February 16, 2011

Did GWB predict the Middle East uprisings?

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 1:32 pm

Photographers who always have a small digital camera in there pocket might fully appreciate more fully the convenience of the digital camera if they had used a 4X5 Speed Graphic camera in college to get “grab shots.” These days the term “grab shot” will probably conjure up a hypothetical image of some boisterous conduct that gets posted on Facebook, but back in the day it symbolized a concept that was part of the Advertising vs. Photojournalism debate.

Henri Cartier-Bresson was famous for taking “candid” shots that were as dramatically different from the ones in the ads as were the stogy Hollywood films that used rear screen projection shots for car ride sequences and the same chintzy sets over and over again versus the “Johnny on the spot” newsreels that capture history in the making.

Photographer Bert Stern revolutionized photography by taking one photo of a Martini. He went to Egypt to take a photo of a Martini with one of the iconic pyramids in the background, for Smirnoff.

Back then, boys and girls, there were only a small number of darkroom wizards who could manipulate an image well enough to make it look completely natural. Today, through the magic of Photoshop, a college level student can whip together a photographic image that is both realistic and notable because it defies logic. The thought of paying a name photographer to take an all expenses paid trip to the Cairo area just to come back with an image of a glass full of booze and one of those “how did they do that” upside down stone cone buildings in one frame would be über-laughable. (Will the Internets make umlauts obsolete?)

About a year ago this columnist bought a Nikon Coolpix and has carried it everywhere. The fact that it is getting pretty beat-up brings to mind an opportunity to inject this bit of arcane and esoteric photographic nostalgia: Among photojournalists who had the black finish Nikon F cameras there was a bit of macho competition to see which photographer had worn through the black and was showing the most brass.

In the intervening year, we have taken approximately 7,000 pictures. In the old day, a roll of color slide film (We mourn the passing of Kodachrome) and developing would run a fellow about $10. Using the old rounding off dodge, that would mean (at three rolls per 100 images) 3 X 70 X $10 = $2,100. Whew! Did we save some major bread or what?

We could get a chance to maybe get a newsphoto in San Francisco on the night of Wednesday, February 16, 2011, but why bother?

In a perverse bit of logic, we would rather spend the funds necessary to get some images at this year’s installment of the 24 hour race for sports cars at Le Mans. At first glance that don’t make sense, but since the Internets is changing things (and messing with proper English?) it may hold up under closer scrutiny.

If a fellow was a newspaper photographer and his roommate was the sports editor, maybe he could go take photos of the Saturday night high school basketball game (the editor didn’t have to go because he could “call the coach Sunday night” for a story in Monday’s paper) in return for doing less of the household chores. It doesn’t mean earning any overtime but it does make sense, n’est-ce pas?

If a news photo isn’t salable and if the only criterion is personal satisfaction, Le Mans, here we come!

Here’s an added bit of rationalization: A photo of the local sports scene doesn’t have much appeal for use on a website specializing in national and international issues, but pictures of (hypothetical example) newspapers featuring a picture of an American politician on the front page of newspapers being sold in a Paris news kiosk, might.

(We did take some shots of a particularly promising pitcher at Santa Monica High, some time ago. Where did we file those old negatives of the Baseball’s Hall of Fame guy named Tim Leary?)

In the old days a “stringer” might spend the entire day trying to get a good B&W (Does Kodak still make Panotomic X?) photo and getting it to a wireservice and selling it outright for $25. These days if a photographer gets a photo of local interest [say a shot of the Mog truck from Oregon] he apparently can’t offer the same picture to two local competing Internets web sites. It seems that you can let one or the other use it for free, but not both.

Speaking of “things have changed,” does any young blogger know how to do a “hed count”? Why do newspaper headline writers prefer words with “l’s” and “i’s” over words with “w’s” and “m’s”?

According to a reliable source, the major league pitcher “Dizzy” Dean used to pause, while he was at work, and watch planes fly over the stadium. Idiosyncratic personalities with “a unique voice” were thought to be the promise of Internets democracy. As the corporatization of the web continues, the homogenization of the voices becomes more prevalent.

If a rogue blogger asks: “Did the turmoil in Egypt validate George W. Bush’s claim that invading Iraq would create a demand for democracy in the Middle East” will it call to mind the tree falling in a forest with no humans around? Even Conservative pundits may want to ignore that idea and hold it as a trump card to be played later in the game. Such as when it may be a part of the JEB strategy to promote the idea that Obama fumbled the ball and that the George W. Bush strategy for the Middle East was “spot-on.”

Heck, if the Egyptian military seizes power and props up a new dictator, JEB might assert that all that was Obama’s fault. That will come later, not now. It’s too early to bring that up.

Whoops! This is supposed to be a column about photography in the digital age. Pardonez moi, eh?

We did get a picture of a very intense conversation for the college yearbook using the aforementioned 4 X 5 Speed Graphic and we thought: “Who needs a Leica? (Isn’t it curious that the 35mm brand name is challenged by Word spell-check?) Henri Cartier-Bresson, eat your heart out!”

After college folks used to comment that the Nikon FTn was too heavy. Not after using a camera that used film holders, it wasn’t. However, it is rather convenient to have what amounts to a portable Sixties photo studio fit comfortably into the pocket of your jeans.

Someday, we may learn the html mumbo jumbo incantation necessary to make a photo appear in a column, but for now the best we can do is link to our photo blog.

