Royal Mail and union reach deal to end postal strikes
Workers to vote on pay rise and workplace changes after marathon talks in wake of last year’s walkouts, Monday 8 March 2010 17.25 GMT

Postal workers on strike in St Helens last October. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

A deal aimed at ending the long-running postal workers’ dispute was agreed today, including a 6.9% pay rise over three years.

The working week will be cut and postal workers will have greater job security, while agreeing to deliver a “transformation” of the business.

The Communication Workers Union said members would also receive lump sums of about £2,500 as well as weekly basic pay supplements and other improvements such as extra maternity and paternity pay.

The deal averts fresh strikes, although it is subject to a ballot of union members.

The Royal Mail and CWU have been holding peace talks for over two months following a spate of walkouts last year that led to millions of letters being delayed. Targets for the delivery of first and second class letters were missed in the bitter row over jobs, pay and services.

An 80-page agreement produced by the marathon talks includes a 2% pay rise in April followed by increases of 1.4% and 3.5% in subsequent years.

Workers will receive a lump sum payment of £400 on ratification of the agreement, followed by £1,000 linked to delivery of workplace changes, and further bonus payments.

Dave Ward, the union’s deputy general secretary, said: “It’s been a long time coming but this deal delivers on the major issues which postal workers have fought for. There’s a balance of pay and operational changes which will help offset job losses and ensure our members are fairly rewarded for change.

“We have always said that we couldn’t face away from change. The agreement recognises the reality of automation, competition and the financial challenges facing the company, but it does so in a way that puts the interests of CWU members at its heart.

“Both sides have committed to improving industrial relations and ensuring a more positive working relationship in the best interests of everyone at Royal Mail.

“There has been a lot of talk about the future of the company in relation to competition and the pension deficit. Now that we have reached this agreement it is clear that business transformation can be delivered. As a result we’re determined to address the pensions issue and establish whether the government will now finally accept its responsibilities, as the owner of the company, to find an acceptable solution.”

Roger Poole, who chaired the talks between the CWU and Royal Mail, said: “This agreement, if accepted by the members of the CWU, will secure the future of the business and allow the Royal Mail to become a profitable and successful enterprise. At the same time it will secure jobs in the long term and allow for employees to be properly rewarded.

“It is the stated intention of both parties that the agreement will be consistently deployed at local level with continuity of service in a way that means managerial executive action and industrial action become unnecessary.

“The new relationship agreement will start the long haul necessary to bring about this important change in relationships between Royal Mail and the CWU. Nobody pretends this will be easy but both sides have committed themselves in good faith to achieve a new start.

“I know that staff will want to give this agreement serious consideration and hope that this will lead to a positive outcome to the ballot.”

The union said that under the deal there will be opportunities to turn allowances into regular additions to basic pay, starting with an immediate payment of £20.60 a week for delivery staff, equivalent to a 5.9% pay increase, and £8 a week for mail centre staff, equivalent to 2.3%.

The working week will be cut by one hour to 39 hours for the vast majority of postal workers and there is an agreement to maintain at least 75% of workers as full-time with no forced move for any worker from full-time to part-time, or vice versa.

Maternity pay will increase from 18 to 26 weeks and paternity pay from one to two weeks, while Saturday will remain as a normal working day for deliveries, but with opportunity for people to have more Saturdays off if they want them.

The Royal Mail welcomed the deal and said the agreement, called Business Transformation 2010 and Beyond, meant the letters side of the business could continue with its “much-needed” £2bn modernisation, including the introduction of new automated machinery and delivery equipment and changes in the way staff worked.

Royal Mail chief executive Adam Crozier, who is leaving the company in April to join ITV, said: “This agreement is good for the business as it allows Royal Mail to get on with its modernisation, it’s a good and fair deal for our people, and it’s a good deal for our customers as it ensures stability over the next three years.

“It is a real credit to all those involved – both in the company and the union – and I’m grateful for all their hard work. I’m also grateful to Roger Poole for his help and support over the last few months.”

Mark Higson, managing director of Royal Mail Letters, said: “This three-year agreement is an important achievement for the letters business and its people and one which breaks new ground in our relationship with the CWU. I’d like to thank the teams in Royal Mail and the union who made it happen, as well as Roger Poole for his input and support.

