extreme rhetoric when applied to the category of “intangible heritage”—claims for the intrinsic ownership of cultural practices. In this rhetorical and governmental move, past cultural practices are turned into ownable objects. The major assertions are brought forth by governmental groups—primarily nation-states, and followed up in their international discourses, such as the United Nations, which has strongly supported these ideas. Corporate industries, most notably the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), have also been deeply involved with furthering these legalistic developments. Thus, nation-states are increasingly claiming ownership of “their” culture. Yet what “their” culture entails is always highly contestable and contested.14 Consider the case of Nigeria, one of the most ardent followers of the UN recommendations (as are several other African countries). According to Nigerian law, one must obtain permission from the federal government in order to “publish,” “distribute” or “reproduce” folklore (for an extended discussion on this, see Kuruk 1999). Given that folklore includes genres ranging from epics to proverbs to dirty jokes, the sweeping claims of government ownership are breath-taking. Even attempting to shoehorn such institutional claims into the problematic discourse of romantic nationalism prove difficult. Nigeria, for example, is the home of over 500 ethnic groups, 500 linguistic groups, and a variety of religious groups, many of which also traditionally exist in bordering nation-states. Who owns Hausa folklore, therefore, is necessarily a battleground for contention: Nigeria? Niger? Or any of the many countries in West Africa with a sizable Hausa population? 13
For an overview of folklore’s involvement with heritage, see Bendix, et al. 2013. This is an issue of which folklorists have long been aware, and wary. See, for example, Abrahams (1993). 14
Memes, Mashups, and the Battle for the Future of Human Culture
Or one could look at the illustration of a similar case in Azerbaijan, which has laws very similar to those of Nigeria. Azerbaijan has been locked in disputes with neighboring Armenia regarding ownership of cultural forms, trading official accusations of “heritage theft” over such issues as publications of cookbooks, 15 folk music, fairy tales, and so forth.16 In 2010, the Azerbaijan copyright agency posted an article on its own website, “Stealing of Azerbaijan culture and morality samples by Armenians.” In 2014, the country sent a list of “offending examples” of “heritage theft” to several international organizations. 17 By spring of 2015, the conflict between the states (particularly the disputed NagornoKarabakh region) boiled over into bloodshed The overlap between this vociferous discourse over heritage, and the military conflicts resulting in blood spilled and lives lost, cannot be ignored. Viewed in these practical terms, the “heritage regime” is yet another ownership claim: the idea that a particular corporate body (usually a state) owns the right to use and reproduce the culture. And, unlike even the most restrictive forms of copyright, there is no proposed end date for heritage claims. No matter how widespread the culture may become, the logic of heritage, or owning folklore, extends in perpetuity. The ownership of culture is moved from an individual, or group, and into the nation-state system of governance. Nation-states are expanding these ownership claims even as the relative coherency of the nation-state as a locus of political representation is in decline. If, as per Benedict Anderson’s famous claim (1991), “printnationalism” created the modern nation-state model (through standardized national languages, print controls, the production of national news, censorship, and the like), the internet has enabled global communication and the rise of sharing communication with far-flung individuals. Hence, the rise of the importance in “national heritage” can be seen in opposition to the ongoing globalizing tendencies of human culture. Likewise, the increased claims of “national heritage” can be seen as a rearguard action
15 “Azerbaijan Vows to Take On Armenian ‘Cuisine Plagiarism’.” Yigal Schleifer. January 16, 2013. Eaurasianet.org. http://www.eurasianet.org/node/66412 16 See the site at http://www.copag.gov.az/cgi-bin/site9/main9.cgi?l=0;id=125 17 “Azerbaijan sends protest on piracy of folklore samples by Armenians to international organisations.” Elchin Mehdiyev. 16 January 2014. Trend News Agency. http://en.trend.az/azerbaijan/society/2230622.html
against the epochal changes in human culture, and a structural decrease in the importance of the nation-state generally.18
Future Possibilities for Earthling Culture A 2016 BBC survey indicates that most people in the world now identify as “global citizens” rather than national ones.19 This is a trend to watch, but makes complete sense: politics follows communication. Communications establish communities, and communities constitute political bodies. The rise of global discourse foretells the rise of global identities, including global political identities. Directly following the remarkable successes of the Arab Spring movement in toppling long-standing autocratic regimes, many scholars began to theorize internet access as a new, fundamental human right. A UN commission specifically made the recommendation that access to the internet should be declared and considered a “fundamental human right.”20 Yet what is “access” without “engagement”? Accessing only official information would move directly against the heart of the issue, which is the right of people to communicate freely via the internet globally. The shadow side to proprietary claims to culture is, of course, the creation of the category of illegal art. What are we to make of this concept? “We tear life out of life to use it for looking at itself” runs the famous aphorism by Antonia Porchia (1969/1943). What are the implications of art being controlled by elite, moneyed forces, and forbidden to the people in their everyday communications? How can people try to imagine a future world if their art is deemed illegal, their artists as criminals, and their everyday expressive communications increasingly owned by large corporate groups? We have made the art of our youth illegal and turned millions of people into criminals. Artistic communication and performance are the building blocks of group identity. While the culture industries still exist in the new, mediated world, they are no longer the predominant form of cultural distribution. The majority of culture consumed in the world has quickly shifted from a hierarchical model of the culture industries and nation-state governments 18
For an extended discussion of the cultural contours of postnationalism, see Thompson 2012. See also Poster 2002. 19 “Identity 2016: ‘Global citizenship’ rising, poll suggests.” Naomi Grimley. 28 April 2016. BBC News. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-36139904 20 See United Nations report A/HRC/17/27 (http://tinyurl.com/AHRC1727).
Memes, Mashups, and the Battle for the Future of Human Culture
toward the folkloric model of vernacular participatory culture, mirroring the epochal shift from mechanical to digital modes of communication. The battle over these two modes is a battle over the very nature of culture, and for the future for humanity. Will our culture’s everyday artistic communication be increasingly free, or increasingly owned? And if owned, by whom?
