One photographic register of violence a day… (warning: extremely graphic imagery)

Warning: most of the links have extremely violent imagery.

I gave myself a task: to look at photographs of violent events for a period of more or less a month and to chose a photograph per day (which wasn’t manageable after all). I realized from this experience that I haven’t really been looking at photographs of violence for quite some time, so it was chocking, at the point of making me very sick and vomit. I also realized that not only the violent imagery I was acquainted to was too mediated (to the point of being censured), but also that the most gruesome events don’t even get exposure, as if that sort of violence was too much for us. And it is, sites such as http://warisacrime.org/uncensored, or  http://www.genocideinsyria.org easily prove it.

But do we conscientiously chose to forget these events? I guess so, otherwise capitalism would go down, because the only way we can live with the knowledge of such violent acts is to develop our critical thought about the world, which has inevitable consequences on the choices we make, what and how we consume.

Because I am involved in the education of visual culture, photography in particular, I try to reflect upon these issues with my students. However, I realized I have been going about it the wrong way, for when it comes to photographs of current events, I only have been looking at the work of professional photojournalists, who I now consider not to be succeeding at their jobs. It’s not necessarily their fault, but the media enterprises, who apply censorship on a daily basis. I know this has to be debated in a more serious and profound manner, but for now I’ll just add a few bullet-points:

  • I don’t consider photojournalism an art, as I don’t consider most of the so called artistic expressions to be examples of art. I’m not using the term “art” here as a qualification. The point is that art, as I see it, is not about communication or the illustration of an idea, but rather about an expression that escapes linguistic discourses and aims at an internal “reception” of it – experience, abstraction, imagination, etc, etc, etc.
  • Having said this, the aesthetic parameters should not be the most important thing in photojournalism. As I see it, an ethical approach to the documenting of events should. 

As it happens, professional photographers seam to be unable to fulfill this task. “Professional hazard” one might say, for they cannot avoid to “beautify reality” (as Sontag would put it). Apparently, citizens everywhere are stepping into their shoes and giving us proofs of the violence happening all around the world.

While doing this exercise I came across some hardcore sites dedicated to showcasing gruesome photographs, most of which I won’t even mention here. But one is worth mentioning: Best Gore, whose statement goes like this:

Why This Website Is Important
Best Gore is a reality news website which reports on real life events which are of the interest to the public. Best Gore was founded on the fundamental principle that freedom of expression, freedom of the press and the right of the public to be informed are fundamental and necessary conditions for the realization of the principles of transparency and accountability that are, in turn, essential for the promotion and protection of all human rights in a democratic society.

[…]

History demonstrates that censorship is mostly used by those who detest freedom and progress, simply to stop truths or ideas emerging. This is inexcusable.
Harm to freedom of expression caused by censorship of content just because some may deem it blasphemous, obscene or morals-corrupting would be devastating and should be of utmost concern to all people of conscience.
Supporters of censorship and human rights violations need to be exposed for petty tyrants that they are, and dealt with accordingly. And this is where Best Gore steps in as the website has played a pivotal role in exposing lies which were declared as official truths by the mainstream media, exposed countless cases of police brutality, governments sanctioned terrorism, war profiteering, fear mongering and other unsavory activities which enslave the people in injustice.
Why It Is Important to Communicate Uncensored Information Published on Best Gore to the Public
By self censoring yourself to the content on Best Gore, you are censoring your self to the truth. In any situation, if you feel like you can’t, won’t, shouldn’t or are not allowed to look at something, you open the door to allowing someone else to tell you what happened.
By not seeing things for yourself, you are opening the door to being lied to and persuaded in one direction or the other. No matter how brutal, hard, sad, offensive, immoral, obscene or [fill in the blank] something is to look at, only by seeing it with your own eyes can you make up your own opinion on the matter and see truth.
When you bring yourself to look at the real violence in the world, it kicks your ass into realty because referring back to what I said earlier, everything I just said could be a lie.

Although the imagery displayed in their site is unbearable to watch, I do agree with the statement. The problems start when news get mixed up with gossip. Although most of us would agree with the importance of knowing about the gruesome attacks of Boko Haram (for example) and some of us think it is important to be visually exposed to such violence, car crashes and similar accidents add absolutely nothing to our awareness and conscious perspective about the world. So why should one level the importance of a motorcycle crash with the news of a young Nigerian woman who had her heart removed by “ritualists in the area”?

