Sometimes, in the late afternoon, in the wind that shimmers through the trees or in the sound of the world carrying on like nothing ever happened, in sounds that seep in through the open patio door of the kitchen, I think that I can hear the voices of home calling to me.
Calling me, in a gentle whisper, back home across the sea. To swoop me back low over the crashing white-tipped waves with their aquatic dramas unseen deep below, and zooming me in and out, in between the huddled masses seeking succour in sinking speed boats, chased by BBC camera crews, back to Good Old Blighty.
Or COVID Central, as I sometimes call it.
The vision, last week of BBC and Sky News crews chasing Syrian migrants across the Channel, endangering the small cramped craft taking on water, as repeated questions were asked from refugees wishing not to speak to them, was an example of the current times alas.
Yet, I’ve thought so much about time lately. I’ve thought about the future times to come, but I’ve also thought so much of past times.
Of being on crowded buses, and sitting in my favourite seat on the 87 bus, downstairs, just there behind the driver, in that sweet spot of the solitary single seat away from everyone. Sitting there serenely like the King of the Bus Wankers, as I stylishly get driven into town, away from the hoi polloi behind me.
I’ve thought, as well, of trying to get served in packed bars, waiting patiently to catch the eye of an ignorant barkeep. You know the type - the one who flicks a glance at you, giving you hope, as they stand upright and aloof at the tap, filling a pint glass, only to gesture to someone behind you. I’ve thought of being in packed football stadiums of 40,000 people or more, wondering why the idiot in front of me, in just a football shirt, isn’t dying from hypothermia as I shiver in 13 layers of clothing.
I’ve thought of it all, while sitting on my sofa looking out at the plants on the balcony. Watching them grow and then noticing the first hints of autumn, as blooms look less sure of themselves, more doubtful of the days to come perhaps. It all seems like a dream now, a fantasy that never was; perhaps something called the past.
But I always seem to fall in love with dreams of what was or what could never be. Perhaps this brings me to the promised Photoland.
Why do so many from, let’s just say, ‘traditionally excluded communities’, continue to try to be a part of an industry that prefers to have people like them in front of the camera rather than behind it?
Why are racialised people, like myself, so eager to work within a photographic industry so focussed on centering whiteness and othering racialised people that the structures of its racism are clear and present? Historically, of course, photography, as that scientific instrument of positivism, was used as the rubber stamp of colonial anthropologists to make real its racist claims of inferiority about, well, me.
Back in those early ‘good ol’ days’ of photography, I would have been photographed, stripped, standing next to a measuring device. Now, I might be allowed to keep my clothes on. Well, I am well over 16, after all, and Photoland does seem to like them young, but no doubt some other trope, of course, would be used to measure my worth and confirm my inferiority, in contrast to notions of whiteness.
One could argue, then, that photography, and many of those who wield it in contemporary times, still choose to use photography in exactly the same ways - as an anthropological tool - whatever their photographic genre.
A way that doesn’t quite seem that ‘concerned’, as it damns and objectifies those of its choosing, with the very same stamp of inferiority as the artefacts of the colonial anthropologist.
It’s not too much of a leap to suggest that many of those photographers or journalists don't even consider the ‘subjects’ they photograph or interview to have sufficient levels of humanity to be treated as equals.
They can’t do, can they?
They can’t see the people whom they film or photograph as equals if they treat them in the ways that they do, surely?
How else could you explain an adult asking a 12-year-old child survivor of a sex crime, burnt by battery acid, to remove her clothing, so that he could photograph her naked from the waist up with her face there for all to see? Or that very same image being used on large screens at corporate presentations?
Or how else can you explain an adult bringing a child to their hotel room so that they can photograph them and then label them as ‘sex workers’ shooting the image from the point of view of a predator
How else can someone keyword an image of a child, a child who has been sexually assaulted, with words which sexualise them alongside captions which clearly identify them? One could never do this to someone they felt empathy for, or belonging with, could they?
So it can only mean that they don’t. But of course, these are not white children so perhaps it’s easy for these white men not to.
Well, there are a range of other pertinent accusations that could be offered to explain their alleged behaviours, but after five months of pandemic, I’m in no fit economic position to be sued.
Not that I was before, for that matter.
But how can I consider photography a career for me when, at times, it just seems to be another cog in the wheel of structural racism? Perhaps photography, and journalism for that matter, and it’s myths of impartiality and of concern, are really just the torch bearers of racism.
Imagine all of the photographs of people who look like me, taken since that first photograph in 1826, stored in collections or used in the media. How many of them were taken by people who looked like the people in front of the camera or who shared their lived experience?
How many of them were taken for the consumption of people who look like me?
As, more often than not, these were photographs made to damn me, not defend me. They were made to reinforce my inferiority and not to challenge it.
Those images and their ‘fake news’ have existed to construct (and still construct for that matter) in the minds of the West, who I and other racialised people are. These images of apparent concern act only as gateways for racists and predators - or both. A gateway of opportunity, for those without empathy, to dehumanise the racialised people they encounter.
Change will take time, some will tell you, whilst really meaning that calls of change will buy them time. These same people speak also of different eras and of different moral expectations in times gone by. Because let’s not forget, they say wagging a scornful finger, times were different then.
Yet, their promised change is sadly always out of reach, somewhere out there just beyond the horizon. Cast beyond a sighing sea which calls me home and past those crashing white-tipped waves with their aquatic dramas unseen deep below. Change is out there, they continue to promise, out there across the sea, just there beyond the huddled masses seeking succour in sinking speed boats, chased by camera crews who forget that their questions are being asked to humans too.