Africa Rachel with Elephant

Africa Rachel with Elephant480
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One Essay Response

  1. bearqui says:

    It may seem weird that I picked up this picture from Rachel’s photo archive, but I just could not help it. It captivated me, since it is the only one in which she is pictured as well. The uniqueness of this image connected me in a constant way to some of the inner discussions I had while living in and visually capturing District 13. In this sense, the photo seemed powerful to me, to explore some ethical and potential considerations about political actions which underlie `whose story is it´ (MacDougall, 1991) and how much `a camera is a big responsibility´ (Luttrel, 2010) in critical visual-based social research.

    Rachel´s image evokes to me a profound sense of empowerment, both over the place and over the moment. Against neopositivist models, the `visual turn´ shows up with other critical trends denying the neutral role of the observer and challenging classical object-subject, rationality-emotion/body splits (Haraway, 1998). Among other things, this visual (I present) here represents the first time (that) I take a picture in District 13. I am a young, middle-class, white woman studying at the University who chose to live in this neighborhood due to a huge inner-city rent rise and a desire to explore my own identity, anchored in a relatively privileged space until now. The daily experience in District 13, which lacks the eroticized sensuality of inner parts of the city has forced me to confront the central and peripheric instances of my own `habitus´, trying to put them into dialogue and negotiation with myself and other neighbors in order to build community networks as a form of neighborhood activism. But this is not easy. As a good friend of mine once said, “we have been apologizing for over two years” and living with the personal fear of being pioneering a potential gentrifying process in the area. After a long period of hibernation, local bonds building and listening I feel already a shared `moral ownership´ over the place (Zukin, 2009) that makes me feel legitimized to bring my Canon 600D to what I consider now `my neighborhood´ too. This two-year `incubation phase´ (Janesick, 2001) was essential, intellectually and affectively, to be able to resignify my sense of blame. However, beyond picture? coproduction and its transference to/with the community, it still worries me how to tame my own urgencies on scientific production in this neoliberal context or how to balance the unequal distribution of symbolic capitals (Bourdieu, 1979) through, for instance, single-authored scientific papers and prizes. I guess that inhabiting those paradoxes with honesty and a feminist `performative care´ is again fundamental.

    The composition and relation between the elements in each picture is also very different. Rachel and the young boy apparently decided to appear close to each other, with no obstacles for the observer´s gaze of these two bodies. In my picture, the inanimate fence is a main character, for many reasons. Firstly, me and my friend who pictured the scene voluntarily wanted to emphasize the prison aesthetics of the place. Secondly, these men at the soccer field do want to build counter-hegemonic narratives of the place and themselves, but do not want to appear too explicitly due to fear of possible deportations. Although we did not want to enhance a sense of `voyeurism´ (Mirzoeff, 2011) in our picture, these different contexts permeates the framing of each picture.

    However, I feel that both images, as well as the whole Rachel´s photographic archive, share a serious tension with remembrance and the importance of keeping memory alive, tracing a continuous line between two far points in the globe for dignified life reproduction and the ethics of visual representation. Maybe this is what Donatella Della Porta (2005) names `Global Activism´ in the new performative democracy: the capacity to recognize ourselves in a common global struggle, with connected causes and consequences.