References Abrahams, Roger D. 1993. Phantoms of Romantic Nationalism in Folkloristics. Journal of American Folklore 106: 3-37. Anderson, Benedict. 1991. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Revised Edition ed. London and New York: Verso. Ben-Amos, Dan. 1972. “Toward a Definition of Folklore in Context.” Journal of American Folklore 84: 3-15. Bendix, Regina, Aditya Eggert, and Arnika Peselmann, eds. 2013. Heritage Regimes and the State. Göttingen: Universitätsverlag Göttingen. Buccitelli, Antony Bak. 2012. Performance 2.0: Observations Toward a Theory of the Digital Performance of Folklore. In Folk Culture in the Digital Age: The Emergent Dynamics of Human Interaction , Trevor Blank, ed. Logan: Utah State University Press, 60-84. —. 2013. Virtually a Local: Folk Geography, Discourse, and Local Identity on the Geospatial Web. Western Folklore 72:29-59. Dundes, Alan. 1999. International Folkloristics: classic contributions by the founders of folklore. Rowman & Littlefield. Foster, Michael Dylan, and Jeffrey A. Tolbert, eds. 2016. The Folkloresque: Reframing Folklore in a Popular Culture World. Boulder: University Press of Colorado. Hafstein, Valdimar Tr. 2004. The Politics of Origins: Collective Creation Revisited. Journal of American Folklore 117: 300-315. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara. 1995. “From the Paperwork Empire to the Paperless Office: Testing the Limits of the “Science of Tradition.” 6992. In Folklore Interpreted: Essays in Honor of Alan Dundes. Regina Bendix and Rosemary Zumwalt, editors. Kuruk, Paul. 1999. “Protecting Folklore Under Modern Intellectual Property Regimes: A Reappraisal of the Tensions Between Individual and Communal Rights in Africa and the United States.” American University Law Review 48: 769-843. Lessig, Lawrence. 2004. Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology
and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity. New York: The Penguin Press. Ong, Walter. 1982. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. London: Methuen. Oring, Elliott . 2014. Memetics and Folkloristics: The Applications. Western Folklore 73: 455-492. Oring, Elliott. 2014. Memetics and Folkloristics: The Theory. Western Folklore 73: 432-454. Pettitt, Thomas, producer. 2010. The gutenberg parenthesis: oral tradition and digital technologies. MIT Communications Forum. Retrieved from http://techtv.mit.edu/videos/16645-the-gutenbergparenthesis-oraltradition-and-digital-technologies Porchia, Antonio. 1969 (1943). Voces, translated from Spanish by W.S. Merwin. Port Townsend: Copper Canyon Press. Poster, Mark. 2002. Digital Networks and Citizenship. PMLA 117: 98103. Schrempp, Gregory. 2009. Taking the Dawkins Challenge, or, the Dark Side of the Meme. Journal of Folklore Research 46: 91-100. Thompson, Tok. 2011. Beatboxing, Mashups, and Cyborg Identity: Folk Music for the Twenty-First Century. Western Folklore 70: 171-193. —. 2012. "Netizens, Revolutionaries, and the Inalienable Right to the Internet." In Folk Culture in the Digital Age: The Emergent Dynamics of Human Interaction. Edited by Trevor J. Blank. Utah State University Press: Logan. 45-69.
Figure 11.1 Courtesy of author 2016
Figure 11.2. Twitter post courtesy of Brandon Benson. Curt Schilling’s comment: “A man is a man no matter what they call themselves. I don't care what they are, who they sleep with, men's room was designed for the penis, women's not so much. Now you need laws telling us differently? Pathetic."
Figure 11.3. Photo courtesy of Shakina Nayfack. Shakina in a promotional photo for her Manifest Pussy tour in protest of North Carolina's House Bill 2. Photo: Ames Bex. Design: Michelle DiMuzio.
Figure 11.4. Courtesy of @LADLAD
Courtesy of Banngkok Post. Pho oto by Pornprom m Satrabhaya. Figure 11.5. C
Figure 11.6. Yollada Nok Suanyot. Photo courtesy of the Bangkok Post. Photo by Somchai Poomlard/Bangkok.
Figure 11.7. Photo courtesy of QWOC. Yollada “Nok” Suanyot at a press conference in 2012 after her win in Nan province. She released this picture of herself on Hi5, a social media network popular in Asia1 (QWOC).
CHAPTER ELEVEN IMAGES OF TRANS: FRAMING THE WAY WE SEE TRANSGENDER PEOPLE NANCY LIPKIN STEIN
Figure 11.1 Courtesy of author 2016 See centerfold for this image in colour.
Chapter Eleven We’ve never made progress in this country around important social justice issues until we’ve given marginal victims a face. —Bryan Stevenson, civil rights attorney and Executive Director of Equal Justice Initiative1
Introduction Images are powerful. Make no mistake, they are not neutral. Scholars, politicians, and media specialists have studied their effects as rhetorical devices (see Hariman and Lucaites; Zelizer) and in media campaigns to promote people or products. Anthropologists consider moving and still images significant, as they come into our lives on a daily basis. They are a part of visual culture, sometimes making the unfamiliar familiar. They can be used to bring other people’s lives to life, and say something about our own lives. Tracey Lovejoy and Nelle Steele, two corporate anthropologists, express the power of the visual in their work when they say, “Our primary goal is to make people’s lives and behaviors come to life for our colleagues” (Engaging Our Audiences Through Photo Stories, 294). Working for non-academics, they found visuals rather than lengthy written reports to be a speedy, effective way to communicate; a tool to gain their audiences’ attention and provide an immersive experience for product developers. When we look at using the visual to study images of transgender people in the public realm, what do we see? Do we learn about the experiences, the lived reality of people who are transgender? Whether we do or not, these representations impact the lives of all of us. BREAKFAST CLUB INTERVIEWER: Racism, how other people look at us, the way we look at ourselves… If I see some brothers with some hoods on, it makes me think twice, if it makes me think twice, I know it makes others think twice. DR. J: Media is critical to the social agenda of any country. You take Adolf Hitler, before he did what he did in Germany, he conducted a media campaign that sought to destroy the image, the image of the European Jew in the German mind before the physical Holocaust began. Same thing in America. Before you begin taking the black life, you must kill the image of the black life. When you look at gangsta rap, …when you look at the way we’re portrayed in movies, on the radio, popular media, magazines, in a very negative way as if to say these people, the world would be better off 1
Bryan Stevenson, “The Story Behind the Photo,” Red Border Films, 4.17, Time, July 10, 2016 http://time.com/4399793/emmett-till-civil-rights-photography/
Images of Trans: Framing the Way We See Transgender People
without these people ….people will take up for people who have been unjustly treated, but if you can convince the world that we would be better off without these people by killing their image, then when the physical carnage begins no one will care. —Dr. Umar Johnson2
