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Legendary photographer Josef Koudelka packed the house at the Paramount Theater in downtown Charlottesville during the Look3 Festival of the Photograph over the weekend, and the audience greeted him with a standing ovation after master of ceremonies, photographer Vince Musi, announced that Koudelka had been reluctant to participate. Koudelka, who has a reputation as a lone wolf among a group of peers known for their independence, has rarely granted interviews during a career that spans more than 40 years.
“Of course I don’t feel very comfortable to be here. I am not a good speaker,” said Koudelka, who was nevertheless gracious to Anne Wilkes Tucker, curator at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, who was also on stage to interview him. “I don’t know what she’s going to ask me, [but] I gave her assurance I would answer everything…I will try to be as honest as possible.”
Koudelka also told the audience at the outset that he “never listened much to what [other] photographers say,” and recounted how Henri Cartier-Bresson had asked him to read and comment on the text of The Decisive Moment before that book was published. “I said to Bresson I’m really not interested and I’m not going to read it.” Koudelka added, “I think the best portrait of a photographer are his photographs, so please judge me on my photographs.”
The audience cheered, and the program got under way with a projection of a sampling of Koudelka’s earliest work–a documentary of stage actors during performances, followed by a series of abstract images that stemmed from his work as a theater photographer. The program alternated between silent projections of Koudelka’s major bodies of work, presented chronologically, followed by several minutes of Q&A conversation between Tucker and Koudelka about that work.
Here’s an edited version of the conversation. The headings indicate the subjects of the major bodies of Koudelka’s work, and when it appeared during the program.
سعادتي برواية التماسيح قد تفهم خطأ. أعتقد أن الفترة التي كتبت فيها – وخلالها توطدت علاقتي بيوسف رخا – كانت من أغنى الفترات في وقت بدا قاحلا ومربكا … الحوارات الشاقة مكسِرة الرأس على موجة الثورة العالية والهابطة إلى القاع هي التي حولت مشاعر كان من الممكن أن تبقى مجانية تماما إلى كلام. من منا لا يدين لشخص دفعه الى الكلام؟ – مهاب نصر يوم ٢٠١٢/٩/١٩
على خلفية إسقاط النظام المصري، تعيد رواية «التماسيح» (الساقي) كتابة محطات أساسية لـجيل التسعينيات الذي انتهت أحلامه بتغيير العالم إلى انهيارات شخصية حاولت أن تجد سلواها في الثورة المغدورة
«أحياناً وأنا أستعيد حواراتنا ومشاجراتنا وكل السُّبل المعقدة التي ربطتنا ثم حلّت الرّباط، يبدو لي أنّ الفشل كان القيمة الوحيدة المحرِّكة في الدائرة»، بهذا الاعتراف الذي سيتكرر في صفحات وسطور أخرى، يُنهي يوسف رَخَا (1976) روايته «التماسيح» (دار الساقي). الفشل لا يُقدم هنا كنتيجة نهائية، بل كاستعارة كبرى تختزل السياقات السردية للرواية التي تتحدث عن تجربة جيل التسعينيات في الشعر والكتابة، والعلاقة مع الجيل السابق ومع المؤسسات الثقافية.
Today is the second anniversary of the outbreak of the Syrian revolution on 15 March, 2011
Damask Rose by Vangelis (Blade Runner soundtrack)
Early one morning in the summer of 2011, a good few months after the ouster of Hosny Mubarak, I received an international phone call. It was an unknown number that began with 00963. I could tell this was the country code of some Arab state, though I didn’t know which. After some hesitation I picked up, and I was greeted by a thin voice speaking with inflections that sounded vaguely Iraqi. “Remember Abu Dhabi,” the voice said eventually, with a warm chuckle. “This is Thaer.”
For me, the word “Palestinians,” whether in a headline, in the body of an article, on a handout, immediately calls to mind fedayeen in a specific spot—Jordan—and at an easily determined date: October, November, December 1970, January, February, March, April 1971. It was then and there that I discovered the Palestinian Revolution…
Out of the blue, which is occasionally a beautiful blue, a reader of Kitab at Tughra gave me an unexpected and very dear gift: nine of my poems in English, beautifully translated. By way of gratitude and to celebrate, I spent the evening making black and white, square format pictures with the poems at the back of my mind – with the intention of producing one picture for each poem. I think of Sargon Boulus as, truly moved, I post these texts with thanks and acknowledgements to qisasukhra
The Angel of Death gives counsel to a bereaved parent
Barely a minute and you tread with dimmed eyes:
Is your patience exhausted in a minute?
There is nothing in all the universe that will show you mercy
Nothing that will halt the saw’s stroke through your bones.
Sit a while
And do not tax me,
Don’t make your misfortune a plea to me
When you know
That I am under orders:
I bear on my shoulders Earth’s lamentations
A thousand times redoubled.
أتمرن على ركوب الموج في صحراء
أعاند المد والجزر
فلا أتوه ولا أصِل
والرمال التي تحملني تبدل غربتي بألفة
حتى أصير أشبهها
وتجعل أمواجها أرضاً لي
تدفعني بقوة فأقول
I set off, I took up the march and never knew
where it might take me. I went full of fear,
my stomach dropped, my head was buzzing:
I think it was the icy wind of the dead.
I don’t know. I set off, I thought it was a shame
to leave so soon, but at the same time
I heard that mysterious and convincing call.
You either listen or you don’t, and I listened
and almost burst out crying: a terrible sound,
born on the air and in the sea.
A sword and shield. And then,
despite the fear, I set off, I put my cheek
against death’s cheek.
And it was impossible to close my eyes and miss seeing
that strange spectacle, slow and strange,
though fixed in such a swift reality:
thousands of guys like me, baby-faced
or bearded, but Latin American, all of us,
brushing cheeks with death.
from The Romantic Dogs, translated ably by Laura Healy.