The other day, I started work on what I'm hoping to become my next book. I've had the idea in my head for a while, and I'm excited about getting started. In part, the work involves revisiting a number of books I read over the past few years. One of these books is called Hitlers Eliten nach 1945 (Hitler's Elites After 1945). Edited by renowned German historian Norbert Frei, the book looks into how former Nazis made it into positions of power in West and East Germany. As it turns out, the reality is a little bit more complex than you might imagine. But for certain areas (including, crucially, the legal system), a lot of former Nazis continued their careers in West Germany.
Given the book is very interesting and given that I think more people should read it, I posted a photo of the cover plus a short comment (something along the lines of "current research") in my Instagram Stories. Last night, I received the message that you can see above. Instagram's algorithm treated the cover of a book written by a number of respected German historians as supporting "Violence or dangerous organization". Let that sink in.
I "appealed" that decision (they give you a link to click), and much to my surprise, they took it back. But there still is a major point to be made. That point also concerns the incessant harassment of women and people of colour who somehow do not conform to what the company calls their "community guidelines".
Ignoring the fact that those "community guidelines" very clear reflect the male, white, Puritan mindset that created them, the fact that so often, content is being censored that doesn't even violate them is of note. Facebook ("Meta" - haha) has all the money in the world to produce better algorithms. It's really not that complicated. And even if it were complicated, it would be the kind of challenge that nerds really like. But they have made the decision not to do that. That decision speaks volumes -- just as much as their willingness to make money off actual fascists whose accounts have millions of followers and who actively undermine democracies all over the world.
Speaking of fascism, Hannah Ahrendt's writing is being rediscovered by a lot of people. If you don't know anything about her work, this interview will provide you with a good introduction.
And while we're at it, German historian Annika Brockschmidt wrote a very interesting article about the imagery used by Tucker Carlson, a popular neofascist TV personality in the United States. The article smartly dives into reading the imagery. It's so easy to make fun of it, given parts of it seem to be cartoonishly stupid. That's one of my main concerns about how things are unfolding in the US: too many people still laugh about stuff that's actually dead serious, in particular when someone on the far right makes a spelling mistake. It's now way past the time to treat this as a joke. Brockschmidt explains why and how:
When Tucker Carlson, who for years has acted as a bridge for White Supremacist Talking Points from the far Right to the conservative mainstream, becomes increasingly open, produces a film about an alleged crisis in masculinity—when the call for “tough men” gets louder—our alarm bells should be ringing. Because behind this short trailer—for all the silliness of irradiated testicles and men lifting tires—there is a fascist, violent and dangerous ideology that relies on escalation.
If you've followed the world of photography, you've probably noticed that so-called NFTs were all the rage. I'm writing "were" because it the wave has crested. The fad is over. I didn't follow things too closely, in part because I couldn't make myself deal with all the completely overblown hype around it. I actually do think that people ought to get paid properly for what they do. And it would be nice to have a good solution for that. But can the solution be some (fake) "crypto" "money" that was created by a bunch of tech bros and that seems to harbour a lot of very shady people? I didn't/don't think so.
Regardless, at some stage, the name August Sander popped up. Things looked very, very fishy to me. There was a website which "explained" what they were trying to do. I read it twice, and I was unable to make sense of it. Regardless, at some stage things imploded. All you need to know can be found in this article. It's quite the story. Make sure to read it.
What really gets me about the whole affair is that Sander was an artist with a very high sense of personal integrity. To see his life work besmirched by... let's just call it a neoliberal clown show -- that's just not right.
You might remember seeing this picture by Evgeniy Maloletka. It was taken in Mariupol (Ukraine), after Russian forces had bombed a maternity hospital. There is something striking about the photograph. I think that's why so many people responded to it (and some of the other pictures from that day). A heavily pregnant woman with blood on her face, carrying her own belongings down a set of stairs covered with rubble. Two men looking at her. And of course, there is the cartoon bear on her pyjama top. This should have been a happy time for Marianna Vyshemirsky. Instead, she became one of the many victims of one of the many war crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine.
Pictures like this one are interesting, aren't they? There is frequent talk that there are "too many photographs" we are exposed to, which -- supposedly -- has resulted in photography losing its power. But this picture clearly shows that that claim cannot be true. Whether or not pictures can result in change still is a big point to discuss. But I don't think that the visceral power of photographs can be contested in a meaningful manner.
Consequently, Russia noticed very quickly how their bombing and the resulting photographs had produced some very, very bad PR for them. So the country did what it always does: it spread a number of vicious lies on social media that started with state organizations, but also involved its army of social-media stooges. Vyshemirsky attracted particular attention, in part because there was another photograph of her in which she was looking directly at the camera. But there was something else: she had been an influencer. Consequently, the Russians claimed that she was acting and all kinds of other things. (Just as an aside, as is often the case when a female influencer gets criticized, there was a considerable amount of misogyny involved.)
On 17 May 2022, the BBC published an article which gave Vyshemirsky the chance to respond. You want to read it. Just keep in mind that she is now living in Russian occupied territories in Ukraine, so it's not fully clear to what extent she was able to speak her mind.
You probably have heard of this already. In case you have not: hackers managed to get access to police files in Xinjiang, China, exposing the massive human-rights violations committed against Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities. News organizations all over the world published the photographs. Here's a good site to look at.
The world is terrible, isn't it? How does one even deal with that? Looking away doesn't seem like a particularly good option (at least for me). This can't mean that one should take on all the evils in the world. That's just impossible. But I do think that I personally owe it to, say, the people in Xinjiang to look at their photographs -- and acknowledge their suffering.
All-too-often, we look away, don't we? In the US, there currently is a debate over whether or not we should see photographs of children killed with assault rifles. Maybe, the idea goes, the NRA and the politicians it paid off will change their minds if we get to see the consequences of their refusal to reign in the flood of guns.
Honestly, if those pictures were to be published, I'd feel compelled to look at them -- for the reason that I just outlined. But I do not expect that their publication would result in a meaningful change.
I've come to the conclusion that when we talk about photographs, we always approach them from how they operate on our own individual levels. They're very powerful at that level. But it's the steps from the individual to the group and then on to society that pose the challenge. Those steps have nothing to do with photography any longer.
The Russians lying about Marianna Vyshemirsky -- that has nothing to do with the pictures. The sole idea is to do exactly what's needed to make sure that there is no connection between how the photographs operate on an individual level and what we do as a society.
So maybe that's simply where photography ends. Maybe as people engaged in the world of photography, we should acknowledge that at some stage in a discussion that started out with pictures it's not about the pictures any longer. Acknowledging that wouldn't mean an end to discussions about photography.
But it might mean to re-evaluate the pronouncements made by the likes of Susan Sontag: it's too much to expect photographs to have a power that they simply don't have. If photographs don't change the world to the extent that we want them to -- that's not their fault. It's ours.
With that I'm going to conclude for today. As always thank you for reading!