I drove alone from Rome to the Balkans to cover the refugee crisis on the borders of Eastern Europe in September 2015. I saw the physical and human landscape changing slowly. I saw the faces, and I heard the sound of the words. I saw history flowing from Florence to Venice, to Trieste, to the forests of Slovenia, to the Alps and the well kept chalets near Austria, to the flat agricultural peripheries deeper into the former Austro-Hungarian empire, eastwards, towards Serbia and Hungary…
سركون بولص: مواليد ١٩٤٤؛ توفي يوم ٢٢ أكتوبر ٢٠٠٧
“We knew that he was a wonderful poet (and also a painter for some time),” Marilyn Jossens wrote of Sargon Boulus (1944-2007), known to her and other San Francisco friends as Sergie. “We appreciated the fact that his soul was in the human condition, and in Iraq/Assyria and other areas of the Middle East, but I doubt many knew much of his life in the U.S.” She had noticed a piece recounting my first encounter with his voice. It took a long time for Marilyn and me to get in touch after she offered to share her photos of Sargon, the record of a life well lived, which I have opted to present as a montage rather than chronologically. I was glad to inform Marilyn of the fact that Sargon’s translation of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet from English to Arabic has already appeared with the Cologne-based Al-Kamel Verlag, along with his translations of Allen Ginsberg and Ted Hughes.
Below, in lieu of captions, are extracts from Marilyn’s letters:
حصلت المدونة – بالصدفة البحتة – على هذه الصور الفوتوغرافية للشاعر العراقي سركون بولص في سان فرانسيسكو وألمانيا من جاريه وصديقيه المقربين مارلين ولاري جوسنس، وتتضمن المجموعة صوراً من فترة تتجاوز العشرين عاماً يظهر فيها أحياناً مع الزوجين صاحبي الصور وابنهما، ومع رفيقة حياته الألمانية “إيلكه” وبنتها وحفيدها. تقول مارلين إنه حرص على تصوير وجهه في أيامه الأخيرة قبيل وفاته في ألمانيا يوم ٢٢ أكتوبر عام ٢٠٠٧.
“A man going quietly about his business all day long expends far more muscular energy than an athlete who lifts a huge weight once a day. This has been proved physiologically, and so the social sum total of everybody’s little everyday efforts, especially when added together, doubtless releases far more energy into the world than do rare heroic feats. This total even makes the single heroic feat look positively minuscule, like a grain of sand on a mountaintop with a megalomaniac sense of its own importance.”
R. Musil, The Man Without Qualities
In an age when video journalism is increasinly paramount and printing is arguably no longer necessary, how do you feel the still image is still pertinent to documentary or news work?
Video journalism serves its purpose and is growing as it is easier to create and distribute, but photos haven’t lost their power in this new environment. A single strong image can be viewed and summarize a situation in seconds. In our fast paced world there will always be a place for the still frame.
Do you think documentary and art photography are important for the development of photo journalism? Is there enough of that going on in Egypt (with the Cairo Image Collective, for example) to create a photographic culture?
As a photojournalist I often steal style from art and commercial photography. We must be aware of their modern visual language in our work to stay relevant and interesting. But even though the internet has broken down barriers it can be impossible to find many documentary or art photo books in Cairo. While in the west you can pick up a thick fashion magazine at almost any store and get inspired by the commercial portraiture it takes conscious effort for photographers to suss out inspiration in Egypt.