One conclusion that chocked me while trying for this task is the frequency with which news/articles/posts are illustrated with photographs that reference another event. Apparently it doesn’t matter. If the news is about a Kurdish woman being killed at a wedding by the man to whom she was promised (her cousin) apparently any chocking photograph of a dead woman in a pool of blood serves the purpose. If the news if about the finding of a mass grave of Shiite Muslims in Nigeria, why can’t it be illustrated by the photograph of another mass grave with victims from the Boko Haram that was also found in Nigeria? If the news is about civilians being burnt to death in Fallujah in April 2016, why can’t the posts be illustrated with pictures of similar events that happened the year before? And what’s so wrong with mistaking anti-fascist protesters with fascist protesters, after all don’t they dress alike?

I know, it shouldn’t surprise me, for how often do people confuse the purpose of photography with the illustration of an idea? (Here’s another example with no great consequences: while covering the news of the hijack of an Egyptair flight, some sites were accompanying the news with photographs of an anti-hijacking exercise held in China in 2009).

The free press is a cornerstone of democratic regimes precisely because it supposedly makes it possible for people to have their own opinion about things. Some of the most important events in the world today are not even being photographed or, if they are, what reaches us is politically approved imagery. We see the pictures from the mass grave found in Palmyra in March, containing 42 bodies of mostly children, women and old men, but where are the graves from the killings of the Russian and US bombings? Where are the graves sponsored by the so-called western world?

On the 28th of March, in Angola, a group of 17 activists that were imprisoned after getting together to discuss the reading of From Dictatorship to Democracry: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation, by Gene Sharp, were sentenced to prison. No violent protests erupted after that, even though they are illegally detained as political prisoners. As I see it, that absence of violence is a sign of their lack of liberty (if ‘to use or not use violence’ is a question, here’s a good article (in english) and a great one (in portuguese).

One could say that violence only generates violence, and that those who defend themselves through violence tend to act as inhumanly as those who initially perpetrated the violence (the destruction of ISIS is just a recent example), but what about our right to resist the undercover violence that is everywhere, before it gets bloodier? When in a democratic regime, should we just abide by the rules, in the name of the institutionalized normalcy? For me the answer is a clear no.

The violence perpetrated by the so-called democratic regimes is still hard to document. For example, since the beginning of the year, everywhere in Europe there have been neo-nazi demonstrations and counter-demonstrations (anti-fascism, anti-racism, anti-Islamophobia, you name it) but the photographic registers fail to document the violence that is perpetrated by the police forces, who too often protect the nationalist parades and imprison those who get in their way. Photographs of police beating and arresting civilians don’t really portrait the violence of such an act.

Fact is that I am also contributing to the hypocrisy of the seemingly peaceful environment in which our governments try to make us believe. All the extremely violent imagery that I saw during this task was left out of the post. It’s just too gruesome and hard to watch. I believe most people won’t be able to keep their eyes open while facing such reality.

What I concluded was that no professional photographer is publishing the extreme violence that is happening all around the world. And why is that? Because it is unimaginable? Simply because it is impossible to be there to witness it? Are the killers documenting their acts with their cameras and cellphones? Are they publishing those images in social media and we just don’t want to share it? Is the non recognition of an image of a thing the same thins as the non admittance of such an event? If we erase the proves, can we forget that moment? If we share the proofs of those violent acts are we endorsing and promoting it?

This “exercise” made me think about my choices. For instances, before this I had never looked at ISIS propaganda. I even rejected writing down their name, as if naming it was a validation that I didn’t want to commit to. But why did I chose to do it? After this, I have no doubt that the answer is related with my denial of that reality. I also thought I couldn’t handle watching a decapitation, and feared once I did, another step towards the relativization of evil could be taken.

I’m still in denial when it comes to videos showcasing violence. I never watch them. Are the photographs less competent in “telling the truth”? I think not at all! For instances, the still of a decapitation or the beheaded bodies are horrific, chocking, and they make you vomit, but how could they not? Such imagery surely doesn’t provoke the sort of crocodile tears that Salgado’s photographs do, because we are not talking about art, or the making of the beautiful, but about the significance of violence and how its visual documentation is important in the leveling of humanity.

