Menton by Safia Southey

Menton is a bubble, an enclave where the rest of the world disappears, a parallel universe populated with only 300 people. It’s a place where you can’t hide - if you make a mistake you live with it, you are forced to face it head on, spending 10 hours a day staring at the person who you got into a fight with the night before. You are reborn in Menton, you are filled with opportunity, walking through the Old Town to school every morning and feeling the orange and pink walls tower over you as if you were Moses parting the Red Sea. Everything is at your fingertips, the beach, the mountains, the train station allowing you to go anywhere you wish. Menton is a prison, inebriating you with sun to prevent you from seeing how suffocated you may truly be. We live in a paradise, with classes that pique our curiosity and friends that become family within the first week. With Prosecco in our bags and our bathing suits under our clothes for when we finish maths, it is a place of bliss and distraction and fantasy. The Shabbat dinners, the drunk walks home from La Loca and Hardy’s, the days spent watching Gossip Girl on my couch, screaming into the sea during breakdowns, the Friday night dinners on the beach, the friends that I made for life, the relentless travel: these memories will never escape me. Menton is a place of improvement and renewal, the frequent smell of fire in the town signaling destruction and the restoration that inevitably follows: you too must confront that which you don’t like about yourself. You either come to terms with who you are, you put up a facade to impress those around you, or you become mindful of who you are and make changes for the better. There is no hiding in Menton. Menton is a bubble, an enclave where the rest of the world disappears, a parallel universe populated with only 300 people. 

Most memorable moments in Menton:

  • canasta and boxed red wine with Hamish and Jozsef 

  • Sunday morning walks with Genevieve to Roquebrune 

  • Shabbat dinners 

  • philosophical nights with Carl, Jay, and Rhe 

  • boozy Sunday brunches at Iberia 

  • learning econ while walking to Monaco

  • daily runs to McDonalds 

  • chicken and waffle dinner party

  • trying to speak French with the Villa Jasmin ladies

  • living with 10 people in three rooms whenever Nikos and Morgane and Lili had friends over 

  • being the photo bitch for all of Menton

  • hearing “bella” while eating the chicken run bagel at Edwidge

  • taking shots with Javi the night before MEDMUN

  • my parents partying with my friends at La Loca and the Purple Palace

  • listening to music behind the fortress by Bastion

  • being made fun of by Jade at Poivre et Sel

  • screaming Menton chants on the way to Monaco

  • weekend excursions to Italy for all you can eat sushi 

  • brainstorming new projects with Oskar (and rarely following through)

  • sleeping on a mattress on the floor even though we had three beds

  • Friday night dinners on the beach 

  • ice cream with Vivek

  • dancing in the streets of downtown Nice

  • getting heatstroke while hiking to St. Agnes 

  • sneaking into MDL to cook (tbt kitchen goblin)

  • taking home plates of pasta from Dolce Vita 

  • my friends playing AJR out my window on my birthday

  • playing my switch at Christmas Ball and Gala 

  • staying up all night playing Limbo and listening to Jacques Brel

  • dancing with Grace at Wayne’s 

  • James running with me over his shoulder

  • MEDMUN meetings at Le Bordel

  • dancing in the rain after 3A placements were released

2019 Resolutions by Safia Southey

This may be late, but I thought it would be a good move to write down all the changes I intended to make this year in order to keep myself accountable. Even better, put it online so if I fail, I can have the entire internet shaming me for it! While a list may have been enough, I thought it would be useful to articulate and explain my full intentions. My theme for this year is conscious decision making, so why not start by thinking through all these changes?

Don’t be a hypocrite
I more often than not play the role of the “triggered liberal,” seizing the change to point out every instance of cultural appropriation and offensive commentary that I notice. Then, I’ll do things like wear Moroccan dress or travel to North Korea. Essentially, I need to learn to practice what I preach, because if I don’t, then nobody is going to take anything I say seriously (which they certainly don’t at present), and I’m just another White woman not willing to put in the work.

Be good to yourself
This whole “not being a hypocrite,” thing extends past just my liberal beliefs, but also to my treatment of myself and others. I spend extensive amounts of time reassuring my friends of their beauty and brilliance (as we all do in this time of college-induced imposter syndrome and low self-confidence), why not internalizing the advice and love that I dish out so easily. Therefore, one of the main things I want to do this year is to be good to myself, mentally, physically, and emotionally. I want to eat healthier (not less), start running, drink more water, take my meds every day, dress more professionally instead of wearing only clothes that are 5+ years old or those of my friends.

Act with purpose
Along this line of thinking, I want make conscious decisions instead of just doing. As one of my best friends Rhe-Anne often points out, I don’t always think things through before I act, which often leads to emotional chaos and extensive backpedaling in order to fix the mistakes that my impulsivity creates. I want to only do things that I actually want to do, and to explore why I do certain things. This sounds both selfish and obvious, but most of you know that I’m a very emotionally confused people-pleaser, and don’t always do things for the “right” reasons, which only ends up hurting myself and those around me.

Take up less space
The most difficult point on this list is something I have been grappling with for a while - my position of privilege as a middle-upper class American White woman, and how to stop using this privilege in a way which perpetuates the current unfair systems of power. How do I, as Rachel Cargle advocates for, do the work? To start, I need to cease any of my casual cultural appropriation, to listen, to stop being so defensive, and possibly most importantly, to not take up so much space. White people have taken up so much space for so long, we are constantly told that our voice should be heard, and often we take the spotlight instead of giving those who have been given so much less power an opportunity to finally speak their own truth. I want to use my privilege to empower others, and need to stop imposing myself in spaces that are not my own (which includes reconsidering where I travel to, as maybe White people have spent enough time in Africa and other places we should have never been in the first place, and need to fuck off now). I try to be a good ally when I can, but know that I still have a lot of work to do, especially regarding my photography and general white savior complex internalized from years of studying the Middle East in a French university.