“The agreement is crucially important in allowing Royal Mail to compete successfully in the highly competitive communications market and to help counter the effect of the ongoing decline in traditional mail volumes.

“It enables the business to rapidly complete the introduction of the latest-generation sorting technology and new delivery methods to improve efficiency.

“It also enables us to protect as many full-time jobs as possible while at the same time giving our people the best possible tools for the job.”


Strikes are back, but unlikely to trouble Gordon Brown

Michael White, Wednesday 10 March 2010 20.17 GMT

Strikes are back in the headlines, though rarely on the front pages as they once routinely were. Is Britain heading back to the future – or at least facing a general election in which union militancy is an issue?

The likely answer is neither, unless the giant Unite union’s bumpy negotiations with BA over cabin crew staff ends up ruining Easter air travel plans. Ditto Bob Crow’s RMT doing the same for Easter train trips – both just before Gordon Brown goes to Buckingham Palace to seek an election.

The BBC website reports all sorts of strikes, threatened and actual. The GM’s engineering staff at British Gas are ballotting over claims of “bullying and customer exploitation”. How many staff? 8,000 – and note that concern for customers. Bus drivers in Wales, university staff in Sussex, BBC staff worried about station closures – the raw statistics tell the story of declining union membership, power and militancy in an increasingly post-industrial state where individualism prevails over social solidarity.

When Margaret Thatcher won her first mandate to “deal with the unions” in 1979, 29.5m working days were lost to strikes, a figure that dwindled to 235,000 in 1997 when Tony Blair moved into No 10. The figures rise and fall: 759,000 in 2008, rapidly falling again in 2009 despite 177,000 postal workers walking out in their modernisation battle with Royal Mail. That dispute was quietly settled this week on what are reasonable terms for the communications union (CWU): 6.9% over three years in return for (touch wood) belatedly embracing more reforms. Yet 80,000 jobs have gone over the decade.

Every case is different. BA and Unite are both stroppy and the union’s aggro level is higher by virtue of an imminent election for general secretary. Unite may be pumping Ashcroftesque millions into Labour’s empty coffers, but Brown’s election comes second. Chances are the non-Labour RMT will cut a deal with the train operators after ritual argy-bargy.

Striking public sector workers from the militant and often volatile Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, lobbying MPs again today, may be an easier target for the Tories. White collar staff, already facing higher pension contributions and older retirement (like everyone else), are resisting tougher redundancy terms. And they know that whoever wins the election is promising to slash thousands of jobs.

The decline of private pensions renders even modest public sector pensions vulnerable. Yet the prospect of a half-decent pension keeps older staff going, as David Cameron found last year when he promised to “sort out” public sector pensions and dipped in the polls.

The idea popularised by the Tory tabloids, that average public sector wages (not the plump cats whose pay Brown froze today) now run ahead of the private sector, fails to explain that its pool of unskilled workers pulls private sector averages down.

A serious blunder by unions, managements or politicians could make an election impact. But not even the Tories seem keen and BA cabin crews are said to read the Daily Mail. Even militancy is more complicated than it was.

“what if?” “Yield back the balance of my time.”

Military use of Drones, how it will change our world from GordonSturrock on Vimeo.

‘Every 3rd person killed by US drones in Pak is civilian’

Updated on Tuesday, March 02, 2010, 21:13 IST Tags:kill, United States, drones, attack, Pakistan, civilian

Washington: Every third person killed by US drone strikes in Pakistan’s restive north-western region is a civilian, says an American think-tank which described the unmanned missile hits as an “unpopular but necessary evil”.

In its latest report ‘The Year of the Drone’, the New America Foundation said that 32 per cent of those individuals killed in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan by US drones over the past six years have been civilians.

According to the authors Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann, “The study shows that the 114 reported drone strikes in northwest Pakistan, including 18 in 2010, from 2004 to the present, have killed approximately between 834 and 1,216 individuals”.

“Of these, around 549 to 849 were described as militants in reliable press accounts, about two-thirds of the total on average. Thus, the true civilian fatality rate since 2004 according to our analysis is approximately 32 per cent,” The Dawn quoted the report as saying.

The report, however, described the drone strikes as an “unpopular, but necessary evil.”