We start with the premise of one race: the human race. Through scientific research, we know about human variation. The medical community can apply this knowledge when examining the human body. But we learn to see who we are, and those around us, in highly specific, contextualized ways. This chapter, rooted in anthropological analysis, takes the plethora of images flooding our inboxes, screens, and coffee tables as culturally constructed representations of human variation. As Cristina Grasseni’s “skilled visions” approach so profoundly articulates, we learn to look at our world in very socially and culturally shaped ways, just as apprentices do, as our “social apprenticeship” (2011). Visual anthropology considers images as they contribute to shaping the ways we see ourselves and others (Ruby 2000) and at the same time we learn to look in particular ways, through our cultural environment (Grasseni 2004). By talking to people, anthropologists attempt to gain an understanding of how different cultures create their own specific shared understandings. In the twenty-first century, more than ever, we rely on images to communicate a sense of self, of who “we” are (Thompson 2016). Many cultures have developed and accepted as “true” a framework of binary as normal, or heteronormativity, while other places, such as Indonesia, have not (see Nanda 2014 for a review of cross-cultural variations). The scientific and medical understandings of what defines us are complex. Our sexual and gender identities involve our physical bodies (including, but not limited to, genitalia), our genetic makeup (Xs and Ys), our neurological and cellular makeup, and considerably more in terms of electrical wiring and chemical sensitivities, revealing just how complex the human is before we even emerge from the womb. By talking to people from Britain, Hungary, Thailand, the United States, and elsewhere, I tried to gain a sense of how images contribute to the various ways people learn about and see transgender people, and in particular how images contribute to what people believe to be true around this identity. I found considerable misunderstandings and confusion. Many people felt unsure of the vocabulary and how to talk about this subject. After looking into the topic of transgender representation over a period of a few 2
Dr. Umar Johnson, Breakfast Cub interview.
years, interviewing people, and collecting articles and photos, the amount of information circulating in mainstream media, alternative sources of media, and academic research went from scant to overwhelming. Opening my inbox in 2016, reports from human rights agencies and articles around questions of transgender would turn up daily. These findings ranged from scientific journals to online magazines, popular blogs, comments, tweets, and other types of notifications. I sorted the information into three categories: educational, discriminatory, and challenging. People were pointing to or talking about images that either support the idea of binary categories and consequently support discrimination, images that bridge the gap between biological and medical constructions of sex and gender supporting concepts of human variation, and/or images that work to challenge our assumptions and stereotypes. The collected data also revealed that access to sources varied across generations. Older generations reported using mainstream media such as print newspapers, magazines, radio, film, and television, while younger generations were more likely to rely on a broader and more diverse range of sources, mainly through web-based and social media platforms. Compare this excerpt from a conversation with two respondents born in the 1980s: Social media is a more democratic way to gather information instead of elite controlled media outlets. It’s a nice way to find out more information, to find answers to questions I might be unwilling to ask in person (XX and XY Millenials).
with an excerpt from another interviewee born in the 1950s, who referenced television shows, and soap operas in particular, as a way to ”gain acceptance” for characters coming out and “embrace the characters” by following their lives over a long period of time. It was especially poignant because those of us who are long time fans for the soaps remember when Bianca was born and watched her grow to adolescence. As with all soap characters, you develop emotional relationships, although the characters are fictional, it feels like familial ties. The audience was compelled to accept or react ... as you would to a member of your own family (XX Baby Boomer).
The Baby Boomer sums up by noting that viewers participate in these lives from different perspectives. Sometimes, the story comes from the person who was “discovering” and “hiding” their sexuality, including the “difficulty and fear they felt about coming out, while other times you
Images of Trans: Framing the Way We See Transgender People
watched from the perspective of the parents, their difficulties in understanding.” When it comes to portraying transgender people, she notes the newness of this representation. I think it’s harder for the average person to keep up. Homosexuality is about who you desire, who you love, but transgenderism is about who you are as a person, as a spirit. These issues are evolving so quickly that a person just getting used to seeing two men kiss on television can’t fathom the issues of the transsexual/transgender community, of someone who has decided that they are not comfortable with their sexual identity to the point where they’re going to spend thousands of dollars and endure tremendous pain to physically, anatomically change their bodies.
I looked at where people’s perceptions came from around the identity of transgender and their specific sources in particular. Two main themes surfaced. Older generations tended to be confused, often citing rapidly changing vocabulary and an inability to keep up with all the “new” words and concepts, while also relying heavily on a heteronormative framework to explain sex and gender. By contrast, younger people had a better understanding of sexual and gender diversity, were more confident in using terms, and had plenty of stories to share about themselves, family members, or people they know who identify in non-binary terms. I found as I talked to people across the world that younger generations use a wider variety of sources for information while the older generations relied on mainstream media outlets through television, magazines, and newspapers. Many in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Britain referenced Caitlyn Jenner, who publicly transitioned from a masculine Olympic track star, Bruce, to become a famous transgender woman and media star. All generations seemed to know of her television show and Vanity Fair magazine covers (whether they had merely seen or actually read them), but younger people also came across these in repurposed contexts through the internet where commentary directed the reader’s attention in specific directions. Quite a few of the 1980-90s generation mentioned following friends’ transitions on Facebook or websites like xojane.com and writer Janet Mock, who describes daily reality as a transgender woman living in New York. Older generations referenced a few well-known films (The Crying Game, 1992, and The Danish Girl, 2015, came up frequently) and the Netflix TV show, “Orange Is the New Black,” starring Laverne Cox as a transgender female inmate. Younger respondents brought up numerous documentaries, Ted Talks, web-based shows, foreign films (Pedro Almodovar’s All About My Mother, 1999, for example), and alternative independent productions (Tangerine, 2015, among others).
While the scope of media representation is broad, it cannot be expected to represent any population’s life experiences in full, or to solve any of the problems that go with transphobia and discrimination. By exploring the types of representations circulating, this consideration of the role of visual culture in portraying lives and experiences and the diverse responses to these constructions may afford insights beyond the superficial and emotional. There is a dire need for this kind of research because widespread prejudice and discrimination persist. I turn now to a discussion of the extent to which transgender rights are recognized in law.
