4. Notes on Photography & Language

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A parenthesis is unavoidable after the pictures above. In very few pages, John Berger’s essay (et al. Ways of Seeing, 1972) checkmated our hypocrisy while judging the very barbarism that has disfigured Bibi Aisha’s face and is about to assassinate Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani. In Mexico the martyrs from Juarez—though they are really all over the country and beyond—are the symptom of an idea shared with Afghanistan about femininity. Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 (2004) shows without euphemisms that nobody really kills those women in Juarez, meaning: everybody does. I said “without euphemisms”, but reality goes beyond Bolaño very quickly. Family, lovers, friends, men in general: we seem to believe that women are here to please us all. In front of our incapacity to keep a woman’s attention, we hurt her. But there is always a way to make things worse: to hurt the woman we want should be hard; not that hard if we transform her in a heinous one. The person who shredded off Aisha’s nose—her husband—tried first to ruin her spiritually; the felony that is causing Ashtiani’s death is a moral one; the little girls represented by Fever Ray, attacked with acid for the single reason of going to school, are called unfaithful; those dead women in Juarez normally show up raped—and this is actually an euphemism. It is like if before the crime we men would try to convince ourselves that our victims have not dignity of their own. I have called those dead women in Juarez “martyrs”, which carries the risk of misinterpretation: martyr is one who died for a cause or an ideal; the cause that smashes our victims is male whim, the ideal is that of our absolute domain over women. We fool ourselves while believing that our culture has built its own idea of femininity; in general terms, woman is also in the Western World a possession. Berger shows that the oil on canvas is not only a technique but—like it is always—a technique defining a whole tradition on matters of subject, philosophy and aesthetics. And because there is no aesthetics without ethics, the oil on canvas—the very tradition responsible for our whole pictorial imagination—shaped also our morals. Even being this one a rough simplification, it needs to be considered that possession is the main subject in the canvas tradition and then in photography. The sponsor used to ask for canvas about himself and his possessions. This has defined our modern publicity, in which such possessions are the main part of the message and the idealized individual. In both traditions—canvas and modern publicity—the perfect woman is something else to be owned. Edmundo O’Gorman asked once “if the feminine ideal of a time keeps close relations, like it seems, with the ideal that such a time develops of the truth” (La invención de América, The invention of America, 1958); this legitimate and sharp question takes us to scary conclusions. But it is also true that the feminine ideal has not changed in the Western World, at least not in its substance, and, looking at it closer, it is not even that different from the one in the Middle East. An example of this in a self proclaimed ideal of women: a comparison between Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, in which is evident that the young women of the free world are one, the same.

Women against themselves. These are examples of a single idea of what a female individual is supposed to be: an object to be possessed. They claim to speak for themselves, but what they say is: “I please”. In Mexico it is that way or they die. Men in power must share it with everybody—and everybody includes women. It is entitled to women in the first place, however—like Simone de Beauvoir said in Le Deuxième Sexe, The second sex, 1949—, to take what belongs to them, reject patronizations and dependence, and stop waiting for others to consider them more than a parenthesis matter.

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August 2010

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