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- Author: Antigoni Memou x
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Throughout its brief history, photography has had a close relationship to social movements. From the Commune of Paris in 1871, the first political uprising to be captured by camera, to the 1990s anti-globalisation movement, the photographic medium has played a crucial role in political struggles. The book reflects critically on the theory of photography and the social movements themselves. It draws on a range of humanities disciplines, including photography theory and history, social movement theory, political theory, cultural history, visual culture, media studies and the history and theory of art. The book takes as a starting point 1968 - a year that witnessed an explosion of social movements worldwide and has been interpreted as a turning point for political practice and theory. The finishing point is 2001 - a signpost for international politics due to September 11 and a significant year for the movement because of the large-scale anti-capitalist protests in Genoa. Within these chronological limits, the book focuses on a selection of distinctive instances in which the photographic medium intersects with the political struggle. The three case studies are not the only pertinent examples, by any means, but they are important ones, not only historically and politically, but also iconographically. They are the student and worker uprising in France in May 1968 and two moments of the contemporary anti-capitalist movement, the indigenous Zapatista movement in Mexico and the anti-capitalist protests in Genoa in 2001.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book describes photography's interrelation with three instances of political struggle, namely the uprising of May 1968, the indigenous Zapatista movement in Mexico and the anti-capitalist protests in Genoa in 2001. It examines the problematic of documenting social protest through photography taking into account diverse photographic practices, including photojournalism, amateur and professional photography. The book also examines the official representations of the movements in the mainstream press, drawing upon examples from British, French and Italian newspapers. It explains the function of photography within the movements' networks of communication, namely the movements' newspapers, leaflets, newsletters, banners and websites. The book studies how photographs of social protest find their way into the mainstream media and investigates the mechanisms used by the mass media in order to produce newsworthy stories attractive to a wide audience.
This chapter analyses the photographic material published in the mainstream press during the events of May of 1968, drawing upon the French dailies published in Paris, that is Le Figaro and L'Humanité and the weekly Le Nouvel Observateur. It examines the use of photographs covering the events during May and June and studies whether photojournalism contributes to constructing stereotypes of the events, which informed the construction of subsequent dominant narratives. The existing hierarchy and the separation between the party representatives and the public not only resemble older representations of the labour movement, but also remind us of the representation of mainstream politics. Collectivisation in L'Humanité was associated with either photographs of static workers taken in the occupied factory or photographs of a crowd without particular characteristics. Le Figaro, in contrast with the student press and L'Humanité, covered the demonstrations in support of the General.
Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, one of the spokespersons of the Zapatista movement, with his captivating communiqués, combining stories, poetry, philosophy, satire, romanticism and political analysis, sent to the world a strong message from the indigenous communities in insurrection. The unknown Marcos, a masked Zapatista with a secret identity, gained prominence within the movement despite his efforts to remain an unknown member of the struggle. Besides his letters addressed to 'the peoples of the world', photograph of Marcos were published in the mainstream media and were circulated on the internet. Almost thirteen months after the beginning of the uprising in south-eastern Mexico, Zedillo's government began a new offensive against the Zapatistas, violating the terms of the ceasefire agreed between the rebels and the government of Carlos Salinas, and issued arrest warrants for Marcos. Marcos clearly points to Ernesto Che Guevara's legacy and the significance of his struggle for a contemporary revolutionary project.
An international protest was organised to coincide with the G8 summit taking place in Genoa from the 19 to 22 July 2001. The afternoon of 20 July 2001, when the young protester, Carlo Giuliani, was shot dead, was arguably a turning point for the anti-capitalist movement. Dylan Martinez and Sergei Karpukhin of Reuters, Italo Banchero and Luca Bruno of the Associated Press and Jess Hurd were among the photographers who gave the world the picture of his death. In the Daily Telegraph, on 21 July, Dylan Martinez's photograph is on the front page with the title 'Protester pays with his Life' and followed with the subtitle 'Police open fire as violence erupts at Genoa. Photojournalism failed to represent the diversity that the movement experienced in Genoa, through a combination of diverse groups, direct action, small events, demonstrations and independent media.
This chapter provides an analysis of the photographs published in student newspapers during May and June 1968, considering these photographs not simply as an 'exercise in nostalgia', but as a path to re-explore, rethink and discuss the French May 1968. It discusses the contradictory character of the May movement and the failure of the student movement to connect with the workers' movement in an effective way. The students' demands were not restricted to the democratisation and decentralisation of the French educational system and the subsequent ending of class bias, the modernisation of an outdated curriculum and the decrease in unemployment. Photographs of policemen brutally beating protesters with truncheons appeared in almost all the issues of Action. The movement soon went far beyond its university origins to unite students, workers and professionals in a common struggle against General Charles de Gaulle's regime.
This chapter presents a case study of the photographic archive available on the official website of the Ejército Zapatista Liberación Nacional (EZLN). It discusses the role of photography in contributing to the visibility of the Zapatista struggle and in promoting the struggle to the rest of the world. The internet allowed the Zapatistas and their supporters, activists around the globe, to organise themselves, to form 'cyber-communities' and coordinate 'action in dispersed, non-hierarchical networks'. The most predominant feature of the images available online is the omnipresence of masked Zapatistas. Although the Zapatistas may not wear their balaclavas in their everyday life, they consider them necessary in the presence of the camera. The distance that Zapatistas keep from the model of the foco guerrilla movement is the same distance that exists between the EZLN and Che Guevara's thought and revolutionary praxis.
Carnival Against Capital (J 18) were mounted on numerous Global Days of Action in the late 1990s, signalling the emergence of a movement against neoliberal globalisation and for global justice. This chapter examines the photographic documents of the Carnival Against Capital party available on the website of Reclaim the Streets (RTS) offering an analysis of the recurrent themes. It also examines photography's role in the production of an alternative narrative of protest to the one constructed by the mainstream mass media. RTS actions were a cluster of innovative practices and elements found in earlier collective attempts at social transformation. Most importantly, the online photographic archive resists the conventions of photographic reportage, attempting to accommodate diverse practices that would 'preserve' the memory of the RTS actions. The RTS website contributes to the collective struggles against capitalism by preserving the memories of protest as a joyful collective process.
This chapter examines the role that photography played in shaping the memory and the forgetting of May 1968, by taking as starting point an exhibition of the May 1968's photographs by photojournalist Bruno Barbey at the London's Hayward Gallery in 2008. The chapter discusses both the compositional decisions by Barbey and the subsequent institutional decisions in order to examine the problematic of documentation and the display of protest photographs. The chapter highlights the subsequent institutional framing of these photographs, which have become slanted towards an overemphasis on individualism that ignores their intrinsically collective nature. Barbey's exhibition at the Hayward tended to equate anti- and pro-Gaullist demonstrations, as is evidenced by the way in which images of collective entities exclude rigorous slogans and creative banners as part of the demonstrations.
The Chiapas rebellion in 1994 signalled a rupture with both the political and visual marginalisation of the indigenous peoples in Mexico. Antonio Turok's black-and-white photographs of the beginning of the uprising were among the photographs that were reproduced endlessly on various websites, including that of the Zapatistas. The photographs constitute the core of a photobook entitled Chiapas: The End of Silence, a collection of photographs taken in Chiapas, Mexico from 1973 to 1994. This chapter examines the way the book informs us about the everyday life of the ethnic communities in Mexico and, most importantly, considers the ways in which the book enhances our understanding of the Zapatista struggle. It compares the photobook with stereotypical photographic representations of Mexican twentieth-century photography and seeks to evaluate the contribution of Turok's book to the understanding of the indigenous people's struggle.