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the trains still run

They never taught us more than how to make things. They did not explain how to take pictures, or write stories, or record songs when the walls are falling down. What should you paint when the sky is falling? And yet, they taught us all we needed to know. As I have begun to understand over and over again, all art is political. All freedom is freedom. The trains still run. The cameras can still be loaded with fresh rolls of film that smell of plastic and possibility. If there is a pothole, at some point it gets filled. Sometimes it just takes a hell of a long time to happen.

The sun rises. Children trundle around in the snow, laughing, falling down and getting back up again. Yes, the news is unthinkable. Yes, the headlines are poisonous enough to make you throw things out the window. But there is still dinner to cook, and why not make it delicious? Why not crack an egg, or laugh wildly at nothing in particular?

There was a night, about eight years ago when I was told that the militia w…

leaving the party


I got kicked out of a photography group for saying "all art is political, in some way". Someone had posted an image of a protestor, and there was a consensus that politics should not be allowed in this community. People wrote all in caps, how they needed a safe space away from the headlines, to post their landscapes, their scantily clad women, their close-up pictures of flowers. I know it was no great loss, but the expat life is often a lonely one. No one wants to be told to leave the party.

Since then, I have paid much more attention to the role of politics in creative work. I took it as a given, a latent set of bones in the skeleton to flesh out. Social documentary work inspires no confusion. It is exactly what it is - elegant advocacy. Lights shine on unknown stories, bearing witness to events as they unfold. There is a sort of guarantee for this work, meaning - it has a place in the world. It is needed, the same as we need to know how many people died in the latest attack, how many citizens stepped up to defend a stranger, how many ran screaming into the street, how many bullets, how many wounded, how many days since the last attack.

The information can become overwhelming, as phones blink with silent alerts in the middle of the night. Of course I want to know. But how to wake up later, how to navigate the morning, how to decipher this reality and then pick up a camera or a pen, how to load another roll of film, or spread my hands across a fresh empty piece of paper. How to dig deep, and make something valuable? It seems like a very tall order. I live under a great deal of censorship here. I pick my words very carefully, even in private. I have a family.

My thoughts turn, holding up the work to the light wondering how irrelevant it may be. Who cares about some nuns in the street? Who wants to know the story behind that waiter rushing across the cobblestones with a glass in his hands? Are those young boys really smoking? What song are these men singing in the street, their heads tipped back, their mouths wide?

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