I have to admit that I know next to nothing about Charlottesville, Virginia. What I do know can be attributed to the violence which took place in the town recently. Thanks to the clichéd efforts of the alt.right losers the town will have become, for many, on both sides of the fence a physical and symbolic locus around which they can begin to build another layer to their respective mythologies.

When one takes into account the divisiveness that has become an all to potent feature of US politics, something that has been fuelled by both Donald Trump and a largely irresponsible mass media, it should not come as a surprise that these events took place. Of course there have been flare-ups between the Right and Left over a wide range of issues prior to Trump’s election victory, but there is a palpable feeling of something bigger to the events in Charlottesville. This is not least due to the fact that a white supremacists decided to borrow from the Jihadists playbook by weaponising an automobile to kill one of his opposing number.

With the death of Heather Heyer it may well transpire that at some point in the not so distant future the name Charlottesville will be uttered with the same reverence as other historically noteworthy loci of social tension. And Heather Heyer will, it is possible, become a martyr for the Left and all most certainly a figure of hate for Right; indeed, according to some reports in the media, one Alt. Right website has already called for protests at her funeral. It really does feel that Charlottesville may well have torn a rent in the social fabric of America thus supplying oxygen to a fire that should be starved not fed.

The fight against any social injustice is a fight I support, particularly when it comes to equality. I am equality absolutist, taking the term literally: all people should be equal. Of course this sentiment does not find itself reflected reality, but that should not stop the fight to bring the ideal and the material realms into alignment. Like all wars, and this is a war, it is imperative to know not only which battles to fight, but also how to fight them. One must have an eye on the future, for the seeds sown in the present will be reaped at some point, often with disastrous consequences.

The protests and counter protests in Charlottesville and the ugliness that they unleashed are as much to do with differing relationships with history as they are with current issues. As the embodiment of historical events, the monuments that are the bones of contention have taken on a meaning far beyond that which they deserve. Figures such a General’s Lee and Jackson or Jefferson Davis fought, in their respective spheres, for a social system that was abhorrent; and no one with any moral decency could, in all honesty, argue to the contrary. However, does this moral certainty give those on the Left the freedom to shape history to legitimise their own skewed political agenda? An agenda that is itself prone to hypocrisy, prejudice and the denial of basic freedoms and violence in the name of the cause.

Whether blinded by their own hatred of what they oppose, or self-righteousness, probably a mixture of the two, those on the Left who have decided that the statues must be obliterated are taking a long stride down a deeply perilous path. And they are, in all likelihood, completely unaware of the danger inherent in the precedent or they simply do not care. They are clearly blind to the fact that their actions will change nothing. Pulling down these statues will only serve to make their symbolic power even more potent to those who already choose to hate and will in all likelihood serve to attract more to their cause: just as the ban on Mein Kampf failed to aid in the total eradication of far right ideology in Germany. In point of fact Hitler’s screed is available in major book shops all over the America (and the UK); but, hypocritically, that icon of hatred doesn’t seem to be worth protesting over. History, particularly when it pertains to social justice must never be forgotten. However, it must be transcended in order to allow any semblance of genuine social change.

It is worth considering some other aspects of history. Almost two thirds of those considered to be the founding fathers of the fledgling America were slave owners at some point in their lives, including true blue American heroes: George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. It would not be altogether unreasonable to assume, when following the logic of those who wish to destroy the statues, that there will be calls for the destruction of Washington’s memorial and his likeness on Mount Rushmore; along with Franklin’s who, surely, must be removed from the one hundred Dollar bill. And why stop there? If a statue is such a potent symbol what of the books written about these men? Again, they must be destroyed along with any other literature that mentions their names; and speaking of names they will have to be banned too, along with those of Lee and Davis et al, of course. And then there is the Democratic party. It was after all the Democratic south which seceded from the Union in order to preserve the constitutional right of citizens to trade and own human beings, while a Republican issued the thirteenth Amendment to abolish it. It was Abraham Lincoln who also, at the defeat of the Confederacy, called for no recrimination or persecution after the war, stating: “Enough Lives have been sacrificed. We must extinguish our resentments if we expect harmony and union”. Sage words indeed.

Harmony and union: two terms that almost sound as naïve as they do noble. Of course if Lincoln were alive now he would be banging his head against the brick wall of identity politics, which has for too long been the impetus behind so much division in US and everywhere else, and it will become clear that this division will service to benefit the Right most. What Lincoln was wise enough to realise is that being American must come before all else. There could be no dual systems, no divisions which could supersede this while still maintaining the notion of a single country. Perhaps the most tragic aspect of his murder was that it deprived the country of the ideal person to navigate the reconstruction. Now though Americans aren’t Americans the name is and the identity has been ideologically modified with the addition of a determining prefix: they are African Americans, Irish, Italian and Pakistani Americans, Jewish, Protestant, Catholic and Muslim Americans, gay, straight, bisexual, transvestite, transsexual, asexual, vegan Americans, feminist, misogynist, racist, Democratic, Republican, Independent, neo-con, liberal and couldn’t care less Americans. As wonderful as diversity is all of these people must realise that they need to be American most of all. That is what Lincoln knew and fought for most of all.

Of course every individual and therefore the groups that they are a part of should be free to express their identity as they see fit. A world of uniformity would be bland beyond all reason. However, the politicisation of identity, while conceived with noble intention, along with its free speech stifling cousin: political correctness, has mutated into a frankensteinian creature which is now out of control. Developed to counter the effects of social inequality, some of which can be blamed squarely on the shoulders of the old Left, these two have become social WMD employed ruthlessly, by the new Left to destroy any opposition to its ideology or agenda. The internet is replete with example of academics being censured or even dismissed from their positions because they employed the type of open debate that should occur in any academy worth the status; only to find that some aspect of opinion was considered to be offensive to someone on the grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or any of the other indicators of personal identity. If people do prove to be homophobic, misogynistic or racist the surest way to defeat such prejudice is with the application of reason supported by evidence; not raving about being offended, have tantrums and calling for trigger words and safe spaces. By all means challenge bigotry and the inequality it engenders, it should be a duty of all to do so, but it is inexcusable to deny basic rights of some people in order to protect those of others. As John Stuart Mill reminds us:

“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.” 