Be more environmentally conscious
This relates back to not being a hypocrite - I have worked for so many environmental focused organizations that it’s unfair if not completely absurd to claim to help the environment when I’m not even doing something as simple as cutting out meat. I am trying to limit plastics and be more environmentally conscious in general, including going vegetarian, using my dishwater (even though I prefer hand washing dishes), and finding alternative methods of travel. I wanted to go vegan, but cutting out dairy and such in France and while traveling is practically impossible, plus I depend on my friends to feed me most of the time and I don’t want to be even more of a pain in the ass.

There are other simple changes I want to make: write more articles, spend time with people I love, improve my photography, remind the people around me how much I care about them, learn how to actually film and edit my videos, focus on positivity. There are easier said than done, but hopefully if I keep acting with purpose, then they will come naturally.

Travel by Safia Southey

I never choose the window seat, because I want to be the first one racing out the door when we touch down. I’ve been trained as a New Yorker to never stop, to take lines as a mere suggestion and to treat slow walkers like obstacles in a maze. I use my travels as an exercise of my quick upbringing, identifying the must-sees and trip-advisor day-tours, moving a mile-a-minute through the streets of new cities with simply my camera and a backpack. I refuse to take cabs from the train or bus station, walking is my preferred methods of transport - which has led me to some interesting experiences gallivanting around Yerevan, Chisinau, Beirut (...) in the dead of night, reassuring myself of all the comforting things I tell my mom to make sure she doesn’t worry. It’s also led me to my best photos and most authentic experiences, to the neighborhoods filled with genuine people outside the urban centers, setting up their restaurants and preparing for the day ahead. While the big touristy experiences can be interesting (if not extremely overwhelming), it’s the meandering journeys I take to get there through markets and parks and even along highways, the street food I discover on the way and the sounds of people chattering, that truly make my quest not just another page from a guidebook.

I never plan what I’m doing, quickly finding a hostel on my phone using the airport wifi while going through customs and finding some distant point to make my way to using google maps (honestly my travel savior, I would be literally dead without it and honestly was close when in China - Baidu just doesn’t do the trick). I search for experiences that continue to push me to be my wildest self - from skydiving above the Dead Sea to sinkhole jumping in Oman (not my best moment) to stealing currency in North Korea (probably shouldn’t publicly admit to that), I tend to make decisions that aren’t the smartest. And while I admit that many of my reckless choices are a product of my desire to uphold my reputation, it’s more to myself than to anyone else. I want to continuously prove to myself that I am the brave girl that my parents raised me to be, that I’m not growing weak as I get older, but rather that I am taking every opportunity that I am presented to ensure that I will never have to face the regret of what I could have done if I just weren’t so cautious. I yearn for experiences that interrogate normative patterns of thinking and being, environments that urge me to question my standards.

However, I understand that my travel can be extremely problematic, on a number of levels which deserve to be acknowledged. As a human rights major and self-proclaimed politically correct semi-“woke” bitch, I need to learn to separate my search for wild stories from actually supporting violent and abusive regimes that go against all that I work to deter (which is why I will not be going to Saudi Arabia any time soon), and from taking advantage of my opportunities in a way that simply furthers modern day white imperialism (no voluntourism thank you very much). And while I preach traveling as if it were a sprint, I often forget that I am not a machine. I abuse my body through lack of sleep and food and water, forcing it through hours of just going in shoes that are not made for walking and clothing that should not be worn in negative degree weather (you’ve all seen my skirts-only wardrobe). My parents and friends have to beg me to take a break and just sleep on occasion, which is a concept that completely defies my sense of self-image. Half my decisions are powered by my mental health, or lack thereof, with anxiety that tears through my chest on a near-constant basis, forcing me to power through so that I don’t waste any second I am awarded outside of school or work. There is a pressure in my heart whispering that I will never forgive myself if I don’t take that jump, that with every time I decide to relax instead of tackling some new adventure, I am that much less impressive.

My heart races thinking about all the places I have never been and all the time that I do not have - my mind fills the future with dreary classrooms and desk jobs that won’t permit me to escape at any impulsive urge. But hopefully, I will find new opportunities which will allow me to adventure in more productive ways, through work that is less selfish than simply wanting to see everything that I possibly can. People criticize my travel for just wanting to cross places off my list - but it’s most of a manifestation of how daunting and big the world feels, and how I’m terrified of not being able to see it all. I will continue to walk the Earth, tearing through countries as if I were running away, but I’m slowly realizing that sometimes it’s necessary to stop rushing. I never choose the window seat, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate those moments when I forget to specify a preference and end up taking a hundred photos of sunsets on my phone. It is when I finally slow down and abandon my hectic New York mentality that I can actually appreciate all the little moments along the way and see just how lucky I am to experience all that I have.

New York by Safia Southey

39504536_10217539224055568_7323489697236254720_o.jpg

New York. Manhattan. The city. I talk about it a lot. Most people look fondly back on their childhood homes, referring to wherever they grew up as the best city in the world. However, very few have the privilege of being right when they say it.

New York encapsulates more than just my childhood, it’s a place of opportunity. It’s a liberal wonderland. It’s a bubble. And while some areas become lifeless and bleak as grey office buildings tower over tiny people in suits, some streets contain more culture than entire regions in the United States. Times Square and midtown will never be able to compete with the hole-in-the-wall comedy dens in the West Village, the vibe of Spanish Harlem during the Puerto Rican Day parade, the lights that illuminate Bryant Park in the winter, Union Square after dark when the artists come out to play.

We are the coastal elite, only out for ourselves in a way that would horrify anyone attached to Southern hospitality. But our extreme focus on individualism does not mean we are selfish – we do not fit into any stereotype, but are a part of so many communities. We pride ourselves on our fashion, on the way we stick out and the way we exist as if nobody is watching, while also constantly performing for an invisible audience. The world’s a stage, and New Yorkers are the actors. You can visit anywhere from Italy to India to Kenya to Brazil to Shanghai while traversing the boroughs; you can do anything, from trapeze overlooking the sunset to upper east side wine tastings to fully immersive art exhibits; and most of all, you can be anything.