Transgender Rights Are Human Rights There are now more transgender homicide victims in 2015 than in any other year that advocates have recorded. At least 21 people—nearly all of them transgender women of color—have lost their lives to violence in the first ten months of this year. —Chad Griffin President, Human Rights Campaign3
The preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights established after World War II is meant to guarantee “the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of all the members of the human family.” It states: Recognizing that, in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ideal of free human beings enjoying civil and political freedom and freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his civil and political rights, as well as his economic, social and cultural rights, Considering the obligation of States under the Charter of the United Nations to promote universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and freedoms, Realizing that the individual, having duties to other individuals and to the community to which he belongs, is under a responsibility to strive for the promotion and observance of the rights recognized in the present.
While these words were written in the past, the question of whether they should include LGBT people remains a topic of discussion among some peoples and places. The United Nations High Commissioner for
Human Rights Campaign, November 2015, http://www.hrc.org/resources/addressing-anti-transgender-violence-exploringrealities-challenges-and-sol
Images of Trans: Framing the Way We See Transgender People
Human Rights does not agree that the LGBT community should be treated separately. Protecting LGBT people from violence and discrimination does not require the creation of a new set of LGBT-specific rights, nor does it require the establishment of new international human rights standards. The legal obligations of States to safeguard the human rights of LGBT people are well established in international human rights law on the basis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequently agreed international human rights treaties. All people, irrespective of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, are entitled to enjoy the protections provided for by international human rights law, including in respect of rights to life, security of person and privacy, the right to be free from torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, the right to be free from discrimination and the right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. Core legal obligations of States with respect to protecting the human rights of LGBT people include obligations to: Protect individuals from homophobic and transphobic violence. Prevent torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Repeal laws criminalizing homosexuality and transgender people. Prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Safeguard freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly for all LGBT people.4
Transgender people, along with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Intrasex, and other people with a sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation that fall outside of the “norm,” are gaining visibility and legal rights while at the same time facing more discrimination than ever recorded before. Statistics show a global surge in media representations of transgender people’s experiences, but the numbers also show another reality, as rates of violence climb higher and acts of discrimination remain unchecked. The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association (ILGA, ilga.org), Human Rights Campaign (HRC), National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NCTE.org) put out by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Trans People of Color Coalition (TTOCC) to name a few, represent agencies that have taken up the work of tracking, documenting, and reporting human rights violations in the United States and around the
globe. Whether the issues revolve around bathroom laws or murder, discrimination is an enormous problem. An excerpt from the NTDS states, This study brings to light what is both patently obvious and far too often dismissed from the human rights agenda. Transgender and gender nonconforming people face injustice at every turn: in childhood homes, in school systems that promise to shelter and educate, in harsh and exclusionary workplaces, at the grocery store, the hotel front desk, in doctors’ offices and emergency rooms, before judges and at the hands of landlords, police officers, health care workers and other service providers.5
Research from the international survey conducted by the ILGA in 2016 “looks at laws worldwide and finds that same-sex sexual acts can be punished with death penalty in 13 states, or parts of states (representing 6% of all UN states) while the threat of imprisonment exists in 75 countries and five entities.”6 In 2016, the FBI began including numbers that reflect hate crimes against the LGBT community. Accurate tallies of crimes against transgender people are hard to confirm as police reports and mainstream news reports consciously misidentify the sex of corpses after a violent crime, rarely marking these as hate crimes (FBI). When family members or work places may not be aware of someone being transgender, reluctance to come forward to file a report is not uncommon. Reports of transgender individuals being denied hormones in prison, placed in prison populations based on how their birth certificates identify 5
http://www.thetaskforce.org/static_html/downloads/reports/reports/ntds_full.pdf This study was undertaken with the dogged commitment of the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force to bring the full extent of discrimination against transgender and gender non-conforming people to light. Executive directors Mara Keisling and Rea Carey committed considerable staff and general operating resources to this project over the past three years to create the original survey instrument, collect the data, analyze thousands of responses and, finally, present our findings here. Their survey recorded over 6,500 respondents, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association (ILGA) provides an ongoing report every year based on surveys “to document the legal situation of transgender people all over the world.” In 2016, the global survey of 96,331 people from over 65 countries across the Americas, Europe, Asia (including the Middle East), Africa, and Oceania showed both disturbing and encouraging results. Overall, there were “deeply entrenched heteronormative concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity.” 6 ,Guardian ANTI-LGBT VIEWS, Mona Chalabi, 17.05.2016.
Images of Trans: Framing the Way We See Transgender People
them as opposed to the way they identify often resulting in rape, more often face physical violence when dealing with police, as well as discrimination in housing and employment. While these categories may sound familiar as media reports on general discrimination in general, a look at the numbers reveals the reality of the transgender community’s experiences, which outweigh any other population. People across the globe face the reality of violence against targeted population groups, but according to a 228-page report by the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) conducted in the United States, rates of income at the extreme poverty levels were four times more likely than the general population due to discrimination in employment, a 41% attempted suicide rate compared to 1.6% of the general population, a K-12 problem with high rates for harassment, physical assault, abuse, and this includes from teachers as well as other students. Transgender individuals experience higher rates of violence, hate crimes, and discrimination than Jews, Muslims, dark-skinned people, or any other population, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs and the ILGA survey.
Bathroom Campaign I was born a girl but in a boy’s body, as media headlines tend to scream when telling stories like mine. Being trans, I’ve grown up with the understanding that most women are born girls, yet some are born boys. And most men are born boys, yet some are born girls. And if you’re ready for this, some people are born girls or boys and choose to identify outside our society’s binary system, making them genderqueer. —Janet Mock7
Media coverage over which bathroom transgender people should use illustrates some of the political and online battles waged through images. Some places in the United States require that transgender people use the bathroom that matches the gender assigned at birth and is listed on the birth certificate. This law is supposed to “protect” children and women from sexual predators, from men dressing up as women to stalk people in women’s bathrooms. While some used media to wage an anti-transgender campaign, others found an opportunity to move the conversation forward and educate the public by shifting the context and perceptions through 7
Janet Mock, “It Happened to Me: I Told My Boyfriend I Was Born a Boy.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/janet-mock/transgender-comingout_b_1146414.html
alternative media sources by showing a different reality. U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was asked where Caitlyn Jenner should go when visiting Trump Tower in New York. He replied that it was up to her. Jenner responded by posting a video she made while visiting the ladies room at Trump Tower. The camera crew follows her in, we watch as she closes the door, we hear the flush, and we see her come out with a smile on her face, commenting, “And no one got molested” (Levine 2016). This was in response to a Facebook post by ex-ESPN sports commentator Curt Schilling. He took a post from Twitter showing a “burly man in unpersuasive drag and said: ‘Let him in! to the restroom with your daughter or else you’re a narrow minded, judgmental, unloving racist bigot who needs to die.’” He lost his job after posting this.