February, 24th, 2016

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© António Lacerda. ‘Petistas’ (suporters of the PT party) attack a man who supported Dilma’s impeachment. This was published.
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© Fernando Frazão. A member from the Workers’ Union is attacked by a member of the opposite side (defending Dilma’s impeachment). This was not.

February, 25th, 2016

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© Philippe Huguen. An anti-riot policeman throws a tear gas grenade during the dismantling of the refugee camp in Calais.

February, 27th, 2016

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© Eric Hood. Stab victim being treated at a Ku Klux Klan Rally and Counter-Protest in Anaheim, USA.

March, 12th, 2016

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Author not identified. Bodies of Houthi terrorist outside the city, liquidated by the Yemeni Army. Taiz residents and the Popular Resistance Forces rejoicing the triumph.

March, 13th, 2016

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Author not identified. Photograph of two death bodies at Grand-Bassam (Côte d’Ivoire), consequence of an attack by the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) on a touristic resourt. March, 13th, 2016.

March, 16th, 2016

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© Konstantinos Tsakalidis. Refugees attempt perilous Greece-Macedonia crossing and plea with police to let them continue their march.

March, 22nd, 2016

Injured people are seen at the scene of explosions at Zaventem airport near Brussels

Handout for Reuters. Injured people are seen at the scene of explosions at Zaventem airport near Brussels, Belgium, March 22, 2016. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the two bomb attacks in Brussels that killed dozens of people, a news agency affiliated with the group said.

March, 24th, 2016

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© Hazem Bader. Israeli soldiers, including a combat medic now under investigation for murder, stood near the body of a Palestinian suspect that one of them shot in the head on Thursday in Hebron.

March, 25th, 2016

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Screenshot from new propaganda video. The nine-minute video titled “The Exile of Islam and Brussels Attacks” was released by the Al-Battar Media Foundation and shows Trump’s photo in flames while playing his interview clips about the attack in Brussels.

March, 26th, 2016

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© Glauco Araújo. Protesters setting a Dilma puppet on fire during the Easter-time ritual of the burning of Judas.

March, 27th, 2016

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© AFP/Getty. An injured Pakistani child victim of a suicide blast rests in a hospital in Lahore after a suicide bomber attacked a park thronging with families celebrating Easter killed at least 72 people.

March, 31st, 2016

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© Thomas Samson. French riot police clash with union members and students demonstrating against labour law reforms (El Khomri) close to the Gare de Lyon train station in the French capital Paris on March 31, 2016.

April, 1st, 2016

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Author not identified. Iraqi Army executes ISIS member after asking the users on Instagram whether they should kill him or not.

April, 2nd, 2016

police arrest protestors at the Bourse Memorial as they protest against the calls for a far right-wing demonstration cancelled by Mayor before taking place in Molenbeek Brussels Belgium April 2 2016 EPA OL
© Olivier Hoslet, Belgium policemen arrest protestors at the Bourse Memorial for victims of the terrorist attack, as they protest against the calls for a far right-wing demonstration that was cancelled by Brussels Mayor before taking place in Molenbeek, Brussels, Belgium, 02 April 2016. At lease 20 people were arrested at the Bourse Memorial include President of Belgium Human right watch movement amnesty international Lawyer Alexis Deswaef.

April, 5th, 2016

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Author not identified. Armenian Soldiers Killed by Azerbaijan Forces -Nagorno-Karabakh War.

April, 6th, 2016

A Pakistani migrant threatens to hang himself from a utility pole during a demonstration inside the Moria registration centre on the Greek island of Lesbos
© Giorgos Moutafis.A Pakistani migrant threatens to hang himself from a utility pole during a demonstration inside the Moria registration centre on the Greek island of Lesbos.

April, 8th, 2016

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Author not identified. Iraqi Sunnis children killed by Iraqi army airstrikes on popular market in Fallujah.

April, 10th, 2016

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© STR. Indian bystanders carry an injured man after a fireworks explosion and fire at The Puttingal Devi Temple in Paravur.

 

open carefully; this image might shock you

Note: I chose to give the warning I missed to find when I came across the image that I’ll be referring to later on this post: a poor resolution image of the inside of the Bataclan after the tragedy that came to be known as the Paris attacks.

