Bird in a Cage

December 15, 2009

Two things I want to talk about. First, if you’re interested in being an art student, here is my critical piece of advice: stick to your guns and fight for your work. Today we were supposed to have a final showing of our thesis work before the winter break. It was emphasized that the work should be as final as possible. But when we arrived and displayed, the professors (one in particular) seemed to treat it as another crit.

After all the work we’ve put into this project, you expect us to make such drastic changes that you’re suggesting? I realized that this was (unintentionally) a real challenge to our art. Can we defend it? Can we stand by it? Because everyone’s a critic. Everyone has an idea of what direction your work should take, and how it speaks to an audience. In the end, you can’t make everyone happy, and you can’t change your work based on multiple opinions. I wish someone had hammered this into my brain when I started art school. And that’s my two cents.

My second bit is about my desire to leave NYC and be my own woman. I feel this has come into question more often because of my impending graduation. I have loved NYC with all my heart, but it’s time for me to move on. New York has stopped inspiring me. I want to do so many things and go so many places, and I can’t have anything or anyone hold me down. I can’t have someone or something tell me where to go or who to be or what to do. I want to live in Seattle. Maybe I want to try living in Canada, too. I want to work with numerous organizations and film festivals. I want to live in the Bay Area again.

But there are so many people I love here. I have connections here. I have a sweet apartment here. And if I leave, I can never have any of it again. NYC will replace me and forget me like yesterday’s headlines. There are so many people who want what I have, and I can’t decide if I’m willing to let it go.

But I’m tired of feeling like I can’t be who I want to be. If NYC doesn’t like me, it’ll chew me up and tear me apart. There are times here when I feel I can’t be an activist and an educator and a photographer and a baker and anything else I want to be. And it is at those times that I realize again that I can be all of those things, but New York will not let me happy that way. And I know there are people who are all of those things and more here. But NYC wants me to be a New Yorker or get the fuck out, and that’s not who I am. I don’t want to be a New Yorker. I want to be me, and most importantly, I want to be happy.

Decisions, decisions. I have to make dinner now.

To Do The Things I’ve Dreamed About

October 26, 2009

One of my pinnacle moments of realizing what beauty means to me was when I read this from Elaine Scarry’s On Beauty and Being Just:

Because the sky is equally distributed throughout the world – because its beautiful events are equally distributed – it will not be surprising if the population in large numbers, or even unanimously, agree that the beautiful sky should continue. Because most of its manifestations – its habit of alternating between blue and black, the phases of the moon, the sunrise and sunset – are present everywhere, those voting do not need to know that they will be beneficiaries.

I mention this because I have a fantastic story to tell that reinforced this idea, and reminded me how much I love the sky.

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Robert Mapplethorpe House: Day One

September 17, 2009

I just taught my first photography class at the Robert Mapplethorpe house. It’s very different from teaching high schoolers, but I think I’ll enjoy it. I feel I have less in common with them, but it makes for an interesting discussion. They saw the series Down in the Park by Yoshiyuki Kohei  in an issue of Aperture, and they thought it was horrible and that they shouldn’t be published or taken. It’s a good point: who wants to see these things?, though we didn’t explore voyeurism at length. Also looking at A Village Destroyed, some thought they could take the pictures, others said they wouldn’t want to. The ones who said they could do it said it’s because the story needs to be told. I liked that.

So far I’m excited because they seem excited. I think next week I’ll bring in a few more photo books (now that I know what they like), and hopefully we’ll start taking pictures. Hopefully.

Wander My Friends

September 4, 2009

I had a Twitter discussion with Alanna Shaikh regarding pictures she posted on her wall of shame. The ads, marketing, and ex-pat no-nos is fine. They bring attention to things that are wrong with development and aid work. She also had an image up of a child, who appeared to be a burn victim or mine victim or some other unnatural cause. I said it shouldn’t be up there because it only perpetuates the problem. Her response was that “someone needs to call that woman out” and “Re: gaze. My thought was the horse was already out of that barn.” It seems like a reasonable assumption. If the damage is already done – if the picture has already been taken – what’s the harm in posting it one more time?

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I’m Surrounded By Your Embrace

August 9, 2009

I came across this multimedia project titled “The Price of Sex: Women Speak,” and I’ve wanted to write something about it for the past week or two. Photojournalist Mimi Chakarova interviews and photographs multiple Eastern European women who worked as sex slaves after the collapse of the USSR. Usually I shrug off these types of projects because they’re isolated on the internet, and can only be found by those who are looking for it. But after I watched one of the pieces that illustrated Aurica’s story, I was in awe.