As Colson Whitehead wrote in The Colossus of New York, “Our streets are calendars containing who we were and who we will be next. We see ourselves in this city every day when we walk down the sidewalk and catch our reflections in store windows, seek ourselves in this city each time we reminisce about what was there fifteen, ten, forty ears ago, because all our old places are proof that we were here. One day the city we built will be gone and when it goes, we go. When the buildings fall, we topple, too.”

I was born and raised in New York City. I am the hipster, stuck-up norther easterner that I am fully aware the rest of the country despises, honestly sometimes for good reason. Every time I enter the city I am overcome by a wave of empowerment and every time I leave I feel like my heart is being ripped out of my chest. And while gentrification eats away at my city, with remnants of the past (RIP Sunshine Theatre) being replaced with beautiful yet cold cafes and juice shops (and so many fucking salad places), they can never take away our attitude. Our pride. Our individuality and our unabashed and well-deserved arrogance. Just let them try.

42 by Safia Southey

Screen Shot 2018-08-19 at 10.46.01 PM.png

Many people know that I am obsessed with the number 42. With it tattooed on my side, it better have some actual meaning. 

The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon states that a word, a name, or other thing (in my case, number) that has recently come to one's attention suddenly seems to appear with improbable frequency afterwards, which may explain why I see 42 everywhere

Humans have an inherent need to find meaning in every little thing, and often will attribute anything from poetically intricate to downright ludicrous meanings just to insert significance in the insignificant and simplify our understanding. This sense of understanding and value gives us relief, and for many it's a coping mechanism - while some use God to explain bizarre events and forces, I may use the number 42 to explain beauty or the encapsulation of everything. The importance isn't in the number, but rather the human condition of how we attribute connections and meanings to a seemingly trivial random number.

However, 42 also isn't just a collection of references. In Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the confusion surrounding the number forces the characters to explore what the question being asked actually is. These kind of questions - and answers - are what moves society forward, what encourages people to explore and find answers in what we don't understand. Therefore, 42 is a reminder to me to keep exploring, to find meaning in the meaningless, to establish small ways to spark happiness. 

So, here is a little list I've compiled over the years of some of my favorite references (I'm sorry there aren't 42): 

  • The answer to life, the universe, and everything
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderful has 42 illustrations 
  • 42 dots on a pair of standard dice
  • In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet's death-state poison is supposed to last 42 hours 
  • In Japanese culture, the number 42 is considered unlucky because the numerals when pronounced separately—shi ni (four two)—sound like the word "death"
  • Mark 42 is the featured suit in Iron Man 3
  • There are 42 questions asked of persons making their journey through Death by Ma'at, an Ancient Egyptian personification of physical and moral law, order, and truth, according to the Book of Pass
  • 42 is the value of an essential scientific constant which determines the age of the universe - the Hubble Constant
  • Board game Risk has 42 territories
  • Countries have 42 years to repay the Global Environmental Facility for loans  
  • Tower of Babel occupies 42 agrarian measures according to Mesopotamian tradition
  • Titanic was traveling at 42 mph when it collided with the iceberg 
  • 42 Egyptian gods and goddesses / 42 Naves of Egypt 
  • Gale has 42 tesserae entries in the Hunger Games 
  • 42 is the number with which God creates the Universe in Kabbalistic tradition
  • There are 42 generations (names) in the Gospel of Matthew's version of the Genealogy of Jesus
  • There are 42 elevators in 30 Rock 
  • The Beast will hold dominion over the Earth for 42 months (Revelation 13:5)
  • Doctor House's favorite number in the show house is 42 
  • 42 men of Beth-azmaveth were counted in the census of men of Israel upon return from exile (Ezra 2:24)
  • 42 Odes of Solomon 
  • Fox Mulder's apartment in the X-Files is #42 
  • God sent bears to maul 42 of the teenage boys who mocked Elisha for his baldness (2 Kings 2:23)
  • In Toy Story, Buzz's spaceship is named 42 
  • 42 is generally often a factor in Anti-Christian names 
  • The Gutenberg Bible is also known as the "42-line Bible"
  • The Forty-Two Articles (1552), largely the work of Thomas Cranmer, were intended to summarize Anglican doctrine, as it now existed under the reign of Edward VI
  • 42 is an episode of Doctor Who ~~~ 
  • On the game show Jeopardy!, "Watson" has 42 threads
  • Jackie Robinson's number 

Interview with Greg Kahn: Documentary Photographer by Safia Southey

greg-kahn-017.jpg

Greg Kahn (b. 1981) is an American documentary fine art photographer. Kahn grew up in a small coastal town in Rhode Island, and attended The George Washington University in Washington D.C. In August of 2012, Kahn co-founded GRAIN Images with his wife Lexey, and colleague Tristan Spinski. 

How much of your work is on assignment, compared to individual projects?

If I was wealthy I wouldn’t be taking assignments, I would just be doing the things I wanted to do. There are passion projects, and then assignment work, and assignment work is how I make my money. It’s not always editorial, it’s anything – it could be a commercial job, three days in a studio doing portraiture for a commercial client, or even the New York Times saying, “Hey here’s the story, can you take pictures of this?” I will take anything as long as it matches creatively with what I want to do. I haven’t been tested on this but I don’t think I would take things that didn’t fit into my moral code, I just wouldn’t feel right about it. That’s where money comes into play. If Coca-Cola wanted me to shoot an ad campaign, and I’m not really down with Coca-Cola, but an ad campaign would be a good chunk of money. I think we all go through that and question it and talk to each other to ask, “What do you feel about this?”

What originally attracted you to social justice issues such as mass incarceration and the forecloses crisis in Florida?

