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Deep Copies and the Photographic Archive

In Focus has put up some of the entries for the National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest.  All are remarkable examples of natural wonder and artistic skill, and some are simply stunning.  One might ask, however, to what extent they are original.  Are we really seeing something new, or seeing with new perspective and insight, or are the photographs recycling images that, however lovely, are nonetheless familiar sights.  The leading image at the In Focus slide show provides a useful vantage on the question, for it is a double image.

MIrror wave

Beautiful, isn’t it?  It’s also a study of geological processes, and of photography as a way of seeing.  Now that we’ve exhausted my knowledge of geology, we can turn to the optical dimension.  A still pool of water mirrors the earth and sky above; one element becoming a reflective medium for two others.  Deep in the center of the image, a tiny figure stands and is reflected as well.  These double images model the actual photograph, which is the still reflection of what was actually in front of the camera.  Nature is copied inadvertently by itself (in the water) and then again and intentionally so by the photographer.  (I believe it was Shaw who said that human beings are nature becoming aware of itself.)  And the single photograph’s depiction of copying also can reflect its repetition at the National Geographic website, In Focus, here, and surely elsewhere as well, and with that the definition of photography as a medium of mechanical reproduction.

Which may be why we shouldn’t be surprised to have seen the image before.

Stone-Canyon

Sure, it’s not exactly the same, but take a good look.  Note the many formal similarities, right down to the single grey figure in the foreground of the second photograph and the background of the first.  Prop0rtions, colors, cropping, and the like vary a bit, but let’s not deny the obvious.  In fact, we’ve shown it before at this blog, but that is the least of it.  The second image has been publicly available, including on the cover of one of the photographer’s books and through charity auctions for environmental causes.  Even the comments on the first image when it was the Photo of the Day at National Geographic include remarks that it’s been seen before, particularly as desktop wallpaper; significantly, these are not criticisms, they don’t diminish the reader’s sense of natural beauty, and one comment leads to explicit admiration of the work necessary to get the shot.

Does this mean that originality doesn’t matter to either photographers or their audience?  Not really, but it does suggest that the question of originality is the wrong question.  First, we should consider that not everyone will have seen any given image before, including perhaps the photographer who took the more recent version, and that new viewers are coming along all the time; originality, like clarity, is not a product of the image or the text but rather a relationship between the work and its audience.  Second, allusion and more direction reproduction of previous work is an important component of fine art, and many fine artworks are studies in very similar subjects in very similar styles; originality is rarely the only value in aesthetic judgment, and consider also how judgment has gone awry when it was the only consideration.  Third,  multiple readers of a book by the same reader, or multiple viewings of a painting by the same viewer, are taken to be a compliment and not the sign of some failing; an artwork rewards revisiting because it is a distinctive (and reflective) encounter with its subject, and photography can do that as well.  Fourth, and most important, photography is not a public art, and its more casual attitude about originality is one mark of that difference; what needs to be appreciated, however, is how the high rates of replication are, although not without their problems, nonetheless a source of cultural value.

People don’t go to the Vermilion Cliffs Monument to see something no one has seen before; they go to have an encounter with nature’s beauty; something that may be a distinctively human response.  We don’t look at a photograph of the natural marvels to be seen there because we want to have a unique aesthetic experience, but to have one that others have enjoyed as well.  In place of the original, a copy; in place of the unique work of art, a community.

These habits are easy to belittle, and let me be clear that I think the world needs every kind of art, not simply those I would label public arts.  That said, the images above might merit additional appreciation.  Let’s think of them as Deep Copies: that is, as images that reflect reflection and reproduce reproduction, and do so elegantly, beautifully, profoundly.  Nor do they do so abstractly, but rather by showing how these processes for replication are part of something material, whether mineral strata being laid down crystal upon crystal for eons, or the social habits that continuously pass along human societies from generation to generation, or the imaging processes of the human brain as it creates consciousness itself.

And to see any of that, we will have to see the same image more than once.

Photographs of The Wave landform, Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, by Nicholas Roemmelt/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest and Jack Dykinga/Corbis-iLCP.

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Seeing War From Above

Aerial War From Above

Beginning with the American Civil War and moving forward to the present it is possible to find someone who announces that __________ war is “the most visual/photographed war” of all time. And for the most part they would be correct, at least for the time at which they were writing, as from the middle of the nineteenth century forward advanced visual and photographic technologies and the increasing mechanization of war kept pace with one another as two of the primary markers of modernity. The more important point, however, is that historically, advances in methods of visual surveillance and photographic technologies have frequently grown out of—or developed in intimate connection with—the modernization of the war machine itself.