I wasn’t as shocked by her story of assault as I was by her story of escape. She fell off a balcony from six stories high, and broke her spine and pelvis. After spending two months in police detention, she was sent back to Moldova. U.S. Congresswoman Kay Granger met her at a shelter for trafficked women, and sent her to Dallas to have surgery done on her injuries. After months of rehab, she can walk now.

I can’t imagine anything I would want to escape so badly. These multimedia pieces successfully illustrate their struggles, as well as their achievements. I always heard about sex trafficking in the newspapers, and I watched it depicted in movies and TV shows, but these photographs and interviews create a different level of intimacy and, in some ways, respect for these women. I wouldn’t say the images are all individually strong, but as a whole, I definitely recommend you take a look.

It blows my mind that there is such disregard for women’s health and rights. We make up half the population – wouldn’t you think, then, that our rights would be a priority? How can people be so disrespectful and hateful and disgusting? I can’t believe that so many crimes against women go overlooked and uninvestigated. And I don’t believe it’s because the police and governments don’t know. I believe it’s because the pigs out there wants a piece of the pie, whether it be profit from such activities, or indulgence in their perverse desires.

Some day, women will have their revenge. (muahahaha.)


June 30, 2009

I read and responded to a great post on Good Intentions Are Not Enough regarding disaster tourism. I also read a post on Aid Watch about poverty tourism, and this great post on ignorant missionaries. They all make great points – people are not attractions for other people.

The origins of it probably date back even farther than freak shows and circuses. Susan Sontag addresses this issue in both On Photography and Regarding the Pain of Others. We enjoy gazing. Even worse, we enjoy gazing repeatedly at photographs. I think this is a point that all of these posts tend to undermine in their obsessions with tourism. People not visiting the regions or sites or countries are just as guilty when looking at photographs, aren’t they? And, by their arguments, are journalists just as guilty as the tourists? Granted, I’m new to this blogosphere/group of bloggers, so I apologize if they have already written about such issues. But I feel it’s an issue that has only been discussed in the photojournalism, photography, and media realms.

And in order for these root issues of development to change effectively, we would have to address the foundations of the problems, correct? I would say a majority of these issues are ignited via internal, international, and political warfare. All of these human rights violations – starvation, rape, health care, housing – are results of greater problems that very few individuals can address. While I agree with all of their arguments, these problems cannot disappear just through more thoughtful and educated donations and work. These are smart bloggers, and I’m sure they’ve taken these issues into account; however, there are times I have felt that they truly disregard these factors.

So if you’re arguing that international health care, development, and disaster relief depends on donors addressing the deeper issues, then we have to have faith in a greater international body of law. And if development will improve, the media needs to change. It’s the strongest influence on these greater factors, and it’s the only one that has greatly impacted these movements.

All Along the Watchtower

June 26, 2009

Film Festival went well, in case you were wondering. I love being around people who get excited about human rights and media, kind of like how JesseJack gets excited by zombies, dinosaurs, and the apocalypse; and in the same vein, I hate it when people say they’re into it, but in fact know nothing about it.

But on the other hand, I’m also making quite an assumption that I know anything about human rights, media, and international law. I seem to be alone on some of my theories and ideas, but I think that’s because I’m a photography major, and I’ve chosen the self-portraiture route. It’s not something I thought I would do, but like I’ve said before, it makes me happy. And happiness is the root of all human rights, isn’t it? Happiness and dignity? If I make myself happy, that’s the first step in a well-rounded, encompassing human rights education.

Blogs like Blood and Milk or Good Intentions Are Not Enough (don’t get me wrong, I love reading them) at times make me feel like I’m in the wrong, like I’m another individual contributing to the lack of movement, the lack of development, and the lack of mobilization. But then I think about all the things I’ve done – traveled and volunteered in Egypt, studied photography, interned for the Human Rights Watch film festival, worked for Art in Action – and I realize that I don’t care about doing much else.

I’m glad there are people fighting for ethical development and better health care. I wanted to be one of those people, but now I’ve realized that it’s not the fight I want to fight. If I had gone the route I thought I wanted to take – that is, become a photojournalist – I would’ve felt wrong. I would’ve felt ignorant. I know what I need to know, and I’ll continue learning. But when the day is done, I want to teach art and photography as forms of human rights education. Hopefully I’ll win the lottery or something so I can actually follow through with it.