The tragedy took place on a Friday night, the 13th of November. It was a heavy weekend. I couldn’t manage to have an ordinary conversation without feeling I was offending the lives of those who had just been killed, by not addressing the issue. I had a class on Monday morning, teaching Visual Language to 1st year undergraduate students, so I decided to prepare something about the subject to discuss with them.

Going thru the usual news and photo agencies, all the photographs appeared to go around the subject, contrasting to what usually circulates when similar tragedies occur on “far away grounds”: no death bodies, only traces of the violence that had befallen the streets of Paris.

Even in a Portuguese newspaper (Público) a similar phenomenon occurred. It was the Photo Paris weekend, so a lot of photographers were visiting the capital. Público took the opportunity and commissioned Daniel Blaufuks a photographic essay on the events. The result, entitled Paris Toujours, takes the form of an unpretentious diary, filled with nostalgia and melancholy. Blaufuks chooses to address the everydayness, as if that was the mark of what is most authentic about Paris. As if the violence couldn’t penetrate the aesthetic grounds of his photographic language.

Magnum had several photographers on the streets. In different manners, they chose to construct a narrative around the traces of such violence. We see the suffering, the despair, the anguish, but not the violence. Once again, as if the violence was unphotographable. I used to agree with this approach. I used to think most photographs of violence were pornographic and unnecessary. But I changed my mind after the Paris attacks.

An article by Emmanuel Taïeb guided me on such a reflection. I teach students that in photography it is often more important what the photograph doesn’t show. What lives on in our imagination is usually more transformative. So, for instances, if one photograph shows the impact of a bullet instead on the bullet hitting the target, it is more successful, for we are left wondering about the event, what happened before and after, etc.

FRANCE. Paris. 2015.Day after terrorist attack.
© Alex Majoli. FRANCE. Paris. November 14, 2015. The day after the terror attacks. Bullet holes.
FRANCE, Paris, 14112015 The day after the 1311 terror attacks.
© Thomas Dowrzak. FRANCE, Paris, 14/11/2015 The day after the 13/11 terror attacks. Restaurants “Le Petit Cambodge” and “Le Carillon”.

Magnum photographers such as Alex Majoli and Thomas Dworzak did exactly that and there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with such approach. The question is: do photographers behave the same way when photographing “at a distance”? Do we discriminate between the death of an European and the death of a non-European? Of course we do. But, once again, there’s nothing tremendously wrong with that, for human beings empathize with what’s more familiar to them. However, we are talking about news agencies, not about a bunch of friends discussion the issue at the neighborhood Cafe.

In the press, whether televised or printed, when a bomb hits the streets of Afghanistan or Iraq we’re immediately showed bodies on the ground, lots of them. Some have cloths over their faces, some don’t. Most reporters don’t care to go around violence, looking for its traces. We saw that just one day before the Paris attacks, with the suicide bombing in Beirut.

As I was preparing for Monday class, I stumbled upon a discussion set around a photograph from inside the Bataclan and the need for such an image to be showed or reserved (here’s the link for the image; not publishing it here, for I’d rather give the option to the viewer – to see or not to see). I found the image profoundly disturbing, though I mistakenly showed it in class and the reaction was close to zero. Knowing how they reacted to it now, I would have chosen to show it, with no reserves. The discussion that followed confirms the arguments I was starting to build to justify the need to share that image.

We all know it, images of violence have attained such a circulation that they are now “part of the landscape”. Not only the photographs have become ordinary, but also the reality they represent. Are we dehumanized for not reacting to such representations? As far as I see it, we are. Photography hasn’t lost the status of proof, of testimony. We are now well aware of the manipulation it often entails, but that doesn’t deny the fact that photojournalists work on documenting reality. So why don’t we care about the bodies covered in blood inside the Bataclan? Do we not care about the photograph and care about the bodies? Thinking about what my students explained to me, for I had to ask them to take me trough their reactions, they don’t really get the concept of the existence of their being a true moment behind the photograph, as if it was all fiction. Not staged or faked, but merely fictional.