As some UK media commentators have in recent days, called for the removal of Nelson from Trafalgar Square on the grounds that he would now be known as a white supremacist who counted slave owners as friends. He would have most certainly been racist by any modern standard; but then he also fought the tyranny of Napoleon Bonaparte and his thirst for empire. To move from one Nelson to another: despite his benign image, Nelson Mandela it may be remembered, counted for a long-time, Robert Mugabe and Muammar Gadaffi as friends and was on the USA’s terror watch-list until 2008. As reported in the Telegraph (05 Feb 2011):

On his return to South Africa, Mr Mandela and his colleagues set up regional command units and set about training their army in bomb making and clandestine operations. MK carried out numerous bombings during the next 20 years and the pledge not to kill became redundant – in the whole campaign, at least 63 people died and 483 people were injured.

Based on these actions should there be a statue of him anywhere? What the events in Charlottesville show is that, like the human beings that enact it: history is very messy, it does not fit into the neat boxes that allow for easy examination and relativistic moral judgement.

It would be more advantageous to society if these symbols of hatred and oppression were used against the people who find them worthy of adoration. Employ them as examples of what not to be and what not to do, as part of a proper education system, that teaches not what to think, but how to think, to use dialectical reasoning to shine a light onto the darkness of ignorance and encourage incredulity before self-imposed mental servility. Why not state clearly, at the site of each effigy, what that particular individual really stood for, celebrate the fact that he was a failure in his aims and that there were so many who willingly sacrificed their lives for an ideal that was then and still is today far more noble and worthy of our moral and intellectual endeavours.


Will Jeremy Corbyn do the Decent Thing?

After his inability to attain a majority vote, in what may well be th­e most disastrous plebiscite in British political history, David Cameron left Downing street, for the last time, after uttering the following epitaph for his life as a politician: All political lives end in failure. Whether this was a reflective musing or was based prior knowledge, he could have at least had the decency to spare us from the years of uninspired, low rent, mediocrity that was his premiership, by quitting before he did so much damage, or better yet by not seeking office at all.

Speaking of political leaders: if there is to be a legitimate opposition to the serially incompetent, self-serving and genuinely dangerous Tory party ­– an opposition that could actually win an election – then Jeremy Corbin must give up the leadership of the party. His failure to do so will only result in one outcome: the total eradication of the Labour Party. It would serve as a sign that he has some measure of connectedness with reality if Jeremy Corbin would help us all by doing the very thing that Cameron couldn’t. Other than the fact that he is, in the same way that Cameron was, deluded in thinking that he can do something good for the country; what is interesting about Corbin, the party leader, is not only how quickly his hypocrisy became apparent, but also just how weak he is.

In the immediately post Miliband days of his leadership (another cringe worthy episode in Labour history), claims made by the Tories and sections of the media that Labour was a divided party were repudiated by Corbynites with the notion that robust debate is the sign of a healthy, democratic organisation. How true this is. His record as one of the Labour rank and file shows that he was one of the most rebellious MP’s in the commons so frequent were his transgressions against the official party line. Presumably he saw himself as a ‘conviction’ politician, which is a fine thing to be, but, as leader he seems to like nothing more than to give his underlings a taste of the whip and any sign of conviction seems to have evaporated with his status. The current ‘debate’ in parliament over Brexit reveals more about Corbin than all of his years playing the embarrassing and increasingly irrelevant old lefty. Rather than allow a free vote he commanded that Labour MP’s must vote for the triggering of article 50, which is after all, the will of the people (an odious term that is being employed by all those wishing to leave the EU and which should be treated with utmost suspicion and concern), with or without the amendments that he claimed Labour would fight for, less they face the consequences. When several members of his party, including shadow cabinet members and the whips who were supposed to enforce his will, voted the other way they were punished with a stern talking too rather than the customary demotion. In terms of the future control of Labour MP’s his vapid performance as leader only helps to highlight, not only, the fragile untenable nature of his position, but that of the party’s too; something that is obvious to all, except Corbin and a few of his acolyte.

The problem with Corbin is that, while some of what he believes in and says is worthy and would be off great benefit to Britain: the nationalisation of failing railways for example, he can’t give up on being a card carrying, dogmatic Socialist. It is in this ardent identification with the old ‘ideological’ left, the only real conviction he seems to possess, that it is possible to find the root of his hypocrisy. He must know that his side lost, if he doesn’t he is seriously delusional. When the wall came down, when the Soviet Union collapsed the left had to have seen what the rest of the world already knew: that the utopia behind the iron curtain was a sham. It was obvious that Socialism on a grand scale could not and never will be capable of providing materially all that is required be the people. That the leadership of the party were just as corrupt as any group of capitalist. That the whole system, once established, came to serve the elite – an entity that should never exist in a classless society. Anything approaching the civil liberties that he claims to champion for all, were, under the Communist dictatorship, denied to all but a tiny minority and even then too fervent an outburst could lead to exile and or death.

Admittedly he doesn’t whip out a copy of the Communist Manifesto during Prime Ministers question time, but his lack of engagement in too many areas is telling. It would be highly unlikely that he has forsaken his links with the Stop the War Coalition even though he gave up his position as chair of the organisation in 2015, when he assumed the position of leader of the Labour Party. As an early and prominent member of this group he was, like so many, highly vocal in his opposition to the war against Saddam Hussain and his criminal (Ba’athist) regime and he supported the groups lobbying against the British involvement in the US lead bombings of ISIS position in Iraq. The emphases here should be placed on British and US, for both Corbin and the StWC have been silent on the matter of the Russian air force bombing in support of Assad and his (Ba’athist) regime. There were no protests by the group outside the Russian embassy while civilians were being bombed in Aleppo all so the Russians could keep Assad in their pocket thus allowing them to maintain their only Mediterranean naval base. And let us not forget that while the StWC, with Corbyn’s support, continue their tirade on about US imperialism and the wars started to further it, not once have either spoken out against Russian and what can only be seen as its imperialistic expansion into Crimea, which may foreshadow a full blown takeover of Ukraine. If his anti-western credentials weren’t obvious enough he stated, in regard to international security, during an interview on Russia Today, a pro Putin TV channel:

What is security? Is security the ability to bomb, maim, kill, destroy, or is security the ability to get on with other people and have some kind of respectful existence with them?

Well it seems that to Corbyn security is the ability to bomb and kill, if you are not American or British or there is nothing of the western, capitalistic and imperialistic about you. But isn’t Russia run by a bunch of money and power hungry oligarchs and doesn’t Putin want to restore Russia’s position as a major player on the world stage, complete with an empire, I mean sphere of influence? Just who does Corbyn think he’s kidding. It doesn’t take much digging around in the Left’s murky passed to see that its history is replete with examples of the type of hypocrisy displayed by Corbyn: during the Spanish civil war Moscow sold out its Iberian comrades leaving Spain to be controlled by fascist thugs; after the second world war Russia decided to keep half of Europe for itself rather than letting the people have freedom – nothing imperialistic about that;

while protesting the Vietnam war the left managed to ignore Russia’s invasion of what was then Czechoslovakia and the subsequent ‘government of normalisation’ that it installed; then there was Russia’s own invasion of Afghanistan ­– that wasn’t imperialistic, no, the Russian army just popped round for a very large cup of sugar and now, as mentioned, we have Ukraine and Syria; international intervention that aren’t at all criminal. Why? because Russia is doing the Killing.

