ISSUE 1 2011
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PUNCTUM NETWORK AFGHANISTAN REZA DEGHATI BANGLADESH SHAHIDUL ALAM CHINA WANG CHUNCHEN CAMBODIA CRISTIAN CAUJOLLE INDIA SUVENDUU CHATTERJEE INDONESIA ALEX SUPARTONO IRAN NEWSHA TAVAKOLIAN JAPAN HIDEKO KATAOKA KOREA BOHNCHANG KOO PAKISTAN TEHMINA AHMED PHILIPPINES VJ VILLAFRANCA SINGAPORE LISA BOTOS TAIWAN SHEN CHAO LIANG
CONTENTS EDITORIAL STATEMENT
SOUTH KOREA Photographer Suyeon Yun Curated by Bohnchang Koo
OUR FACE ASIA
JAPAN Photographer Ken Kitano Curated by Hideko Kataoka
SALT WATER TEARS
BANGLADESH Photographer Munem Wasif Curated by Shahidul Alam
TAIWAN Photographer Po-I Chen Curated by Shen Chao-Liang
VIETNAM Photographer Loan Nguyen Curated by Christian Caujolle
BIRTH FOR WAR
AFGHANISTAN Photographer Massoud Hossaini Curated by Reza Deghati
MARCOS CAMPAIGNS PHILIPPINES Photographer Jes Aznar Curated by VJ Villafranca
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INDIA Photographer Kushal Ray Curated by Suvendu Chaterjee
SINGAPORE Photographer Wei Leng Tay Curated by Lisa Botos
MAY YOUR WISH COME TRUE
IRAN Photographer Newsha Tavakolian
MEN, MOUNTAINS AND THE SEA
INDONESIA Photographer Rony Zakaria Curated by Alexander Supartono
CHINA Photographer Mimi Curated by Wang Chunchen
PAKISTAN Photographer Omar Kasmani Curated by Tehmina Ahmed
COMPUTER LIGHT PORTRAITS
CAMBODIA Photographer Sovan Philong Curated By Christian Caujolle
On not being a tree Aveek Sen
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EDITORIAL STATEMENT Ever since we decided to publish a magazine on contemporary Asian photography, we have been grappling with questions to which we still have no definite answers: is there such a thing as Asian photography? Are we not just captives of a semantic convenience? What we are certain of, however, is that photographic representations of Asia, in the hands of European photographers and shaped by Western media, has contributed to producing a catalogue of stereotypes that simplifies and even suppresses the full diversity of visual sensibilities that Asian photography is capable of expressing. As a consequence, Asian photographers lack a platform that not only profiles their work on their own terms, but also suggests its profound link with native visual idioms. This is precisely the gap that Punctum hopes to fill. Punctum is not a magazine about photography. It is a magazine about Asia that uses photography – complemented by text - to portray contemporary life across the continent, as understood by those who live there. We want to celebrate what is particular and exceptional in each of the countries featured in our publication. It is possible that we may encounter works that belong to an entirely different aesthetic convention and appear wholly unfamiliar. And yet, it may be possible that at that very moment, we come across something that touches us, a connection of fleeting empathy. It is a moment that Rolland Bathes describes in his classic essay on photography, ‘Camera Lucida’, as ‘punctum’. To us, photography is a form of storytelling - and Asia is full of stories to be told. So long as these stories remain untold, we will still be reminded of that old saying: “until the lions find their own storytellers, stories about hunting will always glorify the hunter”. The Editors
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NOVA Contemporary Culture March 21st to April 30th, 2011 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. www.rojo-nova.com
AD Quayola www.quayola.com
Hatcher Pass - Talkeetna Mountains - Alaska - ph. Andrea Bastoni
Cube is a prism
that neatly refracts reality. It is an instrument for practicing cultural engineering, the way we like to do it. Cube is a multifaceted canvas, for artists to proclaim their vision.
Cube is a building block.
It is a social construction, architecture of the mind. It is two hands interlocked together to form a shelter, a community of equals. Peers that share, with no schedule, and no sale.
Cube is looking for artworks: digital, graphic, installations, music, painting, photography, sculpture, video, words.
Cube is expanding. A brand new exhibition space on CUBEmag.com adds up to the 400 matte coated pages of the bookzine.
Cube is open. This is an open call, everyone is invited. All submitted works will be perused and shall be eligible for publishing, on line or on paper.
Come as you are
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INCOMPLETE JOURNEY 2003-2006 SOUTH KOREA Photographer Suyeon Yun Curated by Bohnchang Koo
Way to Eden Garden Seoul, Korea
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Recycling Seoul, Korea
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Waterfalls Seoul Korea
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Speedo Seongnam Seonnam, Korea
North Koreans have been crossing the border into China in search of refuge since the height of their famine in the 1990s. Seeking resettlement, the majority of North Koreans transit through a host of other countries before finally settling in South Korea, as the final destination of a hardship journey which has taken years. â€œIncomplete Journeyâ€? was made over three years and focuses on North Koreans living in South Korea. The photographer employed North Korean refugees as interviewers, location scouts and directors of photography. Together, they worked to locate the Korean War and its living social context, nearly 55 years since the war had been stopped and forgotten. Text by Suyeon Yun
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McArthur Incheon Incheon, Korea
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Friendly Fresh Fun Seoul, Korea
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‘Good News’ Koyang, Korea
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Like the First Time Seoul, Korea
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Megabox Seoul, Korea Previous page Jesus Seoul, Korea
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Tourists at Museum Moonsan, Korea
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‘Hite’ Ansan Ansan, Korea Previous page Living room Busan, Korea
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G.I. Jane Ansan, Korea
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OUR FACE ASIA JAPAN Photographer Ken Kitano Curated by Hideko Kataoka
Facing page Piling Portraits of 30 Geikos and Maikos Dancing the Special Kyo Dance in the Spring Miyagawa Town, Kyoto Gelatin silver print 2003
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Piling Portraits of 35 Esoteric Buddhist Monks of the Shingon Sect Studying at KOHYA Mountain Speciality School Wakayama 2003
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Piling Portraits of 39 People Floating Lanterns down the River Motoyasu in Memory of Atomic Bomb Victims on August 6, 2004 Hiroshima 2004
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uring the last few years, I have travelled around Japan visiting communities, festivals, schools, places of work, families, sports games and religious places and listening to people’s stories and taking their portraits at the various sites. This project has been to make photo portraits called ‘Portrait of Our Face’ of the people in a particular group. Each photo portrait has been made by evenly printing photographs of the faces of people belonging to particular groups on top of each other. The groups include young girls in Harajuku, office workers in Tokyo, people on isolated islands in the South, fishermen of Boso Peninsula and others.The more faces get printed, the more the contours of an individual become blurred and the expression and age more ambiguous in the final portrait, which I call ‘Our Face’. The contours of the individual become blurred in a ‘Portrait of Our Face’ but it expresses ‘time and light’, which should be unique to the particular group. Needless to say, there is no ranking of the cultures or people. The project intends to link people of various positions horizontally, without regard for rank or importance, as if each one was a part of a continuous chain. It is like a big circle of images of people with no centre. In the future, I plan 38 | punctum
to include people of Kosovo, Afghanistan, New York and other places in the world in the circle of Our Face. (The Portrait of Our Face may seem like the ‘average face’ of our generation but it is not the intention of this project to study and analyze the ‘average face’ or roots of races.) We frequently hear the word ‘globalization’ but is the world really becoming ‘global’? ‘Globalization’ sounds like a structure where homogeneous people and a single ideology exist centring around one ‘centre’ such as the United States or Tokyo. This structure seems to exclude and ignore the people on the periphery or outside of the homogeneous circle or those unwilling to enter the circle. There is no such thing as ‘the centre’ in this world. I imagine the world to be composed of many localities. The aim of this project is to help re-cast the meaning of ‘globalization’ as the accumulation of individuals and localities by presenting the faces of people of various positions and places. The portraits shown in this book are the portraits of yourself and everybody at the same time.
