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August 21 2013

Late Victorian Holocausts - by MIKE DAVIS

Late Victorian Holocausts - by MIKE DAVIS

Toutes les famines des siecles derniers furent l’oeuvre du capitalisme sauvage.

“Here’s the northeast monsoon at last,” said Hon. Robert Ellis, C.B., junior member of the Governor’s Council, Madras, as a heavy shower of rain fell at Coonoor, on a day towards the end of October 1876, when the members of the Madras Government were returning from their summer sojourn on the hills.

“I am afraid that is not the monsoon,” said the gentleman to whom the remark was made.

“Not the monsoon?” rejoined Mr. Ellis. “Good God! It must be the monsoon. If it is not, and if the monsoon does not come, there will be an awful famine.”

La plus vieille démocratie du monde n’a jamais aidé les plus pauvres.

Like other architects of the Victorian Raj, Salisbury was terrified of setting any precedent for the permanent maintenance of the Indian poor. As the Calcutta Review pointed out in 1877, “In India there is no legal provision made for the poor, either in British territory, or in the native states; [although] the need for it is said by medical men and others, to be exceedingly great.” Both Calcutta and London feared that “enthusiastic prodigality” like Buckingham’s would become a trojan horse for an Indian Poor Law. In its final report, the Famine Commission of 1878-80 approvingly underscored Lord Lytton’s skinflint reasoning: “The doctrine that in time of famine the poor are entitled to demand relief ... would probably lead to the doctrine that they are entitled to such relief at all times, and thus the foundation would be laid of a system of general poor relief, which we cannot contemplate without serious apprehension....” None of the principal players on either side of the House of Commons disagreed with the supreme principle that India was to be governed as a revenue plantation, not an almshouse.
#histoire #capitalisme #crise #famine #colonialisme

October 14 2011

Rankin photographs famine in east Africa

Photographer Rankin visited Turkana, Kenya for Oxfam's Blog Action Day to meet some of the people facing drought and hunger in a region that has not had enough rain since 2005

July 22 2011

Consciences awakened by the camera | Jonathan Jones

Debates about the ethics of famine photography miss the point. By seeing pictures of suffering, we are spurred into action

The eye of a dead cow stares at the camera focused on its hollow sack of a body. Photographer Colin Crowley has taken the shot at a diagonal so the head, the face, of the ruined animal is given emphasis, as if to accuse, or warn, its unknown watchers.

It has died of hunger and thirst. Its carcass is a shell that tells us this. Loose bones, picked clean, form a broken tent. The brown hide of the animal is slung over emptiness, a body eaten away from the inside. Pastoralist Bishar Hassim, who stands with his blue shirt in the blue sky above a parched earth in Jowar village, Wajir, Kenya, has seen all his animals die in the drought that has hit east Africa. This week famine was declared in Somalia. Children are especially at risk. It is a food crisis of catastrophic proportions.

This photograph displays what starvation is. The cow looks as if it was eaten away from inside. There are complex causes behind every famine, "but what the photographs fail to show is the reason why so many people have reached this state of destitution", writes an expert. Of course. But photographs tell the physical, immediate facts. This picture does give some very concrete information about what has happened: pastoralists have lost their animals, and as Hassim explained, "we can no longer rely on them for food or income". But its power lies in making people thousands of miles away see the facts of hunger.

I am writing this on a full stomach. I will eat again soon. All around me are shops loaded with food. But this animal has experienced death by drought, and the reality of what happens when water and food are taken away is there to see.

"Being a spectator of calamities taking place in another country is a quintessential modern experience," wrote the critic and essayist Susan Sontag, "the cumulative offering by more than a century and a half's worth of those professional, specialised tourists known as journalists." There's no way to avoid the fact that I am a "spectator" of this scene, a well-fed observer of faraway suffering. Do photographs of famine do any good? Sontag made her jaded remark in her 2003 book Regarding the Pain of Others, a pessimistic critique of war photography. Since the invention of the camera war photographs have proliferated; and so have wars. Photographing the horrors of war did nothing to prevent new conflicts – looking at "calamities taking place in another country" is just a refined voyeurism of despair.

Photographing famine has sometimes been questioned in a similar way. A decade before Sontag's essay appeared, photojournalist Kevin Carter took a picture of a vulture stalking a young child in southern Sudan in 1993: after it appeared in the New York Times he was accused of voyeurism and passivity, of observing when he might have acted. An editorial called him "another predator, another vulture on the scene". Carter killed himself soon afterwards.

Yet what nonsense all these sophisticated criticisms of photojournalism are. It seems shocking that commentators in 1993 wasted their breath on the ethics of a photograph instead of urging action to deal with the suffering it showed. The fact that people far away can see with visceral immediacy the facts of a crisis like the one now hitting the Horn of Africa is one of the most optimistic aspects of the modern world. Consciences are awakened by the camera. Don McCullin's pictures of Biafra in 1969 are moving examples of the way photographers have forced the world to see the reality of hunger. In fact, the history of photography and famine leads to the opposite conclusion to the refined bleakness Sontag finds in the history of war photography. It is only since the dawn of modern photojournalism that global conscience has accepted the hunger of others as a responsibility.

Before the camera it was almost incredibly easy to ignore famine. Victorian Britain ignored it in Ireland, so near and yet so far. Artists painted beautiful landscapes that rarely even hinted at the real lives of the rural poor. Only in paintings of apocalyptic horror such as Bruegel's Triumph of Death do we glimpse the experience of famine in pre-modern art.

A photograph can put suffering on the front of your paper while you eat breakfast. But there is a danger of merely inviting exhausted pity and helpless horror if the photographs seem to come after the fact – a photograph is by its nature a document of something that has already happened – and to tell a story no one can change.

This picture tells a story whose end is not yet certain. It demands that we act. It shows not the last, but the first stage of crisis: the animals have died. The intimation of what might come next is there in the animal's shattered tent of a body. But it is not too late to stop the worst happening. In parts of Somalia, that nightmare scenario – famine – is already here. This picture tells the whole world what will happen across the region unless urgent international action comes immediately. Don't look: act. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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