Figure 11.2. Twitter post courtesy of Brandon Benson. Curt Schilling’s comment: “A man is a man no matter what they call themselves. I don't care what they are, who they sleep with, men's room was designed for the penis, women's not so much. Now you need laws telling us differently? Pathetic." See centerfold for this image in colour.
Images of Trans: Framing the Way We See Transgender People
House Bill #2 (HB2) identifies the bathroom law passed by North Carolina, demanding people use the bathroom in accordance with their sex assigned at birth. This action was called “state sponsored discrimination” by US Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Shakina Nayfack’s birth certificate identifies her as male while she lives as a female in New York. Her birth certificate is part of her personal history. Changing this, while legal in New York, is not a priority for her. Instead, when she heard about HB2, she saw an opportunity to make the absurdity of the situation visible. After returning from sex reassignment surgery in Thailand, Nayfack decided to take her one-woman show, Manifest Pussy, on the road to North Carolina and use many sources of social media to promote her using men’s urinals across the state while formally dressed in evening gowns. “They are trying to create a situation where trans people are supposed to be invisible. This is an absurd, panicked reaction from the ignorant, it’s a massive step backwards, so I felt it was my duty to go down there and take selfies in as many men’s bathrooms as possible,” she said.8
Other tweets and posts were sent to the governor of North Carolina and circulated throughout the public sphere showing transgender men, some sporting beards and red plaid flannel shirts, tattoos, and brawny bodies, asking if they, and those who are present, should feel comfortable sharing the women’s bathrooms. The visibility of these online campaigns is hard to ignore, even at a distance. In covering the North Carolina bathroom bill, the BBC News reported on a Facebook post by an outspoken supporter of the bill from Washington, who posted photos of herself dressed as a pirate while asking if that makes her a pirate, or as a famous football player, then showing a dress, heels, and a handbag, with the sign, “Then how can this make a man into a woman?” She asks us to compare this type of dressing to being transgender, once more underscoring how for some, it is the outward appearance that determines a person’s sex and gender. This post gathered 70,000 shares and over 30,000 likes. Comments such as “this is not hate speech, just common sense” reflect a strong attachment to the binary, while other comments pointed out how this is misleading.
Joanna Walters, “How to use a urinal like a lady: a trans woman’s rebel tour of North Carolina.” 7 May 2016. The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/may/07/north-carolina-transgenderbathroom-shakina-nayfack
Figure 11.3. Photo courtesy of Shakina Nayfack. Shakina in a promotional photo for her Manifest Pussy tour in protest of North Carolina's House Bill 2. Photo: Ames Bex. Design: Michelle DiMuzio. See centerfold for this image in colour.
In May 2016, people in a conservative Catholic country woke up to find Geraldine Roman, an openly transgender woman, had been elected to a seat in the Philippines’ Congress with 62% of the vote. In her acceptance speech, she said, “The politics of bigotry, hatred, and discrimination did not triumph. What triumphed was the politics of love, acceptance, and respect…. I’m elated, very, very happy. I’m also excited to work. I realize that the burden is bigger because the stereotype of people about the LGBT is we are frivolous, that we have nothing substantial to say, so I have to prove them wrong.” Another politician remarked his concern about which bathroom she would use while Congress was in session (Wall Street Journal).
Images of Trans: Framing the Way We See Transgender People
Figure 11.4. Courtesy of @LADLAD See centerfold for this image in colour.
Thailand Imagery and photography—a really important tool. Without the imagery, there would be no one who’s prepared to believe some of the violence that we’ve witnessed. —Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative The triathalon is hard. But hey, there’s a katoey in Thailand who can do it! We’re not limited to just being hairdressers or makeup artists. Being a katoey is not just about vying for Miss Tiffany’s crown or altering our body with surgery. Beauty lives within all of us. With confidence and a positive attitude, we can prove ourselves to everyone by showing our skill and potential. —Yutthapong Gul-oung interview from Bangkok Post, May 14, 2016
Chapter Eleven E
Figure 11.5. C Courtesy of Banngkok Post. Pho oto by Pornprom m Satrabhaya. See centerfoldd for this imagee in colour.
Yutthapoong’s photo appeared a on the t cover of the weekend Bangkok Post Muse Magazine, The T Weekly Dose D of Inspirration section n in May 2016, just inn time for Inteernational Day Against Hoomophobia (ID DAHOT). She is pictuured hard at work, w running g along the rivver, and as sh he points out, with nno makeup orr glitter, com mfortable withh herself, hap ppy to be running in thhe sun. She reeferences films that portray other Thai traansgender athletes—Beeautiful Boxer, based on the t true storyy of Muay Th hai boxer Parinya Chaaroenphol (20004) and The Iron I Ladies, bbased on the true t story of the 19966 Thailand National N Cham mpion Volleybball Team (2 2000)—to emphasize aan important difference. d Th hese films shoow transgendeer women using makeup to conveyy their feminiinity. She com mments on how h even though theyy are breaking with stereotypes as athletees, their portraayal relies on stereotyppical expectaations. “Somee people woonder why I have no
Images of Trans: Framing the Way We See Transgender People
makeup on when I run, and others think I’m here just to get guys. They only see us as acting all girlie and cute, chasing after men, and just being clowns for others’ enjoyment. And that’s still how we’re being portrayed in the media” (Bangkok Post, 5/1/2016). Thailand is a Buddhist country with a reputation for being accepting of people who are gender non-conforming, but the reality remains that transgender people continue to live in a landscape pitted with obstacles that deny their rights. This problem is exacerbated by the portrayal of transgender people as living outside the norm. When I began this research in 2014-15, because of its reputation as one of the main places people from around the world go to transition, Thailand seemed a reasonable source to gather information. I began by searching the web. Ladyboy documentaries—ladyboys being a rough translation of katoey, or slang for someone who is transgender—came up frequently, and Poyd Treechada’s name in particular was almost synonymous in Thailand with these images. She was the winner of Miss Tiffany in 2004, a popular beauty pageant for Thai transgender individuals aged 18-25. She went on to do product endorsements, from television commercials to spokesperson and model for designer clothes, which made her face synonymous with Thai beauty. In 2016, she is a well-known model, spokesperson, businesswoman, and TV and film actress. Poyd may well be the first transgender woman to star in her own television series in Thailand. However, in a documentary made in 2015 with Wesley Cho, she talks about how she always wanted to be a doctor. She worried no one would trust her, that she would always be seen as a transgender woman first, rather than a doctor. In one scene she is in a Chanel store and asks the salesgirl if she sees Poyd as a ladyboy or someone 100% woman. The girl answers without hesitation, “a 100% woman” (Sky Living). To be called katoey or ladyboy is pejorative; it ties one to a stereotype that carries a stigma of trans sex workers and marginalization. Poyd came from a financially comfortable home, and her parents were not happy at all when she began to voice her growing discomfort with living as a boy. At first, they told her they hoped she was gay, so she would not end up like those ladyboys out on the streets. Poyd was born in 1986. While some perceptions of ladyboys remain the same, Poyd’s work as a role model, along with Yollada “Nok” Suanyot—Thailand’s first openly transgender representative from Nan province, businesswoman, PhD, and founder of the activist’s TransFemale Association of Thailand—have brought visibility in new ways to the transgender community.