Text by Ken Kitano
Piling portraits of 32 women in a farming village, Nairia Jessore Bangladesh 2008
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Piling Portraits of 20 women who are washing themselves in the River Ganges in Varanasi, India 2008
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Piling Portraits of 38 Singers of Kouta, or popular traditional songs originating in the Edo Period 2003
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Piling Portraits of 42 Members of the Baseball Club at OHMI High School, Shiga 2002
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Piling Portraits of 30 Geikos and Maikos Dancing the Special Kyo Dance in the Spring, Miyagawa Town, Kyoto 2003
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Piling Portraits of 23 female Muslims in burqa, Dhaka, Bangladesh 2008
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Piling Portraits of 32 men in a farming village, Nairia, Jessore, Bangladesh Gelatin silver print 2008
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Piling Portraits of 60 people of Nammatsu Town, participating in the Kishiwada Danjiri Festival, Osaka 2002
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Piling Portraits of 40 workers who are engaged in cargo-loading at Shador Ghat ferry terminal, Dhaka, Bangladesh 2008
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SALT WATER TEARS BANGLADESH Photographer Munem Wasif Curated by Shahidul Alam
Munem Wasif VU Prix Pictet & Wateraid
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very ecosystem has its fragile balance. That much we have already learnt. Scientists routinely now seek to document the excesses that will lead to imbalance, even where they can do nothing about them. And sometimes, just sometimes, legislation and implementation and eventually protection may follow. In the far south-west of Bangladesh, Munem Wasif shows us just what these abstractsounding paradigms mean in practice. Nobody knows for certain why the water levels are changing in the Bay of Bengal, but they are. In a famously low-lying country, more and more people are under threat of catastrophic flooding. Coastal erosion, too, is accelerating, a matter of grave concern in a country where (under the pressure of population) every inch of usable land is at a premium.
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Munem Wasif found a region where changes to a single measurable fact – salinity levels in the water table – can be seen to have affected every part of the matrix of balances. Salinity has risen. The old agriculture is no longer possible because the old plants simply can’t grow. Shrimping – a new industry – has grown up, largely for export, using fewer workers and threatening the livelihood of many others. Shrimping in turn exposes more land to salt or brackish water. Farmers are reduced to occasional labour. Established structures of work and the societies centred on work change and break down. Many people have to venture into the mangrove swamps of the Sundarbans (a national park on the Indian side of the border, but not yet on the Bangladeshi) to fish or to collect roofing materials which
used to be available closer to hand. In the Sundarbans they are exposed to a terrifying catalogue of risk, including attack from dog sharks, crocodiles, king cobras and the Bengal tiger. Women (it’s always the women) have to go ever farther in search of fresh water. New diseases become frequent, obviously connected to all these changes, but not yet provably so. So it goes on, a kaleidoscope of interconnected shifts, not fully understood, and not half predictable with accuracy. Munem Wasif has not gone to this blighted region to show us the abstractions of climate-change experts or the theories of macro-economists. Photography deals in the particular, and this project deals in the very particular. Wasif is himself Bangladeshi. Not for him the flak-jacket, the adrenaline rush, and five hours in the red zone. These
are his people, although not quite in his part of the country. The accent is different but the language is shared. Wasif in fact rented a motorcycle to complete this commission, and when he tells you the names of the people in the pictures it’s because he met them and heard them, and knew them a little. The pictures, then, are almost by definition subjective. Too much ink has been spilt trying to work out when and whether photographers tell the truth. These pictures are absolutely personal to Wasif, absolutely his expression of his sentiments. But that doesn’t stop them also being a remarkable – and true – document of what is happening in the interplay of some of the complex of variables in this corner of Bangladesh. Photography reads big and small. Wasif shows you Johura Begum’s long arm reaching punctum | 51
out to her husband as he dies of cancer of the liver, that simple tenderness is the only available healthcare in a village whose population are in desperate need. It’s a little tiny truth, certainly. The husband died, the woman lived on, widowed.The photographer was there, he knows. But it is also at the same time a complex of many metaphors.There are many pictures like this because this scene has been played out so many times all over the world. It’s a picture ‘about’ infrastructure and financing, too, as well as morality and ethics. In another searing picture, containers of fresh water are dragged on foot in boats through clinging sterile mud. Shajhan Shiraj and his brothers from Gabura, we’re told, travel three hours in this kind of way every day. Stunted trees, clear water only in the distance, three men, three boats, and the keel-trail they etch 52 | punctum
in the mud. It’s not just a beautiful picture: the irony of boats travelling so laboriously by land with water as their only cargo is unimaginably painful. There is a powerful crossover in the way pictures work. Read these pictures only as little truths and they will wrench out your heart. Read them as big truths and they will drive you towards planning practical effort for change. you don’t need to know that Johura Begum’s husband was called Amer Chan to be moved to action by Wasif. We read about donor fatigue, compassion fatigue. Every viewer of these pictures will have at some point the sense of having seen them before. Salgado in the Sahel, just as shocking, maybe more.Very similar in feel and tonality. But it is not up to the photographers to provide us with new scenes. As long as those
scenes are there and look the way they do, photographers will continue to show them to us. Some people will look at Wasif ’s pictures here and call them derivative, and they’ll be right. But it isn’t fashion. There is not going to be a new length of trousers this season in the liver cancer business. Photographers can only do so much. If viewers are tired of being harrowed, tired of seeing these scenes one shouldn’t have to look at, perhaps we can understand that it’s the viewers who need to perk up their ideas, not the photographers. Munem Wasif, for one, is doing his bit. Now it’s up to us.
Text by Francis Hodgson, Chairman of Judges and co-founder of Prix Pictet, the photography critic of the Financial Times, and an art advisor specialising in fine photographs.
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OUTLOOK TAIWAN Photographer Po-I Chen Curated by Shen Chao-Liang
My interest in photography began very early, in 1987, when I was a high school student. I was a member of the astronomy club and, therefore, got the chance to involve myself in filming astrophotography. From then on, I acquired some basic photographic and darkroom-developing skills. Thereafter I continued studying photography at university in 1992 with Mr. Liu Yong-Tai whose erudite knowledge in documentary photography, artistic photography and natural photography laid great influence on me. In 1997, when in graduate school, I went on studying photography with Mr. Huang Jian-Liang. Under his influence and encouragement I read extensively the work of many other photographers especially those from the States, Japan and Germany and, hence, I paved my own artistic pathway in photography. In 2005 I started filming some fishing villages or military dependentsâ€™ village where intensive urban regeneration was underway. Seeing so many unused buildings or abandoned houses through the lens, I captured images of ruins and stories belonging to previous occupants and thereupon I found myself a source of the critique of civilization, the reflection of mass consumption and the ode singer of decadents. The long-term camera-holding inflicted CTS (Carpal Tunnel Syndrome) on my wrist which led to surgery in 2008 to get the compressed wrist nerve removed. Even so, I am still obsessively engaged in photography and since 2009 I have demonstrated my interest through filming in Taiwan following the impact of Typhoon Morakot, where I found the vitality of Taiwanese society to be unbeaten. Text by the Photographer Po-I Chen OutLook Hong Mao Gang 2007
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OutLook Hong Mao Gang Previous page OutLook Hong Mao Gang
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OutLook Hong Mao Gang Previous page OutLook Tainan
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OutLook Tainan Previous page OutLook Hong Mao Gang
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DE RETOUR VIETNAM Photographer Loan Nguyen Curated by Christian Caujolle
My fatherâ€™s new passport finally gives him the right to see his country again. He often checks his pocket to make sure it hasnâ€™t been lost, forgotten or stolen.