Corbyn also has a history of support for Hamas and Hezbollah; both organizations that have never epitomized the art of peaceful conflict resolution. While Corbyn informed a parliamentary select committee that he regretted calling both ‘friends’ the apology smacks of falsity. Set against a backdrop of the Labour Party’s leftist factions’ (alleged) antisemitism he looked like a school boy apologizing because he had to, not because he wanted too. And just in case there are any illusions as to the character and intensions of Corbyn’s friends, consider this from the Hamas Charter:

The time (16) will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: 0 Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him! This will not apply to the Gharqad (17), which is a Jewish tree (cited by Bukhari and Muslim) (18).

 Notice that in this section of their manifesto there is no mention of Israel, this is not a political attack against a state – it is a call for genocide. Presumably once they have killed all of the Jewish people they will then turn their attention to the Jewish trees. And there is Hezbollah. Would you really want to be a friend of an organization created by Ayatollah Khomeini, one that serves as a proxy army to extend his version of Islamic violence? Which surely is nothing if it is not a form of theocratic imperialism. Not only were he and his followers’ intent on the ruthless oppression of the Iranian people, they also declared that a primary aim was the destruction of Israel at any cost. Presumably for Hezbollah this is a security matter, but it doesn’t exactly fit with Corbyn’s notions of security. While it is impossible to agree with any actions of the lunatic element that controls the Israeli government, surely the idea of supporting organizations as despicable as Hamas and Hezbollah should never seem a good idea, especially to someone who values freedom, and respectful existence between peoples.

The Labour Party under Corbin is a regression to the Labour Party of the 1970’s and 1980’s. It was then and is now a party that people simply do not trust, not only because of its current leaderships attachment to a failed ideology, but because the Labour Party has alienated many of its supporters from its traditional heartlands. To many, rather than being a Party of ‘ordinary’ working people or whichever worn cliché you choose, the party has become synonymous with the leafy, suburban, middle class, PC lunatics who show more interest in futile attempts to thwart US foreign policy than addressing the needs of so many in Britain. The Lefts failure to engage with the white working class voters, to listen to their fears and try to understand them and act, rather than dismissing them as just anachronistic prejudices is what has cost them so dearly. This, when combined with a popular media that is driven by an insatiable need for low grade content, and which is incapable of informed, high quality debate, serving only to confirm the biases of readers and viewers, it is little wonder that so many people felt little option, other than the Right, when casting their ballot in both national and local elections as-well-as the Brexit vote.

If this is to change the Left must learn from its own history and not look to recreated it. Corbyn as leader will achieve nothing other than to divide itself from within, thus doing the Rights’ work for it. Rather than using valuable time and energy in fighting a debilitating civil war the Labour Party should concentrate on being a beckon for all who bear the brunt of Tory austerity, marginalisation and disenfranchisement. It is clear, from his record so far, that Jeremy Corbin is not the leader to achieve this.

At the time of writing the Labour Party has had a decidedly mixed result in two by-elections. Both seats have been bastions of support with one, Stoke Central, voting for the party since its creation as a constituency. Labour managed to hold on to this mainstay, but only after a tighter finish than during any other vote. The other Copeland, in the north east of England has not been so loyal choosing to throw their lot in with the Tories. Posterity will show how costly that decision will be for those choosing to vote blue. The post-election soundbites have been the expected aggregate of platitudes from Corbynites, who point to the victory in Stoke as a positive and remonstrations from the anti Corbyn faction who claim that the loss in Copelend must be the beginning of the end. The best outcome, for the survive and credibility of the party, would have been a loss in both elections: maybe then Corbyn would face up to reality. In doing so he would realise that the party needs a real leader instead of a political revenant which many hope will crawl back into the history books. At least then, by doing the decent thing, he would have earned at least a moral victory over a Tory.

The Descent of Man By Grayson Perry – A Review

In his Descent of Man, and Natural Selection in Relation to Sex Charles Darwin examined, what were considered at the time, to be the fundamental differences between the sexes in terms of their respective reproductive strategies and the subsequent social and ethical implications that came with them. In applying, what was, revolutionary biological theory to Homo Sapiens, Darwin had firmly located our species in the natural world.

This application of evolutionary theory to our species brought with it the use of the often misattributed and equally misunderstood concept: Survival of the Fittest. It is, or was Herbert Spencer’s idiom and its impact on the social perception of the sexes that has done so much to ensure the perpetuation of much of the social disparity we unfortunately see still today. By stating that there existed physiological division of labour between the sexes that hinged on their respective roles in the production of offspring (men produced and women reproduced), Spencer was able to provide seemingly scientific credibility to the pre-existing social dynamic; one that firmly placed white men at the top of the social and physical human family tree, leaving white women a distant second and those of other skin colours and cultural backgrounds barely on the tree at all. The concept also served to reinforce the existing, and equally odious, class divisions of the day. Those at the top were reassured, if ever they needed reassuring, that their place in the social hierarchy was inherent in their ‘breeding’ alone, not by centuries of Machiavellian manipulation and ruthless exploitation of others ­– they were, literally, “made of the right stuff”; those in the lower echelons, well, they weren’t. The blame cannot all be placed on Spencer’s shoulders though. He was, after all, born into, and lived in a prevailing social milieu that conditioned his thinking: the sexism inherent in his theory already existed and so, must therefore, have originated elsewhere. It does not require too great a leap of thought to determine from where it came.

It was another unwelcome survival of a bygone era, namely, monotheistic religion and its holy certitude of male superiority which ensured that whatever was discovered by the nascent scientific community females would, almost always, be subjected to social stigmatisation and inequality. Such is the depth of human ignorance, and so ingrained is the childish need to seek comfort in bigoted, archaic superstition and tradition, even among those considered to be learned, that any semblance of meaningful and permanent social change was almost guaranteed to fail or took place at a rate, so glacial, as to be almost useless to those in need of it. There are of course some exceptions to this, but one cannot claim for a moment that the influence of the Lord has done anything to further the cause of humanistic social advancement, especially when, from the outset, one half of the species were “designed” as a lesser being.

