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Muecke | Pam

Contingency in Madagascar By Stephen Muecke and Max Pam

Contingency in Madagascar

Not since Walker Evans and James Agee collaborated on Let Us Now Praise Famous Men to expose the poverty of the Great Depression in West Virginia, have a photographer and a writer worked together with such vitality. Madagascar is one example of today’s global poverty. Rather than mourn what this country lacks from a safe critical distance, Muecke and Pam aim to strengthen its connections with their art, making words and images move as they travel this unique country. Storytelling and intimacy conspire in the magic of the street theatre that is the contingent encounter. Here one’s participation is already loaded; any engagement involves risks of thought or of feeling. One might be touched by the event unfolding, wonder what gives one the right to be there, and then how to shape the response. Pam and Muecke work with an aesthetic of the glimpse; fleeting encounters with wisdom and beauty. “No matter how artful the photographer, no matter how carefully posed his subject, the beholder feels an irresistible urge to search such a picture for the tiny spark of contingency, of the Here and Now, with which reality has seared the subject; to find the inconspicuous spot where in the immediacy of that long-forgotten moment the future nests so eloquently that we, looking back, may rediscover it.” Walter Benjamin Stephen Muecke is Professor of Writing at the University of New South Wales. His latest book, Joe in the Andamans and Other Fictocritical Stories was shortlisted for the Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature in the Innovation Category. Max Pam teaches photomedia at Edith Cowan University. His numerous books have presented a ground-breaking vision of Asia, Africa and the Indian Ocean.

ISBN 978-1-84150-402-5

9 781841 504025

The Critical Photography series editor Alfredo Cramerotti is a writer, editor, curator and artist based in the UK.

intellect |

Contingency in Madagascar


By Stephen Muecke and Max Pam

a note from the editor to the reader From the Middle Alfredo Cramerotti, Editor, ‘Critical Photography’ series Learning by doing, they say. Yes, but I learn a great deal also by thinking over and forming in my head the very idea of doing. I constantly negotiate what I have preconceived and what I actually do and consequently learn from both processes and the discrepancy between them. This is precisely what Contingency in Madagascar attempts to reveal to the reader. It is not a matter of exotic imagery or travel photography, but something else altogether. By implying that I am always implicated in what I do, no matter how hard I try to detach myself, neutralise my gaze, make myself invisible, this book places its authors, readers and myself, as editor, in the middle of a life drift: that is, the images capture the past and the future, in the present – less a case of trying to understand things from the beginning or anticipating a possible future from which to work things out retrospectively, more about placing ourselves in the middle of the stories and going with the flow, in one direction and then another, like life. Despite my best efforts to plan my existence, I know I will never succeed; any attempt to plot life will always be foiled by fate.


In fact, the best way to explore an idea is to run alongside, rather than to take a snapshot, which often freezes and stultifies instead of offering an ongoing experience. As a medium, photography, at its best, is capable of reflecting on itself; not many activities and practices can do it. Sometimes I do not have enough information to gauge a situation or a potential narrative, so my cultural background makes up the missing connections. In this way, I can share with the readers the responsibility and the weight of that space/time situation to hold and evaluate, for a while. And little matters if I find the image equivocal; it is life itself and the reality in which it is lived that are just as equivocal. Learning by doing, they say. And sharing all the incongruities along the way. Alfredo Cramerotti | Mostyn|Wales | eCPR European Centre for Photography Research, University of Wales, Newport

Contingency In Madagascar  

Copy and cover of the book part of the Critical Photography series, curated by Alfredo Cramerotti. "Contingency in Madagascar", by Stephen M...

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