THIS one goes out to all my creative, shutterbug, artistic friends and family.
1. The New York Times had an arresting photo essay this week on children’s bedrooms around the world. As much as I love looking at pretty pictures, my favorite kind are the ones that tell a story. The story that documentary photographer James Mollison is telling in his new book, Where Children Sleep, is one of stark contrasts, between the little girl in Tokyo and her bedroom crammed with toys stuffed together on floor-to-ceiling shelves, and the four-year-old boy in Romania whose bedroom is a mattress on the ground on the outskirts of Rome. He shares the mattress with the rest of his family. The Times article that accompanies the images says:
Mr. Mollison’s new book, “Where Children Sleep,” had its origins in a project undertaken for a children’s charity several years ago. As he considered how to represent needy children around the world, he wanted to avoid the common devices: pleading eyes, toothless smiles. When he visualized his own childhood, he realized that his bedroom said a lot about what sort of life he led. So he set out to find others.
(The New York Times generally does stunning photo essays and multimedia features. I recommend poking around through those sections here and here.) Mollison lets his subjects tell the entire story, contrasting their portraits with visuals of their bedrooms. The children are photographed against a white background, allowing the entire focus to be on the child. (Kinda reminds me of a portrait photographer we studied at my media program in Bombay, August Sander, whose stark black-and-white pictures of ordinary people in the Weimar Republic revealed so much. I have hazy memories of piercing eyes, a stern man standing stiff and posed, an elegant dog in the foreground, stairs to the house at his back. Before seeing Sander’s images, I had thought that posed photographs could never be truthful; one needed to capture the image when the subject was free and in his or her natural environment, unaware of the camera’s steady gaze, but his beautiful photographs convinced me that even our poses give us away. In an article on the Minnesota Public Radio website, the author quotes Martin Weinstein of the Weinstein Gallery: “For me what makes him a great photographer is the truthfulness of the portraits, the directness of the portraits,” says Weinstein. “It’s his attempt to not induce any type of emotion. Very few of the pictures are taken where people are laughing or smiling or making facial expressions.”)
That was a looonng aside. Going back to the portraits of children’s bedrooms, I wanted to mention another portrait that I saw recently. It was not a photograph, but the film Stanley ka Dabba, made by Deepa Bhatia and Amole Gupte, the husband and wife team behind the fantastic film about an autistic child, Taare Zameen Par (before it was hijacked by Aamir Khan). I’m not going to review it here—though I loved it and recommend it highly—but want to say that the tension in the film is created by the lack of Stanley’s bedroom. If in Mollison’s photographs we get a sense of the children, their lives, their families, their homes, and their interests from the bedrooms, in the film Stanley ka Dabba the filmmaker’s deliberate secretiveness about Stanley’s personal space is just as telling. (Go see it to find out what I mean by that.)
2. I recently discovered iPhone photography, using a free app on my phone called Instagram. I hear that the paid app Hipstamatic is even better. From Foreign Policy‘s recent five-part photo series on the war in Afghanistan, with all the photographs taken with an iPhone and edited using Hipstamatic, I am mighty impressed.
Speaking of bedrooms, check out this lovely contrast between, on the left, refugee children peeping inside a makeshift house at the Charahi Qambar refugee camp on February 27, 2011, and on the right,Daniel Gretebeck, 21, from South Lyon, Michigan, rests on his cot at Forward Operating Base Minden, Helmand province, on October 31, 2010. Photographs by Balazs Gardi.
Here’s another of my favorites, from the fifth part in the series, See No Evil, by Omar Mullick, of Rahmatuallah Rahmani, who lost most of his family and children in an air strike in Helmand province sits at the mosque in the Charahi Qambar refugee camp on the outskirts of Kabul. There’s a kind of a haze that prevents us from seeing the two men clearly. It may be a function of the fact the picture was taken with a camera phone but it suits the mood perfectly. It feels like a cloud of grief that separates this man from us; his experiences are so terrible we cannot, from our privileged standpoint, even imagine what he feels.