We have seen this relationship in contemporary times with spy satellites, various stealth and smart bomb technologies and, most recently, the use of drone warfare. But the point here is to recognize that the association between visual technologies and warfare is nothing new. The photograph above is a case in point. What you are looking at is an aerial photograph of the Hill of Combres, St. Mihiel Sector, in the North of France. The battles have ended by the time this photograph was taken, but what it shows is an aerial landscape of thousands of craters created by four years of artillery and mortar fire set against the criss-cross pattern of intersecting trenches in which hundreds of thousands from both sides in the “war to end all wars” died or were wounded.

Aerial photography was not invented during World War I,  but it was developed and refined there as a way of enhancing map making and facilitating reconnaissance missions designed to record enemy movements and defense positions. Initially incorporated into its strategic and tactical planning by the French, by 1918 both the French and the Germans were taking photographs of the entire war front on a daily basis, producing nearly 500,000 aerial photographs by the war’s end, many of them employing advanced stereoscopic techniques that made it possible to measure the height of objects on the landscape. And in its own way, image making had become fully a part and parcel of the modern war machine.

There is no comfort in any of this, particularly as we recognize the fraught, parallel relationship between the development of visual technologies and advanced weapons systems that continues into present times. But then there is the photograph above which should stand as a reminder as to what such “advances” can produce. In its own way it is a memorial to the insanity of the “war to end all wars,” which converted habitable land into what has often been referred to as a desolate and “hellish moonscape.”  The point, of course, is not that the past is a predictor of the future, but rather that the photograph itself is not simply an image of what once was, but can also serve as something of a prophecy as to how the seeds of a tragic future are already planted within the present if only we are careful enough to pay attention and to see it.

Credit: San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive

 

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Sight Gag: An Age Old Argument

funny-old-argument-century-comic

Credit: Adam Zyglis

Sight Gag is our weekly nod to the ironic, satiric, parodic, and carnivalesque performances that are an important part of a vibrant democratic public culture.  These “gags” may not always be funny or represent a familiar point of view, but they attempt to cut through the lies, hypocrisy, shamelessness, stupidity, complacency, and other vices of democratic life.  Of course, we invite you to comment … and to send us images that you think might deserve a laugh or at least a wry and rueful look by those who are thinking about the character of public life today.

 

 

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When LIfe Follows Myth: Can You Name the Movie?

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The caption at the New York Times said, “Protesters claiming government overreach in Nevada paused to observe the national anthem.”  Which means it didn’t say much at all, except to tell you that the boys are not paying their respects to a fallen cowpuncher or to a good horse that had to be put down.

There really are only two ways to go with this anyway.  One leads straight into the news story and from there to the long, delicious, near-perfect opportunity for exposing the full extent of the stupidity, hypocrisy, and greed of the far right.  The caption’s reference to the national anthem points the way, but frankly, it’s been done.  Check out Jon Stewart or the comments at the Times.  There you can savor the many, many, many ways Cliven Bundy’s armed defiance of the rule of law on behalf of a $1,000,000 theft is wrong, wrong, wrong, not to mention flat out incoherent and crazy to boot.  That all needs to be said, of course, but it is being said.

Which leaves the other path, one that is cued by the picture itself and may involve a more empathetic response–not to Bundy or the other right wing opportunists, but to the ordinary folk who also are getting dragged into the story.  To start with photograph: I can’t help but see a movie still.  And not just any movie, but rather some archetypal though unnamed movie.  The cowpokes look exactly right, the empty vista rising to distant mountain peaks is just as it should be.  And other kinds of emptiness also are typical: no women, Native Americans, cities, highways, or any other sign of civilization and of American diversity are evident.  The trickle of water suggests the landscape is just barely liveable, and so a place for continual struggle–whether against the land, other inhabitants, or the government depends on the story.

