The following is from a series of musings on trauma, memory, community, and place. The introduction to the series and beginning essay [link] explains the purpose of this month of entries.
I remember meeting up with a friend for dinner at that so-called restaurant in Chelsea called “The Half King”.
The restaurant is run by that “extreme” extremist, Sebastian Junger, of The Perfect Storm fame.
He is a self-described enjoyer of “extreme situations and people at the edges of things”.
I’m not sure I understand what that means.
All I know is some people have the luxury and privilege to “enjoy” danger.
For example, the white girl I overheard on the subway who said that she wanted to be a fisherman “just for the summer” because of his book.
A kind of sea-going internship.
For the sheer luxury of being, you know, in danger without being in danger.
As compared and contrasted with the Hispanic young man I saw sitting in the Air Force recruiting office in SoHo.
That is to say, danger that you hope to survive because you have not much in the way of choice.
By “choice”, I mean the non-choice of going off to kill those whom you have more in common with class-wise than they who sent you off to kill them in the first place.
At the Half King, they decorate the walls with pictures that document the work of other people who likewise have the luxury of “going where the danger is”.
Like the so-called photographer Paolo Pellegrin.
And his so-called photographs documenting war scenes, and refugees, and the like.
It wasn’t until dinner was over that I realized I had been staring at pictures of the war on Lebanon from the previous summer.
I mean, I was there, so you think they might have rung a bell.
Which they didn’t.
I spent the greatest amount of time in the besieged south Lebanon city of Tyre–the ground-zero of the war–working on a report for the New York Times Magazine with writer Scott Anderson. It was important to me to get as close to the action as possible in hopes of conveying to the outside world the human consequences of this ‘improbable war.'”
First of all, we say “Sour”.
Second of all, it might be worth actually naming the “besieger”.
Thirdly, if Sour was the “ground-zero” of the war, then please tell me what you might call what was happening in the dahiyeh–the southern suburbs of Beirut–bombed a few good meters more underground than they had been previously.
Or to the towns in the South, in large part leveled; an ongoing erasure.
Finally, I’m not sure what you mean by “improbable”, when the whole thing was planned years in advance.
I’d like to officially bar the use of the term “ground-zero” from ever being used again.
It reveals a skewed sense of scale and proportion.
And a need for self-indulgent drama that gives street cred to photographers whose claim to fame is cataloguing atrocities around the globe.
Caused in no small part by their very attainment of a particular class standing.
And literally framing people individually within emotions they express collectively.
To then be hung in a gallery and enjoyed while sipping white wine and nibbling cheese.
Or to exhibit in a restaurant, where people are casually eating dinner.
Or to blog about in a uni-directional monologue to self-similar classes of people.
I think this might be referred to as a video copy of a film of a metronome in a mirror-walled echo chamber.
A huge and totalizing self-serving remove from reality, all things considered.
In retrospect, it’s the dark, brooding, somber, and frightened faces that I didn’t recognize.
I mean, I’m not denying that there was much in the way of fear that summer.
Along with pain, agony, anguish, ad infinitum.
I mostly remember anger. And steadfastness. And resilience.
I’m speaking in the collective here.
Emotions are collective.
If one were to speak proportionately, I would say that “anger” would win out over “black-and-white double-exposed brooding sadness” for 99 percent of the time as far as Lebanon and the 33 days of the July War of 2006 are concerned.
So it is interesting that a photographer focus on that one percent.
I mean, I’d like to know where he was when a million displaced people headed back to the South of Lebanon in an act of communal defiance unprecedented in Lebanese history.
Only surpassed perhaps by the communal taking in of this refugee population in the first place.
Perhaps he willfully avoided such an activist regaining of Place.
Perhaps there were too many smiles, and “V for Victory” signs.
Perhaps, there was just too much overwhelming emotion for him to process.
A processing of Others’ lives into ready-to-eat, non-nutritive, single-serving slices.
Image: “Ghost” portrait | Date: March, 2010 | Place: Duraffourd Building; AUB campus, Beirut | Camera: 35mm pinhole camera based on my own design and custom die-cut | Caption: The Duraffourd Buildings stood vacant for all the years I worked at AUB. They formerly housed U.S. and British embassy offices. After the bombing of the U.S. embassy during the civil war, the buildings were evacuated. Based on the graffiti inside them, it is possible to determine that they used to house Syrian soldiers and later perhaps migrant workers. Despite the efforts of colleagues of mine to save the buildings and convert them to classrooms, the university decided to demolish them. I took this self-portrait using a long exposure that allowed me to be “half in” the picture and “half out” as well. A “ghost” portrait of both me and the building itself, now long gone.