Monday 2 May 2016

Picture Post No.12: Critical Eyes

'Because things don’t appear to be the known thing; they aren’t what they seemed to be neither will they become what they might appear to become.'

Posted by Tessa den Uyl and Martin Cohen

Alice Seeley Harris, missionary, photographer and campaigner with a group of Congolese children, early 1900s.  Photo credit Anti-Slavery International
A group of Congolese children and Mrs. Seeley Harris all pose in a pyramid geometry and look towards us. In doing so, their bodies seem to animate a question and hand a voice to us. Perhaps this is why this photograph obviously from another age moves beyond being material evidence to become an inexorable happening. Our voices still try to formulate that question today.

These children embody the rich properties hidden into the soil they inhabit. The presence of the white woman accentuates this intuition being dressed in the middle of the children, as if ‘their clothes’ lay underneath the earth. What for these children is not essential, others might think of as indispensable.

The relation between these children and Mrs. Harris is critical. We might end up striving for the same cause but this is already a movement upon effects. When violence is related to law, justice cannot be achieved within a law preserved by violence. These children represent an entire population that got identified as a working force. Violently estranged from their culture, is it still possible to see out of one’s own eyes?

With more then a century in the middle between them and us, we are left with a riddle:

A century conceals more truth than a day, though every day carries with it a millennium of falsehoods.

Who are we then, today?


Thomas O. Scarborough said...

Picture Post no.12 seems to have an uncanny resemblance to a photo of my aged mother, taken last year. I've put it on the Noticeboard: A feeding scheme. Because parents' hard labour falls short. How then have we progressed since Picture Post no. 12? Does not history become a mere medium for our self-satisfaction and superiority?

docmartincohen said...

Actually, the children seem more autonomous, more human, in your picture. But the historical imbalances certainly remain...

Chengde Chen said...

…however, there seems to be a picture (video) of contrast to the No. 12 if you see Obama and his audience at his final White House Correspondences’ Dinner a few days ago.

Tessa den Uyl said...

Dear gentlemen,
A quote by Nietzsche:

The only human right.
He who strays from tradition becomes a sacrifice to the extraordinary; he who remains in tradition is its slave. Destruction follows in any case.

docmartincohen said...

Thanks, Tessa. I didn't know that one. Where's it from?

(Can you unpack your thinking, please?)

Tessa den Uyl said...

From: human all too human, man alone with himself.

The Nietzsche quote seems to add to Thomas' question and the remark by Chengde. (And our post!) I think we always face a contradictory way in how we are in the world and thus adhere to a dichotomy we cannot escape. If we presume things become distorted along a timeline, we somehow connect back to distortions. In a way, human rights is an absurd necessity if you think something like this should not exist at all. We are in need of these things because we live along distortions. When we see the absurdity of all this, which can only happen when we stray away from culture, life is rather unbearable and in fact becomes a sacrifice. Though we do not change the cause.

(I didn't unpack the quote)

docmartincohen said...

Ah, thank you Tess. I wonder if you are saying something like Herodotus- the Ancient anthropologist of human customs? I mean, he thought all the moral principles became ridiculous when you stepped outside a particular culture... but not any 'worse'. I think you put your finger on it when you say "human rights is an absurd necessity"

Tessa den Uyl said...

Indeed Martin, in ref. to Herodotus, comparison might mean overcoming strangeness, but is strangeness a criteria, and thus a reason, for violence?

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