This close correspondence with stock footage from the Western is all too revealing.   Sadly, the defenders of Bundy’s ranch are playing out their parts in a B-movie.  Unable for whatever reason to understand the facts or the law or their real interests–although their news source will have a lot to do with that–they are left with mythology to mediate their relationship to a difficult world.  Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s tough out there: the work is hard, the water is drying up, the towns are dying, ordinary people are struggling to get by on less disposable income and no job security, and the long term looks only worse yet.  Yes, they vote for the party that makes it worse, but that gets back to the mythology with which they are so easily manipulated.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m for full prosecution or Bundy and perhaps others as well.  I do think it was wise that the government avoided armed confrontation. ( I wish they would have been equally cautious in some other situations that come to mind involving, shall we say, urban settings.)  There is plenty that can be done down the road to enforce the law and thereby not reward anarchy, threats of violence, and stealing from the American people.  Even so, I keep coming back to this photograph.

Perhaps there is something pathetic about it.  If you don’t want to live in the reality based community, why not try to live in a movie?  But that’s not exactly an admirable response to what is a sad situation.  The title for this post suggests a comic alternative: finding the closest fit among the many possible movies could be a good game in the right crowd.  But that’s not going to do justice to the photographer’s art either.  It’s precisely because one can’t really see the photograph as an image of the present, much less the future, that makes it seem all the more depressing.  What may be a moment of reverent patriotism, however misguided, is also an image of the last cowboys mourning their own demise.  They’ll continue to work and to complain about the government, but given their cause, their ability to stand for something big is gone.

There may be another lesson in the comparison as well.  In many of those old Westerns, ordinary people were being bilked.  Often they would overcome terrible hardships and dangers to persevere in their quest for a good life, only to have it stolen (at least for a while) by some big operator or city slicker who often had the government in his pocket as well.  That’s why Chinatown is a Western, in case you were wondering. And while we’re at it, Westerners might want to reflect on why they were always portrayed as being gullible.

And so . . . here we go again.  The ordinary folks in the West are being swindled, but not by the US government.  (Without federal money and other services such as subsidized grazing fees, many of those Western states would go down hard.)  If you want to know who will be taking the money and then disappearing when the times get harder still, just take a look at those who are bankrolling the attacks on big government.

Like I said, we’ve seen this movie before.

Photograph by  Jason Bean/Las Vegas Review-Journal, via the Associated Press.

Cross-posted at BagNewsNotes.

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Dismantling Modernism in Bangladesh

Regarding the question of income inequality, JFK famously remarked that all boats rise with the tide.  But that was then.  In the global economy of the 21st century, it seems that low tide is the best some will ever see.

shipbreakers-hauling-winch-cable-890

These workers are hauling a 10,000-pound cable to a beached ship at one shipbreaking yards in Bangladesh.   The photograph is part of a story at National Geographic on The Shipbreakers, which documents the dangerous working conditions and high profit margins that are business as usual in Bangladesh’s maritime demolition industry.

These shipyards are not exactly case studies in either worker safety or environmental protection, but they are marvels of recycling.  Enormous cargo vessels are striped of everything that can be carted off, and then cut to pieces so that the steel can be rerolled.  You’ve got to admire the extent to which the market can motivate additional use of industrial waste, and generate income all along the redistribution chain as it does so.  At some point perhaps the margins are such that demolition would not be profitable, but obviously we are not there yet as business is booming.  And workers are getting poisoned, maimed, and killed.  Even if the country is better off having these jobs, it also remains poor enough that unionization is not a likely option.  Obvious questions arise about just how amoral capitalism should be.  Are we really supposed to believe that these men–and boys–couldn’t be treated better?  Data presented in the article suggest that the industry can succeed in other countries with better regulation, but for the most part the prevailing international attitude remains the same: let the worker beware.

Up to this point, this post has been following the line of the National Geographic story, and particularly its logic of documentary photography on behalf of social reform.  The photograph is their signature image for the story, and it serves the documentary purpose admirably.  But it caught my eye for other reasons as well.  It is more than another image of substandard working conditions.  The image documents something else as well: the shift in modernism from a utopian to a dystopian trajectory.

To see what I mean, think back to the many images we have seen of ships, buildings, and other marvels of modern technology.  There are at least three characteristics of most of those images that are pertinent here: the technological marvels are displayed when they are new, and as  engines of progress, and as if they are controlled by their designers and operators.  There are exceptions to this optic, of course, but these are examples of the occasional mishap–the ship that ran aground or the plane covered with fire retardant foam because it went off the runway–not metaphors of a global distribution of wealth and poverty.

