Citizens of Photography zine

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PHOTODEMOS COLLECTIVE

Citizens of Photography: The Camera and the Political Imagination PHOTODEMOS COLLECTIVE


PHOTODEMOS COLLECTIVE

Citizens of Photography: The Camera and the Political Imagination

This publication brings together a range of photographic material gathered by the Photodemos collective throughout the last five years of project-related activity. Formatted as a zine – to be unfolded, taken apart, and pasted onto city walls, or presented within a gallery, communal space, etc. – we hope for it to reach as wide an audience as possible, and to open up conversations about the myriad possibilities of which photography is the catalyst. Citizens of Photography: The Camera and the Political Imagination is an investigation into everyday photographic practices, how identities have been articulated, and how political futures are made visible through such means. With a nod to Walter Benjamin, it aims to present “little histories” of photography as it is actually practised in different global locations. Prolonged ethnographic fieldwork by six researchers in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Greece, India, Nepal, Nicaragua, Nigeria, and Sri Lanka has looked at how local communities use photography to represent individuals, families, and other identities, exploring whether this plays a role in how people express their political hopes and demands. Included here are examples of the type of photographic work that we have encountered while conducting research. In many cases our own photographs document the context around certain photographic practices, be they formal or informal, showing how photographs are made useful, inserted into the texture of everyday life. “Re-photographing” becomes a strategy in and of itself, a means of capturing various examples ( and interventions ), and to reflect upon their histories and identities. What might first appear like a preservationist instinct, is driven by a sustained interest in thinking through what is undoubtedly the largest element in photographic practice, yet the least considered form within the academy. One central idea explored is that photography makes possible a new form of “civil imagination” and offers a type of citizenship “in advance” of ordinary citizenship, because of its inclusiveness and contingency. This idea was originally developed in the context of historical images and also in relation to contemporary photojournalism. Our research took some of these questions and investigated them in relation to everyday popular photographic practices. One principal aim of the project concerns the relationship between “representation” through


everyday images and “representation” through politics. We seek to gain insight into what kind of identities photography produces and the nature of their orientation into the future. Having transitioned into the space of digital photography, studio-based practices remain active, and intensely so, across geographic regions as diverse as West Africa, South Asia and Central America. Contemporary examples are complemented here by scans of surviving prints and negatives going as far back as the 1960s in Mymensingh, Ìlá Òràngún and Managua, demonstrating a continuity of practice and motifs. Focus shifts from the photographic image to the context of its making, and here the interiors of studios themselves, as seen for instance in Sri Lanka, draw further attention. Studios set-up around the Dakshinkali temple in Nepal produce standardized imagery that is meant to complement ritual practices within a space where photography is otherwise prohibited. In other settings, the studio becomes precisely a realm where the imagination runs free, where sitters challenge conventions, demonstrating how the camera – especially when complemented by post-production – remains a marvellous device. Street photographers specialized in producing ID photos or tourist imagery install mobile workstations at rush hour in Phnom Penh. An entire economy of gifting and affect is activated as tourist snapshots and personal photographs are exchanged between a range of actors, and across borders, often within diasporic contexts. We notice similar types of images appropriated and customized to serve familial, domestic purposes, as incorporated within the family album, or proudly displayed within one’s home. Other types of photographs included here are more straightforwardly political, and range from the making of posters and campaign materials – as seen for instance in Lagos and Phnom Penh – as well as historic photographs serving memorial purposes in the town of Distomo, in central Greece. Here too, ID photographs originally meant to serve bureaucratic purposes are repurposed, cared for, by families and communities, many generations after the end of the war. Indeed, even in its most quotidian uses, photography reveals its tremendous potential towards shaping individual and shared identities, as well as possibilities for the future.

