Landscapes of Crisis and discussion of issues of activist photography

I am part of this 'Landscapes of Crisis' photography exhibition and discussion in Dublin this coming Thursday with three other activist photographers. As regular readers will know I started to take photography a bit more seriously a couply of years ago, mostly because of my involvement in pro-choice activism and in particular as it says in the notes below coming our of my experience of the pro-Choice meeting in Maynooth when other speakers were quite excited by the fact I'd a handful of photos from the time of the student struggles and the X-Case.  It was the anti-choice Youth Defencd march of the summer of 2011 that then pushed me into getting a 'real camera' rather than a good point & click  and once i had an SLR (Canon 60D) I discovered a growing interest in photography as a thing in itself.  

Even if my attempts at photography as a thing in itself rather quickly led back to politics when I accidentally booked a 'go and photograph old Ottoman buildings' holiday to Istanbul only to arrive for the most intense week of the Gezi park protests.  Two of my 6 photos at the exhibition are from Gezi park. The remaining four from the Rossport struggle against Shell also reflect the collision between art & activist photography but in the other direction as two of them are what would be conventional landscape shots that have been transformed by the presence of Shell compounds & security.  The other two directly address how the recording of images is used as a tool of intimidation.

To be honest I'm a little surprized to be part of this exhibition, it comes from the much smaller one the same groups of photographers did for the 2012 and 2013 Dublin anarchist bookfair.  That resulted in an approach from Sharae, the organiser of an academic conference to see if we might have suitable material to tie into a conference in Dublin, hence this event and the conference opening one the weekend before last.  

It's proved to be very interesting to observe what other people see in my images and I think I'm finally beginning to develop a sense of what my style of photograpy might be, a tendency towards an unreal / hyper real take on photojournalism style images that as a rule are meant to be untouched.  Thats stems from a belief that even unprocessed images are not 'the truth' but rather something selected to tell a story that the photographer has chosen to tell.  In the age of 10+ frame a second SLR's this is even more true than it was in the days of Capa.  Again if you follow this blog and my twitter closely you'll have seen me argue about the selction of images and the manufacture of particular images to create a false truth by the anti-choice movement in Ireland.  The camera lies, I think I like the sense of unreal in an image (introduced by very short or very long zooms, strange angles & focus or processing in post) to remind the viewer of that.

Viewing opens at 16.00 Thursday, discussion starts at 20.00. If you are in Dublin and intending to go do RSVP to the Facebook event so we have an idea of what numbers to expect.  Details below are copied from the exhibition handout.

Landscapes of Crisis Exhibition Notes

‘Ecology’ is not a specific part or form of crisis. It is a way of seeing the manifold expressions of the crisis today... Where does the social problem end and the ecological problem begin? -Jason W. Moore

Launching Cultúr Lab’s new “Eco” series, the “Landscapes of Crisis” exhibition sets out to explore artistic representations of the intertwined contexts of economy and environment, showing how cultural production can create new understandings of the lived, everyday experiences of “ecology” and “crisis.”

This photography doesn’t offer what we might think of as traditional or stereotypical representations of “environment,” “landscapes” and “nature.” Instead of pastoral countryside or green city parks, we’re confronted with urban-scapes in Dublin, with the sharp contrasts between gentrification and the hollowed-out, spectral zones of the housing collapse.

Likewise, in the photographic images of Corrib, Mayo, where Shell to Sea and the community have been resisting Shell’s heavy-duty pipeline project for a decade, we see images that contradict our expectations of the scenery of Ireland’s rural west. Instead of rolling green fields, meandering coasts, or purple hills, we see fenced-off beaches, fields bisected by giant corporate walls intended to block off views of what lays behind, and images of the private security forces and police who keep locals under constant surveillance and threat of force.

These are powerful images of the enclosure of the commons and of commodity extraction which are more a part of the contemporary experience of the privatization of nature under neoliberalism, than any landscape picture of alleged “wilderness.”

A very basic definition of neoliberalism might be that it is the stage of capitalism we are now in, which is characterized by on one hand, a push to de-regulate the markets, to strip away the welfare institutions and environmental protections offered by the state, and to seek to privatize and enclose more and more aspects of nature, searching for ever-new frontiers of profitable extraction—as in the case of fracking, oil, or water charges, for example, in Ireland.

On the other hand, neoliberalism is characterized by a paradoxical intensification on the part of the state of the regulation, discipline and surveillance of its own subjects, making sure they keep in line with austerity, take the cuts, don’t protest crisis too much, don’t seek to transform environments on their own terms.

As activist photography, the images today foreground power: the use of surveillance and force to discipline resisters, but also the potential of social movements to fight for the kind of environments they want to live in: environments of equality and plenitude, not austerity and scarcity. They portray the kids and families who remain behind in enclosed spaces, who continue to live and make meaning within environments in crisis, alongside a wide range of social movements and political movements which demand different conditions of life, whether in Ireland, Turkey, the UK or the U.S., as documented by the photography of Occupy and Gezi park.

This is all as much about “ecology”—the human inter-relation with nature, the politics of the making and remaking of environments—as a picture of a bucolic field full of sheep in North Roscommon would be.

All four photographers powerfully map social transformations of the environments in which we live—from the urban-scapes of Dublin to the fenced-off beaches and fields in Mayo—and ask us not only to see these landscapes in a new way, but also to act.

Sharae Deckard (UCD)

Biographies of Photographers

Andrew Flood first took up photography after giving a talk on the 1980s pro-choice movement. He writes, “When the other speakers reacted with excitement to my pictures from that time, I realized the importance of documenting protests and movements. What began as a project to archive and report from within struggles quickly blossomed into a love of the lens as a way of telling our stories to audiences that might not otherwise be reached.” His activist photography can be seen at http://www.facebook.com/WorkersSolidarityMovement and his artistic work can be viewed at http://www.500px.com/andrewflood.

William Hederman has been practicing photography since the early noughties, when he first became involved in radical social movements. Since 2005, he has been documenting resistance to Shell's Corrib Gas project. He observes, “Such conflicts tend to be presented and recorded in a way that suits the need of corporate power. It is imperative that these stories are told from the perspective of the resisters, and photography plays a powerful role in this. Images outlive the spin.”

Aileen O’Carroll believes in the importance of photographs as memory, as the documentation of ordinary and extraordinary struggles against power and domination. She writes, “As an organizer, I first became aware of how perspective shapes the narrative of the story. Is a photograph taken from behind police lines, looking at protesters or from within the crowd looking at the police? Do you only see angry young men or do you see joyful middle-aged women? Mainstream media represents protesters as the ‘Other’. I am interested in the ‘We’.” Aileen’s photography can be viewed at http://www.aaocarroll.org.

Paul Reynolds first began taking photographs around the age of 12. He explains his motivations as a photographer as a mixture of the artistic and the political: “Composition fascinates me. I'm still trying to understand what makes a good picture 'good'. The camera often ‘lies.’ But I’m interested in what it can reveal as well. In street and documentary photography I try to find contradictions or contrasts and use them to express my objective.” A gallery of his work can be viewed at http://flickr.com/photos/paul_reynolds.

 

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The discussion tonight, “Issues in Activist Photography,” will be led by the four exhibitors, Aileen O’Carroll, William Hederman, Andrew Flood and Paul Reynolds. It will set out to explore some of the stories behind these photographs and explore more generally the role of photography in political activism, particularly the challenges faced by activists who seek to document social resistance and political problems.

The viewing and discussion are open to all.

Many thanks to Marisa Ronan, from Cultúr Lab, and Ruairí O’Cuiv, from Dublin City Council, for supporting this event.

  


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