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At the end of the afternoon, my father likes to smoke a cigarette and have a beer from the minibar. He’s calm and says nothing. I take pictures. It’s like he doesn’t see me.
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A family of three. There are only two of us because my mother died ten years ago
My father, who had neither a nationality nor a passport, did not go back to Vietnam for thirtyeight years- because his close relatives now lived in Switzerland, France and the USA; possibly because he was scared he wouldn’t recognize his own country, torn apart by years of war; certainly because he feared he would no longer feel at home there. Then, in 2001, my father suddenly embarked upon the process necessary to acquire Swiss citizenship. One day he told me: “When I have it, we’ll go to Vietnam together.” A few weeks before his red passport with the white cross arrived, I took him at 82 | punctum
his word: I bought two plane tickets and organized a trip that would take us through his homeland from the North to the South in two weeks, in the February of 2005. We went back a second time, in the same year, in the autumn. This De retour tells how I saw my father, there in Vietnam: his fears, joys and the reunions. But it also recounts what I went through and felt myself. My eyes rested on my father, on the country that is half mine, and on myself. Text by Loan Nguyen
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Khiem makes friends with the people he meets during his morning walks. After a week, his favourite moto taxi driver calls him â€˜uncleâ€™.
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This living room belongs to the woman who was almost my fatherâ€™s girlfriend when they were eighteen, just before he left. I can see on their faces theyâ€™re surprised to have changed so much.
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Our guide is about 50 years old. She’s divorced and disappointed with men. He’s been a widower for too long now. I wish he’d take her back to Switzerland with us.
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I literally planted my father in this empty lot. As he waits for me to ďŹ nish taking pictures, exhausted by jetlag, he looks as if heâ€™s growing roots.
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The feet of an Afghan civilian who was killed in a blast hang out of a car where his body lies, in Kabul, 16 June 2007. A suicide car bomb exploded near a NATO convoy in a busy residential area of the Afghan capital, killing three Afghan civilians and wounding five more, the Interior Ministry said. ‘It was a suicide car bomb attack against a foreign forces vehicle,’ the head of the city police’s criminal department, Alishah Paktiawal, told AFP at the scene.
BIRTH FOR WAR AFGHANISTAN Photographer Massoud Hossaini Curated by Reza Deghati
All Photos © AFP
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Top The bodies of four court officials who were killed by Taliban militants lie in a hospital room in the southern province of Ghazni, about 140 kms (90 miles) south of Kabul, 01 August 2007. The bodies of four Afghan court officials, whom the Taliban identified as judges, kidnapped nearly two weeks ago, were found early 1st August in the same province where Taliban militants were holding 21 South Koreans. Bottom Afghan children play in front of their house in a destroyed area in Kabul, 05 January 2008. The seasonal increase in the price of coal and wood works as a tool to warn war-weary Afghans that winter is arriving to make the already poverty-stricken life of many Afghans more difficult.
hen I was born in Kabul, the war had already begun. My country has been at war for the last 29 years and no one knows why!!? It started as a conflict between the Soviet Red Army and Afghanistan Mujahedin, which gave way to a war between the Afghan communist regime and the Mujahedin. Later, infighting amongst the Mujahedin led to a civil war, and this culminated in the Talibanâ€™s war against the Mujahedin. Nowadays, it is a war between US and coalition forces on the one hand and the Taliban and insurgents on the other. What is common to all these wars is the civilian casualties. Every day, people die in suicide attacks that target the international troops or Afghanistanâ€™s security forces. Attacks are launched in response to airstrikes by foreign forces or the the operations of the security forces that aim to gain control over remote areas. Sometimes, IEDs are used. The generation born during the war is still experiencing war and nobody knows whether their children will ever know peace or not. Text by Massoud Hossaini
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Afghan commandos stand guard near a burning public market building where clashes between Taliban-linked militants and security forces occurred in Kabul on January 18, 2010. Five people were killed and 38 others wounded on January 18 in fighting between Taliban militants and security forces, the Public Health Ministry said. The death toll did not include four militants who were also killed during the attacks, which lasted more than three hours.
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US Army soldiers from 1st Platoon Alpha Company 3-187 3BCT 101 Airbourne take position during an early morning patrol in Yosef Khel district of Paktika province on April 3, 2010. The United States has rejected President Hamid Karzai’s anti-foreigner outburst as “troubling” and “preposterous,” prompting a hurried effort by the Afghan leader to make amends. Officials said Karzai did not specifically apologize during a telephone conversation with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday, but expressed “surprise” at the furore over his claim that foreigners orchestrated election fraud.
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Previous page A US soldier (L) sits alert in a Marine Shinook helicopter while flying over camp Bastion in Helmand province, southwest of capital Kabul on May 3, 2008. About 3000 of British troops with Danish, Estonian, Czech and American troops are in Camp Bastion in the middle of the desert in Helmand province, Southern Afghanistan.
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An ISAF soldier (R) warns journalists at the site of a suicide attack in Kabul, 16 December 2005. A bomb exploded in Afghanistanâ€™s capital, near the site where parliament was due to meet for the first time next week, killing an apparent suicide attacker and wounding two passers-by, officials said.
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An Afghan security personnel stands beside a pile of burning opium products during an official ceremony on the outskirts of Kabul on June 27, 2007. Afghanistan, which produces 92 percent of the worldâ€™s opium, had until two years ago exported the illicit drug almost exclusively in its raw form, according to the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Sophisticated laboratories inside Afghanistan are now converting 90 percent of the countryâ€™s opium into heroin and morphine before smuggling it around the world. Previous page Afghan mourners offer prayers beside the coffin of Afghan man Amruddin,20, who was shot dead in a suicide attack on the Serena Hotel, in Kabul, 15 January 2008. Amruddin was working as a guard at the main gate of the Serena Hotel, the most secure hotel in the Afghan capital, but the guards and gates did not stop a group of Taliban gunmen from bursting in on 14 January, setting off a series of explosions and opening fire on guests and employees.
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Afghan security officers carry a manâ€™s body on a stretcher from the site of a gun battle as firemen inspect the debris from a blast in the Shar-e Naw area in the heart of the capital Kabul on February 26, 2010. A suicide bomber set off a huge explosion near an upmarket shopping and hotel complex early in the morning, and police shot dead two other wouldbe attackers, officials said. Witnesses reported at least two smaller blasts around the Safi Landmark complex as police cordoned off the area, ambulances rushed to the scene and sporadic gunfire was heard. Casualties are currently estimated at 10, with 11 injured, a military officer told AFP. Next page In this picture taken in 2004 During the 10-21 day harvest in Sorubi, an area in the Kabul Province, Afghan farmers pay children, most of whom do not attend school or have other means of income, ten thousand Afghanis (around $220 US) for cutting. 2004
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MARCOS CAMPAIGNS PHILIPPINES Photographer Jes Aznar Curated by VJ Villafranca
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SONG OF THE STEEL BUTTERFLY Reflections on the life of Imelda Marcos Are my wings so because they were made that way, or because for years they have been beating against the bars of a cage? Maybe I could have grown soft and dull if I had chosen more contented bedfellows, but like attracts like and shapes it too. Knives lose their edge if they lie in the wrong part of the house, but I have not lost mine.
I do not pretend to believe that a wing beat from me can set off hurricanes, near or far. But I have been ruthless. I have taken for me, and only for me. I have gorged myself and grown splendid on the hard work of honest people. One might say, you were young then, you were not yet fully formed, yours was a raw, childish greed, feasting on everything that lay before it. But I can still feel the appetite pulsing beneath even this elegant skin. Desire like that never really dies. This is my confession.