I was in Florida and working for a newspaper, and one of the things that I noticed when working on a story was the recidivism rate that was happening particularly in the area where I was living. I’m a White male, about as privileged as it gets, and I heard in Florida about the recidivism rate of Black males coming in and out of prison. They have no money by the time they get out of prison and are dropped at a bus stop where there are drug dealers waiting saying, “hey do you want to make some money real quick?” It makes sense why the system keeps churning, and I wanted to photograph and tell the story of someone who is trying to stay out of returning prison. I think it worked out really well, I met this wonderful guy with two kids who was trying really hard, and I followed him everywhere. He went to job fairs, he was being the quintessential example of someone making the effort to not go back to prison. And people still found fault, they said, “oh he’s got too big of a TV, he’s clearly not spending his money wisely.” And that just cemented the idea that people don’t generally understand – he has two kids, when he needs to get work done he can turn on TV. We all do it! Why are you criticizing this guy? Building off that, you just keep going deeper into these issues.

Identity for me is everything. I’m fascinated by how we identity ourselves, how we want other people to see us. A lot of the projects end up asking what is the construct that people are using to say this is who I am, this is where I’m from, this is where I want to be. And a lot of that builds off each other.

How do you usually choose your stories, do you go in with research and a clear idea or does it develop with time?

Both, really it can be both. Sometimes I read something and think oh that’s an interesting fact, and research it a bit more, and that turns into a story. Or sometimes there’s an idea and you go into saying oh I want to look at mass incarceration or youth culture. In Cuba, for example, it was actually being there and stumbling across some kids that actually spurred the story. I didn’t read it anywhere and didn’t come up with the concept off hand, it was that I experienced it and thought this was something that wasn’t being shown enough, there is a cultural barrier that people find as mysterious.

Some of the ideas I have for projects aren’t based on any experiences, but on something I’ve read. Reading long term stories are super important because I’ve learned a lot about constructing a narrative from them just because they’re so masterfully done. Places like the New Yorker and Harper’s Magazine do such an amazing job of telling long form stories that it helps me as a photographer as I’ve learned about storytelling through them. The combination of that and actual experience is key.

Do you find there to be big differences between your work within the US compared to your international work?

Logistically yes, and it’s culturally different in some ways. But fundamentally we’re the same, we want the same things, we strive, we’re influenced by the same culture. I think that it’s something that if you invest the time and effort into it, you can accomplish telling that story anywhere.

Why did you decide to pursue photography in the first place?

I got into photography when I was in high school, and I got a week-long scholarship which meant missing school so i was all in. I went to California for a week to study with National Geographic photographer, mostly on the nature side. We went to the San Diego Zoo and photographed animals and they gave us tips and tricks on how to do, and then after that I was so hooked, that was it. I went to college and George Washington University and studies photography there, it was a little more artistic. when I got out, I was like, how do I get to Nat Geo? How do I end up there? I didn’t even start in photography at that point because i needed to pay bills, so I was a webs designer. And I hated being in the office, I hated it! And I saw a magazine article about workshops, and thought cool, why don’t I do that? I signed up and it kicked my ass, and it made me a 10-times better photographer in one week. After that I found a newspaper job, then another newspaper job, and after that I decided to go freelance. National Geographic does such a great job with telling stories with their captivating narratives, and it doesn’t matter if it’s domestic or abroad, the way that they tell stories is the best I feel is out there.

You’ve worked for several different news agencies such as the New York Times, the Atlantic, National Geographic; what’s been your favorite?

I like interesting stories and they come from all over. The first place I’m typically pitching is National Geographic because my stories align with them best, but that doesn’t mean that’s the only place I would want to see work. I’ve got a list of dream clients, but the funny thing is that you never know when a great assignment is going to come along and where it’s going to come from. It can come from a publication that not a lot of people know about, it doesn’t have to be the most famous publication, it’s just a matter of what the story is. The first thing I did for the Atlantic was a wild story about teen sexting, which is a difficult assignment, but it gave me a window into doing something that wasn’t visually set up on a platter for you. And then they came back and said here’s mass incarceration; they always come up interesting stories. The Washingtonian is a regional publication mostly for people in DC, but every assignment I’ve done for them has been so much fun. You never know where you’re going to get good assignments.

How do you see photography as a medium changing?

Photography is in weird place right not because the barrier to entry is so much lower now than it has been, which is good because it allows everyone has something to say to visually tell their story. However, there is a sense the images are losing value, which is tough because you want images to say something and for people to see them and say this is one-of-a-kind and important, and when you flood the market with too much imagery there is too much supply and not enough demand and you end up making images possess less value overall. There is a give and take with what’s happening. I do know that photography is an important medium using and will continue to be, but where it goes I’m not sure.

You’re seeing big magazines hire photographers based on Instagram. It’s different landscape than just a couple years ago, as a photographer you need to stay light on your feet and be able to get into whatever is the next trend.

I love it, but on the business side of things it’s terrifying because you don’t know, as a freelancer, when the next time your phone is going to ring or the next time someone is going to send you an email. I’ve gone two months without getting a single email or phone call and just been like “Is that it, am I done? I guess now I’ll drive for Uber or Lyft.” You never know! But I guess the idea is that over time you just learn to have faith that with hard work and being persistent in the work you’re doing that you will eventually get another call, another email, and that it will keep you afloat. Freelance is really high-highs and really low-lows, and sometimes you get a dream assignment and then there’s nothing. You need to plan and save because you never can predict what will follow.

What are some of the ethical concerns you have when navigation others’ hardships?

There are a lot of photographers having a hard look at the industry itself, especially the exoticization of other cultures. It’s a very real thing, and something that I’m very conscious of when I travel, because I never want someone to look at the pictures and feel like it’s just another white male colonial viewpoint. I really want to change the way that I photograph so that the images say something and don’t fall into a stereotype. I’m very cognizant that I don’t go down that road.