It is the requirement for social change that artist and agent provocateur Grayson Perry expounds upon in his book: The Descent of Man. The use of this title is itself a multi-faceted critique of Spencer’s notion and its effects. Firstly, in the case of idea of male ascendance and subsequent dominance and fact that it has become so ingrained in our thinking as to be seen as natural. Secondly that this acceptance has ensured that such an outdated concept has lingered for so long that it still blights so many people’s lives. And thirdly, in that the word: descent, is also a process of deterioration and degeneration. The effects of the current model of masculinity has guaranteed that while only the very few reap untold rewards by embodying this dubious quality, the vast majority exist to suffer.

As with his TV series All Man, Perry is adept at identifying and examining the various tribes of man, or rather: masculine tribes. From the mighty alpha males that make up the business elite to the violent council estate thug whose emotions pour out of their fists. He is careful to state that he is not attacking all men: so many men are also the victims of the tyranny of masculinity. By way of supplying proof of this Perry evokes personal experience to illustrate his argument, something that provides a welcome human element and credibility to what otherwise could end up as another rant against: The Man.

The essence of Perry’s discourse is that masculinity in its prevailing form is damaging, it is toxic to the vast majority of women that come into contact with it. Not only that: It is the root of unhappiness in men who do not cut “it” in the life-long race to be a real man. The ripples of this disenchantment then radiate out to affect everyone else in society. By casting a critical eye over the cultural signifiers that serve to perpetuate masculinity and its dominant social position, namely the gendering of colours, products, dress (The traditional business suit becomes a bland, ubiquitous, nonthreatening mask behind which the psychopathic Default Man lurks) and most of all: behaviour, we are all enslaved to The Man and his absolute need to be king of the hill. There is room for some of the old school traits, competitiveness, for example is not all bad when employed in moderation and the right context. To use a Spinal Tap analogy: If there were such a thing as a masculinity amp: it should be turned down from eleven; in fact, it should permanently be limited to two or three and always be used under supervision. If men (and by default everyone else) are to be genuinely happy and function as complete beings with a sense of self-worth, we must slay the tyrant king, abandon the worship of his image and stop trying to emulate his deeds and embrace a more tolerant, feeling, expressive and caring attitude. This would also help to free us all from the highly unhealthy need to compare ourselves to each other via the current yardstick of success (money, status, big cars, big houses, bigger houses, more money, power, more money, another bigger house, a big garage for the cars, more money), which is itself skewed by the heavy gravitational pull of the black hole that is: masculinity. At the end of the book he lists a set of Men’s rights: The right to be vulnerable, the right to be weak, the right to be wrong, the right to be intuitive, the right not to know, the right to be uncertain, the right to be flexible, the right not be ashamed of any of these.

I have to say that I’m with Grayson on this and have since long been before he even wrote his book. However, there are some areas in his argument that, I feel, need developing. One of the practical ways, he suggests, in which humanity’s lot can be improved is in the area of employment: more women should be doing more of everything, particularly in the rarefied environs of the male dominated boardroom. With this I also agree, but, how sure can we be that anything will improve once women are at the helm? If we look at powerful women, even though there have been so few they have had the alarming tendency to be as bad as the powerful men. Margaret Thatcher’s term in office was in and of itself a victory for women and feminism; but look at her record: she decimated British industry, instigated the free market economy that would lead the deregulation of the banks and the 2007 financial nightmare, waged a protracted war with the IRA, considered Augusto Pinochet a friend, failed to appoint a single woman to her cabinet, sold off council housing to the benefit of property magnates and Tory cronies, and took milk from the mouths of infant school children. Are we sure she wasn’t a man? Then there’s International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde who failed to challenge an arbitrary payment of £355 million worth of taxpayers’ money to a friend of Nicolas Sarkozy, while she was French Finance Minister. How manly. What about the impeachment of the South Korean President on the grounds of corruption? And what of the women who served as guards in the Concentration and Death camps throughout Nazi occupied Europe or Queen Victoria, who was happy to reign over the largest empire in history, including holding the title: Empress of India. And take Theresa May, not only did she not win a vote in the Conservative Party’s leadership election for a leader, she was not voted into office by the people of Britain; so where exactly is the mandate for her to lead the nation? And when it comes to her first real test as a leader, Brexit, she threatened to employ the Royal Privilege, which would have allowed her, by way of a unilateral decision, to overrule parliament: in essence debasing the democratic process. Luckily, there was another woman, one with principles, who prevented this by way of an appeal to the High Courts.

One of the bases of Perry’s argument is an often cited one: namely that women’s minds are different from men’s and so, therefore, is their behaviour. Women are shown to be less inclined to high risk behaviour, something that would be an attractive quality in political leaders and those controlling the financial and business sectors. This of course is a very fine thing. But, can it be said to be true of the women who would seek out these positions? Would the system that is in place allow them to behave in more altruistic ways than their male counterparts and would they even be inclined to change that system if indeed they could? How can we say with any degree of certitude that the women who wish to work in high level politics and finance are not just as self-serving, prone to cronyism and corrupt as the men who currently hold all the cards? If change is to be meaningful, that is beneficial to all, then whoever takes change must have motives above and beyond their own advancement and person success, irrespective of their gender, sex or any other criteria.

While I fully support gender equality in all forms, I’m just not sure that very much would change just because the person at the top has a vagina. In its own way the notion of women being somehow more ethical than men simply because they are female is its own form of sexism. There is the faint whiff of: the fairer sex, that should raise alarm bells. Why shouldn’t women exhibit the same despicable personality traits as men? If power corrupts absolutely, then surely women are just as corruptible as men? And, while advancement up the corporate ladder may be very beneficial for the very few women who have, and may, in the future make it, their presence may in fact do very little to improve the lives of everyone else. Having said that, even if the female presence put but a small dent in the masculine armour it would be worth it; it would be a step on the road in the right direction, but should not be viewed as the final destination.