Real beauty is never found in idleness, and I may have been many things in life but I have not been idle. I was not one to rust away the years spent in exile, to give precious hours to corrosive tears and wallow in yesterdayâ€™s losses. I am galvanised by hard times. Fire might alter Victory was given the gift of flight because she me, but it does not make me weaker. dared not settle in one place for long, I know that now. We all of us have our colours painted on, And the test of character is not adversity, but to have steel beneath the surface does not power, I know that too. render those colours any less true. For today all I can do is endeavour to deserve it, Brighter and bolder than most, I was born, like I do not know if I will succeed. the rainbow, out of sunshine and storms, but I will not fade so easily. Many tropical butterflies have seasonal forms, they change with the wind. The butterfly lives for far longer than a day, Some migrate over long distances, seeking and in one lifetime moves through many refuge, seeking a better place, incarnations searching for the Promised Land. egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, butterfly. I am constant. Trapped, emergent, trapped, emergent. Wherever my wings have taken me, my heart The cage could never contain me. is not feathered. It rests with one nation, one people. There am I tied. But willingly. Perhaps Psyche dreamt of being a man, but I was Text by L.A.Stirrup. Born into the gloom of late-seventies Britain, born a woman and am resplendent in that fact. Loulou has been searching for the light ever since. Early years Common Jezebel or Painted Lady, spent in Paris gave her more than a touch of the wanderlust Some are designed to blend into their which has driven her to set up home in a bewildering variety of places the most recent of which, Delhi, still claims her as resident. environment, for protection. Studying English literature and language at university fostered I am patterned to stand out. an already unhealthy obsession with the written word which she continues to indulge in both her professional and personal Sometimes there is no better disguise life. From advertising copywriter, to freelance writer and editor, than to be utterly conspicuous. and a teacher of creative writing she has, in the course of her career, been obliged to write on more things than had ever been For all our charms, dreamed of in her philosophy. Happily these days she has greater there is a trail of destruction that can be traced luxury of choice and is currently to be found inching towards the completion of her first novel. in our wake. 114 | punctum
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INTIMACIES INDIA Photographer Kushal Ray Curated by Suvendu Chaterjee
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My project on an extended Bengali family in Kolkata began in 1999 and spans a decade. It is more of an effort to explore relationships and intimacies that the members enjoyed among themselves than any perceived social documentary work on a joint family system... Being very close to the family made my work, to a large extent, personal and autobiographical. Though I do not belong to the family, I lived with the members as an insider-outsider for four years and another six years saw me a quotidian visitor to their 100-year-old house which, during its initial years, was a primary school. During my long association I was a witness to and participant in the joys, losses and finally the disintegration of the Chatterjee family. To chronicle the gamut of the multi-layered manifestations of the everyday lives of the 10 people of four generations living under the same roof, took a long journey with a camera. When I first came to know the family many years ago, what attracted me was the true bond the members enjoyed among themselves despite the differences and occasional acrimony. The large family was strong against the spectre of 128 | punctum
disintegration during a time when the nuclear family has become the most accepted form of living among the middle-class The family revolved around Muni (Shibani), the matriarch of the Chatterjees. She had a son, a daughter-in-law, two spinster working daughters, two grandsons, a granddaughter, a granddaughter-inlaw and a charming great-granddaughter, all living together. The family had ten members, six year old Teesta being the youngest and 89-year-old Muni the oldest. Muniâ€™s two daughters Manju (57) and Leena (47) worked as college lecturer and personal secretary, respectively. Muni had a superannuated son Amiyo (71) and a housewife daughter-in-law Bani (57). Their two sons Apurba (38, a bachelor and working in an insurance company) and Amal (35, and who had a letterpress). Amalâ€™s wife Mithu (38, and working in a boutique) and daughter Padmini (32, and Teestaâ€™s mother) who worked in car service centre. Altogether they made the profile of the family when I began my project. The first major change I witnessed was when Muni passed away on August 21, 2001. She was 91 and for the last six months before her death she was bedridden. During this period I was completely
struck by the way Manju, now 59, and a year short of her retirement from her college lecturer’s job, took care of her mother. Muni’s passing away was a personal loss to me. I was never liked by my grandmother but Muni more than made it up for me. Her concern for my health was all the more pronounced after my first bout of tuberculosis. She always enquired whether I was having enough protein intake and asked her daughter Manju to offer me fish curry with a big Rohu piece. Muni always liked to be photographed by me. Once she told me, “Now I am too old to have the wish to live. But I want to live for your photography.” The following year Amiyo, the father of my childhood friend Apurba who first took me to this house, passed away. With these two deaths the family shrunk and then it was all the more evident when Padmini remarried and left the house to settle down with her new husband and her daughter Teesta. In 2004 I fell seriously ill with a second bout of tuberculosis and pleurisy. It was a resistant TB and I had to spend many days in a nursing home. But recovery was not forthcoming. Back at home I was
languishing and sinking. Manju Chatterjee took me to her joint family household and took all the care to help me recover. All other members contributed their might to my recovery. I was almost adopted by the family as I stayed there for four and half years and did my photography. When Manju was diagnosed with lung cancer in April 2008, I was in turmoil and had to be treated by a psychiatrist. She lived for another ten months and underwent a very painful seven rounds of chemotherapy and 30 rounds of radiotherapy. While taking photographs of her fight against lung cancer I served as her main caregiver.Throughout this painful phase she never lost her calm and composure and was hopeful of living for at least another couple of years. She told me repeatedly that she wanted to live to see my work get its due recognition. This project was partly funded by her. She passed away on February 17, 2009, aged 67...
Text by Kushal Ray
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have known Kushal Ray since the days when he was busy with his work on Ladakh, in Jammu and Kashmir. By that time, his work on the joint family was at a formative stage. Initially, apart from very few photographers and critics like Shahidul Alam and Robert Pledge, many were skeptical about his work, “Family Matters”. Kushal was not impatient. On the contrary, he was very clear on the course his destiny would take. And for this reason, he continued his work for more than a decade without any recognition or financial support. Eventually, “Family Matters” metamorphosed into “Intimacies”. “Intimacies” addresses us in the quiet voice of a photographer, an artist and craftsman who has long thought about his endeavour, who has tested and questioned his own understanding in the light of actual practice. Both his work on Ladakh and on the joint family from Kolkata are delicate and unusually calm reflections, but based in unwavering conviction and dedication. 132 | punctum
I believe that every photograph conveys a feeling. Kushal’s understanding of the dynamics of the Indian middle class family is also not devoid of feeling, that of human warmth. “Intimacies” is the crucible of human values. This introduction would be incomplete if I did not mention Kushal’s new work on ordinary class travellers of the Indian Railways. Kushal himself has always enjoyed travelling in the ordinary class, even on long-distance journeys. This brings to mind Henri Cartier-Bresson’s confession: “Neither my wife nor myself like to travel by air. You go too fast, you don’t see the gradual changes that take place as you move from one place to the next…” (The Mind’s Eye: Writings on Photography and Photographers). Kushal Ray has devoted his career to portraying the gentle pace of gradual change. Text by Suvendu Chatterjee, a Photo Editor and Director of Drik India. He defines himself as a social media entrepreneur and has been working on media literacy. He shares his time between India and the USA. Suvendu Chatterjee/Drik India/ Majorityworld
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CONVERGENCES SINGAPORE Photographer Wei Leng Tay Curated by Lisa Botos 142 | punctum
Cheong Cheong. In his early thirties, he speaks Cantonese, Mandarin and Malay. He has a Mandarin rock band. Here he is sitting in his studio in Penang, Malaysia. He is from the Cameron Highlands (in another state in Malaysia). His father was a principal at a Chinese school in the Cameron Highlands when he was a child. The Tamil school had asked to borrow classrooms from his father. His father agreed to let the Tamil school use their classrooms. The local Chinese community came down on his father and called him a traitor. His father left his position as Principal and became a farmer.
