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Monday, May 26, 2008

Why I want to be a guerrilla girl

How can a woman in 21st Century America look at her world and not want to create art? I must here steal a page from the article that got me started thinking about this idea these past few days as I wandered through thousands of images looking for two photos that are iconic in my photojournalist memory for why a photo needs a caption. Anne Teresa Demo quotes the Guerrilla Girls in her opening. I quote her quoting them here:


Working without the pressure of success.
Not having to be in shows with men.
Having an escape from the art world in your 4 free-lance jobs.
Knowing your career might pick up after you're eighty.
Being reassured that whatever kind of art you make it will be labeled feminine.
Not being stuck in a tenured teaching position.
Seeing your ideas live on in the work of others.
Having the opportunity to choose between career and motherhood. . . .
Getting your picture in an art magazine wearing a gorilla suit.

I have been sifting through images, as I mentioned above. I've been Googling my little heart out looking for two pictures. I started with the one I thought would be easy to find--a photo of a phalanx of photographers against a wall at an intersection in Gaza (or maybe the West Bank) points at an Israeli soldier who is pointing his gun down the street at a Palestinian. It is the emptiness of the rest of the intersection I am drawn to. Regardless, after about an hour, I half-heartedly Googled for the second photo. This has a soldier with a billy club standing over a bloody teen. The photo was run in the NY Times with the wrong caption--the caption accused (and I use that term KNOWING the way newspapers work and cutlines are written) the soldier of beating the Palestinian youth on the Temple Mount.

In fact, the soldier was protecting the AMERICAN Jewish teen from a group of Palesitinian youth who had been beating him and they were no where near the Temple Mount (a point easily deduced if one looks at the gas station sign behind the soldier; there are no gas stations on the temple mount).

Point is; I found the second picture in minutes.

Buoyed by my success, I went in search of the other photo. I need both. I must have both. I spent two hours in a fruitless quest for the rest of the Al-Dura film, but Al-Dura's assassination (in my opinion by someone other than the IDF soldiers at that intersection) happened with only three cameramen in the area, and they were by the father and son's side as the shooting continued. (Interestingly, I noticed also that they were gone when the man and boy were murdered.) There is plenty on the net about the Al-Dura shooting. That man and his son have become a point of contention and so can be found everywhere. They weren't what I was looking for.

I felt beaten again, but decided to take a short break (to go buy toilet paper) and then come back to the work. Getting back to the work, I plowed ahead with another Google search, hoping I had come up with the magical phrase to garner the right pic. [I wish, here to admit that if I had simply remembered where I'd seen the photo, this would never have happened, but how much internal citation is possible in a post-modern world?--not enough for me.]

This time I somehow managed to get pictures of unhappy babies (because that's what one expects when Googling the phrase "photojournalists crowd at intersection in Israel"). Babies held by Israeli, Palestinian, Bosnian, American, every woman ever. Babies behind fences. Babies, I say meaning any child up to, oh, military age. Babies. I feel old. Worse, I feel I have failed. I am no longer interested in the search. I am staring at the outcome of all gunfights. And I'm looking at the faces of the children who will be fed hate and jingoism.

And I feel the need to go make a better picture. I feel the need to make the piece of art that will be mechanically reproduced forever and ever and make it clear to all that this pain will not go away. I want to design the tattoo others will love enough to wear boldly on their chests. I want to make the reproduction of the hell--remediated to something more liveable. But I can't. First off, I have homework to do (like finding the stinkin' photo!). Second, I have people to interact with, responsibilities to meet, and other excuses to make.

And finally, I have made the art. I make it regularly. It always comes out wrong. I have taken the photo. I have photoshopped the images into collage. I have bricoleured (excuse my poor French spelling) the ideas into essays, blogs, emails, letters, pictures, sweaters, hats, jewelry, music. . . And as always I fail. but I have decided that I have to keep doing it. Because it's the only way to vomit out the poison I keep swallowing. It's the only way to save my life--because really, the puppies give me their love, but even that's not enough.

And so I get to keep trying to be the Guerrilla Girl I will never be.

Because Googling "soldier and photographers in Gaza" doesn't seem to be cutting it.

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