Figure 11.6. Yollada Nok Suanyot. Photo courtesy of the Bangkok Post. Photo by Somchai Poomlard/Bangkok. See centerfold for this image in colour.
Figure 11.7. Photo courtesy of QWOC. Yollada “Nok” Suanyot at a press conference in 2012 after her win in Nan province. She released this picture of herself on Hi5, a social media network popular in Asia9 (QWOC). See centerfold for this image in colour. 9
Images of Trans: Framing the Way We See Transgender People
Nok spoke of how her experiences helped to shape her role as an activist. When she ran for political office, she was listed as male. She had to serve jail time with a male population for entering beauty pageants as a woman, yet she remains a visible representative and spokeswoman. “Good laws protecting transexuals have yet to come. We’re still on the fringe. Look at me. My role in society is that of a woman. But the law recognizes me as a man. That doesn’t make much sense, does it? Perhaps we now have greater acceptance in society. But not when it comes to legal rights… so, if we’re jailed, we’re put in prison with the men. We can’t get proper health insurance. We can’t get married. We have problems travelling outside the country and trouble dealing with banks and government offices” (QWOC). In 2016, the Miss Tiffany contestants include people like Tongta Jamroenjai, public speaker on transgender rights and a teacher. She says she worked hard to overcome the prejudice surrounding her identity and to be accepted by the children and their families. In an interview in the Bangkok Post, she describes Thailand as a place where people’s attitudes towards the idea of sexual diversity have improved, but noted that homophobia and transphobia remain alive and well in the portrayals of transgender people as freaks, or as some kind of joke. She believes by showcasing the diversity of people’s experiences, making transgender people and their contributions to society visible, their stories can help change the minds of Thai people. “I want to prove to society that we, the transgender, are like any other people—we have dreams and aspirations, and we want to contribute to the betterment of society by holding jobs that make a difference in people’s lives” (Bangkok Post, 5/17/2016). On the one hand, I found younger people in Thailand who are coming of age in this new environment speak more publicly about sexual diversity. People in transition find work outside of the more typical sex and entertainment areas of the past. For example, several people in transition showed me photos of places where they work, openly transitioning, on oil rigs where it is possible to make good money for their surgeries. I found young people who have transitioned working as doctors, nurses, office people, salespeople. On the other hand, reports of sexual violence, prejudice, and discrimination continue to remain high, despite the image of tolerance there. At the time of this writing (2016), with or without surgeries, one cannot change the identity markers on birth certificates, drivers’ licenses, or passports. Activists like Nok have been working to change these laws, and there is talk that this will be coming soon.
Thailand has been an international destination for medical care, often at a more affordable cost than is available in many other countries. For locals, earning low wages due to discrimination, inexpensive hormones are often their best option. Complications can arise from this lack of choice. Sulaiporn Chonwilai wrote about “the vulnerability of trans people as victims of sexual violence…linked to social prejudice and homophobia because these people do not live up to traditional expectations of women in society” (Bangkok Post, May 17, 2016). Her article talks about the attitude of some who regard transsexuals as “an illness that needs to be cured.” Videos showing rape of trans people, forcing them to accept their womanly duties to become pregnant, make powerful weapons to convince people that it is not safe to be open about who you are, even in an “open” society.
What Science Can Show Us We understand transgender people exist, but we don’t understand who transgender people are. —Alla E. Dastiger, USA Today Many people have claimed that the difference between gender and sex is that gender is cultural and sex is biological. While this is true, this statement is too simplistic. Often times, the gender is cultural and sex is biological argument has been used to show that sex is binary while gender is more fluid. In reality, sexual genotypes deviate from the most common XX females and XY males to peoples who are XXY, XYY, XX males, XY females, and simply X, to name a few. Therefore, sex and gender are two discrete entities that are intrinsically interconnected in modern society not for just how people commonly view them, but by the fact that neither one contains a conventional binary opposition. —Nicole A. Jastremski, Biological Anthropologist
What science has known and the medical world has been dealing with for some time is that it is possible for people to have sex chromosomes that identify as one sex, but our sexual anatomy can manifest with the opposite sexual traits. Then we can ask, as doctors (and parents of children who are born with under developed sexual genitalia, over developed, or blurred/ambiguous sexual identifiers) have been asking: When we identify sex, what parameters should we use? Younger generations have shifted the conversation and are now asking a different question. Why do we need to identify sex? In classrooms across the globe, students are experiencing for themselves, often alongside their gender nonconforming or gender fluid peers, just what that means. They are learning the science behind just how
Images of Trans: Framing the Way We See Transgender People
fluid we humans are culturally, socially, and at the cellular level, that our genes, chromosomes, neurons, brains, and genitalia contribute to our identity through separate processes that do not always agree. Sex differentiation, under the western binary system, taught us that genitalia dictates a male or female identity. Researchers have been able to shed light on what has been for many a confusing issue if a person is born without the distinction of a particular set of genitalia, maybe missing or not well formed, recessed, or a set of both. We have learned that sexual differentiation, while occurring early on in pregnancy, involves two distinct processes: sexual differentiation of the genitals occurring during the first two months of pregnancy, and sexual differentiation of the brain during the second half, and these processes may be influenced separately. Younger, internet-savvy people are realizing that any system limited to two choices for sex, male or female, is an out-of-date system. Scientists are continuing to discover just how complex our gender identity and sexual orientation are, as these are programmed into our brain structures when we are still in the womb (Swaab and Garcia-Falgueras, 2009). Sex, biologists can show, is clearly better understood as a spectrum or, better still, a mosaic. During the intrauterine period the fetal brain develops in the male direction through a direct action of testosterone on the developing nerve cells, or in the female direction through the absence of this hormone surge. In this way, our gender identity (the conviction of belonging to the male or female gender) and sexual orientation are programmed into our brain structures when we are still in the womb. However, since sexual differentiation of the genitals takes place in the first two months of pregnancy and sexual differentiation of the brain starts in the second half of pregnancy, these two processes can be influenced independently, which may result in transsexuality. This also means that in the event of ambiguous sex at birth, the degree of masculinization of the genitals may not reflect the degree of masculinization of the brain. There is no proof that social environment after birth has an effect on gender identity or sexual orientation. —Swaab and Garcia-Falgueras
As Claire Ainsworth’s article about the need to redefine sex in the journal Nature (2015) details through multiple examples of gender expression on a spectrum and biological sex that sometimes cannot conveniently fit within a binary structure (i.e., the seventy-year-old man who went in for surgery when the doctors discovered he had a womb), asks, How do we fit this into a system that requires people to check only one of the male/female boxes?