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Hoi Yan and family Kuala Lumpur Wai Leung, a corporate lawyer, and his wife Hoi Yan, a stay-at-home mother and parttime graphic designer.
n 1963 Singapore gained independence from Britain and joined the Malaysian Federation, only to become a sovereign state two years later. It is in the micro-history of these events, and what resulted afterwards, in which Wei Leng Tay dwells, with familiarity. Her series of portraits tell stories on how lives were shaped, inadvertently, by distance, proximity and politics. The Border, its notion, both real and fantasized, is present in the series â€œConvergenceâ€?, which was photographed in Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore in 2009 and 2010. These are places where the photographer engaged in her project and conducted her research, and where she blended with her 144 | punctum
surroundings. It is a story of separation and togetherness, of families that were never reunited after political breakaway, and of communities that are built in isolation. Sometimes they are friends or relatives, but not always. The storytelling power of these images becomes amplified as we listen to the recorded conversations that are part of this project. Stories about everyday life, about family and triviality, that emerge from hours of bonding, and sometimes result in a photograph. Because, for all the cinematic quality of these photographs, they are, after all, snaps of life, slices cut through time, and maybe it would not be appropriate to call those she photographed
Chris and Elsie Singapore Chris Ong and Elsie. They are in Chris’s parents’ kitchen. They both live at home with their parents. Elsie is half Malay, on her mother’s side. They both spent a few years studying in Australia.
sitters, although they are obviously aware of the presence of the camera. This is the portrait of a community, not of an individual, so what matters is the totality of the series that has been built over two years. The complexity of multiple languages used in the region by ethnic Chinese communities is part of this dialogue. Hokkien, Mandarin and Cantonese are exchanged between different members of the same family, and this adds a texture layered to family relationships. Wei Leng Tay has embarked on other portrait exercises of communities. Other projects have taken her to Hong Kong, Fukuoka and Bangkok. The project in Bangkok possibly
most resembles this series, as she focused on the Chinese communities there. Wei Leng Tay processes the idea of Otherness transforming the Other into the familiar. This notion of proximity is a fundamental departure in strategy from the 90s, where identity became one of the major themes for contemporary art. This relentless task of becoming part of the Other results in the disappearance of the boundary between the photographer and the subject. There are epic undertones to this project, when we think of the near impossibility of success or the almost unlimited number of possibilities. It reminds us of August Sander with his series “Man of the Twentieth Century”, although the punctum | 145
Eldest Aunt Penang, Malaysia My mother’s oldest sister, 78 years old, at her dining table peeling guavas. Her first language is Cantonese, and she also speaks Mandarin and some Malay. She is at home most of the time. When she was younger, she used to work at the family shoe factory.
German photographer pursued the anonymity of his sitters, citing only their profession. Wei Leng Tay, on the other hand, empowers her subjects through their personal storytelling, and as a result they become Karl, Pam, Shi Wei or Jac to all of us. Although there are no rules, most portraits are taken in the domestic space, others are images in workshops or in public spaces, but even then there is a sense of privacy. A psycho-geography sometimes emerges from these encounters. This is the space of Gaston Bachelard or Henri Lefebvre, as in “Eldest Aunt’s bedroom” or in “Grace’s ironing board”, where the domestic space is left empty but fully 146 | punctum
charged with powerful, iconic symbols. For the former, the bed sits perfectly done under the looming presence of dozens of clocks. In the latter, the iron sits on the ironing board. Some of the most enduring images distill a sense of solitude and isolation, of melancholy that submerges the viewer into the depths of the self. These are images that are a continuation of a narrative. Like “Shi Wei”, standing in the middle of the road at night, drawing us into the solitude of the scene, the underlying tension in the image, and the stillness of the moment. Or like “Karl”, unfolding his collectibles in an eerily tidy room, void of warmth and clinically clean. These are stories that are
Karl Singapore He’s in his temporary home. First generation Singaporean Chinese, he is the youngest in his family and the only one who was not born in China. Born and bred in Singapore, he feels a strong cultural and ideological difference with his parents.
developing in front of our eyes, and we regret not knowing the end or the next chapter. These are stories that evoke the memory of endless ramifications and possibilities. And for all the closeness, there is a terrible detachment in these stories. In many of the most striking images light becomes a tool of the narrative language, through a focus or multiple focuses which build this atmosphere, as in “Cheong”, where a bright neon light brings out clearly cut shadows that contrast with the organically random surface of his skin and that of his dog. Other images show us some moving tenderness, as in “Eldest Aunt”, which bring us back to memories of Flemish painting and
domestic portraits. Here our gaze is directed to her hands and her expression through the centrally-based composition and perspective. It is as stately as a portrait can be. In “Felicia and Adan” the photographer makes a rare incursion into the idea of landscape. Here the shapes, the postures, and movements become classical, although we do not forget that we are confronting snapshots of daily life. These images reveal the complexity of the inner worlds that they represent. They show a wealth of accumulation in intimate spaces that define the characters that we observe. They are not sitters, but neither are they subjects, they are more like friends. There is tension between punctum | 147
Pam Malaysia Pam Yee, in the garden of her family home. She lives with her family in a new gated community in Klang, which historically had a large Chinese migrant population because of tin mining.
the detachment and the proximity, between the unfamiliarity and the deep knowledge and understanding.There is a permanent questioning of the place of the photographed through these unfolded strategies. The photographer tries to escape this fate by erasing and blurring the edges that define the artist as actor, as planner, as director. Alvaro Rodriguez Fominaya is the Executive Director/Curator of Para/Site Art Space. He lectures on contemporary art at Sothebyâ€™s Institute Singapore and the City University of Hong Kong. His latest curated projects include Ai Weiwei+Acconci Studio: A Collaborative Project, Shahzia Sikander, Surasi Kusolwong and The Problem of Asia.
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Felicia and Adan Singapore Felicia Low and her boyfriend, Adan, in the open areas near the public housing apartment she lives in with her parents. Felicia is Peranakan Chinese, there are many definitions for the straits Chinese, but they are typically Chinese who have been in South East Asia for many generations and have adopted Malay culture. Most Peranakan, especially those of my generation, have lost much of their heritage, and like Felicia, their only connection is through the food that is still sometimes cooked in the home. Felicia can speak Mandarin but is more comfortable speaking Malay. Her first language is English.
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Ng family gathering Singapore Ng brothers, and a son-inlaw, in red, at a family gathering.
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Jac Jac. Peranakan Chinese (Straits Chinese) Singapore Her family has been in South East Asia for generations, but Jac is not sure when her family first came down to SE Asia. Her paternal grandfather had come to Singapore from Indonesia. Jac grew up speaking English with her parents, and Hokkien with her grandparents. Her grandparents spoke Bibik Malay and Hokkien, but she never learnt Malay. She is one of the older ones among her cousins. The younger cousins, who are in their twenties, all speak English, and some mandarin. Because of the â€œSpeak Mandarin Campaignâ€? the government had in the 1980s, many Chinese Singaporeans who are now in their twenties in Singapore donâ€™t speak their dialect.
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MAY YOUR WISH COME TRUE IRAN Photographer Newsha Tavakolian
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Every year during the peak of the Moharram commemoration period, the women of Khorramabad, hide their faces from sunset till dawn. Forbidden to speak they visit 40 houses and burn a candle for Imam Hussein, the third Shiite Imam, in each house. Their secret wishes will be granted after performing the ceremony, according to a 500 year-old tradition.