The problem with line of enquiry that Perry holds, whether in this book or his work in general, is that it relies too heavily on identity politics. While this is the cause celeb on the Left side of the fence, in the real world it does little to promote any change and in fact goes a long way to ensure the preservation of the status quo. By reducing politics to personal identity everything becomes about “me” and those people exactly like “me”, which should come as no surprise in a time of rampant narcissism and solipsism. This has two very negative effects. Firstly: the political landscape becomes overpopulated with interest groups and sub-groups who generally fail to take into consideration anything that does not affect or represent them directly and who in many cases are openly hostile to those who appear, but may not necessarily be, their opposite. Just look to the LGTB community by way of an example. The fight to end sexuality driven persecution is an important and very understandable one, but pay close attention and it doesn’t take long for that “community’s” own brand of bigotry to reveal itself. Racism is rife here, so too is homophobia. How can people who are subjected to chauvinism be so capable of perpetuating it? The answer is depressingly familiar. It allows them to feel superior, it unites them against a perceived common foe, it allows them to pursue their own agenda. By adhering to Identity Politics, by viewing membership of a minority group, whether on the basis of skin colour, gender, sexual preference or whatever else one may choose, as a revolutionary act the very notion of revolution is cheapened and rendered useless. One can be a revolutionary by simply: being. No work is needed; it is enough to simple state that one is: X or Y or Z and occasionally attend a protest march. Possibly the most damaging aspect of this is that it does the work of those who benefit from and wish to perpetuate the status quo for them. The internecine warfare that plagues the Left renders what should be a united opposition divided by its own hand. If anything is to change these groups must realise that they are all oppressed by the same group: the wealthy minority. Until they digest this simple fact they must content themselves with celebrating hollow symbolic victories which only serve to preserve their sense of self-worth and reinforce their own narrow-mindedness.

Ultimately, I think my issue with Perry’s book is that while it serves as a vehicle to promote debate it doesn’t provide real answers, other than those that we have heard before and which have largely failed to achieve meaningful Humanistic change. Again, like so much of what is produced by any number of commentators: it is reactionary, not revolutionary.

What we really need is a shift in thinking on a species level one that is truly universal and therefore instigates true equality, respect and worthiness for those ignored and unappreciated by the current system.  It may seem like an impossible task, but there is a precedent. One of the other areas where Perry could further his understanding is anthropology. Some of his references in this area while honest are rather simplistic. I have written previously on the work of anthropologist Chris Knight, his theory on the origins of culture provides, I believe, the mechanism for change that Perry is arguing for. Knight suggests that the birth of symbolic culture was an act of organized revolution by females in order to overthrow the prevailing social dynamic, which was dominated by manipulative and aggressive alpha males. They did this by organising themselves and all of the subordinate males who were also oppressed by the dominant males, via a sex strike, into a unified group, a genuinely united entity that dictated what was best for the group as a whole and would punish those who transgressed against the common good. While Knight’s work is historical, there are modern examples of how the fundamentals of his theory can be applied and deliver results. In Belgium, Kenya and Columbia sex strikes have been used to create governments and lower the rates of gang violence. With political events, particularly in the United States, taking such a disastrous turn, perhaps the women and men marching against the new president, arguably the ultimate example of Default Man, could use this opportunity to do something less reactionary and truly revolutionary.

The descent of Man By Grayson Perry Penguin Books, Limited 2016.                                              

So Good It’s Bad

I think that most people, at some point in their lives, will have thought about and probably discussed the nature of what is ‘good’ and ‘evil’; what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’. And most people, if asked, would state that they have a sense of what is right and what is wrong, that they are decent people with a solid moral core. If they are parents they will say that they are raising their offspring to be decent, honest people who respect others and who know when, and how, to do the right thing if confronted with a difficult decision or moral dilemma.

It all sounds marvelous; but, if everyone on the planet is doing the right thing, why exactly is there so much that is bad in the world, so much death, destruction and general, all round misery? Someone out there must be doing the bad stuff, the malicious and the evil – mustn’t they? But who ever owns up to it? Who actually stands up raises their hand and declares with a look of well-earned pride: yes it was I – I did it all, I’m the evil bastard you’re looking for. Just think back over the last decade and a half – a period where there actually existed, according to some people, an axis of evil. Saddam Hussein didn’t declare himself to be evil, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad didn’t and neither did Kim Jong Il. Hitler didn’t for that matter, nor Stalin, Amin, Pol Pot, Pinochet or Mugabe. The leaders of Al-Qaeda didn’t announce that they were here to do evil to their followers and I’d bet that Islamic State doesn’t incite evil in their acolytes. I’m sure though that they all spoke or speak of the ‘good’ that they are here to do and will attest, with certainty, to the righteousness of their actions.

The doers of all that good aren’t content to only judge their own actions, they are naturally inclined to have a very clear definition of what is bad in others and what wrong with their actions, and will often try to correct or eliminate those who are perceived as: not good. The Nazi’s believed they were doing ‘right’, doing ‘good’ when they committed to mass murder as a means of answering the ‘Jewish question’ – ISIS fanatics believe that they are doing ‘good’ when they slaughter non-believers, throw gay men from the top tall buildings, rape women and girls or behead aid workers.

The problem that we have today, that we have always had, for as long as people have held beliefs, is all of the ‘good’ that is carried out because of them. It is when beliefs, as they so often do, become absolutes and the neurotic control freaks that need them finally decide to act that things turn ugly.  It is at this moment: when the ‘good’ is being done that the misery, pain and death and for the: ‘bad’, ‘evil’, ‘immoral’, ‘deviant’, for the ‘other’ starts.

In my experience it is often the case that those who must proclaim that they possess a particular virtue are the ones who are almost entire devoid of it, while those who exhibit such a quality simply let their actions speak for themselves.

To Brexit or Not to Brexit….That is the Question

In or Out, Stay or Leave, I’m sure that I’m not the only one who is getting just a little bit bored of hearing these terms. To say that the EU Referendum ‘debate’ has become vapid and tawdry is something of an understatement and a partial truth – in that it didn’t become this – it began in such a manner and has steadily dredged the depths of crass mediocrity ever since. It even fails on the most basic of levels as a debate such is the failure of those involved to engage with each other, much less the British public, the very people who are supposed to be making an informed, and decisive, decision about the future of the country.

This is the case for one simple reason: the sadly familiar blandness of the politicians involved and the laziness of their rhetoric. What makes the situation all the worse is the incessant repetition of the same sound-bite sized nuggets of drivel that are churned out. The whole thing is white noise, that all who have had to endure, wish would go away as it has become depressing beyond all belief. Both groups make pronouncements based on half-truth, unfounded speculation and total fabrication, after which the other counters with more of the same. If this were an actual battle it would be unique in that both sides are firing blanks.