The images included here have been provided by the members of the PHOTO­DEMOS COLLECTIVE. They arise from work by Naluwembe Binaisa, in Nigeria; Vindhya Buthpitiya, in northern Sri Lanka; Konstantinos Kalantzis, in Greece; Christopher Pinney, in Nepal, Bangladesh, and India; Ileana L. Selejan, in Nicaragua; and Sokphea Young, in Cambodia. The project is based within the Department of Anthropology at University College London and is funded by the European Research Council ( ERC ) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme ( Grant agreement No. 695283 ). Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author( s ) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Research Council. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

Cover image by Margarita Montealegre, Sajonia, 2021 Zine design by Helene Leuzinger


The Photographs Are Always Speaking Naluwembe Binaisa The Photographs Are Always Speaking was a statement I heard often in the public forum of the street and the intimate space of the studio, by photographers, clients, activists and artists, in Nigeria. It captures the agency and social relations that imbue photographs in their very materiality and exorbitant excess. Through this injunction everyday photographs reveal the persistence of indigenous cosmologies almost unconsciously within the bankrupt disappointment of postcolonial ideologies. My research focuses on popular photographs found in the intimate spaces of personal archives and the public sphere of the built environment at the interface of analogue and digital mediation. In this array of photographs, we view the work of elder professional photographer Simple Photo from Ìlá Òràngún, Osun State who has held onto his old 120 negatives from the late 1960s and 1970s. These contrast with portraiture re-purposed for public campaigns that signal the landscapes of faith and landscapes of power promoted in the city’s urban thoroughfare. Belonging, voice and identity are claimed on a range of levels in the context of Nigeria, and the early association of photography with relations of power, aesthetics and aspiration remains visible within the built landscape of the postcolony. Studio photographers are the vanguard of the community intimate with the rhythms of these ancient cities, as they document key life stages events bracketed by the cycle of birth, marriage, death. These photographs capture an enduring communal aesthetic that reflects an alternative cosmology rooted in ancient ways of seeing and ways of being. They mitigate the precarious nature of urban life with its ingrained inequalities, poverty and premature death. These demand the visual invocation and embodied claims of material advancement, success and natural justice that many hear these photographs confirm.

Nigeria


Naluwembe Binaisa


Nigeria


Naluwembe Binaisa


Loss, Enchantment, Possibility Vindhya Buthpitiya Though defined by decades of war loss, northern Sri Lanka’s photo­ graphy studios are spaces of enchantment and possibility. Even though the studio remains entangled with state actors in demands to pro­duce identity photography and perhaps evokes a dated imaginary and sensibility of photographic practice, Jaffna’s studio practitioners have remained at the forefront of improvisation and experimentation. Studio photographers, in their role as not merely picture-takers, but multitalented intermediaries of fates and futures, wielded their cameras to record moments that stitch together life and community histories. Through their artistry and artifice, they help imagine their clients’ lives and fantasies beyond the devastations of war and postwar. Indeed, studio photographers do not shy away from claiming their place in a long history and legacy in Jaffna’s place in the arrival of photography in Ceylon. It is this that connects to one of the compelling claims of photography’s introduction to the island by way of the American Christian Mission in 1853; a history that has been largely overlooked in the already sparse scholarship on Sri Lankan photography. In the lineage of their learning, the skills passed on from one photographer to the next, in fragmented oral histories, they recall their connections to the medium’s earliest apostles. Where the digital has replaced analogue film practices, the repertoire of the photographer’s tricks now exceed the limits of props and painted backdrops to mouse clicks and Photoshop. Expansions to technology and digital imagi( ni )ng have further integrated the studio with state requirements for evidencing identities and the biometric registration of persons. Similarly, mobile phone and digital cameras have afforded novel everyday image-making choices to their clients. Yet, studio photographers persist as arbiters of anticipated futures in facilitating aspirational citizenship, whether by capturing “lucky” visa photographs or crafting wedding albums to satisfy discerning immigration regimes. They remain also as the makers and preservers of material histories, where the digital has rendered photographs vulnerable to loss and obsolescence. These photographs chart the interiors of Jaffna’s photography studios and a history of the practice in the mundane paraphernalia of possibility.

