explaining myself writing for the hell of it

The Civil Contract of Photography

I am reading this and it is difficult but also rewarding.

The Civil Contract of Photography by Ariella Azoulay
The Civil Contract of Photography by Ariella Azoulay

I am reading it because I am photographing other TRAs, creating portraits and having discussions about the experience of transracially adoptive/fostered lives.  I am not investigating tracing or tales of reunion with the unnerving prospect of Davina McCall and Nicky Campbell hoving into sight and engineering tearful reunions.  I’m after what the lived experience of being in a world that cannot recognise you as part of what you know to be your family without verbal and written explanations.

Azoulay focusses on citizenship, the implication of equality that this term has and the points where this notion breaks down.  Her central focus is on both the Palestinian noncitizens of Israel and women in Western societies.  She is extremely thorough and I am finding it a difficult read because of the breadth of her scholarship and my own poor understanding around many of the things she talks about.  However, the work is extremely enlightening as there are points of parallel with the experience of a TRA particularity in terms of the way the state views an individual and how this view is disseminated through the population who see themselves as citizens.

In her writing I am finding an unexpected articulation of experiences shared by transracial adoptees.   I am not trying to draw and equivalence between the life of most adoptees and the horrors of Intifada or ingrained misogyny in western society.  However, from the outset she zones in on the notion of citizen and non-citizen, of individuals with ideas of their own rights and position in what they would call their country and compares it with those other people who share the same land are subject to the same rules and regulations, but who are marginalised because all of the structures of the state which provides citizenship are restricted or entirely removed from the non-citizens because the state does not recognise them as a citizen.  This does have some equivalence with the experience of being transracially adopted, part of a loving family, treated as a member of this family, birthdays, presents, holidays, everything normal that you would expect, in the context of the family, but once, taken out of that context, then you become something else, subject to benign interest and dangerous hostility because according to the questioner, who is a citizen of your state, you do not properly belong where you most patently are.

Furthermore, as someone with a practice that is mainly photographic, this book has another pull.  Azoulay’s thesis chimes with my feelings about the savant photographer conjuring up the decisive moment with a shutter click.  She is more interested in exploring all of the participants in photography and identifying them as a distinct community and in doing so, unpacks so much that, again, I had never been able to articulate.  So it’s a hard but rewarding read and it’s giving me so much space to think in.

explaining myself stuff that matters writing for the hell of it

The Thin Black Line and the Broad White One.

I went to a talk between Lubaina Himid and Paul Goodwin at the Whitechapel Gallery last week.  They discussed three exhibitions she had worked with in the 1980s: Five Black Women at the Africa Centre (1983), Black Women Time Now at Battersea Arts Centre (1983-4) and The Thin Black Line at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (1985).  It was illuminating and more than a little  depressing.   One thing that got wedged in my head was how the exhibition at the ICA, deeply symbolic in a conduit between the big art stuff (ironically very small artworks by Richard Tuttle) and the bookshop, had been reviewed by Waldemar Januszczak who dismissed the exhibit as ‘angry’.   That is the same Waldemar Januszczak who I recently had a short Twitter exchange with on the subject of the Oriel College Rhodes Must Fall campaign.  He saw the idea of taking down the statue as censoring the past and likened the people who wanted to remove the object to the Taliban.  He called me idiotic for saying the comparison is idiotic but, regrettably, he didn’t answer my question as to whether it was also censorship for some post communist countries to have taken down their images of communist leaders and other socialist inspirational types.  I guess he was busy.

Anyway, at the moment, the admittedly entertaining Januszczak, is striding about various locations for his programme  The Renaissance Unchained  with what frequently looks like an empty suitcase (ha!) banging on about the marvels of  northern european painting sculpture and architecture that has been buried under the italian big beasts when it comes to discussing the art of the Renaissance.  He has a point.   I too love the intricacies of Durer’s Roller’s Wing and Cranach’s Adam and Eve, I’m glad he gets to push the viewer in their direction.  The thing is he is a determined revisionist and that rankles because of his obdurate approach to Rhodes’ statue which as far as I’m concerned has no aesthetic value whatsoever as it’s main purpose seems to be to make people  walk beneath the feet of the person who funded an important scholarship, placing no emphasis at all on the fact that this is a statue of someone who could be described as a founding father of apartheid.


writing for the hell of it

A travellers tale

I am not sure how many times I crossed the various borders in and out of Slovakia but most of the time it seemed to have been in the winter. What I do remember is the border guards attempting to destroy my old school British Passport twisting it hin and yonder in an attempt to make my real gypsy one fall out from its place of concealment. They never did because like many gypsy things, it was of course enchanted.

Central Europe inhabits a kind of fairy story hinterland in my head. A place of great forests, stony peaks, castles in lakes and bears and wolves. The seasons are abrupt and strict, summer’s summer, autumn is always colourful and one windy night will turn it into winter. Spring though, that one is quick shouty and very very short. It seemed they were decided on the flick of a wand, probably by someone in one of those castles on the lake. 

The band of mountains at the base of Poland and the top of Slovakia are not for observatories and science but questing princes and sagacious birds. Many a time I staired out of coach or train windows and saw the landscapes of Grimms fairytales which were a far cry from the soft and unexceptional Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire landscapes I know best of all.