You don’t want to get into photographing things like homeless people who stick out on the street with the mindset of “oh that’s not normal.” There are a lot of easy traps to fall into, but it’s necessary to question yourself and what the intentions are and why. When I worked with a newspaper before, I learned my legal rights that I could photograph anyone in public without their consent. And while I still work within this frame now, I consider it slightly differently. If it’s something that requires a genuine moment I usually won’t say anything, but if I’m doing something where I tend to collaborate more with the person I’m photographing, making it more of a portrait than just a fly on the wall, I like to talk to them and ask how this represents them. I take total input from the person I’m photographing so that it makes a better image, and so that it makes more sense. They know I’m there, there is hardly any a situation where someone doesn’t know a photographer is taking their picture so it’s silly to me that photographers try to pretend that they’re a fly on a wall. Personally, I can’t just take photos of people because it just feels like taking, it feeds into that colonial, conqueror kind of view.

This project I recently did in Columbia, I photographed people who were basically homeless, refugees from Venezuela living on the street. I didn’t want them to not have their dignity, I want to capture them being proud of who they are and didn’t want to show them as just homeless and poor in a foreign country. They all had past lives, and I want to show them as human beings with a sense of self-worth.

Just over a year ago these kinds of conversations were not being had at all, and I think the photography community is going through a very painful yet necessary process to correct these things that have existed for a long time. And it’s sad because a lot of the idols that we looked up to are part of the problem, but I think it’s okay to understand someone’s work and know it differently, and compartmentalize these things so that it doesn’t ruin the body of work. But when you understand the person who made it and you think about the work in today’s context it changes, and that’s important.

People take photos of the stereotypical moments and colorful outfits, and those do exist, but they aren’t the full story. The stories I want to tell exist outside of the narrow focuses that have existed for so long.

What is your opinion on photojournalism?

I’m starting to have a problem with photojournalism for nothing else than the moral authority that photojournalists claim in saying that their work is the purest form of photography. I was one of the carriers of the photojournalism banner for a long time, and upon going freelance started developing other forms of photography, I realized that just because a photo doesn’t hold to the ethical standards that photojournalism has placed on it doesn’t mean that it’s not telling a non-fiction story. For example, Daniella Zalcman has this story Signs of Your Identity for First Nation People and the schools they were placed into to indoctrinate them into Canadian or US culture. She’s gone all over the world documenting these people who were placed into colonial schools to wipe out their identity, and it’s without a doubt some of the most important work that’s been done in the recent years. Her photographs are a portrait combined with a landscape so that they make a double image, which is just breathtaking, just gorgeous stuff. It would be called a photo illustration in the photojournalism world, but it tells the most effective story about what is happening – so why are we dismissing it? Photojournalism says that it’s unethical, but is it? The goal is to inform people and to have them care, and to make a difference. If that story is accomplishing it, I don’t care how you do it. It’s non-fiction, she’s not making anything up, she’s not taking something that doesn’t exist or photoshopping things in. Photojournalism creates such a narrow structure for photography exists, that anything that falls outside of it gets called fake and phony and manipulative.

So that’s where I find a problem with photojournalism, as the people who carrier it’s banner have become even more hardline. Even when it comes to toning, they say oh that’s toned too much, but what would you say about black-and-white photos then? And if you go to someone’s house to take photos, they’re going to clean up before you get there. Nothing is completely pure. This notion that photojournalists never effect the scene, don’t even move water bottles, so what? How would that impact the story? Why does that matter? And I think that’s what photojournalism isn’t doing, it’s not changing why the rest of the world evolves. There are so many amazing projects that would never fit into the narrow vision of photojournalism, but told stories that made people more engaged and more aware than photojournalism can do with its restrictions. I love what photojournalism is meant to do, but I hate how it’s become so strict that it doesn’t allow for true story telling in a non-fiction way that is effective. It’s cutting off its nose to spite its face, as it won’t be able to expand its idea of its own genre.

And who are your favorite photographers right now?

I’d put Carolyn Drake at the top of the list, and Alec Soth for sure. There’s this fashion photographer I’m really into right now, Erik Madigan Heck.

What advice do you have for young photographers trying to break into the industry?

I would just have to say follow your passion. One of my pet peeves is unsolicited advice, because I honestly don’t know myself. I’m publishing my first book now with my Cuba work, and it’s been a lot of fun, but it’s also a learning experience and sinking into a lot of money into something makes you question if you should have done it. I’m still making mistakes all the time, so all I can say is that if it’s something you really want to do, then do it.  And don’t be afraid to continue with it and when you come up against challenges have faith that you’ll get through it and keep developing into the photographer you want to be. Many people believe that you get to this stage where you just are who you are, but I’m still pushing myself to get better and think differently and come up with better ideas. Myself and my collective that I’m a part of were just in the South of France and pushing each other to get better at our craft, and that’s a long-life journey. You look at someone like Alec Soth, and his book on Mississippi, he defined an entire generation of photographers. And since then he’s continued to develop his style, he’s evolved again and again and again and every time he’s mastered whatever he set out to do. I look at him as someone who a lot of people can look up to because he constantly finds new ways of photographing someone where he doesn’t get stale, and his ability to tell stories evolve.

Is it really helping? by Safia Southey

We attend a school for politically minded students, for those who possess an insatiable curiosity regarding the world and all its complex intricacies. Adorned with our elitist education and politically and culturally-astute sensitivities, we are driven by a desire to go out and do good in the world, help underprivileged and disenfranchised communities.

This gets complicated very quickly. While most of us are highly critical of US interventionist policies, we can be hypocritical in this regard ourselves, embarking on a journey to provide disadvantaged groups with what we feel will help them most. Take TOMS shoes for example - while they dedicated their entire mission to giving children in Africa shoes, this really wasn’t necessary and had no real impact on the community; the money could have been spent in much more effective ways (Buying TOMS shoes is a terrible way to help poor people).