3. The same magazine has an interesting collection of images of visual art from Egypt: graffiti, performance art, public cinema, poetry, and more. One of my favorites is Tahrir Cinema. The author writes, “Recently, a group of filmmakers has been putting on ad hoc screenings in Tahrir Square, dubbing the series Tahrir Cinema. Lindsey writes, ‘[Filmmaker Lara Baladi] provided a projector and a screen; a passerby volunteered to get a mat for the audience to sit on; electricity was jury-rigged from streetlights. And soon hundreds of people were sitting, entranced, watching footage from the revolution that various amateur and professional filmographers contributed.’”
And then there’s this mural of a menacing tank heading toward a boy on a bicycle. Learn more about the collective artwork here.
But what I want to leave you with is not an image but some words. A poem by Kareem Abdulsalam, part of his collection, Teargas Poems. I saw it on the website Jaddaliya.com.
4. What Comes From a Cop
Boxes of perfected fear.
We thought they were divine creatures come to crush us
as native Americans first looked at horses.
We thought death itself sprang from them.
Went up in flames
And the policeman inside struggled against the tongues of fire
Fought against fear.
When we rescued him,
He joined the rebellion.
4. This week is Shark Week on Discovery Channel, as I’m sure you know from the incessant ads on TV. As much as I dislike the sensationalism of the shows (some of them, at least)—if you’re trying to educate the public and raise awareness about these beautiful creatures, why use the image of a surf board with a bite taken out of it by some presumably confused shark as a recurring logo?—I love shows about sharks in particular and marine creatures in general. Some shows are better than others (some are quite bad, with soap opera-ish narration and melodramatic soundtracks) so pick your viewing judiciously. But ever since I observed great white sharks off the coast of South Africa last year, I have been fascinated by them.
Far from the man-eating monsters they are sometimes portrayed to be, they are actually the ones hunted by humans. According to “Man Bites Shark:”
While we might be alarmed at any indication that sharks are showing up in different places or biting into more and more humans, they’re far more vulnerable to us than we are to them. There have been only two recorded shark attacks in Massachusetts waters since 1670, but commercial fishing has decimated the area’s spiny dogfish shark population in recent decades. Since the 1970s, the numbers of scalloped hammerhead and tiger sharks have fallen by 97 percent along the U.S. East Coast, with bull, dusky, and smooth hammerhead sharks declining by as much as 99 percent. In the Mediterranean Sea, researcher Francesco Ferretti and his colleagues found that fishing has decimated large, predatory sharks over the past two centuries. Looking at the activities of the 21 countries that use the Mediterranean as their fishing grounds, they concluded the species that fared the best, blue sharks, declined 96 percent during that time, while hammerhead sharks declined more than 99 percent.
And according to Traffic, a site which monitors wildlife trade:
The top 20 shark catchers account for more than 640,000 tonnes annually, nearly 80 percent of total shark catch reported globally. The top 10, in order, are: Indonesia, India, Spain, Taiwan, Argentina, Mexico, Pakistan, United States, Japan, and Malaysia.
I had no idea that India contributed to the decline of shark populations! Another random fact: there’s more likelihood of being injured by a toilet than a shark.
The Florida Museum of Natural History’s International Shark Attack File reports that in 1996 there were 43,687 injuries related to toilets in the United States and only 13 shark-related injuries and deaths. That means the odds of actually dying from a shark attack that year were 1 in 3,748,067.
See a great series of shark pics here. (If you’re interested in learning more about marine life, check out this National Geographic article from 2005 about orcas, more commonly known as killer whales, which share lots of traits in common with us! The are a highly social kind of dolphin with distinct cultural habits, such that orcas in one community will not behave in the same way as orcas from a neighboring community. They have families, called pods, and extended families, called clans. And sadly, they are showing increasing levels of toxic contamination from PCBs or Polychlorinated biphenyls, which disrupts reproduction and does all sorts of damage. It’s worth a read.)
And because I’m an inveterate dog-lover and can’t resist pics of cute canines, here’s an adorable collection of pooches by Carli Davidson caught post-bath while they are in the middle of shaking themselves violently to fling the clinging water droplets off off off them! Go on to her site to see the full Shake series, but here’s a teaser:
On that note, happy weekend all!