So why the need to share such violent imagery? And I go back to Sontag’s idea of “inauthentic beauty”: the need may not exist, but there’s still a reason for it; one shares the image of the Bataclan to avoid beautifying the violence that hit Paris and to be fair in the treatment of events…

≡ It’s never too late to see the world through Antoine’s eyes ≡

MEXICO. Nuevo Laredo. 2000.© Antoine D’Agata, Mexico, Nuevo Laredo, 2000.

For different reasons, I see quite a lot of photographs and bodies of work on a daily basis. What rarely happens, is being surprised by the work of an established photographer, whom I didn’t know. Today was one of those days. While reading about the voyeur and in between several works by emerging photographers, I came across the visual world of Antoine D’Agata. And what a surprise! All I can do now is share, both at home as well as at work.

As far as I can tell, Antoine is sort of a nomadic photographer. Born in Marseille, France, in 1961, he has lived in New York and travelled everywhere and in 2004 became a Magnum member. What follows are excerpts of an interview conducted by Manik Katyal, in 2012. Full interview here. More of Antoine’s work here.

USA, NEW YORK city.© Antoine D’Agata, USA, New York City.

Untitled, 2007© Antoine D’Agata, 2007.

TURKEY. Istanbul. 1999.© Antoine D’Agata, Turkey, Istanbul, 1999.

Manik: So there is no specific thing you have in mind when you’re documenting but basically your personal experiences?

Antoine: Yes because I think photography is being misused for the last century. It is being used mostly as a documenting way which of course is a wonderful, very specific way of technique to document reality. But unlike the other art forms, to be a photographer you have to get out of your studio and get to go to experiment the world. And this is what most people forget to do. You know they use photography as illustration of some social sociological ideal in a beautiful way. But they forget that to use photography to its most powerful level you have to use it in the position inside the world not outside.

Manik: Be part of it..?

Antoine: Firstly, I don’t care. I mean I can discuss it, but I don’t care. It doesn’t touch me, I mean I read sometimes something or hear something but it doesn’t affect me. I’m putting enough energy in the work that I’m doing and I don’t need people’s approval. Second, I always like to see how much people critique my work for moral reasons while on the other side they make so many moral compromises in real life even with their fears, even in a passive way we all become part of some exploitative system. It makes me smile to see people who live so well in comfort and forgetness and ridicule someone who is…

Mortality, France, 2011© Antoine D’Agata, France, 2011.

FRANCE. Paris. 2009.© Antoine D’Agata, Paris, 2009.

CANARIES. Playa del Ingles_2© Antoine D’Agata, Canaries, Playa del Ingles.

Manik: … working hard?

Antoine: Yes. My life is what it is and of course I’ve been different in my choices but I don’t do it out of pleasure or pathology, I do it because I think it’s my duty as a human being. I live in this world, I want to know what’s going on, I want to be with the people I think I’m like. In meaningful and painful situations, I want to be where I think it’s important to be; where things are at stake. If others are experimenting with the economic balance, I want to be there. So this is my way. I’m not photographing pleasure but my relationship with these girls who are prostitutes or drug addicts or delinquents is a very conscious choice. My relationship with them is based on the knowledge of the conditions we live in and ambiguities and difficulties about how to establish a relationship in this scenario. And we deal with this. Of course violence can be part of it. Some good violence, some bad violence but it is the way. I always question the way I photograph it. Brutality of course, a large part of the picture but I think violence is part of life. It’s part of the beauty of life and part of the ugliness of life. And this violence I don’t show it very distinctly. At times I try to provoke it but it’s never aimed at people I’m photographing and the violence you see in most pictures is not violence against people it is violence which comes out of a situation, usually very physical situations leading to drugs or sex or narcotic sex and so it is a good violence.

[…]

Manik: What have the effects of your lifestyle been on your body?

Antoine: I don’t have an exotic lifestyle. I go deep down in my own life and that of my subjects. I see most of the photographic practice in the world as exoticism, with people going to exciting places, exciting ideas. For many years I’ve had a strong constitution, like a physical way and for many years was able to avoid physical effects of abuse and to my brain. And I think with age, at 50 now, I’m reaching a point where I have to deal with it. I hate the idea but this for me is one of the reasons why physically and mentally, the drug abuse made it hard for me to function over the past few years as a human being and even less as a photographer. So I’m at a stage where I have to find new ways to survive mentally, physically and I’ve to find new ways to look at the world.