That’s not to say all smaller NGOs are useless, and that the ones focused on more individual-scale issues should be completely disregarded - as the cliche goes, helping one person might not change the whole world, but it could change the world for one person. This being said, it is important to see what impact is really being made. New Western NGOs pop-up every day with identical mission statements, created by idealistic youth who believe that they know best, when in reality the money that is used to establish new programs in low-income countries could be so much more useful if given to already developed organizations with the proper connections and infrastructure to actually make a substantial difference. Of course innovation is important, but for the most part these organizations don’t truly hold any unique qualities.

Somebody once told me that it is necessary to consider when starting a new job or traveling to a new place under the guise of humanitarian work, are you doing more for the community, or is the experience doing more for you? There is a thin line between traveling to gain experience and using the information to learn in a useful manner (if there is one), and taking advantage of a place. “White savior complex” is a common phrase, but I believe that the definition should be more broad than some Westerner who visits war-torn communities, volunteers in unsustainable ways, and takes selfies with POC where the visitor is still the center of attention. Many NGOs are guilty of this same syndrome, never asking what the communities actually need and instead imposing their preconceived notions of good onto them.

What is truly beneficial is a complex network of intersecting trajectories. Some may consider that simply learning about the world and sharing these experiences is enough, however it is necessary to weigh out the positives and negatives of entry (particularly considering the profound carbon footprint, whether the money you spent on flights could have been spent on actually making an impact, etc.). The money spent on voluntourism and mission trips, (which are often unsustainable, succeed primarily in making the attendees feel good about themselves), could be used towards actually making a difference.

Sometimes international studies can be orientalist in themselves, and oftentimes people romanticize other parts of the world and try to help in a way that can do much more harm than good (The Exploitative Selfishness of Volunteering Abroad). Despite this, I believe that intent and application of these studies are instrumental in establishing if someone is taking advantage of others’ difficult situations for their own good, whether that be for their career, personal imagine, or sense of morality.

There is no easy answer to these considerations, it is just necessary to maintain a sense of self-awareness and to constantly be re-evaluating your intentions. This is something I am trying to navigate myself, and honestly don’t have many answers. Still, I try my best to keep a critical eye and to practice effective altruism, and encourage others to do the same.

Israel and its (lack of) Ethnic Representation by Safia Southey

IMG_1843.jpg

Israel has an extensive history regarding identity politics and the power of minorities within the country determining national sentiments and movements. The largest ethnic minority are Arab Israelis, representing 20.7% of the Israel’s population in 2013, many of which identifying as Palestinian.[1] The most common religious identity of these Arab Israelis is Muslim, particularly Sunni Muslims, although there is also a large Arab Christian minority from various denominations as well as the Druze. Most of the Arabs living in East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel in the Six Day War of 1967 and later occupied, were offered Israeli citizenship, but most declined in protest of Israel's claim to sovereignty, becoming permanent residents instead. However, they still retain the right to apply for citizenship, are entitled to municipal services, and have limited voting rights. As a multi-ethnic, multicultural, multi-religious, and multi-lingual society, Israel has a high level of informal segregation patterns. While groups are not separated by official policy, a number of different sectors within the society are somewhat segregated and maintain their strong cultural, religious, ideological, and/or ethnic identity. However, despite a fairly high degree of social cleavage, some economic disparities and an often-overheated political life, the society is relatively balanced and stable. The low level of social conflict between the different groups, notwithstanding an inherent potential for social unrest, can be attributed to the country's judicial and political systems, which represent strict legal and civic equality. Ethnic minorities thrive best with vivid representation, although representation is not easily defined. Elected leaders often make dynamic representative claims, shifting between inclusive and exclusive rhetoric, between substantive and descriptive. Claims of representation also often stem from institutional and structural factors such as electoral design itself. While Palestinian citizens made up separate, particular constituencies until 2015 with a fixed set of distinct interests, the modification of electoral design in 2015 created a unified constituency with varied yet shared goals. While Israel’s legislation on minority rights and status as a model ethnic democracy creates an institutional system of political repression of its minorities, recent changes to the electoral design created opportunities for increased political representation. However, despite a unified front, Palestinian groups are not able to push through productive legislation due to systemic institutional repression of minorities and the idea of hollow citizenship.

The relationship between Israel and its Palestinian minorities has a long history of discontent and undemocratic nature, inundated by distrust from both parties. In the early 1980s, independent Palestinian parties began to develop and it took until the 1990s for the political lists to reflect the highly diverse ideological and religious makeup of Israel. In 2000, during the Second Intifada, there was a decline in Palestinian backing of the Jewish Zionist parties, as well as an overall decline in Palestinian voting rates. By this time, the government had stabilized with around four to five Palestinian political parties in each parliament.[2] Israel’s relationships with low voter threshold, proportional representation, and semi-autonomous cultural and language institutions previously failed to produce legitimate and proper representation for the minorities of Israel, more specifically the Palestinian-Israelis. Official and non-official discrimination and exclusion from ruling coalition was prevalent against these minority groups, leading to a general decrease of belief in the democratic elements of political system. The Israeli national identity was one that started out initially as a symbolic one based on Zionism but developed its moral and normative limbs through legitimation via the intellectualization and institutionalization of its exclusive Jewish character. With the establishment of a Jewish majority in the Knesset came the legislative inclusion of criminalizing any denial of the Jewish identity of the state, and due to the Israeli system of Basic Laws, the constitutional character of this inclusion supersedes the legislative character of the inclusion.[3] Hence, any appeal to democratic principles for the Arabs in Israel does not work for they are reliant on the normative constitutional character of the law which privileges the Jewish identity. Further, there was an identification of ‘taboo territories’ for Arabs. The sum of the legislation translates into the eviction of the Palestinian minority from effective democratic participation and the fixing of its inferior status in the conceptual normative order of the state. Although these amendments in the law were formulated in general terms and in some even intend to protect Arab citizens, the legislation was introduced with the purpose of obstructing efforts, even by democratic means, of stimulating a civil identity rather than one based on ethno-national aspects as promoted in Zionism.[4]