Sri Lanka


Vindhya Buthpitiya


Sri Lanka


Vindhya Buthpitiya


Lenses of Alterity: Photography between Exchange, Parity and Disdain Konstantinos Kalantzis How can photography provide an understanding of imaginaries of conflict, and parity during a moment in contemporary Europe defined as a “crisis”? Historical photographs assigned the Greek areas under consideration to particular subject positions in “the national family album.” The towns of Distomo and Kalavryta that suffered massacres by German Nazis in the 1940s are visualized as victims: black-clad bereaved widows and their deprived children. The pastoral and tourist area of Sfakia, on the other hand, is envisioned as the nation’s male rugged warrior – a motif whose sequel involves images taken by post1960s tourists. Such photos are more than just abstract representations and inform daily practices with people using and exchanging images of themselves and their ancestors in public and domestic contexts. The subjects these photographs evoke have become particularly relevant following Greece’s 2010 bailout-deal with the EU and IMF, a period known as “the Greek crisis,” which was marked by renewed anxiety regarding Greeks’ position in Europe and an aversion to monitoring and subjugation. Visions of the nation as a bereaved widow or a warrior striking back are part of the repoliticized relationship between Greece and Germany, where Greeks’ evocation of the 1940s becomes a means of understanding power dynamics in contemporary Europe. Observing local practices reveals complex constellations of affect, reciprocity and disdain. Despite the national expectations that Sfakians resist ( German ) invaders, and the locals’ resentment against tourism as colonialism, Sfakians maintain warm relationships with German tourists, enacted through photographic exchanges in the space of hospitality. In Distomo and Kalavryta, a pervasive fear that the memory of German atrocities is being diluted today seeks to reverse Germany’s current role as surveyor and enforcer of austerity measures. Photography, in these case studies enables different possibilities of dialogue and co-existence, but it is also called upon to inscribe the line that separates victim from perpetrator, demanding that the ( German ) onlookers look down in shame.

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1 “Men from Sfakia, 1939.” An image taken by state-commissioned photographer Nelly which encapsulates motifs of male tradition and warriorhood. © Benaki Museum Photographic Archive #officialvisions, #Sfakianness

3 A Distomit woman and her nephew discuss a photograph of widows taken in their hometown in 1944, by Life-magazine photographer Dmitri Kessel. Photo by K. Kalantzis, 2018. #photographyasaresearchmethod, #rememberingoneself

2 Sfakian men at a coffeehouse, the middle sitter is holding a photograph from an older encounter with foreign photographers. Photo by Wolf Lustig, c. 1970. #photoencounters, #photodialogues, #Sfakianutopia

4–5 Sfakian men, showing me portraits I had taken of them in 2007 and which I gifted back years later. Photos by K. Kalantzis, 2018. #photo­graphyasgift, #theethnographerasphotographer, #photoexchanges 6 A man taking a picture of another villager’s portrait. that I took in 2007. Photo by K. Kalantzis, 2017. #photographyasascarseresource, #thegift, #hospitalityinethnography 7 Tourists’ photographs “curated” by Sfakian men at a kiosk inside a gorge. Photo by K. Kalantzis, 2017. #photos­againstthegrain, #localtouristencounters

Greece


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7 Konstantinos Kalantzis


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8 A man looking at historical images taken in the aftermath of the 1944 murder of civilians by German SS troops in Distomo. Photo by K. Kalantzis, 2018. #photoinethnography, #rememberingthepast 9 An advertisement of a local World-War-II museum featuring bullet holes targeting the depicted Nazi soldiers in highland Sfakia, Crete. Photo by K. Kalantzis, 2018. #Creteaswarriorhood, #shootingofroadsigns, #nationalexpectations 10 A photo wall showing the portraits of the victims of the Kalavryta massacre at the Municipal museum of the Kalavrytan Holocaust. Photo by K. Kalantzis 2018. #rememberingatrocity, #photographyasremembrance, #accusatorymemory