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n the streets of Iran one does not see “burkhas”, only “hijabs” (scarves expansive enough to allow a few locks to stray) or at the most “chadors”, black robes that leave the face uncovered. It is important to point this out to allay misconceptions. But these photographs do send us a real and important message. They reflect the deep fear of Iranian women: a conservative radicalization that could lead to a gradual slide of the present feminine dress codes towards what is defined in Iran as “Talibanization”. An irrational fear? Nobody can seriously believe that the Iranian regime, even the most reactionary, could force Iranians to hide 164 | punctum
their faces. Today it is impossible to impose even respect for the most austere “hijab” and these locks continue to escape police control inspite of fines and the possibility of being accosted on the streets. So much so that Ahmedinejad – more out of resignation than liberalism – has said, to the consternation of the most conservative clerics, that respect for the “hijab” is not one of the priorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran. These photographs actually reflect a fear that goes beyond mere rules on how women are to dress. The way the woman dresses and lives in society, her love life, and what she perceives as her role in the family, as well as her sexuality,
are symbols and a minefield in Iran, as well as in other places where a patriarchal system of oppression prevails. She is an object of political confrontation and of power and never a subject. It is important to emphasize here the facts of history, our own as well, and put aside all culturalist (and of course racist) myths: Patriarchy is not the monopoly of Iranian conservatives, nor of Islam as such, but has been till the other day that of societies who only now, thanks to the struggle across centuries, have succeeded (with some relapses) in managing to cross the most shameful barriers of patriarchal oppression â€“ an oppression that has always sought to bolster and legitimize itself
by hearkening to religious texts and principles that definitely bear the patriarchal prejudices of the age in which they were written. The act of stoning, a sentence that in theory is also applicable to adulterous men, but in practice is generally used against women, is not a form of penal law but that of politics, an appeal to what is most reactionary and patriarchal in the psychology of men and their fears regarding the freedom of women. It is the most extreme and inhuman point in a patriarchal continuum that begins with the imposition of dress codes. An imposition only on the women, of course, and thus on the streets of Iran one often sees couples, the woman dressed in a black â€œchadorâ€? and the punctum | 165
man in “Lacoste” blue jeans. A modern man and a woman obliged to be conservative... The masked faces, hidden visages that represent the most horrific nightmare of Iranians, are the most visible symbol of the transformation of the subject into an object. The face is not only an element that helps the police to recognise people, as those who oppose the “burkha” in Europe quite correctly but simplistically put it.The face is above all an expression of the human subject, of his/ her emotions and humanity and is always relative. And the face is also a fundamental reference point for ethics. As Emmanuel Levinas has taught us, it is the face of the Other that forces us to recognise him, it is a responsibility that is assumed, a commitment, a limit to our 166 | punctum
sovereign will, a moral duty. Hiding the face means tearing asunder a fundamental ethical relationship, making respect and relations between concrete and individual human beings impossible. Without a face there is no subject. Without a face there can be no respect. Without a face there can be no freedom. This is what the photographs of the Iranian woman photographer tell us. They do not portray a reality but a nightmare. And they do not point only to Iran, but call for us to be vigilant of the situation of women against patriarchal regression.
Text by Roberto Toscano, an Italian scholar and diplomat.
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MEN, MOUNTAINS AND THE SEA INDONESIA Photographer Rony Zakaria Curated by Alexander Supartono
Divided by 17,000 islands and located in the Pacific Ring of Fire, Indonesia is home for more than 150 volcanoes and distinctly marked by a coastline which spans over 80,000 km. This project documents an ongoing history of people and communities whose lives are affected by two major entities, the mountains and the sea. punctum | 169
Tenggerese Hindu clerics passing waterfalls after collecting holy water from Madakaripura waterfall as a part of the annual Hindu Yadnya Kasada festival. During the festival, Tenggerese people seek blessing from the main deity Hyang Widi Wasa by offering rice, fruit, livestock and other local produce and throwing them into the crater. Previous page The Tengger Caldera, Mt. Bromo, Mt. Batok & Mt Semeru, East Java at night, just before the peak ceremony of the Hindu Yadnya Kasada festival where the Tengger people seek blessing from the main deity Hyang Widi Wasa by offering rice, fruit, livestock and other local produce and throwing them into the crater of Mt. Bromo, believing it to be a representation of Hyang Widi Wasa.
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Cemorolawang village seen at dawn from Mt. Pananjakan. Most of the the 6,000 people of Tengger tribe who live in this village work as farmers. The presence of volcanoes creates a super-fertile volcanic land giving the locals more harvests, sometimes as many as three times more than their fellow farmers elsewhere.
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Several fishermen prepare for other fishermen who are coming ashore while visitors watch. Bordered with the Indian Ocean, and despite the high waves and strong current, the sea provides the fishermen from Depok beach with a rich and vast array of fish to catch. Previous page A Balinese holds a fowl in a preparation ceremony before being sacrificed for a purification ritual called Mecaru in a temple in Bali. Balinese believe Mecaru is important to cleanse evil spirits, often sacrificing animals in the sea.
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A Balinese â€˜washingâ€™ a sacred traditional mask in the sea during a purification ceremony at Batubolong beach, Bali. The gold and pearl part of the mask was stolen weeks earlier and the locals want to cast the evil traces of the burglar into the sea. The Balinese believe that gods and ancestors live in the mountains whereas demons live in the sea.
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pending his formative years as a photographer during the decline of traditional photojournalism and documentary photography in the mass media, Rony Zakaria maintains in his work to date its utopian premise and romantic aura. His ongoing project “Men, Mountains & the Sea” takes up the most clichéd geographical feature of his country that has long been replicated in the overwhelmingly stereotypical, coffee-table style photographic representations of Indonesia. His logic is very simple: to match morphologically and conceptually the more than 150 active volcanoes and 80.000 km coastline of the country with the people who inhabit them. Sea and mountains have been sacred sites for most of the old civilizations. The modern analysis of the superstitious beliefs of many rituals has proved them to have a certain degree of rationality behind them: respect for Mother Nature. Although they capture mountains and the sea, Zakaria’s photographs are not topographical as such; instead they are mostly about rituals devoted to the mountains and sea and the spirit of the place, the genius loci of what appears to foreign eyes as a mystical land.These depictions of rituals are not supposed to be records of events in the traditional documentary sense either. They consist of a series of individual moments that are loosely connected to the main event and which when combined can tell a story about the place and the people. These moments that punctuate Zakaria’s frame, small incidents, hidden details and traces on wet sand, people going about their everyday life, some exceptional occasions here and there, or simply changing weather conditions, clouds and fog, a drizzle, develop their own existence, and make up an impressionist picture of Indonesia.
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A women prays on Parangkusumo beach, Central Java, during a Labuhan Lait ritual. Javanese believe that Parangtritis and Parangkusumo is the gate to the kingdom of Nyai Roro Kidul, a mythical queen who rules the southern sea. Many conservative Javanese come to Parangkusumo on certain â€œgoodâ€? days to pray for their wishes to be realised, from love affairs, to asking for jobs, to answering unsolved problems. It is also a common practice in the area for Police officers to pray and ask for a lead to the whereabouts of a fugitive.
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The photographs do not attempt to make ethnographic claims either. From Bali to Tengger and Parangritis, Zakaria captures people in the flux of life. Fishermen and farmers struggling to earn a living taming the land and the sea, street vendors, sultanate servants and local religious leaders in their daily routine, praying women and men caught in the sea in purification rituals are all represented from the standpoint of the insider and as a result they do not become subjects of otherness or exoticism. Therefore, neither the rituals, nor the events themselves are obvious. For Zakaria, what the lens see is what he feels, not what he knows, and this is the quality that distinguishes him from his peers working in and around documentary photography in Indonesia at the moment. Born in 1984, Zakaria is one of the few contemporary Indonesian photographers who seriously pursue the documentary style, concentrating on the graphic qualities of black and white as he does. It may be that the intense chiaroscuro qualities of his often atmospheric photographs can be seen as revisionist take on older documentary traditions, but the way he treats his subject matter is a proof that he has been reinventing and reinterpreting these practices for his own purposes. Doing so at a time when everything and everybody revolves around the digital, being self-funded and with few options for publication, is not just a brave act, but also a proof of integrity and of respect for the medium and the subject.
Text by Alexander Supartono PhD candidate in the History of Art at the University of St. Andrews, UK.