Cambodja, Dernier Voyage, 2008© Antoine D’Agata, Cambodja, Dernier Voyage, 2008.

Cambodja, 2011© Antoine D’Agata, Cambodja, 2011.

BRESIL, 2006© Antoine D’Agata, Bresil, 2006.

┐ Alexandre Tylski, Gus van Sant’s highschool as a Zoo └

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From time to time I revisit Gus van Sant’s movie Elephant.   I think of it as a brilliant artwork, definitely his best. The characters, the composition, the poignancy of the argument… though he mastered them all what really captivated me was the animal theme and the symbolism behind its use. I remember reading an article about it and never being able to find it again. I encountered it today, by chance, so here it is:

ELEPHANT : un film animalier

Le titre du film

Le titre du film ELEPHANT est au départ une référence consciente au téléfilm du même nom réalisé par le cinéaste (depuis disparu) Alan Clark sur la violence en Irlande du Nord (un titre évoquant aussi l’impossibilité pour un aveugle à se représenter la forme d’un éléphant). Le titre ELEPHANT est aussi une référence à la mascotte des Républicains aux USA: l’éléphant. Gus Van Sant avoue : ” On s’est amusé avec la dimension politique que peut représenter le titre, et donc sa charge satirique envers, bien sûr, l’aspect aliénant du système d’éducation américain. (.) Elephant, c’est ce qui se voit comme le nez au milieu de la figure, mais ce que tout le monde souhaiterait bien occulter. ” (1)

Mais nous pouvons aussi décrypter le titre ” ELEPHANT ” (“ENFANT”?) en tant que symbole culturel, voire parfois cultuel. Ainsi, il ne s’agirait pas d’oublier que l’éléphant est la monture du Dieu de la Foudre Indra (on entendra dans le film la foudre gronder avant le massacre). C’est aussi un animal aux grandes oreilles (Alex, le tueur, souffre de surdité lors de la scène de la cantine et toute la bande sonore du film se décompose de résonances et de réverbérations très sensibles). C’est aussi ” l’éléphant spirituel et sacré ” (le Christ) qui relève Adam après sa chute. L’éléphant est cet animal que l’on dit sage, sans agressivité et solidement ancré au sol ; dans les rêves il représente une réalité terrestre avec laquelle certaines personnes n’arrivent pas toujours à garder le contact.

Bref, autant d’éléments en rapport direct avec le récit et l’esthétique de ELEPHANT de Gus Vant Sant. Un titre pour le moins emblématique des figures animales qui traversent son film : un sweat-shirt représentant une tête de tigre, un T-Shirt jaune représentant un taureau noir, un chien sautillant au ralenti, un éléphant représenté en croquis sur le mur de la chambre des tueurs, le son d’oiseaux pendant la tuerie dans les couloirs du lycée et la scène finale dans la chambre froide remplie de viande animale. Il fallait donc prendre ELEPHANT dans son sens premier : un film animalier. Nous ne sommes pas dans une ménagerie gitane à la Kusturica, mais dans une impossible Arche de Noé déguisée en lycée. Un parc animalier aux accents apocalyptiques. Un retour au monde sauvage.

Le lycée comme un zoo

LE TIGRE. Michelle est une jeune fille timide et rondelette, et visiblement complexée dans les vestiaires. Elle ne semble pas assumer sa féminité. Elle fait figure de garçon manqué. Gus Van Sant nous la présente pour la première fois portant un sweat-shirt sportif arboré d’un tigre (l’emblème même du lycée mais que seule, elle, porte). On sait que le tigre a pour particularité dans les rêves et les mythes d’être un félin gracieux et puissant : tour à tour féminin (longs cils autour des yeux) et masculin (grondement grave). C’est aussi la bête noire rampante (Michelle rase les murs) des premiers hommes, autre retour aux peurs primaires et barbares. Gus Van Sant nous indique la nature foncièrement hybride de Michelle. Mais la nature tout aussi hybride et sauvage des autres personnages.