Now look at the photograph again.  The ships are old, beached, and yet looming over the workers below.  Even in their decrepitude, they seem to be the masters, and the men on the chain gang their slaves.  That would be a mystification, of course, but it points toward another form of invisibility: the owners of the yard, who are the masters, are not seen here (or in any of the photographs in the story, which were taken despite the company’s ban on photography.)  Enough is being revealed, however: the muck that mires and tires the men, the long expanse showing the many ships and the sea that will bring many more (not the rare exception, but the new normal), and above all the sheer magnitude of the steel hulks, which clearly are worth more and objects of greater interest than the men below.

Ironically, the demolition business may be a triumph of sorts for modern economics, but the photograph reveals a larger problem.  Modern technologies and economic development are as powerful as ever, but the idea that progress will bring prosperity to all may now be only a myth.  An idea that is being dismantled day by day–and if not in your neighborhood, that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

Photograph by Mike Hettwer/National Geographic.

Cross-posted at BagNewsNotes.

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Seeing With Our Feet

Boston Strong2014-04-20 at 8.59.57 PM

Hopkinton is a lazy New England town in Massachusetts’s Middlesex County, population approximately 2,500 residents.  It features an annual Polyarts Festival, as well as a Fourth of July celebration that includes most of the locals, and a summer concert series in the town commons.  It also happens to be approximately 26.2 miles from Boylston St., Boston and so this morning—as on the third Monday of every April, a day also designated in Massachusetts, Maine, and Wisconsin as “Patriot’s Day” in commemoration of the Battles of Lexington and Concord—it will host approximately 36,000 runners from around the world prepared to compete in the 118th running of the Boston Marathon. Of course this is no ordinary running of the race, as it comes on the one year anniversary of last year’s tragic bombing at the finish line that killed 3 and injured 264 more, some quite seriously as indicated by the photograph above which shows one of the survivors participating in a Relay that traversed the course of the Boston Marathon this past week in an effort to raise money for children in need of prosthetic limbs

Photographs index an objective reality, and there is no getting around the painful and horrible experience of losing one’s leg in a terrorist attack.  Photographs do more than mark objective realities or the most literal of truths, however, and can also activate the imagination, inviting the viewer to see the world differently or anew.  Sometimes that is done by invoking a perspective by incongruity as when, for example, a photograph takes the view of a non-human animal appearing to pass judgment on its human counterparts.  Or at other times it can occur when a photograph emphasizes incidental features of everyday life that turn out to be quite significant. And there are many other possibilities as well.  One increasingly common visual convention relies on the trope of synecdoche, substituting the part for the whole (or visa versa), and thus inviting the viewer to imagine a scene as a matter of scale.  Think, in particular, for how the face becomes the representation of a whole body, or the individual can stand in for the collective.

The photograph above is a case in point, as it reduces a collective of individuals to their feet—and more, to the shoes that they are wearing.  The ersatz patriotism displayed on the shoes in the foreground and worn by the most obvious of victims is pronounced, and so we cannot not ignore it, but it should also be noted that no one else seems to have coded their footwear with their politics, or at least not so explicitly and boldly.  And indeed, the longer you gaze at the photograph the more it becomes clear that the shoes in the foreground call attention to themselves precisely because they are so pronouncedly performative.  Appearing to stand at attention, they indicate the (undoubtedly justified) pride and motivation of the person wearing them, but it is the distinct, multi-colored shoes—all running shoes to be sure—of everyone else that define the collectively that has congregated.  And note how they all appear to be moving in different directions and yet don’t seem to get in the way of one another. They are something of a community, perhaps all committed to the mantra of “Boston Strong,” but they are also not driven by an overwhelming stylistic uniformity that demands anything like a stultifying unity.

What are we to make of that?  If all we see here are a set of feet, there might be little to say.  But if we stand back for a moment and see with the feet then we can acknowledge how the photograph activates a traditional way of thinking about politics—the body politic—as it has been adapted to the conditions of public representation: the body politic appears to be fragmented rather than totalizing, realistic rather than idealized, and provisional rather than essentialist.  Put differently, in its fragmented, dismembered form we are seeing a body politic that is no longer whole yet still quite active. Perhaps this part-for-whole image of the bodily fragment signifies the distributed body of modern social organization, and in particular the pluralistic body of modern civil society.  “Boston Strong” may be an effective rallying cry, but it is the rhetoric of bodily experience that here eschews facial recognition and ultimately finesses one of the primary problems of contemporary society, i.e., the problem of the inclusion of difference.  Note in particular how even the affective presence of the prosthesis and its “stand at attention” pose that mimics so many photographs of wounded soldiers, is ultimately mitigated by the overall scene of the image as such difference itself is elided and ultimately accepted as one part of the community.  Perhaps this is what “Boston Strong” is all about.