Now, the disk jockey will play the song “Kodachrome,” the “Grand Canyon Suite” and “the Stripper.” (Will anyone realize that offset printing required stripping negatives?) Now, we have to take the Coolpix and go wander around aimlessly looking for some digital photo ops. Have a “regional split” type day.

February 1, 2011

Cairo & Katrina: A tale of two cities

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Jane Stillwater @ 2:12 pm

I just read an article by Chris Hedges, wherein he stated that the revolt in Egypt is a Muslim thing. I usually agree with Prof. Hedges on most things, but in this instance he is wrong. Sorry Chris, but the revolt in Egypt isn’t a Muslim issue. It’s a Gandhi thing. Yay!

Here’s what I’m thinking: In the last several decades the Arab world has witnessed how ineffectual its violent pre-1967 attacks on Israel were, how Arafat’s Fatah violence failed to stop the spread of Israel’s brutal occupation, how violent insurgency against the American occupation of Iraq turned out to be futile, how the insurgency in Afghanistan is such a bloody mess, and how Pakistan is getting chewed up and spit out by violence. Under these sorry circumstances, the Arab world’s violent protest against their Western occupation seems to have lost some of its charm.

And then along came a hopeful example — set by the obscure little farming villages of Budrus and Bil’lin, on Palestine’s West Bank. In these two small and inconsequential villages, poor and simple farmers were being tear-gassed, shot at, imprisoned, tortured and surrounded by a very ugly apartheid Wall. Their olive orchards were being stolen, their children were being injured and killed. “What can we do? What can we do?” the village elders asked themselves.

How could these simple villagers possibly fight back against the sixth-largest standing army in the world? They couldn’t. So instead of using stones and pitchforks against the intruders, they simply organized some non-violent protests against the injustice of having their lands and homes stolen by a gang of outlaws and rustlers driving REALLY big tanks.

And the next thing you know, the villagers’ plans began working! Whether Israel got tired of being shamed by the sudden negative publicity that it began to receive all over Europe or just finally got tired of tired of shooting at peacefully-protesting women and children, Israel’s occupying armies and tanks and fighter jets and what-have-you actually began backing off!

And the Arab world began taking note of this — and started to read up on its Yasu, Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

Always remember that there are many more people under occupation in the Middle East than there are people doing the occupying. And if you are gonna be nasty about how you occupy countries, then you’re gonna build up resentment. “Oh, that’s okay. Let them resent us all they want. No problem. We have guns and tanks and knives and torture kits and prisons. We’ll keep them in line.” However, that attitude only goes so far when you are stealing a whole BUNCH of people’s land, water and/or oil.

“Okay, Jane, you’ve made your point. I can see how non-violence might actually work in the Middle East. But how does Katrina fit into all this?” Well. I was just noticing that there is a similarity between what is happening in Cairo today and what happened in New Orleans back in 2005 — with regard to the tone and style of American evening news reports concerning both incidents.

When New Orleans first got hit by its disastrous hurricane and flood, American newspapers went out of their way to report NOLA residents as being uncivilized barbarians. Major news media jumped all over themselves talking about all the violent looting and all kinds of horrors going on there. But after the dust had settled a bit, it became clear that most of the victims of Katrina had been peaceful and helpful — and even that many of the shootings and atrocities there had been actually perpetrated by the police.

According to the New York Times, “The narrative of those early, chaotic days — built largely on rumors and half-baked anecdotes — quickly hardened into a kind of ugly consensus: poor blacks and looters were murdering innocents and terrorizing whoever crossed their path in the dark, unprotected city. ‘As you look back on it, at the time it was being reported, it looked like the city was under siege,’ said Russel L. Honoré, the retired Army lieutenant general who led military relief efforts after the storm. Today, a clearer picture is emerging, and it is an equally ugly one, including white vigilante violence, police killings, official cover-ups and a suffering population far more brutalized than many were willing to believe. Several police officers and a white civilian accused of racially motivated violence have recently been indicted in various cases, and more incidents are coming to light as the Justice Department has started several investigations into civil rights violations after the storm.”

So my point here is that this kind of reporting based on ugly rumors and “half-baked anecdotes” is apparently happening with regard to Cairo as well as NOLA. Also according to the New York Times, “Looters from Cairo’s vast shantytowns attacked gleaming suburban shopping malls, wild rumors swirled of gunfights at the bridges and gates to the most expensive neighborhoods and some of their residents turned wistful about Mr. Mubarak and his authoritarian rule.”

However, eye-witness reports surfacing on the internet reveal a completely different story. “Most of the thug types who are doing most of the attacks are prisoners who have been released by that bastard Mubarak in return for their services to beat up civilians…. You know about the secret service police guys who were citizen arrested at the museum and handed over to the army? You know so many of the protesters held hands, man, and formed like this long cordon around the museum so that these police pretending to be looters could not go in and destroy our history…and then they found out that these secret police guys were already inside and even damaged some Mummies. I mean people were so furious and they just handed them to the army.”

And as the true story comes out, I think we will find that most Cairenes have been non-violent and peaceful — and that they are simply peacefully protesting their lot, after having endured over 30 years of indignity and bondage at the hands of a brutal dictatorship financed by the United States.

The spirit of Gandhi truly has arrived in Cairo. And if you believe otherwise, just remember back to how the media happily spurred us on to think the worst of New Orleans residents as well.

Now all we have to do is to try to figure out who is going to benefit from us Americans thinking poorly of Egypt — as well as who benefited when we were all instructed to think poorly of New Orleans.


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