LE TAUREAU. John est un blondinet habillé de jaune. Cet ange blond marque l’esthétique du film (une sorte de cousin de Tazzio ?) et la mémoire des personnes ayant vu le film (les images illustrant par exemple les critiques de film parues sur ce film mettent presque toujours en valeur ce blondinet). Lui aussi fait figure d’hybride. Car en effet, son T-shirt si particulier y fait représenter un taureau noir sur fond jaune (2) et l’on connaît l’attachement de Van Sant pour les costumes, notamment dans Prête à Tout (1995) avec Nicole Kidman. Le contraste est fort (phrase reprise d’ailleurs dans le film) et nourrira l’esthétique entière du film. Taureau rappelant les peintures pariétales et à la fois symbolique de vie et de mort, on ne voit littéralement que cela lorsque Gus Van Sant filme John déambulant dans les labyrinthes du lycée.

John, l’ange taureau

John est ainsi une sorte d’ange taureau (dont l’écho se fera à la fin avec Benny, son double, jeune noir au T-shirt jaune). Une créature hybride, voire androgyne, que nous soupçonnons un moment d’être le tueur (Gus Van Sant insiste sur lui dans le premier mouvement du film comme s’il s’agissait de son héros principal). Les apparences sont trompeuses (il sera d’ailleurs question d’apparence dans un débat lycéen du film) : le simulacre de l’image est ici au cour.

Ce jeune homme taureau serpentant dans les labyrinthes rappelle alors inévitablement le mythe même du Minotaure. L’origine de la représentation. Retour aux sources des légendes initiatiques (et de l’art pariétal). Questionnement alors de Gus Van Sant sur ” Comment évoluent les mythes et les contes aujourd’hui ? ” mais aussi ” Qu’est-ce qu’une image ? ” et ” Comment la jeunesse vit-elle avec les images ? ” Comment sont-ils piégés par elles comme dans un labyrinthe de signes ? – pas étonnant de voir ainsi plusieurs scènes se dérouler dans la chambre noire du lycée, Gus Van Sant scrute précisément la création photographique et l’imago.

Les 7 jeunes filles et jeunes garçons offerts au Minotaure sont représentés dans le film par les cartons (retour au cinéma muet) indiquant les noms de ces jeunes (muets ?) – liste létale d’une morte annoncée, ils sont comme jetés aux lions. Les cartons sont autant de plaques mortuaires, de tombeaux ouverts. Gus Van Sant détourne le mythe du Minotaure et questionne une époque, ou plutôt : la représentation d’une époque. Dans le monde décrit dans ELEPHANT, les enfants ne sont plus uniquement les chassés, il sont aussi les bourreaux.

Les Trois Petits Cochons

La présence du conte et de l’animal se poursuit et s’achève jusque dans la dernière scène, tournée dans la chambre froide des cuisines du lycée. Et sur une contine détournée en air de croquemitaine. Alex a passé plusieurs portes pour trouver deux amoureux dans une chambre froide. Comme dans Les Trois Petits Cochons (et SHINING de Kubrick, 1980), il traverse les portes. Alex pointe son arme sur le couple amoureux et récite: ” Amstramgram, pic et pic et colegram, bourre et bourre. Si tu prends un tigre par la patte. et qu’il bouge. laisse-le filer. ” Des morceaux d’animaux froids pendent au fond alors que les jeunes amoureux sont laissés hors champ, déjà ” disparus. ” Les corps en mouvement constant du début du film se gèlent. Le zoo est mort.

text by Alexandre Tylski. Continue reading here

┐ الحرية لفلسطين └

© Sofia Silva, qui sème la misère, récolte la colère (wip detail), from the series The Protester, 2012

Freedom for Palestine

Resistance Égalité

Free Palestine canalblog

┐ an unwelcome guest └

© REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis, A masked protester holds a metal bar during a violent demonstration in Syntagma square in central Athens

OPEN LETTER TO ANGELA MERKEL

Dear chancellor Merkel,

We start by saying we address you only as chancellor of Germany. We did not vote for you and do not acknowledge the existence of a chancellor of Europe. We, the subscribers of this open letter, write to you as free citizens. Citizens of a country you wish to visit on the next 12th of November, as well as citizens in solidarity with all the countries attacked by austerity. Due to the character of the announced visit, those who have to struggle daily with the dire economic and social situation in Portugal, must stress that you are not welcome. You should be considered persona non grata in Portuguese territory because you clearly come to interfere with the Portuguese State’s decisions without being democratically mandated by those who live here.