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A Balinese man after washing himself at the Watuklotok Beach, Bali. Balinese believe that gods and ancestors live in the mountains whereas demons live in the sea.
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A man at the top of Mt. Merapi (2,968m) with Mt. Sindoro and Mt. Sumbing on the background. Mt. Merapi is one of the most active among 150 volcanoes in Indonesia. It has erupted more than 80 times with the most recent one in October 2010.
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A man stands in the crater of Mt. Bromo waiting for Tengger people to throw offerings. Poor Javanese people from surrounding villages in East Java come and camp at the Mt. Bromo crater to try to catch and collect offerings that are thrown by the Tengger tribe using self-made nets during the Yadnya Kasada festival. During the festival, Tenggerese people seek blessing from the main deity Hyang Widi Wasa by offering rice, fruit, livestock and other local produce and throwing them to the crater. Next page Poor Javanese people from the surrounding villages in East Java came and camped at the Mt. Bromo crater to try catching and collecting offerings that are thrown by the Tengger tribe using self-made nets during the Yadnya Kasada festival. During the festival, Tenggerese people seek blessing from the main deity Hyang Widi Wasa by offering rice, fruit, livestock and other local produce and throwing them to the crater.
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COLD SERIES CHINA Photographer Mimi Curated by Wang Chunchen
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imi is an emerging Chinese photo-artist. She combines conventional photography with contemporary digital techniques to create distinct works. By doing so, she transforms contemporary photography into a kind of mixed media, which is neither pure photography nor non-photography, although it uses photography both as an expressive element and for printing. Thus, a different model of photography is engendered. Mimi uses this method to shape her own representations of reality. She sees reality as a complicated flux of information and images, underpinned by the rise of consumer society. This is seen, for instance, in the introduction, adaptation, and growth of McDonald’s in China, and the suspicions this has given rise to. Her ‘Mercenary’ series is a reflection on such foreign fast food cultures in Chinese society. ‘Cold Series I – I am Looking for My Lost Twin Sisters in the Worldly World’ is an expression of life overwhelmed by information and images, some of which seem fantastic while others appear real. Against this virtual reality, Mimi responds with ‘I Play with Gold Fish of the Heaven in the Cosmos’ which suggests an emancipation of individual existence. Text by Wang Chunchen
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PILGRIMAGE PAKISTAN Photographer Omar Kasmani Curated by Tehmina Ahmed
A photograph is a mechanical outcome; images and their meanings, on the other hand, are co-constructed in one’s interactions with the subject. My work questions the image of the ‘practising’ Muslim, often projected as uncritical and submissive. Practices at a shrine in southern Pakistan highlight an inventive language of negotiation between the local and the global, giving rise to new forms of religiosity. Far from constructions of a fixed, homogenous and universal Islam, referred to invariably in the singular with a capital I, my encounters in Sehwan Sharif reveal the dynamic, heterogeneous and plural capacities of lived islams. In weeks leading to the annual festival of Sindh’s most popular saint, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, I have had to put to the test not only academic notions about vernacular devotion but, more importantly, a modernist Muslim upbringing that has long severed my ties to places like Sehwan. At the end of four weeks, as I leave this pilgrimage town, I wonder if, like every pilgrim, I return home with a wish fulfilled, leaving behind in the mesh of many scarlet-coloured threads, some more wishes to be granted. punctum | 197
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mar Kasmani, an architect and anthropologist, employs the camera as a tool of observation. In this photo essay, Omar journeys to a Sufi shrine in Sehwan Sharif, Sindh, for the Urs celebration of the renowned saint Lal Shahbaz Qalander. Among the Sufi orders of the subcontinent, a saint’s Urs or death anniversary is an occasion to celebrate- the death anniversary rather than the day of birth, because that is the day the soul reunites with the Beloved, the Creator. Lal Shahbaz Qalander has a huge following, and devotees head for the shrine in their millions each year to celebrate the Urs with great pomp and ceremony. A number of intricate rituals are prescribed for the occasion and performed with the guidance of the keepers of the shrine. The tomb of Shahbaz Qalandar, built in the 14th century, is a spacious structure, embellished with the traditional Sindhi kashi tiles.The courtyard of the shrine is the hub of activity during the three-day ceremony, and it is here that devotees dance the dhamal, a dance of mystic ecstasy, to the rhythmic beat of the drum or dhol. The Urs at this particular shrine is not a scene of quiet devotion. It is, on the other hand, a buoyant spectacle of colour and movement. Omar’s camera captures the spectacle with sensitivity and restraint. Among the rituals performed by the devotees who throng to Sehwan is maatam, the ritual flagellation to mourn the tragedy of Karbala, where the descendents of the 200 | punctum
Prophet Muhammed were martyred. During the maatam ritual, young men beat their chests, chanting the names of the martyrs as they do so. Omar’s images of the maatam are bathed in a surreal light. The mass of bodies entwined, oblivious of the blood flowing from open wounds, comes to rest eventually in the sajda- the obeisance of ritual prayer. A procession winds through the town of Sehwan, heading for the shrine with a red chaddar - the saint always wore red - an offering for the saint, a strip of cloth, 600 metres long. At the shrine, Omar catches a faqir whirling around in the dhammal, dressed in red, the saint’s own colour. The shrine is a sanctuary where women are free to dance in utter freedom, to express the ecstasy they experience. The essay includes rare images of women in a trance-like state known as haziri. Omar’s penchant for detail plays a part in his photographic work, but equally, he takes care to frame his photographs with the eye of an artist. If you cannot undertake the journey to Sehwan in person, the photographs may well transport you to the heart of the shrine. Initially trained in photography at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in Karachi, Omar has since pursued his interest in the medium. His photographs were on display at the EHESS institute in Paris in September 2010.
Text by Tehmina Ahmed a Pakistani curator and art critic
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COMPUTER LIGHT PORTRAITS CAMBODIA Photographer Sovan Philong Curated by Christian Caujolle
Vong Reatrey 16 years old
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Yet Sreyly 13 years old
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Tiny 18 years old
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Morn Sreypeak 23 years old
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Sereikol Nakhathary 18 years old
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Bun Thon 11 years old Previous page Ben Sophea 18 years old
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Ben Chantrea 20 years old Previous page Sari Sabona 18 years old
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Prom Sitoun 25 years old Previous page Chourn Ngoun 20 years old
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Vong Thanak 14 years old Previous page Hong Minea 20 years old
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Ben Vorn 70 years old
I work as professional photographer for a daily newspaper – the Phnom Post – and of course, I am assigned to do portraits. Most of the time, the lighting conditions are poor, and the situations – such as press conferences or interviews- are not congenial. In 2009, I spent eight months developing a personal project about a former Catholic Chapel in the centre of Phnom Penh, where fifteen families (around eighty to one hundred people) are currently living. Some of them have been there for the last thirty years, from the end of the Pol Pot period, when the building was set aside for orphans. After some months, once the inhabitants became used to my presence, I could take portraits the way I wanted. I tried to avoid poses and use only natural light (which was very poor in the building) in order to let the people express themselves very simply, but at the same time keeping their identity and individuality. It was a complex task, because I did not want to categorise them, and I also refused to include them in a systematic formal series where the photographic approach could have been more important than the person photographed. That is, of course, a totally different approach from what I am doing each day in my work for a newspaper where I never have any time. I completed the series with yet another kind of portraits which I found on the walls of the small space occupied by each family. I thought that those drawings and collages on the walls were the real
portraits of the people – they were uninhibited almost unconscious expressions. These people were building their daily environment and, at the same time expressing their identity. That was a step on my reflection about what a portrait is and how, as a photographer, I could work on it. I know that a portrait can never be objective or true. It is just an image, a chosen moment in the life of someone, a decision by the photographer and just an interpretation. Today, it seems that computers are everywhere, that they are necessary for everyone. But, in my country, many people don’t have computers, don’t have access to them, don’t work with them and will have no access – and no use for them. At the same time, I discovered that the light of the screen of my computer is a very special one, different from all the other ones used for photography, either daily light, or flash, or spots. I decided to try to reveal the faces of individuals, some of whom I knew, some of whom I had just met for the occasion, using this special light. I have the feeling that it is a kind of revelation, a kind of contemporary portrait and a question. The only thing which connects these people is the light I chose for them. They, finally, are my creatures and I am transforming them to include them in a series which retains their identity all the while asking questions about technology and society in Cambodia. Text by Philong Sovan Phnom Penh June 2010
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ON NOT BEING A TREE
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I recently went to a show in Delhi that brought together the work of two famous photographers, one from Mexico and the other from India. Alongside the Mexican photographer’s work, made in the Seventies and Nineties in India, Mexico and the United States, we saw the Indian photographer’s Mexican photographs of the Nineties, so that the Mexican and the Indian exchanged places, as it were, in the show. The eye passed over the Indian photographer’s work, stopping to catch the pictorial cleverness of each image with a silent “OK, got it” to move on to the next. With the Mexican photographer, time lengthened and became reflective, as she drew the viewer closer and deeper into the heart of the place, person, moment or feeling essayed in each picture. With the former, we were optically and manually agile tourists playing with light and shade, angles and effects. With the latter, we were on an inward journey that made us look into ourselves, at the fluid and complicated relations between where we are inside our heads and where we happen to be physically at a particular moment. As she compelled us to grasp the meaning of each image, and of the relationships among them as a sequence, something else began to happen. The sense of an identified location became irrelevant and eventually dissolved altogether. We began to ignore the captions. Place was overcome, absorbed and transfigured. Like the aerial flocks of birds that she photographed repeatedly, identities dispersed into experience, movement, memory, encounter, performance and connection.