Images and Education: Making the Humanity of Transgender Visible When asked about the transgender school rulings and changing the law, from a mom of a transgender school-age child, “You have to change perceptions and abolish fear and anger and insecurities.”10
Australia has chosen to show the faces, literally, of transgender students and the LBGTQI community. When surveys began to show how abuse and discrimination begin early in life, the Australian school system decided it needed to create a safe school environment. It also needed to make this accessible and visible. This meant finding a way that was based on the realities of students’ everyday experiences, and connecting them to the classroom curriculum. Safety meant learning to act in an environment where “80% of abuse and bullying occurs while young people are at school” (8). The first step was to create films incorporating real students’ stories, including non-stereotype gender diverse young people, into their curriculum. Teachers and students learn about diverse sexualities and genders. They learn that “normal” is something we culturally code into our society. They are taught to see how from an early age we are asked to choose between boys or girls, that the visual cues on restrooms, school uniforms, and team sports act to reinforce binary classification systems coded into our daily lives. They begin to recognize how a binary classification system privileges one group over another, and for all those who are outside of this system of classification, those who do not fit are considered not normal. In response, posters, pamphlets, new dress codes, and new sources of visual cues provide images to represent a broader range of experiences by students. Official actions identify and change these cues as they present a visible dismantling of the institutional and cultural barriers that work to alienate people from very early on. The hope is to educate people and make them aware of ways to combat violence and discrimination by identifying the ways these are embedded in the cultural and social systems. Lesson plans incorporate moving and still images to challenge stereotypes. Library books carry personal stories of young people growing up, and videos show contemporaries talking about their lives and experiences. Created by the Australian Safe Schools coalition and 10
Sonja Isger, “For Dreyfoos transgender teen, bathroom is not biggest issue,” Palm Beach Post, May 22, 2016, 1.
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endorsed by the Ministry for Education, the program encourages young people to feel comfortable in exploring and embracing their identity while learning to respect the choices of others. The plans teach teachers and students about respect for oneself, respect for sameness, and respect for difference. To learn about discrimination, they learn about choices when faced with situations where they either witness acts of or are victims of hate. 1 in 10 people is same sex attracted 1 in 25 people is transgender or gender diverse 1 in 60 people has an intersex body This type of diversity is a normal part of a range of human experiences and has existed in some form in societies and cultures throughout history. From the Australian Safe Schools program www.safeschoolshub.edu.au
Conclusion: Becoming Visible, Hypervisibility, and Do We Have to Answer with Our Bodies? Definitions of masculinity and femininity need to be expanded not narrowly defined. —Tiq Milan11
Images can provoke; they can reveal; they can provide cultural information. For Susan Levine, a visual anthropologist who worked on an HIV awareness project to educate people in South Africa, film was more than a way to collect data. She found visual media “shifts consciousness and behavioral practices,” while she examined “how these mechanisms can be used to stem the tide of discrimination and stigma …” (2009). With HIV education, resistance is an issue—resistance to discuss the disease and safe sex education, about the day-to-day realities, and to bring awareness. Earlier education campaigns used a skull and crossbones image to associate AIDS with death. Newer film projects such as Levine’s show positive outcomes using specific people’s life stories while living with the virus (Steps for the Future films). For Levine and projects like hers, the visual provides a way to show a local context, a link to the reality of people’s lives,. No longer seen as passive data, the visual carries agency, situating anthropology in the local experience. Images of transgender 11
Tiq Milan, interviewed on Breakfast Club.
people in the dominant media often focus on the sensational aspects, genitalia and surgeries in particular. Often the media associates them with entertainment and performing arts, and creates confusion around the identity of drag queen culture. Resistance versus acceptance to sex and gender diversity can make the difference between life and, in many cases, death. While visuals can work to exoticize, anthropology can use visuals to remind us about the realities that transgender people face every day. I think these mediums (images, videos, etc.) could do so much more to promote the correct understanding and not the typical stereotype so many people are familiar with. UK series “Boy Meets Girl” goes some way to help understanding in the correct way but there is not enough of this available to audiences who do not get exposure or opportunities to meet people who are transgender. I believe the current images out there do not help (XX Millennial).
