Sri Lanka

On the 8th of January this year, Lasantha Wickramatunga, the editor of Sri Lanka newspaper the Sunday Leader was assassinated.

A few days later, the paper published his final article, which included premonitions of his own death and even hinted at who would be responsible for it.

It was reprinted in the New Yorker where you can read it in full here. It is quite remarkable.

If you don't feel like reading, the BBC asked the actor Bill Nighy if he would read the article for the Newshour program, which is where I first heard about it. Listen to it here.

I have to confess I know little about Sri Lanka, or the Civil war between the Sinhala dominated government and the Tamil Tiger rebels. I know that the island is sometimes referred to - perhaps appropriately - as the tear of India. I also know that the conflict between the Sinhalese and the Tamils dates back to the time of the British Empire, when Tamils from southern India migrated in ever increasing numbers to Ceylon (as it was then known) to work on the coffee and tea plantations.

The violence has been escalating recently as the government of Sri Lanka claims it has the Tamil Tigers (or the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) cornered. This civil war has of course, claimed many civilian victims and as in so many places, young children have been swept up in the affairs of adults.

A few days ago this photographylot blog got a mention on the Duckrabbit blog. Which was a pleasant surprise. There I read about a project by David White on ex-child soldiers of the LTTE.

A young ex LTTE child soldier hides his face to protect his identity at a secret camp run by Unicef, Jaffna, Sri Lanka.

With Lasantha Wickramatunga's article fresh in my mind and precious little in the mainstream media about the current situation in Sri Lanka I was particularly drawn to these portraits. While I was considering a bit of reciprocal posting, the Duckrabbit team went ahead and produced a multimedia piece on the subject.

You can watch it at a decent size on their portfolio page here or on their blog here.

These photographs also address one of the debates that has been surrounding photojournalism of late - that of modes of representation. There are photographers who claim that photojournalism's aesthetic and approach to social issues is outmoded. I personally wouldn't go so far as that. I think that there is not only plenty of room for all approaches but that there is a neccessity for these different working methods. The flak jacketed bullet dodging journalist, the in-depth social reporter and the contemplative fine art photographer should all be allowed the space to show us the different ways a situation can be represented. Futhermore, there is more crossover in the work than some would care to admit. And after all, are we not supposed to be on the same side, working toward that ever elusive goal of a better tomorrow?


Stan B. said...

As you well point out, there are a now a variety of ways that photojournalists, "concerned photographers" and even "art" photographers can address and document today's pertinent social issues.

Part of the "problem" is the very success of photography itself, it has become easy enough (and relatively economical enough) for almost anyone to be able to make some kind of photographic capture. And pictures of exotic locales and worldwide catastrophes are no longer neither unique or exotic. Graphic violence just doesn't shock like it used to, and we can also thank TV and Hollywood for that.

What really tics me off are those who beat on photojournalism as if its some outmoded art form or Top 40 music genre- and then offer no alternatives or solutions whatsoever. Duckrabbit's presentation points us in the right direction...

Benjamin said...

I agree with Stan, someone, somewhere is always making some statement about the 'death' of one artform or another. To be frank it doesn't really matter what people say, what counts is that people produce work that connects and to me that's happening more now then ever.