This is ultimately and unfortunately a well-worn sign of the times – proof in favour of the old cliché that you get what you pay for, or rather vote for. The people have helped to create the fetid swamp which serves as such a fertile breeding ground for our politicians to lurk in. Not that we are wholly guilty through our actions (Tory voters, you know who you are), but rather through our inaction. Laziness is the foundation on which they stand and, by not challenging the consensus, the populace has played a major part in its wreaking perpetuation. And so it goes, rather than undertaking even the most basic research online – research I should add that most ten year-old’s could manage – the voting public are happy to be spoon fed nonsense that is designed to prey on their base fears. Anything more than the most cursory of glances of the Leave Campaigns’ output reveals that the route to Brexit has more potholes than an average English ‘A’ road. Too many of their predictions are founded on baseless ifs and buts: take the prospect of increased trade is dangled tantalizingly – an appeal to the nation’s greed. Whom will this trade be with? China’s economy, while still expanding, is according to many beginning to stall. Conveniently the Exit brigade seems to have forgotten the 30 Billion Pounds that China invested in Britain only last year and that UK exports to China in 2014 were worth just under 19 Billion pounds. India is the other bright spot for future trade. Yet in 2014 UK exported goods worth £6.35 billion to India and services valued at £2.24 billion. So why are some of the leave campaign leaflets that I have been given claiming that ‘we’ are doing no business with either?

One doesn’t have to cast the mind to far back in order to find an example of just how dangerous this type of speculative promise can be. Think back to the Scottish Referendum: the SNP promised future financial security on the basis of North Sea oil sales. Yet how long after the referendum was it before the price of oil slumped? Can the Leave Campaign really be certain about its ‘facts’? Can they really be trusted to see clearly into the future when so much of what their campaign evokes harks back to a mythic past when Britain was a standalone global power? Let’s not forget that that past was a colonial one, where what is now, euphemistically, called trade was actually plunder.

And if the nation does leave, who exactly will be in charge of the economy? Can the people of Britain really trust Osborne, Gove, Duncan-Smith and Johnson to do right by them? They’ve done nothing so far – so would anything change? One thing that happen is that they would, with even more license to pursue their austerity agenda, have more money to deny the public.

Then the is the wet dream of many a fascist, neo-fascist, UKIP, Cotswold NIMBY and Tory back-bencher: Britain the island fortress with its impenetrable borders. A dream is exactly what this dire image is. Our geographical frontier was porous long before their political counterparts existed. The historical economies of these islands have featured trade with our continental neighbours’ as far back as the Bronze Age, trade that was both plentiful and culturally influential. From ancient trade, historical invasions and more recent migration, our history from a time before it was ours as a nation, has been shaped by others from “over there”, wherever that is. This semi-isolationist logic, bafflingly, ignores the blindingly obvious fact that artificial political borders are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Even ISIS have worked that one out and they are as regressive as it is possible to get.

While I think it is a particularly Leftist’s form of arrogance that ignores the concerns of many working class Britons in regards to the effects of immigration – after all it is more often than not traditionally working class areas that are designated as being suitable for new arrivals – along with the alleged wage lowering effect of cheap labour – it is erroneous to blame the migrants. Let’s not forget that the majority of those immigrants are doing the very thing that people like Iain Duncan-Smith and many other Tories extol people to do, namely get up and find work. If blame can be laid anywhere for migrants ‘stealing’ jobs, it should be laid at the feet of the businesses that employ them over the British-born workforce. It should also be remembered that they are the same businesses which pay all people such terrible wages. I’m sure the migrants in question didn’t arrive and negotiate to be paid less than is the norm; I’m sure it would have been more of a take-or-leave-it-affair and let’s face it, some money is better than no money when you are out of options. Again this is a deliberate business strategy to boost profit by businesses, something that the Tory government has encouraged, not a conspiracy involving the people they employ.

As for the houses that migrants are given almost as soon as they set foot in the country: it is worth considering that the current government has done more to deprive people of the opportunity to buy houses than any migrant. By ensuring that new homes are built at a slower rate than social housing is sold off at, they have created a climate that ensuring that those few new homes are prohibitively expensive. This also ensures that rents are also outrageously high, something I’m sure that the the third of Tory MP’s who are private landlords, are happy about. Just look at Boris Johnson’s lamentable record on housing for evidence of just how bad things are.

The Tory faction within this campaign hasn’t got things totally wrong though. Many people have mocked David Cameron for his comments in relation to conflict in Europe. But let’s not forget that the European Union was created to prevent exactly that and so far it has succeeded. Think back to the breakdown of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, which as a result of a rise in ethnic-religious hatred led to yet another round of genocide. Now picture non-integrated Europe where national, religious and ethnic considerations governed foreign policy and treaty signing. Who would have sided with whom in that fight? How easily it could have spread across Europe – just as it did in both the First World War – and especially when the United Nations had failed so dismally to meet its mandate, which is to prevent this type of conflict. And what of NATO? Though it is not the case for all EU member states, many are part of NATO. If Britain moves, politically, away from the EU will ‘we’ also be willing fight with and for ‘them’, if the need arise? Could leaving NATO be the next referendum? Again, this would only leave Britain in a far weaker global position than it is now.

The most disturbing image conjured by the mind in relation to a Brexit win is that of a country at the mercy of the likes of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Iain Duncan-Smith. A clear indicator as to the nature of this embryonic disaster is a sentence uttered by IDS just a few days ago. For reasons that any rational mind must struggle to understand IDS is quoted as describing Donald Trump as a “very decent man.” If the thought of the Brexit crowd controlling Britain, free from the constraints of those pesky EU rules that: give workers rights, protect the environment, prevent all manner of toxins from entering the food-chain, ensure that all people have the protection of a bill of human rights, as well as paying for regeneration programs and a whole raft of local initiatives, and allow us to travel without visas isn’t bad enough, then imagine, if your mind can handle it, a special relationship between Prime Minister Johnson and the walking orange nightmare across the pond who wants to build transcontinental walls, persecute Muslims and every other non WASP, who denies climate change, is ignorant of far too many world affairs, is pro-gun in a country where mass shootings could be considered the national pass time, and is a misogynist scumbag to boot. If all of that doesn’t chill the blood, then you have a far stronger constitution than I.

The future of this country must be viewed on a global level and being a part of of the European Union is by far the most effective way of doing that, especially if Britain is to financial compete against countries with far larger populations than ours. Britain benefits, as does every nation – from diversity in ideas, technology and people – all of which move more fluidly across real and artificial borders than ever before. No amount of nostalgia for the halcyon days, that have never actually existed, should be allowed to prevent that development. An isolated Britain gripped by right-wing paranoia will become nothing more that an outmoded outpost, a backward little island on the edge of a forward-looking continent which will be connected to a much larger world.


Masahisa Fukase’s ‘Solitude of Ravens’ at Michael Hoppen Gallery

I was a late visitor to this exhibition, as often is the case with life, other matters seem to always get in the way, but I’m extremely glad that I made that visit.