2009 was the year of the drone under President Barack Obama, as there were 51 reported strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas, compared to a total of 45 during two terms under George W Bush.

Yet the uptick in drone strikes has not resulted in reduced levels of terrorist violence.

In 2009, there were a record 87 suicide attacks in Pakistan, which killed around 1,300 people, up from 63 suicide bombings the previous year and only nine in 2006.

Contemplating the mind-numbing percentage of civilian casualties, it comes as no shock that these unmanned flying death squads are somewhat unpopular among the Pakistani public, with only nine per cent approving of the Predator strikes, according to a August 2009 Gallup poll.

Pakistan’s government has opposed the strikes from the outset because, on top of killing a multitude of civilians, they believe the drone programme violates Pakistan’s national sovereignty.

Protest over BBC Gaza appeal veto

A protest is due to be held outside of Broadcasting House
A protest is to be held outside the BBC’s London HQ over its refusal to broadcast a charity appeal for Gaza.
The BBC says it cannot show the appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee because it does not want to compromise its commitment to impartiality.
But health minister Ben Bradshaw, a former BBC journalist, said it was “an inexplicable decision” and that the reasons given were “completely feeble”.
Veteran politician Tony Benn will be at the protest at Broadcasting House.
The Disasters Emergency Committee – an umbrella organisation for several major aid charities – wanted to run TV and radio appeals to help raise funds for people in need of food, shelter and medicines as a result of Israel’s military action in the Palestinian area.

I’m afraid the BBC has to stand up to the Israeli authorities occasionally

Ben Bradshaw
Health minister

ITV and Sky have also said they will not show the appeal, with an ITV spokesman saying that no consensus could be reached.
The government has already asked the BBC to reconsider its position.
The International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander had urged all the broadcasters to reconsider this decision in light of what he called “the great human suffering still taking place in Gaza”.
But BBC Director-General Mark Thompson wrote back saying the appeal might jeopardise the public’s confidence in the BBC’s impartiality.
The BBC’s chief operating officer, Caroline Thomson, said it had to be “very careful” over the broadcast of such appeals.
“It’s important to remember that broadcasting appeals like this is a unique thing we do,” she said.
“And we have to be very clear about two things when we do it – firstly, that that money will go to the people it’s intended for.
“But secondly, that we can do it within our own editorial principles and without affecting and impinging on the audience’s perception of our impartiality.
“And clearly – in conflicts as controversial as this – that is a real issue for us.”
Mr Bradshaw said the BBC’s reasoning was flawed.
“First, the one about delivery – the British government is giving £25m to Gazan relief, we don’t have a problem getting it in. There’s no reason why there should be any problem getting the relief in.
“Secondly, this nervousness about being biased. I’m afraid the BBC has to stand up to the Israeli authorities occasionally.”
Mr Benn will address the pro-Palestinian rally called by the Stop the War Coalition, and is expected to say the BBC’s refusal is a “betrayal” of its obligations.
‘Disgraceful decision’
Mr Benn will say: “The decision of the BBC to refuse to broadcast a national humanitarian appeal for Gaza, which has left aid agencies with a potential shortfall of millions of pounds in donations, is a betrayal of the obligation which it owes as a public service.
“To deny the help that the aid agencies and the UN need at this moment in time is incomprehensible and it follows the bias in BBC reporting of this crisis, which has been widely criticised.

Disasters Emergency Committee Gaza humanitarian appeal:
Launched by UK charities on 22 January to raise money for Gaza aid relief and reconstruction
Participants: Action Aid, British Red Cross, Cafod, Care International, Christian Aid, Concern Worldwide, Help the Aged, Islamic Relief, Merlin, Oxfam, Save the Children, Tearfund, World Vision
Tel: 0370 60 60 900 or go to DEC website
“I appeal to the chairman of the BBC Trust to intervene to reverse this decision to save the lives of those who are now in acute danger of dying through a lack of food, fuel, water and medical supplies.”
Mohammed Sawalha, president of the British Muslim Initiative, said turning down the appeal was a “disgraceful decision”.
He added: “The BBC should be ashamed for its coverage of the Israeli aggression which failed to address the catastrophic suffering on the Palestinian side, and now it’s concerned about its impartiality.
“Never was the BBC impartial throughout this crisis”.
Following Mr Benn’s speech, the demonstrators intend to march to Trafalgar Square via Downing Street.