The standard convention in photography is to focus on people’s faces, or of people looking at one another and communicating with one another. And yet even these common and standard conventions of photographic representation rely on photography’s inherent fragmentation of perception, always only showing a sluice of what there is to see.  Photographs of fragmented and disembodied feet, such as the image above, are not as rare as you might think, although I doubt you will find very many of them in your family photo album; when they do appear, however, they often function imaginatively to disrupt our most common and taken for granted ways of looking at the world.  And if we are willing to see with such images they just might serve to help us to reflect on how the ways in which we see and are seen as citizens are fundamentally and characteristically plagued by problems of fragmentation, separation, and the pathos of communication.  And maybe, sometimes, they might even help us to imagine new and different futures, as say a world in which community is not reduced to unity.

Credit:  Bryan Snyder/Reuters (Note:  For a fuller consideration of our take on the convention of photographing hands and feet see “Hands and Feet: Photojournalism, the Fragmented Body Politic and Collective Memory” in Journalism and Memory, ed. by Barbie Zelizer and Keren Tenenboim-Weinblatt.  New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.  131-47.)

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Sight Gag: Ready, Aim … Click

Camera gun

Credit: Anon (With Thanks to Saul Kutnicki)

Sight Gag is our weekly nod to the ironic, satiric, parodic, and carnivalesque performances that are an important part of a vibrant democratic public culture.  These “gags” may not always be funny or represent a familiar point of view, but they attempt to cut through the lies, hypocrisy, shamelessness, stupidity, complacency, and other vices of democratic life.  Of course, we invite you to comment … and to send us images that you think might deserve a laugh or at least a wry and rueful look by those who are thinking about the character of public life today.

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Conference on the Visual Culture of the News

Timby_Fig1_newsstand

Getting the Picture: The Visual Culture of the News

Visual Studies Research Institute/University of Southern California

May 4-5, 2014

 Few would dispute that the news picture, whether static or moving, photographic or autographic, is one of the most ubiquitous, powerful and controversial kinds of images today and that there is a long and complex history of the news picture still to be analyzed and explained. This two-day, interdisciplinary workshop — which includes scholars in fields ranging from art history and history to English, comparative literature, and communications — seeks to classify and comprehend those pictures that are news.

Papers will be pre-circulated for all participants to read. During the workshop, speakers will briefly summarize their papers before the floor opens up for group discussion. To participate and receive access to the papers, please RSVP to vsri@usc.edu.

The conference home page is here.  You can see the program here.

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Images of Spring: Prettiness or Presence?

The slide shows now contain photographs of cherry blossoms, crocuses poking through the snow, and other Scenes of Spring.  The images are as predictable as the return of the season.  And perhaps just as welcome to many people.  (It snowed where I live yesterday, so I’m more than ready to see things bloom again.)  You won’t see many of those images being held up as models of Engaged Photography, however.  And that may be, if not a mistake, at least a missed opportunity.

Spring forest

This photograph is a wonderful image of spring, and we could just leave it there.  Let me use it as a case in point, however.  On the one hand, it is easy to disparage the image: It is merely pretty and so caters to “aesthetic consumerism”; it is a brief glance at a distant place seen without commitment, and so a form of “tourism” that sets up “a chronic voyeuristic relation to the world”; instead of bringing us closer to the world, it “anesthetizes” us to the real feelings of direct experience and contributes to “a depleted sense of reality”; instead of prompting artistic engagement or thoughtful reflection, it makes “distinctive and vivid artifacts out of cliches” and is “the most irresistible form of mental pollution.”  (If you guessed that all of the quotations came from Susan Sontag, you would be right.)

On the other hand, that’s not exactly a generous attitude toward either the medium of photography or the world it depicts.  Frankly, those are not the first trees or flowers that I’ve seen, so claims about a glancing encounter need to be recalibrated against the shared experience of a common world that is part of the context–and contribution–of photography.  And the fact that a stock image is being recycled needs to be put in the context of the cycles of nature: photographs, like flowers, may be following deep patterns of repetition but are no less remarkable or welcome for that.  And so it goes: the arguments can be dismantled, but sadly the attitude too often remains–and, we should add, is recycled as much as any other cliche.