Fukase is one of the most celebrated photographers to have worked in that halcyon period in Japanese photographic history, which began in the early 1960’s and ran for about a decade. Though he was a contemporary of Moriyama and the Provoke photographers his work was never part of the exclusive and highly influential club. His work (in Ravens) shared some of the aesthetic, the grainy black and white, blur and off kilter composition, however it was tighter in the final edits, telling a more coherent and far more personal story than say Takuma Nakahira’s For a Language to Come or Moriama’s Bye Bye Photography, both of which are as much about photography as they are about the photographer and their subject matter.

Ravens’ (shot between 1976 and 1982) is a love story, a melancholy love story told by a broken man whose wife has divorced him after his heavy drinking and bouts of debilitating depression eroded their relationship. It is a love that is both tragic and destructive. In the case of the former: it is unrequited due to her absence; in the later the obvious obsession he has for her imprisons him in his grief and compounds his increasing loneliness.

The Ravens, a bird that is omnipresent on Fukase’s home island of Hokkaido serves as on obvious symbol for Yoko (his wife). Where ever he looks there are Ravens, and so, there is Yoko. One can imagine him stalking them with his camera only to have them fly away, but not to far – just enough to remain in view – jut enough to remain out of reach, to taunt him. There are other images in the work: blurred landscapes, blizzard swept landscapes, shadowy figures on roads to nowhere and women: a naked masseuse, young ladies with raven black windswept hair, a surly cat giving a sideways look of contempt that only cats can muster, the black abstract shape of a jet in flight – I’m sure he longed to take that flight to get away – but he knew it would have been a useless gesture, he could never run from what was haunting him. But most of all there are Ravens: flying, roosting, in detail and dead.

If one could draw a literary comparison to this work Edgar Allen Poe’s Raven would be the place to start. Both Fukase and Poe’s protagonist have endure the loss of their beloved wife, although in the case of Poe’s anonymous character his Lenore was robbed of her life. In each case both men were left alone in the torment of longing and of course they were haunted by a Raven a harbinger of what would be – nevermore.

Fukase’s personal story continued on its tragic arch, in 1992 after a heavy drinking session he fell and suffered a head injury that would leave him in a coma for 20 years. He eventually died in 2012.

If it is the case that an artist must suffer for the art – then Fukase was issued with more than his fair share of pain and torment. But what a rich vain of raw fuel this provided him. This is quite possibly the most poetic body of photographic work ever produced and while anyone familiar with it cannot be anything but moved by its solemn beauty its is sad to think of the suffering endured by the man who created it.

Ultimately any artworks success must be measured against its ability to communicate the almost incommunicable, by this measure Ravens is high art indeed.

Saul Leiter at The Photographers’ Gallery

Like many people I was familiar with Saul Leiter’s work – but I didn’t know it as well as I should have, but then who did? So much of his personal work had remained hidden until just before his death in 2013.

This exhibition acts – in a time where concept rules – as a much-needed reminder of how a photographer can engage with the world around them and in doing reveal to us how complex, contradictory, compelling, beautiful, alienating and chaotic life can be.

The exhibition opens with his early black and white work, which is even less known then the colour that followed. It is, I suppose, inevitable that any early user of colour film will be compared with William Eggleston, such is the great mans gravitational influence; for his part Leiter certainly matches up, although in many ways the Leiter has been treated harshly by “establishment”, as he preceded Eggleston by some years and so should be hailed as a master in his own right. Both men are very much the product of their environments: Eggleston the crisp defining southern light – Leiter the often subtler, diffused New York winter variety. A painter turned photography Leiter prowled the streets of New York, which through his lens became an immense, living breathing Abstract Expressionist canvas.

While there is a sense of gentleness in his images – which is partly due to his photographing through misted window or in the subdued yet luminous light of a snowstorm – he captures the grittiness of life in the metropolis. His images are more claustrophobic than Eggleston’s; there are no vistas or wide open blue sky; making Leiter somewhat closer, psychologically, to Robert Frank – there is a quiet sadness and sense of alienation in his images.

People in Leiter’s photographs are usually alone, small and against a background of bright but grubby buildings or battling the elements; framed by a window or deliberately cropped out of the image leaving only a hand or foot to be seen. The singular figures convey the sense of isolation one can feel in a city of millions.

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©Saul Leiter

In one of the most memorable images of this type, a monochrome: a young woman is placed in the bottom left of the frame, she looks distant, preoccupied and unhappy; above her, running in a dark blur diagonally across the fame is some type of solid, heavy structure, in the top right the impression of some buildings – as sign of the city – perhaps it is the weight of the city that is crushing her spirit, trapping her in her isolation.

When occasionally seen in pairs, people tend to be incomplete elements of complex and fragmented scenes. Leiter often employs reflection in windows to create elaborate collages, which shows the viewer what is happening on both sides of the glass. In so doing we are invited to untangle the varied, knotted strands that is social interaction, a complexity and messiness that is intensified when one lives among millions of strangers.

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©Saul Leiter

The experience of city living, whether in Leiter’s 1950’s or the modern day is essentially unchanged and so Leiter’s New York becomes an archetypal city, it is easily recognizable to any current city dweller, we can understand its language, feel its rhythms and recognise the effects of its cold indifference.

There are a third set of images in the show: nudes. Exclusively black and white, Leiter’s penchant for obscuring features and parts of the body is evident her too. Again there is tenderness to the images, in some an obvious erotic element too, but there is no vulgarity or the objectification that is sometimes evident in female nudes produced by men. The other subset here are nudes that Leiter has painted over. Usually such images would not hold my attention, but these did. That they are such high quality photographs to begin with provides a very solid foundation for embellishment, in some it seems almost a shame to paint over them. But, combined with the attention of a painter they taken on a new life. They are imbued with a sense of energy, a tension that actually does bring something exciting to them – it makes them vital.

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©Saul Leiter

What Leiter does brilliantly is to not only depict a place and a time but also help us to feel a place and a time, in all of its wonderful, chaotic beauty – he commented that he sought to depict beauty, as unfashionable as that is, without apology. This seems fitting for a man who mixed with Arbus, Winnogrand and the other grandees of the New York school, but never received the same accolades, even though they are richly deserved.

David Bowie

The news broke across my television screen like lightening, how sad that this flash brought the news of David Bowie’s death. Rather than illuminating this one left the world a darker, emptier place.

Black Star David Bowie/Johan Renck
Black Star David Bowie/Johan Renck

Things had been quiet for much of the last decade but it was always comforting to know he was there, there to set the bar. No matter what atrocities were unleashed by the music industry, his quiet presence served as a reminder of how to do it, how to be a true creative.