The Israeli political system is not willing to make any distinction between the right to self-determination of the Jewish people and exclusive Jewish hegemony over all public spaces with a complete prohibition on democratic appeal against this hegemony. The socio-economic and cultural-symbolic implications are clear. These laws delegitimize Arab representation thus limiting their ability to institutionally influence policies to affect resource distribution. They are based on the cultural-symbolic dimension of the ethnonationalism of the state, therefore affecting the judicial and legislative character of the state and limiting institutional representation that could influence material policies. Consequently, the Arabs are disenfranchised from the very bureaucracy of the state infrastructure.[5] Citizenship laws additionally act as a cultural-symbolic factor; whereas Israel’s Citizenship Law enables a gradual process of naturalization for aliens (non-Jews) who marry Israeli citizens, this right is denied to Palestinians who currently reside in the Palestinian occupied territories. Since Israeli citizens of Palestinian origin are those most likely to marry a Palestinian from the occupied territories, the amendment of the law is a clear indication that Israeli legislators targeted a particular group of people based on their national affiliation. Without becoming a citizen, it is impossible to run for public office in Israel or vote in elections, therefore limiting minority political rights and representation.[6]

Further, the term “ethnic democracy” was created explicitly to describe Israel by the sociologist Sammy Smooha. In his paper, “Ethnic Democracy: Israel as an Archetype,” he identifies eight essential characteristics of an ethnic democracy and explains how each relates to Israel on a general level, not necessarily focusing on specific legislation or evolutions over time.[7] The first of the characteristics is that a form of ethnic nationalism establishes one primary ethnic nation in the state, which is in agreement with the Israeli system as Israel is defined as “a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel [the Land of Israel]” by the Israeli Declaration of Independence. With the installation of a core ethnic nation, certain privileges arise for the dominant group, while the minorities are suppressed in return. The next characteristic of an ethnic democracy is that the government divides membership in the single ethnic nation from citizenship. This applies in Israel, as over 20% of Israelis are Arabs, not Jews, and still full citizens with equal rights mandated by the law despite not being a part of the “core ethnic nation.”[8] Thirdly, the core ethnic nation must own and rule the state, although the verification for this characteristic is difficult to establish. Because the ethnic majority in Israel is Jewish, the majority of authority figures and people in political and commercial power are Jewish. Despite this, there are a substantial number of Arabs in the Knesset, especially after the change in electoral design in 2015 after when the Palestinian parties combined to become the third largest group in Israel’s parliament. Therefore, this criterion of the majority ethnic group ruling the entire country does not apply to Israel, however it is near impossible to find any democracy where this characteristic is fully present due as discriminatory laws would need to exist to facilitate it. While this may not be completely correct, Smooha expands on this criterion to explain that in an ethnic democracy, “the state is the embodiment of the core ethnic nation’s right to national self-determination, the state territory is the exclusive homeland of the core ethnic nation,” a concept that would apply to Israeli arguably quite well.[9]

The next criterion that Smooha posits is that the state activates the majority ethnic nation by fostering the “national identity of the members of the core ethnic nation.” In this context, the state aims to nurture a single exclusionary national identity while attaining the “full consent, legitimacy, identification, support, participation and sacrifice [of the core ethnic nation] for national projects.” Under this definition, Israel succeeds in promoting a “Jewish identity,” but also upholds that Israeli Arabs are full Israeli citizens and members of its society. The Israeli Declaration of Independence articulates that the country “will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants.” Further, the Israeli government is unable to secure full support for all its actions, despites its desire to do so.[10] Therefore, this characteristic of the state mobilizing the core ethnic nation does not appropriately apply to Israel. While Arabs are granted “full and equal citizenship” under the law, Israel is still in compliance with the criterion of ethnic democracies that non-majority groups are given incomplete rights. Despite what is articulated within the law, there are still systemic ways to repress the power and voice of the Arab minority through more subtle means.

The next criterion for an ethnic democracy is that the state permit non-majority groups to take par struggle for change. Arabs within Israel are provided the right of “due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions” under the Israeli Declaration of Independence, while all ethnic groups in Israel eligible to vote and demand legal action through legal means. In an ethnic democracy, the state views the non-core groups as a threat. However, the Israeli state does not view all non-majority (non-Jewish) groups as a threat, as the majority of Israelis do not consider Israeli Arabs as danger to the country or to their power. While some consider the Palestinians to pose a demographic threat if Israeli eventually annexes the West Bank; however, they are not residents of Israel so this does substantive this criterion. The final characteristic that Smooha proposes is that the state enforces some control on non-core groups. While the meaning of this criterion depends greatly on how one defines “some control,” Smooha explains it as, “non-core groups in ethnic democracy are targets of the security forces” as a result for their loyalty “being considered problematic.”[11] Israeli Arabs suffer a great amount of discrimination within Israel, with institutional oppression of their voting and social lives, and their loyalty as a group has often been questioned. Therefore, Smooha’s criterion does apply. Overall, after exploring Smooha’s criteria for am ethnic democracy, it is clear that Israel fits under this definition and is a perfect example of a country in which the political rights and representation of minority groups are heavily restricted.

Despite all these characteristics demonstrating the limited political representation and general representation of minorities, there has been an increase in representation for minorities (or at least Palestinian minorities) from 2003 to the present day. While there was an overall increase in parliament seats won by Palestinian representatives from 2003 to 2013, these seats were still disproportionally represented in the Israeli parliament. In 2013, despite the fact that Palestinian citizens made up 14% of the electorate, only 56% of eligible Palestinian voters particulate in the Knesset elections - compared to the 68% of Jewish electorate who voted.[12] The low voting rates therefore lead to lower representation, demonstrating the need for the unification of the Palestinian parties to increase inclusion. All these factors led to an overall increased demand for new leadership and representation, which is why the modification in Israel’s electoral threshold brought a welcomed change.[13] In 2015, the electoral threshold shifted from 2% to 3.25%, causing the formation of one large party out of the unification of several smaller minority lists. This eventually forces a change in the claims of the representation, as they needed to be more inclusive. The merging of four separate lists further incentivized the leadership of the new party to at least claim to be representative of a boarded and more inclusive constituency. The higher thresholds therefore hold the power to improve the electoral influence of minority parties. The support for the unification of Palestinian lists is made obvious by surveys as well as the voting results, and two years after the elections, it is suggested that the Palestinian minority is not more unified and inclusive as a result.