  • CCTV study
  • Drones: comment on lack of awareness, danger to UK privacy, liberty and inaccuracy abroad.
  • Photojournalism:
  • Commercial education: natwest etc influencing classes.
  • Educational documentaries: Foucalt, Chomsky, Baudrillard, Bathes etc.. for the purpose of selling resource for higher education.
  • Social experiment: dancing man, 1 question.
  • Controversy!
  • Trip: 5 day travelogue.

Of the 44 predator strikes carried out by US drones in the tribal areas of Pakistan over the past 12 months, only five were able to hit their actual targets, killing five key Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders, but at the cost of over 700 innocent civilians.

According to the statistics compiled by Pakistani authorities, the Afghanistan-based US drones killed 708 people in 44 predator attacks targeting the tribal areas between January 1 and December 31, 2009.

For each Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorist killed by US drones, 140 innocent Pakistanis also had to die. Over 90 per cent of those killed in the deadly missile strikes were civilians, claim authorities.

The success percentage for the drone hits during 2009 was hardly 11 per cent.

Police in the UK are planning to use unmanned spy drones, controversially deployed in Afghanistan, for the “routine” monitoring of antisocial motorists, protesters, agricultural thieves and fly-tippers, in a significant expansion of covert state surveillance.

No CCTV website

Guardian link

Daily Mail link

Green change link

Our Royal Mail film wasn’t second class

Allegations that Dispatches has a pro-privatisation agenda or is unfairly picking on the postal service are wide of the mark.

Roy Mayall claimed on Cif yesterday that Channel 4’s Dispatches on the Royal Mail was a “barrage of negativity” that most postal workers would recognise elements of. Sadly, this being my third investigation into the state of the Royal Mail in six years, it was something I recognised all too well – and, judging by the response to the programme, our viewers did too.

In fact, appalling industrial relations, lax security, poor training, late mail, mishandling of packages, theft and laziness were evident in all three of the films we have made since we first started this investigation back in 2004. Mayall’s issue seems to be that we failed to provide a coherent analysis of why the industry is in crisis. Perhaps he’d gone off to make a cup of tea when we devoted a section to the state of industrial relations within the company as witnessed by our undercover reporters. Or perhaps he just chose to ignore it. Either way, our investigation clearly demonstrated that industrial relations are one of the biggest problems Royal Mail faces – something both management and the union are responsible for.

He goes on to claim all of our experts have a privatisation agenda. In fact, all of our contributors commented on the state of Royal Mail, not privatisation. We also interviewed Simon Hughes, a Liberal Democrat MP who supports keeping the Royal Mail in public ownership.

Regardless of who does and who does not want privatisation, one thing all of our contributors shared was a desire to see Royal Mail succeed. They need it to succeed. We all need it to succeed.

Mayall also complains about the lack of genuine postal workers’ voices in the film. Is he suggesting the employees we featured didn’t actually work at Royal Mail? That the hundreds of posties we encountered over the six years of investigation somehow weren’t real? As for the documentary not representing a “broad sample of offices in the UK” we clearly stated in the film we didn’t choose the delivery offices but were sent to them by the employment agencies we approached for work. In addition, over the course of three films we have worked undercover elsewhere in the country – not just London. And, by its very nature, undercover footage is full of genuine voices, employees talking and behaving uninfluenced by the presence of a camera crew.

Mayall concludes with the damning suggestion that we “favour” private companies and if we spent time undercover in any company we would come up with similar material.

Here he entirely misses the point. It is precisely because the Royal Mail is not a private company that this investigation is so significant. Royal Mail is tasked with delivering to every one of the 28m business and home addresses in the country and, because we effectively own it, we have a right to know what is going on inside it. Private companies are a sideshow – this isn’t about them, it is about the Royal Mail.

And, by the way Roy, if you have any information regarding these other private companies you think we favour then please feel free to get in touch – Dispatches is always looking for a new story.

Channel 4’s Royal Mail witch hunt

Monday’s Dispatches programme was an exercise in one-sided journalism. Where was the coherent analysis?

The opening lines of Monday evening’s Dispatches programme on Channel 4 set the tone for the next 40 minutes. “Once Royal Mail was your friend,” it said. “Not any more.”

