Over the past few days, much has been written about the Palestinian bid for UN recognition of its statehood and Washington’s opposition to it. But the real importance of last week’s events at the UN does not lie with the US response itself, but with the effect that response has had on the international community. For now, the Palestinian bid must be reviewed by a special UN committee, a process that will take weeks or months, thus postponing any immediate reckoning with the veto threatened by the Obama Administration. But for the first time, there is a broad recognition of the emptiness of the American claim that the US is uniquely qualified to bring the Israel-Palestine conflict to an end, and that it may instead be the main obstacle to peace.
“It just doesn’t make sense,” she said. “I mean, my sisters get pregnant looking at a cologne ad. They get pregnant in pollen season.”
For six months they had been trying to conceive, and still her period was as regular as the tide. She decided to see a doctor. He told her it would be a waste of money, that the fertility counselor would probably recommend treatments linked to uterine cancer. He went into obscure specifics about the effect of fertility drugs on “weak hydrogen bonds” in the DNA molecule. She listened because he was a very intelligent person who knew more than she did about most things, but in the end she arranged an appointment anyway.
At dusk on the afternoon before Thanksgiving Day in 2002, my family and I returned to our home in Chilmark on the island of Martha’s Vineyard to discover fifty-six cows on our newly sown lawn. We turned the car around and drove to our neighbor’s house. She called the cow herder, who arrived banging the dinner pail. The cows stampeded to their field next door. The stone wall I share with my neighbor, a good friend, serves as a boundary between us. It had begun to fall, and where a thicket of brambles obscured the collapse, the cows found a place to cross.
I wanted to rebuild the wall. At first, my neighbor suggested repairing the electrical fencing on her side, but I was concerned that it might fail again. There were a few tense days while we decided what to do. During those days, I walked the wall on my side. It was the first time I had really looked at it intently. Who had built this wall and when? It was beautiful. Stones rested on each other, securely or tentatively, many covered with lichen. Branches cast their shadows.
Outside Tunis one afternoon last week I visited the Tunisian American Association for Management Studies, which offers vocational training and literacy courses to working-class women. A sewing class had just ended, and the participants—a dozen girls and women between the ages of fifteen and fifty, most of them wearing headscarves—agreed to talk about the country’s first democratic election, scheduled to take place on October 23. In recent weeks, polls have showed that Ennahda (Renaissance), an Islamist party banned by the dictatorship of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, is poised to win about one third of the vote. Ennahda’s leaders insist that if they win they will respect equal rights for men and women and maintain a division between Islam and the state. Still, they are widely distrusted.
Withdraw into protection and safeguard all that is important to you, take it down to below the earth, all that you have, take down the jewelry, the food, the children’s photographs, the armchair where you like to sit with a book in your hand, the curtain, behind which you feel yourselves to be safe, from the window; gather together all that was dear to you, gather together the identity cards and baptismal certificates, take the money out of the bank and hide it in the cellar behind the wall, but really every piece of jewelry, every scrap of food, every photograph of the child, every armchair and every beloved book, every curtain and every document, and really all of the money down to the very last cent, and really hide all of these things well, but really well, under the earth…
Asghar Farhadi’s film Nader and Simin: A Separation, is a fine account of Iran’s predicament; anyone interested in the mysteries of change and tradition—the difficulties faced by many people as they try and reconcile themselves to modern values and norms—will learn much from it. I saw it in Tehran this summer, and so movingly did it reflect what I was witnessing around me, I was surprised that the authorities had allowed it to be screened and its creator and leading actors to travel to Germany to be honored by the Berlin Film Festival.
I wept, but about what precisely I cannot say. Much to my amazement, after having done everything possible to shut out the ubiquitous maudlin press coverage that engulfed the tenth anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks, I visited Michael Arad’s National September 11 Memorial in New York City—which was dedicated exactly a decade after the disaster—to find that it impressed me at once as a sobering, disturbing, heartbreaking, and overwhelming masterpiece.
These images represent moments I’ve always rejected during my editing work because someone was looking into the camera. I always refer to it as eye contact. I strive to disappear and find candid moments as a photojournalist. I want the line between documenter and documented to disappear. These are the overlooked images where I have become present in the picture.
Eye Contact, the name of an exhibition at the VII gallery in Brooklyn from which the following images are drawn, is partly looking back at my work but it’s also a way to demonstrate how the public reacts to photographers. The presence of a photojournalist is used in some places to promote an agenda. In the Niger Delta we find subjects who go out of their way to show their strength and anger, their guns and balls of fire, perhaps in hopes the images will be shown to their opposition. In Syria, many are suspicious and glare at the lens as though it is an informant. In India, the camera is treated with more deference, until I document a prostitute’s intimate moments.
On Friday, a front-page New York Times story reported that a rift has emerged within the Obama Administration over whether it has authority to kill “rank-and-file” Islamist militants in foreign countries in which there is not an internationally recognized “armed conflict.” The implications of this debate are not trivial: Imagine that Russia started killing individuals living in the United States with remote-controlled drone missiles, and argued that it was justified in doing so because it had determined, in secret, that they posed a threat to Russia’s security, and that the United States was unwilling to turn them over. Would we calmly pronounce such actions compliant with the rule of law? Not too likely.