Anthropology begins with individuals and explores their social experiences. By using stories and interviews, we highlight the implicit and explicit ways people within a group learn shared values and practices. What is considered normal or acceptable behavior is absorbed through observing our peers, our family, our environments. We also come to see as unacceptable or what is not normal as behaviors that fall outside of these socially defined boundaries. Social media platforms give us access; they enable us to join online communities and to reach wider audiences. Actor, model, advocate, and activist Hari Nef makes use of these tools. She embraces her identity as a transgender woman and symbolizes the many ways a life lived can challenge mainstream representations of womanhood. She uses her public presence to bring visibility to the transgender community. In an interview with IMG modeling agency, they asked about being a model: You know, Hari, IMG has met with transgender models in the past, but it seemed to us that they did not want to be transgender models. They wanted to be models—model-models—and weren't too keen on going up for jobs that brought attention to their gender identity. How do you feel about [that?]” — (Lenny)
Nef replied she would happily take “all of those jobs.” At twenty-two years of age, Nef signed with the agency to become their first openly transgender model. She has also gained recognition in the Amazon TV show, “Transparent,” where she plays Tante Gittel, a female character
Images of Trans: Framing the Way We See Transgender People
shown through flashbacks to Berlin, Germany, during the Holocaust. Her character started life back in 1933 as the male, Gershon. Nef’s public presence is everywhere, being interviewed online, on TV, in the New York Times, and in Teen Vogue. She keeps up on Twitter, tumblr, and Instagram. Wherever she has visibility, Nef brings the conversation back to issues of challenging the binary through the images and concepts embedded therein. Commenting on fashion, she said, “Fashion reinforces gender binary…unisex clothes are shapeless…an erasure of the body…. I see an erasure of identity regardless of gender… Clothes don’t break the gender binary. People do” (Fashionista, May 18, 2016). Nef’s advocacy is most compelling in a TEDx talk filmed at Connecticut College. Titled “#FreeTheFemme: The aesthetics of survival,” she railed against stereotypes versus lived realities. By stereotypes, she included some feminists who voice their disapproval of women, and trans women in particular, who speak out about excluding these femme experiences. Nef’s professional identity is wrapped up in imagery, but she calls on imagery, using hair, makeup, and nails, superfluous decorations for some, as making the difference for others in “getting jobs, making friends, and riding the subway home safely.” Do these details make us sell-outs or survivors? she asks. “Some of us need it. Some of us just like it.” Why, she asks, should one group’s aesthetics be allowed to dictate the exclusion or inclusion of others? When the aesthetics of feminist respectability exclude and erase the women who need—not just want, need—to give them up, then the aesthetics of respectability need to change.
She addresses the image of woman and what passing as a natural woman can mean. Access to hormones, clothes, and makeup potentially presents life-and-death situations for trans women of limited resources. Worldwide, a trans woman is slaughtered every three days by “men who are dissatisfied by our femininity.” Often these brutal attacks are carried out by groups of men, leaving the victim beaten to death. Nef cites the statistics in interviews, “transpeople…unemployed at twice the national average. In 32 states, you can be denied housing and employment on the basis of being trans…” (New York Times, 2016). Media not helping much except to perpetuate stereotypes (XX Baby Boomer).
We experience the binary, as Australia’s example so carefully pointed out, through all sorts of visual cues. I have touched on a few examples to show how images can reinforce or reveal the constructed nature of this thinking by placing a deliberate yet misguided emphasis on genitalia and outer appearance in general. How and where people experience these images and what we do with them is the realm of anthropology. In observing people’s interactions with images of transgender people, we observe the ways a binary construction promotes an idea of normal and not normal, where these contribute to an environment of fear, discrimination, and in too many cases to acts of violence. Just as Nef reminds us that patriarchy is real, it holds power, so too does anthropology acknowledge the very real power held by the concept of a binary ordering of humans. The binary concept of male or female as normal is not shared universally. Serena Nanda discusses the Filipino’s definition of human based on a binary that is inner, one’s heart, how one feels, and outer, one’s external appearance (2014, 82). The Western perception of binary as normal is part of the social apprenticeship, where we learn as young children to choose, clinging to some moral imperative, yet room for change is opening up. Public voices like Hari Nef's and others present alternative representations to challenge the mainstream image by reaching out to and educating people. Some countries include alternative identity choices in marking official documents. Australia, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, India, and now Germany and the United Kingdom offer alternative identity choices or they do away with these kinds of box markers all together. In an interview with the BBC World Service, Venezuela’s Tamara Adrian, a lawyer, activist, and first openly transgender Congresswoman, has been pushing to remove these categories from all official documents. "I've been saying for more than 15 years that gender as a legal category must be suppressed, because it is a way to deny rights or grant rights to male or female. Gender has the same effect that race or religion had in the past: there were two groups, one that was privileged and had rights, another that was underprivileged and didn't have rights” (2016). Images are not neutral, but can they make our lives familiar, make our lives strange? To paraphrase Nef, images don’t make or break who we are; they are not the authorities; they are the instruments people use.
Images of Trans: Framing the Way We See Transgender People
Figure 11.8. Courtesy of author
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Images of Trans: Framing the Way We See Transgender People
Nef, Hari. “#FreeTheFemme: The aesthetics of survival.” Presentation at TEDx Connecticut College, May 11, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0D9QIG36J9Q —. “Hypervisibility: Transparent's Hari Nef reflects on being a visible member of a marginalized community.” January 13, 2016. http://www.lennyletter.com/work/a223/hypervisibility-hari-nef/ NCTE National (US) Discrimination Survey. http://www.thetaskforce.org/static_html/downloads/reports/reports/ntd s_full.pdf Ruby, Jay. 2000. Picturing Culture: Explorations of Film and Anthropology. Chicago: U Chicago Press. Shattuck, Kathryn. “Hari Nef Adds Another Layer to Transparent,” New York Times, December 2, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/06/arts/television/hari-nef-addsanother-layer-to-transparent.html Sky Living. “Ladyboys Thailand Transgender TV Documentary, Meet the Ladyboys.” http://www.asset1.net/show/ ladyboys/gallery/about Swaab, Dick F., and Alicia Garcia-Falgueras. 2009. “Sexual differentiation of the human brain in relation to gender identity and sexual orientation.” Functional Neurology 24, no. 1 (2009): 17-28. Sylvester, Rachel and Alice Thomson. “‘Gender is irrelevant, why have it on passports or driving licences?” The Times UK News. Last modified 6 January 2016. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/uk/article4654333.eceMaria Miller interview. Thompson, Ben. “The Curse of Culture.” https://stratechery.com/2016/the-curse-of-culture/ “UK should 'degender' passports, says Maria Miller.” 2 January 2016. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-35214487 Degender passports “When One Mother Defied America: The Photo That Changed the Civil Rights Movement.” The Story Behind the Photo That Changed the Civil Rights Movement, Red Border Films, Time. http://time.com/4399793/emmett-till-civil-rights-photography/