Even so, because our government has of late ceased to obide with the laws of this country and its Republican constitution, we address this letter directly to you. The presence of many great businessman in your entourage is an outrage. Under the guise of “foreign investment”, you will bring a group of people that will come to plunder the ruins in which your policies have left the Portuguese economy, as well as those of Greece, Ireland, Italy and Spain. Your delegation is composed not only by those who have coerced the Portuguese state, with the connivance of its government, to privatize it’s property and most valuable assets, but also by the potential beneficiaries of those properties and assets, bought today at fire-sale prices.

This letter cannot and should not be seen as any sort of nationalist of chauvinist vindication – it’s a direct address to you as the chief promoter of the Neoliberal doctrine which is ruining Europe. We do not address the German people who have all the democratic legitimacy to elect whomever they want for their representative offices. However, in this country where we live, your name was never on any ballot. We did not elect you. As such, we do not recognize you the right to represent us and even less the right to make political decisions on our behalf.

And we are not alone. On the 14th of November, two days after your announced visit, we will rise with several others in a general strike which will include many European countries. It will be a strike against the governments which have betrayed and still betray the trust the citizens deposited on them, a strike against the austerity applied by them. But do not delude yourself, chancellor. It will be a strike against the austerity imposed by the troika and against all those which intend to transform it into an authoritarian regime. It will be a strike against you, Mme. Merkel. And if we salute the people of Greece, Spain, Italy Cyprus and Malta, we also salute the German people who suffer with us. We know very well that the Wirtschaftswunder, Germany’s “economical miracle”, was built on the basis of successive debt pardons by its main creditors. We know that the supposed current German economic thrust is built on a brutal crackdown on wages for over 10 years and the massive promotion of precarious labour, temporary and low-wage work that afflicts a great part of the German people. That also shows the perspective you, chancellor Merkel, have for your own country.

It’s very likely that you won’t reply. And it’s probable that the Portuguese government, subservient, weak and feeble, will receive you with flowers and applause. But the truth, chancellor, is that the majority of the Portuguese population blatantly disapproves of this government and the way in which it is destroying the country, supported by the troika and yourself. Even if you choose a secret route and a private airport to get away from the demonstrations against your visit, you have to know that they will occur all around the country. And they will be protests against you and what you represent. Your entourage may try and ignore us. The European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank may try to ignore the streets. But we are more and more, Mme. Merkel. Here and in all countries. Our protests will be stronger and stronger. We become more aware of reality every day. The stories you have all told us were always awkward and now we know they were full-out lies.

We have awaken, Mme. Merkel. You are an unwelcome guest.

┐ Modern Battlefields └

@ Juan Manuel Serrano/Associated Press, more images here and here

miners struggle for working conditions in Asturias, Spain. It’s been going on for weeks… You can read a personal account of what’s happening here

“The total absence of limitation to the thirst for power which wants to hold everything under its thumb, even beyond all necessity, is only the expression of the absolute disappointment that the I feels when it realises that once in existence it is confined to share it with other beings and that the totality of existence is not its alone. A word from Nietzsche, ‘If there was a God, how could I endure not to be God’ [sic], constitutes the definitive formulation of this painful state. In the desire for power, man seeks to make up for the advance that the world has on him; since already he is not all, he must have all. He gets his revenge on the world by spreading his contingent self over the world, by incorporating it within himself and by representing it. For the one who is powerful is no longer only himself, such as he was in his miserable condition, but this one and that one, himself and the other, an ensemble. He is simultaneously here and there and there again. For he is, in domination, in representation, and in glory, to employ an expression from theology, omnipresent.


So he wants to be now and always. That is, he attempts to be immortalised in time, just as he worked to be glorified in space; he attempts to subsequently refute the contingency of the now to which he is abandoned. And he endeavours to set up his authentic being in the form of a permanent monument, in relation to the Memory and in the Renown of which his actual and incomplete form stands merely as the phenomenon to the Idea. His being is still only the unfaithful and temporal copy of this glorious monument. Here is the paradox: the more its glory increases, the less he ‘himself’ seems to have to do with his own monument. It has usurped his name and will reap the glory in his place even long after his death. Crushed and devastated, he is now envious of his own great name.”

excerpt from The Pathology of Freedom: An Essay on Non-Identification, by Günther (Stern) Anders, translated by Katharine Wolfe