Greece

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11 Photograph showing local schoolchildren before the war at the Municipal Museum of the Kalavrytan Holocaust. Sitters are depicted as unknowing, soon-to-become victims of the massacre perpetrated by German troops in 1943. Unknown photographer, c. 1939. #heisdeadandisgoingtodie, #doubletemporality #photoasmemory 12 A Distomit man showing me an image of himself as an orphan taken by one of the humanitarian expeditions in the aftermath of the murder of local civilians by German SS troops in 1944. Photo by K. Kalantzis, 2018. #remembering­oneself, #rememberingvictimhood, #photographasaresearchmethod


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12 Konstantinos Kalantzis


Mymensingh: A Silent Music Christopher Pinney Mymensingh, three hours north of Dhaka by express train, has a whole alley of photo studios, some new and thriving, and several old mausoleum-like monuments to an earlier set of practices whose archives preserve the secret intimacies of small-town life. Perhaps the most memorable claim about photography in Mymensingh concerns its aural qualities. Photoruma Digital Studio’s slogan “Photography: A Silent Music” suggests Jacques Attali’s argument that music acts in advance of social reality, its code being quicker and more supple.1 Mymensingh’s photo-alley yields many archival treasures, mainly in the form of medium format 120 negatives. In one beautiful image two young women pose with clay water pots, the never-failing photographic index of a confected rurality. They are both backed into the corner of the studio, pictured against the wide expanse of the Brahmaputra which intersects another studio backdrop of a modern house through the window of which a palm tree and towering monsoon clouds can be seen. Further along the alleyway, Roy Studio impresses with its peeling lettering, the red surface of the Bengali characters of “Digital” flaking away from the columns on which they were painted. Inside the vast studio area exudes a sepulchral and desolate aura. Other studios featured whole walls covered with enlargements that mixed images of local customers with promotional images of film actors. The filmi images – largely of actresses – are displayed to attract customers who want modelling portfolios. The actresses embody a future to which many provincial studio customers aspire. Perhaps this is the “silent music” of the camera which beguiles and seduces with its sound of another, more glamorous, world. It also, to recall Attali, “makes audible [ what will ] gradually become visible”. 1

J. Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music ( Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985 ), p. 11.

Bangladesh


Christopher Pinney


Contingency in the Himalayas: Dakshinkali, Nepal Christopher Pinney Dakshinkali lies in a small valley to the south of Kathmandu, about one hour up a road that leads into the hills. It is the location of a major temple to the goddess Kali and on Tuesdays and Saturdays attracts large crowds, many of whom sacrifice cockerels and have their photographs taken by one of many studios in the bamboo shacks that line the road that descends towards the shrine. The studios all depend on the prohibition of photography inside the temple precincts. There is a variety of studios but a uniformity of practice. Clients are photographed on their way to the shrine and their images then Photoshopped into standard templates. The resulting images are then inket printed and usually inserted into a plastic frame in time for the client to collect on their way out. Modern Dakshinkali photography is centred around the prohibition of photography in the shrine itself. Yet this very distinctive practice points to a general feature of photography: a default unruliness and contingency which in this location is partially suppressed. Dakshinkali photography exemplifies a ritual mode that attempts to suppress or minimize contingency. The need to do this points to the underlying unruliness and troublesome nature of the photographic event. Variation in practices, and apparent inversions or nega­ tions, do not imply that a vision of multiple “photographies” is our only option. Spatializing and localizing need not result in fragmentation. The road from Dakshinkali leads back to central questions about photographic ontology.