The Mexican photographer’s images had titles like “Khajuraho, India, 1998” and “Highway 61: From Memphis, Tennessee to Clarkesdale, Mississippi, 1997-1998”. But do the labels — Indian, American, Mexican — matter at all with these mysterious, metaphysical images? Is she a Mexican woman photographer? Or is she simply an artist? What do we lose, and gain, with each of these definitions of who she is as a maker of images? • Q: Under what circumstances is national or cultural context important to understanding a photograph? A: Depends on who is doing the understanding, why, and for whom. There is a way of looking at, archiving, understanding and writing about photography that is entirely historical, sociological, anthropological. And here context is all-important. Usually, this kind of writing is academic and specialized; aesthetic criteria are irrelevant or subordinated to the more levelling gaze of the social sciences. The hierarchical distinctions between art and not-art, or among documentary, popular, commercial, journalistic or art photography, do not apply in such readings. So, if we are, say, studying representations of women, or immigrants, or dwarfs, then we should be looking at every kind of photography from advertisements, police shots and ethnographic records to photo-essays in Granta and the work of Arbus, Salgado or Iturbide, without getting into disputes over whether what we are looking at is art or not, or if it is art, then whether we are looking at good art or bad
art. We are more interested in content than in form, and we are producing critical knowledge using photographs as primary documents. We might have chosen to look at folksongs or newspapers or films, and done the same sort of work with these, without bothering very much about aesthetics (although the aesthetic or formal aspects of these documents could have enhanced our interpretation and made it more nuanced). But the moment we get into questions of a different kind of meaning or affect (that is, once we take photography into art galleries, auctions and art publishing houses), the moment we get into questions of beauty and form, or of aesthetic, emotional and intellectual impact, then the role of context, especially national context, becomes more ambivalent and complicated. A different set of priorities and criteria, together with a different kind of politics, takes over. Someone should write about the international politics of contextualization, and how a great deal of serious academic work is structured by that politics.Why is it, for instance, that Henri Cartier-Bresson, William Eggleston, the Bechers or Jeff Wall is simply photography, whereas Malik Sidibé is Malian photography or Nobuyoshi Araki Japanese photography? I suspect that the answer to this is not only political, but also geopolitical, going back to the ancient geographical divides in postEnlightenment European epistemology: Who is looking at whom? Who is studying whom? Who is writing about whom? Who is the subject, and who the object, of knowledge and of interpretation? What do we need to know in punctum | 221
order to understand a Western artist? And what do we need to know in order to understand a non-Western artist? Who are ‘we’ here? In the first case, not very much context is required because Western art is supposed to be universal, transcending national or geographic differences. It is Art. But Asian art is not Art, but ‘Asian art’, and therefore an informed understanding of the various contexts in which it is produced is essential for doing it full justice. It is always tied to its time and place. So, an Indian photographer cannot depict loss, absence or fear, but must always represent poverty-stricken or fundamentalist Bharat, or liberalized and industrializing India. We hardly ever have books, photobook introductions or catalogue essays explaining what is Belgian, French, Canadian or American about Belgian, French, Canadian or American photography, because we can respond to Belgian, French, Canadian or American photographs as we respond to the Venus de Milo or Mona Lisa, without having to know about Classical Greece or Renaissance Italy. But not so for Asian photography.An entirely different approach to knowing, understanding and looking has to be constructed, mastered, disseminated and repeatedly invoked in order to bring such a category into the global field of vision. And this applies to not only those who are looking at it, showing it, collecting it and writing about it, but also to those who are making it. That is, Asian photographers themselves often end up internalizing this way of seeing and start producing work for it, and from within it, presenting their work, in books and in shows, according to its requirements. They readily accept the contexts in which
their work is invariably read, and then start perpetuating those readings of their work, together with the assumptions that inform these readings. They end up producing work that could be written about, shown and taught within what has turned into readymade frames and perspectives. Non-Asia looks at Asia in a certain way, and therefore Asia also looks at, and projects, itself in that way. In the earlier centuries, this was called Colonialism or Imperialism; Edward Said had called it Orientalism. Now it is called Context, and the right-minded, well-intentioned, academically respectable sound of the word obscures the structures of commerce, knowledge and power that constitute this primacy of Context. • “I fall into a place and I become of that place,” replied Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak when asked, during a public conversation in Calcutta, whether she would describe herself as cosmopolitan. “I feel sometimes, when someone asks me the question, that I have roots in air.You know? I am at home everywhere and I am not at home anywhere. It seems to me when one is at home, the place where one is at home has no name.” My music teacher had put it to me, once, more pithily: “I don’t need roots. I’m not a tree.”
Aveek Sen is Senior Assistant Editor (editorial pages) of The Telegraph, Calcutta. He was awarded the 2009 Infinity Award for writing on photography, given by the International Centre of Photography, New York.
punctum issue 1 2011
published by www.limonkraft.org G-16 Nizamuddin West New Delhi 110013 India c/Ermita 15, 2. 46007 Valencia. Spain editor frank kalero executive editor lola mac dougall graphic design incarnations advisory board Reza Deghati Shahidul Alam Wang Chunchen Suvendu Chatterjee Alexander Supartono Hideko Kataoka Bohnchang Koo Christian Caujolle VJ Villafranca Lisa Botos Shen Chao-Liang Tehmina Ahmed acknowledgements Ion de la Riva, Rajni George, Maryam Khanoom, Isaac Monclús, Valerie Zhang, Alejandro Castellote, Pepe Baeza, Òscar Pujol, Sohrab Mohebbi, Nathalie Grier, Nikhil Padgaonkar and Menene Gras. proofreading Loulou Stirup advertising and sales firstname.lastname@example.org issn : 2171-7893 rni no. : applied for printed in india archana, new delhi www.archanapress.com *this magazine has received the support of casa asia (www.casaasia.es) in the context of its ruy de clavijo grant programme. all rights reserved. no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written permission of the publishers text © authors photographs © photographers punctum online www.punctum.asia contact email@example.com