Many people will write about the specificities of Bowie’s oeuvre, but it is Bowie the creative that, I believe, is most important: he was the epitome of the creative spirit; he embodied every quality that any creative person should cultivate. He voracious in his pursuit of knowledge and possessed a fierce and restless intellect. As an artist he was fully engaged in the world; read or listen to any of the few interviews he gave and pay attention to the range of subjects and the depth in which they are discussed.

Whatever mode he worked in Bowie immersed himself in the creative process; yet while he played at being different characters he never played at being creative. From writing and arranging to (reluctantly) performing, acting and painting–everything was an opportunity to explore the world around him and his place within it. He created for himself making his personal experience a collective one (what must be the ultimate goal of any artistic enterprise) without allowing himself to be categorized or stifled by the people with meaningless job titles that constitute: “the industry”. And so he remained authentic to the last.

This is, perhaps, his most important contribution to the creative world, a world sadly overstuffed with plastic, talentless wannabe’s; puppets of the moneymen who appear virally (how apt), and then vanish once the hype has died down. Not for Bowie though, forever looking and moving forward, he did it his way, always, without compromise.

If Bowie’s legacy reveals one thing to us it is that as creatives, we must claim the right to express ourselves as we wish to: unencumbered by restrictions imposed by “the industry” and market forces. So let’s follow the Black Star.

Clear Lines should not be crossed

Have you ever talked about rape at a dinner party? No, well you should. That is what Winnie M Li, co-curator of the Clear Lines Festival thinks should happen. Why? Because the there is a problem with current debates: not only are they virtually nonexistent they are also dominated by a tone that denigrate victims rather than deal honestly and openly with the real issues.

Open to all and employing the arts as a platform the Clear Lines Festival, which ran from 30th July to 2nd August 2015, was instigated to provide a safe environment for people to explore issues relating to sexual violence in a way that would replace the deafening silence and social imposed shame with “insight, understanding and community”.

Using the arts as a medium was a masterstroke on the part of the organizers. Writing, photography, painting, film, theatre, poetry and comedy all served to create an atmosphere that encourage all to share their thoughts and feelings, their questions and fears and, most painfully, their experiences. Many of the women present, whether as a part of the organizational team or as an attendee, are survivors of sexual violence; their presence and their voices formed the solemn and inspirational core of the event.

It was clear from the beginning that despite the traumatic nature of what happened to them, none of those women wanted to be seen, to be labeled, as victims; hence the term: survivor. Some spoke about the attack, or attacks on them with a calm state of detachment, others were more openly emotional, more fragile, while others were angry. For each of the survivors there is no escaping the fact that the attacks happened, they are a part of their lives that will be with them forever, but they are not something that will, or should define them as women, as human beings. Each one of the survivors at the festival was, in her own way and in her own time, overcoming what was forced upon her: the destructive will of a man. Each one of them was truly magnificent in their transcendence, their courage and strength was one of the most inspiring things I have ever seen and should it serve as a lesson to us all.

The festival was a success because it was free of the stereotypes and biases that choke the media and the entertainment industry. The women weren’t headlines or statistics, their accounts weren’t used to shock or titillate; instead they communicated honestly about what, as one attendee put it “fifty percent of the population has to worry about as soon as they develop tits”.

This is the degree of openness that every taboo subject, not just sexual assault needs, and this community of though and experience must be the template for more of these events; events where the arts can provide a safe and respectful platform for the people to communicate meaningfully, so as to dispel the easily accepted myths that develop in the wake of embarrassed silence.


Luc Delahaye

The first posting on this blog is a get to know me book list. It was only a few days ago, while looking through my bookshelves that is realized I had hadn’t included any work by Luc Delahaye. I could believe I had left him out, especially as he is one of my favorite photographers.

Delahaye was for a number of years a photojournalist with Magnum Photos. His journalistic work, often on assignment for Newsweek, took him to Lebanon, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Chechnya, amongst other places and won him a number of prestigious awards. In 2004, declaring himself to be an artist, he resigned from Magnum, not that this meant a change of subject matter; he continued to photograph in war zones and other areas blighted by social upheaval. As a photojournalist, and a Magnum member, the presence of Robert Capa is never too far away, with the famous dictum: If your pictures aren’t good enough you’re aren’t close enough being the litmus test for such work. But Delahaye seems to have not got the memo. He certainly got physically close but there was an emotional detachment – his is a cool observational eye.

He sought to formalise this approach, firstly for the book L’Autre where he used a hidden camera to photograph the people sitting opposite him on the Paris Metro. This exercise helped restore a lost faith in photography and was followed by two long trips to Russia that culminated in the book: Winterreise.

For me this small book stands as one of the finest examples of its kind. The work feels different to the journalism the preceded it. One gets the feeling that the melancholy that emanates from it is as much a reflection of Delahaye’s state of mind as is of the social decline experienced in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Spending time with drunks, criminals, addicts and the homeless Delahaye depicts a Russia that could easy have come straight out of a Dostoyevski novel.

Though it does not have the hard edge of his journalistic work, there is a sense of discomfort when looking at some of the images. The profound squalor, the feeling of hopelessness, the substance abuse and violence that offers the only way out of such dire circumstances. There are no happy people here, no smiley families or children having fun, instead everyone looks old before his or her time. In what must be the most heartbreaking image in the book a toddler, sat on the edge of a bed in a filthy room next to her older sibling, feet in layers of dirty socks, hair a tangled mess, she looks at the floor, dejected, struggling under the burdens of a life that no child should have to live. Her demeanor is that of an old lady, someone worn out or rather worn down by the unrelenting hardness of life. One wonders if she’ll ever make it to actual old age – it seems though that the odds are stacked against her.

In other images, of people on beds – a recurring theme – we see adults passed out from drink or hard drugs; lined up for arrest; beaten by the mafia, at work down a mine or in factory that looks like the gateway to another layer of hell and, like modern day hunter gatherers in a post apocalyptic nether world foraging on open landfill sites. There are small signs of what is to come though, the faint smudge of a building sized Coca-Cola logo herald the rampant capitalism of the Putin era with its oligarchs and crass nouveau riche, they haven’t arrived yet and they certainly wont bring any solace to these people, they’ll just ignore them as they drive by in their luxury cars or hold up in their mansions.

To say that this is a work of the highest caliber is an understatement. Rarely do photographers capture so intensely, so completely the atmosphere of a time, a place and a group of people. It is Delahye’s ability to capture this mood of a country at a time of profound change and uncertainty that is most striking. It is a lyrical work that seeps into the viewers consciousness, lodges itself their and stubbornly refuses to leave.

Luc Delahaye – Winterreise (Phaidon 2000)