Nepal


Christopher Pinney


An Extended Family Album Ileana L. Selejan “Son raras las personas que no tienen una foto Luminton,” ( there are few people who do not own a Luminton photograph ), the manager of Foto Luminton, Francisco Ruiz, proudly stated. Since its beginnings in 1950s Managua, Nicaragua, the studio has been charged by the capital city’s inhabitants with producing their most prized portraits: of families and individuals, friends and lovers, babies and children, marriages, first-communions, graduations, and other important life events. As these examples show, before the switch to digital technology, photographs were retouched and hand-coloured. These are forgotten portraits, which for whatever reason clients never collected. In her series “Sajonia,” photographer Margarita Montealegre appropriates pictures from her family album. Managua was almost entirely destroyed during an earthquake in 1972. Only a few historic buildings and sites have survived, Sajonia is one such area. Montealegre’s family album was rescued by her mother from the ruins of their home. Through juxtapositions with contemporary views of her childhood neighbourhood, she reflects on the passage of time, and the workings of memory. Gabrielle Garcia Steib – a photographer based in New Orleans – shares photographs from her family album and documentation, reflecting on the lives of three generations of women who have lived inbetween Nicaragua, Mexico and the United States. These images and texts reflect on the meaning of community and belonging, the burdens of migration and the intricate identities one must negotiate by necessity during one’s life. Contemporary photographic practices in Nicaragua are illustrative of citizens’ enduring aspirations. Despite the digital “turn,” the demand for portraits remains significant, as photographs continue to grace the walls of households, embedded into the family album. While fulfilling certain conventions and cultural standards, studio portraiture nonetheless reveals important aspects of social life. The family album, inclusive of formal portraits and snapshots, speaks to the textures of everyday life, at the intersection with historic events such as the 1972 earthquake, or the 1978-79 Sandinista insurrection, and subsequent political trials and tribulations. The selection of work included here explores a range of photographic practices that involve memory, across time and space.

Nicaragua


Ileana L. Selejan


Margarita Montealegre, Sajonia, 2021

Nicaragua


Gabrielle Garcia Steib, selections from the photographer’s family album showing three generation of women, and documentation pertaining to their lives, 1940s to 1960s.

Ileana L. Selejan


Cambodia: The Colour of History Sokphea Young Photographic processes are both metaphors and indexes of Cambodia’s historical experience. That experience encompasses war, peace, development and democratisation. Alongside this, vernacular photographic practices have morphed from black and white to colour. Black and white embodies memories of pre-Khmer Rouge bourgeois modernity. But black and white images also survive as signs of civil war. They serve as metaphors of past atrocity when millions of Cambodians were killed in pursuit of a millenarian political project, and are also traces – indexes – of that catastrophic experience. The Khmer Rouge attempted to eliminate all lifestyle and class differences, levelling the populace to peasant status. All Cambodians were ordered to wear black shirts and trousers. Variety in colours was believed to create class inequality. The Khmer Rouge cadres imposed the same dress code on their children as shown here in an image made in the 1970s. Photographic processes came to mirror political ideology. If monochrome came to embody genocide, colour came to symbolize, and also indexed, post-war peace and the struggle for democratisation. The availability of colour film contributed to the erosion of Khmer Rouges politics and aesthetics. In the image to the right, the colour of the backdrop and the outfits of the children depict a new form of integration, reunion and celebration. Contrasting with the black and white of the Khmer Rouge outfits, the variety of coloured apparel in this photograph can be read as a form of ‘re-civilization’ in the post-genocidal regime, where survivors like those in this photograph liberate themselves from the dark colours imposed by the Khmer Rouge. But colour also flows “against” history. Old images such as the family group depicting my own grandparents in the 1930s are revitalised through Photoshop. Digital techniques of colourization are used to make the past more immediate, more tangible, and graspable. Colour becomes a supple sign of an increasingly fluid history.

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Studio portrait from before the war, Kampong Thom, c.1970s

2 Children of cadres of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia ( from a family photographic archive ), c.1970s 3 A photograph of Nhem Nharm, on the left with a blue shirt, taken at a camp along the Cambodia-Thailand border in the 1980s. On the right, his portrait has been cut to make a photo ID for a job application. 4 A family reunion after the Khmer Rouge, Stoung district of Kampong Thom, Cambodia, 1989 5 Colourized photograph of the author’s great grandparents, c.1930s ( overleaf )

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Cambodia


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4 Sokphea Young


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Cambodia


Sokphea Young