In 2012, only 54.2% of survey respondents said that Israel is democratic towards its Arab citizens, while only 65.6% believe that Arab citizens could improve their situation through voting and political means, and 53.1% believed that Arab political parties are representative of the Palestinian society; all of these percentages are significantly lower than when survey takers were asked the same questions in 2003. Further, 81% believe that Israel is a democracy only for the Jewish population. However, in 2015, after the higher threshold, Palestinian voting rates increased from 56.5% to 63.5%, with a decreased proportion of which voting for Jewish lists. The merged Palestinian party became the third largest party in the parliament, giving it significant more power and political potential.[14] This increase in representation would not have emerged sans the change in electoral design. Further, the change in threshold grapples with the problem of representing the entire Palestinian society. The unified Palestinian party, previously representing various sub-identities and individual groups, now had to attempt to represent everyone under one party; this led to difficulties, as there was clear rhetorical difference between two factions within the party, Hadash and Balad. While the threshold did improve overall representation of Palestinians, the representation of individual communities were somewhat abandoned in favor of the greater group. However, Hadash did claim to have a more inclusive approach, representing other disadvantaged groups such as African refugees and other lower class Israelis. There was additionally great debate as to whether the Palestinian party should attempt to represent the domestic interests of the Arab-Israeli, or rather the more political interests rooted in the greater Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or even the interests of the “democratic elements” of Israeli society as a whole.[15]

While there is an argument that Israel is more of a mosaic composed of various coexisting population groups rather than a melting pot society, there is still need to explore how to best represent the minorities of Israel, and not only the Palestinian Israelis. While Palestinian Israelis improved their situation politically with the merging of their political parties, gaining more seats in Israeli parliament and further working to increase the inclusivity of this merged party, institutional political oppression is still rampant in a country which is founded upon ethnonationalist identities, giving the priority to the dominant identity (the Jews) and lacking support for the rest. The emergence of Israel as a country, founded explicitly as a home for the Jewish people, creates a system where representation is impossible for those who are not included in this mandate.[16] Legislation regarding citizenship, agriculture, employment, the military, and so on may not explicitly limit political power, but the marginalization of minorities within Israel leads to a lack of representation in society, and in turn a lack of representation in the politic realm. While the Israelis giving sporadic pluralistic Palestinian parties a reason to band together by raising electoral thresholds, the institutional manifestations of oppression clearly still exists and does not further minority rights.


[1] Amal Jamal (2007) Nationalizing States and the Constitution of ‘Hollow Citizenship’: Israel and its Palestinian Citizens, Ethnopolitics, 6:4, 471-493, DOI: 10.1080/17449050701448647.

[2] As'ad Ghanem (2010) State and minority in Israel: the case of ethnic state and the predicament of its minority, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 21:3, 428-448, DOI: 10.1080/014198798329892.

[3] Oren Yiftachel (2010) Debate: The concept of ‘ethnic democracy’ and its applicability to the case of Israel, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 15:1, 125-136, DOI: 10.1080/01419870.1992.9993736.

[4] Dan Rabinowitz (2010) The Palestinian citizens of Israel, the concept of trapped minority and the discourse of transnationalism in anthropology, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 24:1, 64-85, DOI: 10.1080/014198701750052505.

[5] Sherry Lowrance . (2004) Deconstructing democracy: the Arab–Jewish divide in the Jewish stateCritique: Critical Middle Eastern Studies 13:2, pages 175-193. 

[6] Riad Nasser, Irene Nasser. (2008) Textbooks as a vehicle for segregation and domination: state efforts to shape Palestinian Israelis’ identities as citizensJournal of Curriculum Studies 40:5, pages 627-650. 

[7] Sammy Smooha (2010) Minority status in an ethnic democracy: The status of the Arab minority in Israel, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 13:3, 389-413, DOI: 10.1080/01419870.1990.9993679.

[8] Yoav Peled. (2008) The evolution of Israeli citizenship: an overviewCitizenship Studies 12:3, pages 335-345. 

[9] Gal Levy, Mohammad Massalha. (2012) Within and beyond citizenship: alternative educational initiatives in the Arab society in Israel. Citizenship Studies 16:7, pages 905-917.

[10] Gal Levy, Mohammad Massalha. (2012) Within and beyond citizenship: alternative educational initiatives in the Arab society in IsraelCitizenship Studies 16:7, pages 905-917. 

[11] Bashir Bashir. (2015) On citizenship and citizenship education: a Levantine approach and reimagining Israel/PalestineCitizenship Studies 19:6-7, pages 802-819. 

[12] Zvi Bekerman. (2018) The graduate(s): the harvests of Israel’s integrated multicultural bilingual educationRace Ethnicity and Education 21:3, pages 335-352. 

[13] Nadim Rouhana (2010) Israel and its Arab citizens: Predicaments in the relationship between ethnic states and ethnonational minorities, Third World Quarterly, 19:2, 277-296, DOI: 10.1080/01436599814460.

[14] Amal Jamal (2007) Nationalizing States and the Constitution of ‘Hollow Citizenship’: Israel and its Palestinian Citizens, Ethnopolitics, 6:4, 471-493, DOI: 10.1080/17449050701448647.

[15] Oren Yiftachel (2010) Debate: The concept of ‘ethnic democracy’ and its applicability to the case of Israel, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 15:1, 125-136, DOI: 10.1080/01419870.1992.9993736.

[16] Dahlia Moore. (2003) Perceptions of Sense of Control, Relative Deprivation, and Expectations of Young Jews and Palestinians in IsraelThe Journal of Social Psychology 143:4, pages 521-540.