So why don’t we take a breath and look at the photograph again?  You are looking at Bluebells carpeting a forest near Halle, south of Brussels, Belgium.  Doesn’t it elicit a sense of wonder: say, that natural beauty could be at once so delicate and so profuse?  (Philosophy begins in wonder, according to Plato.)  I think it offers something more as well: a sense of immanence, that is, of how the world is suffused with an abundant indwelling of energy, divinity, call-it-what-you-will: something that is beautiful and sustaining, a presence beyond understanding, beyond representation, that nonetheless suffuses all of reality.

Photography always can be faulted for mediating experience that could otherwise be apprehended directly.  (Philosophical arguments remain, but let the point stand in terms of relative levels of everyday experience.)  But it also can make us aware of what eludes attention precisely because it is so much a part of our experience of the world.  A sense of presence, for example.  Something that is offered to us every spring, and every time we look at a photograph.

Photograph by Yves Logghe/Associated Press.

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“… My Kingdom for a Drink of Water”

Water, Water, Water ...

Yes, I know, the quotation from Shakespeare’s Richard III concerns horses and not water, but then there was a time when horses were scarcer than water and at least arguably more important to survival.  Those days are gone. And we didn’t need the most recent report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to make the point or to underscore its importance.  Such reports have been made over and again in recent years indicating that water shortages are accelerating throughout the world as patterns of industrial and agricultural usage are increasingly polluting both ground water and the water table, and consumption is outstripping renewable sources at progressively alarming rates. Nor is the problem one that is only taking place in underdeveloped regions or nations, as those living in California or West Texas can immediately and readily attest.

The photograph above is not from California or West Texas, but shows those living on the southern bank of the Yangon River in Myanmar using paint cans to collect drinking water during the annual dry season in which water shortages have led to the drying up of the reservoirs, forcing local elders to create rationing systems.  And yet, while it is not California or West Texas it is not all that difficult to imagine how it could be in the altogether near future—or perhaps one of the other 34 states that the GAO anticipates will face water shortages in the near term.  To get the point one needs to avoid focusing on the bare feet and rusted out paint cans that have been repurposed as water containers, let alone the brown skin, all of which underscore something other than a first world experience, and concentrate instead on how the photograph directs attention to the way(s) in which the need for water dominates everyday life in an otherwise visually indistinct location.  There was a time when we would look at photographs of exotic locations and imagine that “their present is our past”; what we see here, however, is the way in which water is the great leveler that perhaps predicts that their present is our future.

The photograph did not receive much attention in the national media.  I found it in a “pictures of the day” slide show at the Seattle Times nestled between images of a moving sculpture at a music festival in California and men warming themselves at a fire near the barricades at a Ukrainian security office proximate to the Russian border.  As one more sluice of life incidentally contrasting the hardships of life “there” to the fun and festivities of life “here,” it would be altogether easy to miss, or merely to glance past without paying too much attention to it. Indeed, there was a time, not so long ago, when photographs of this sort would show up in places like National Geographic where readers would be encouraged to view the “present” of indigenous people in such exotic locations as “our past,” the assumption being that one day they too can experience the progress that modernity promises; here, however, it would seem that their present is cast as “our future.”  Or more to the point, it is a future that is already present without our clear recognition of it.

What makes the photograph all the more poignant is not just the way in which it serves as a kind of foreboding prophecy, but more, as it functions as something of an allegory for how to imagine the very problem of water shortage itself.  Note how the scene underscores the necessity of performing a careful balancing act, both socially and environmentally, to make the system of water recovery work. More to the point, note in particular not just how feet and hands strain so as to maintain equipoise on the balancing beam, but also how both participants need to coordinate with the other so as to avoid disrupting the overall ecology in which each operates. Whether or not we can actually adjust our contemporary patterns of resource usage and consumption so as to effect a sustainable world is open to question. But it will take effort and strain, and surely the appeal to “balance” that makes this system appear to work is more than worth the effort; indeed, it seems altogether necessary.

The bigger point, of course, is that solutions to such problems are right before us if we are willing to see them.  And photographs such as this, however subtle or otherwise hidden within the visual landscape, can serve as a powerful optic to help us do just that.  Look.  See. Engage.

Credit:  Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP

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