We were then subjected to a barrage of negativity about the culture of the Royal Mail. Rude managers. Incompetent staff. People not knowing where they were going. Inadequate training. Lax security. Mishandled packages. Late mail. Bad industrial relations. Theft and laziness.

Most posties would recognise elements of this. We know from daily experience that ours is an industry in crisis, but what the programme entirely failed to do was to offer any coherent analysis of why this should be happening.

There was no trouble working out what the Dispatches team’s agenda might be.

During the course of the programme we were offered the views of three commentators. There was Richard Hooper, author of a report that provided the basis for Peter Mandelson’s suggestion last year that the Royal Mail be part-privatised. There was Dr Madsen Pirie of the Adam Smith Institute, which last year published an article suggesting that the universal delivery obligation should be abandoned. And then there was Jonathan DeCarteret who, in the words of the programme, “helps companies switch from Royal Mail to rival operators”.

All three of the “experts”, in other words, had a commitment to privatisation of mail services.

Where were the voices from the other side of the debate? Where were the voices of genuine postal workers?

Is there theft in the Royal Mail? Of course there is. It is a responsible job. We handle people’s property. It would be a surprise if some people didn’t take advantage of this. But this is precisely why postal workers are against the on-going casualisation of the job, which is part of the Royal Mail’s modernisation agenda that aims to cut labour costs by employing part-time and casual staff.

A full-time postal worker with an assigned round is much less likely to steal; or when he does, he is easy to catch. It is much harder to discover a thief among a string of casuals and agency workers who move from job to job, from office to office.

Jonathan DeCarteret’s introduction went on to add some more revealing words: “[DeCarteret’s] clients still rely on Royal Mail’s delivery network,” the narrator said.

And there, in that passing line, lies the problem.

Royal Mail has rivals who rely on the Royal Mail to deliver their letters for them. Royal Mail does the delivery – but the rivals take the profit. Royal Mail has a universal delivery obligation, but the rivals can pick and choose which of the most profitable bits they take. They do this, but the Royal Mail supplements them at the rate of 2p for every letter it delivers on their behalf. No wonder postal workers are unhappy.

It took at least two months of filming to come up with this programme. Most of the action took place around two delivery offices in south London. It wasn’t exactly a broad sample of offices in the UK. But I suspect that if covert filming is extensive enough within any organisation it would come up with similar material.

You wonder when Dispatches is going to carry out an investigation into the private mail companies it so obviously favours

“And it was at that age… Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don’t know. I don’t know where
it came from, from winter or a river,
I don’t know how or when,
no, they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.”                        Pablo Neroda, LL Postino.

Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s unique style was recognized in 1971 when he won the Nobel prize for Literature. His poems are often passionate odes to love and nature, and he was once noted by the New York Times as “the most influential, and inventive poet of the Spanish language.”

Pablo Neruda: “When you explain poetry, it becomes banal. Better than any explanation is the experience of feelings that poetry can reveal to a nature open enough to understand it.”

The Photography Reader

Liz Wells, editor.

Part 1: Reflections on Photography

Mitchell w.j.t –  Benjamin and the political economy of the photograph.

  • Walter Benjamin provide the most developed expression of Marxist theory. Both Marxist and capitalist sides.
  • He hails the invention of photography as “the first truly revolutionary means of production” a medium that was invented “simultaneously with the rise of production.”
  • Is it an instrument of “contemplative materialism, a purely ideological apparatus, whose monocular vision ratifies the metaphysical centering on the subject in bourgeois humanism, as Marcel Pleynet contends.”
  • He can absorb the dispute between the scientific and ideological views in the same way that Marx absorbed the debate between idealism and empiricism.

(Mitchell w.j.t, 1986, Benjamin and the political economy of the photograph, University of Chicago.)

Wright, Morris –            In our image.

  • There is a history of darkness in the making of images. At Peche Merle, in the recesses of caves, the torchlit of worship and magic, images of matchless power were painted on the walls and ceilings. Man’s faculty for image making matched his need for images.
  • The multifaced aspect of reality has been commonplace since cubism, but we continue to see what we will, rather than what is there.
  • The photographic likeness gratifies the viewer in a manner that lay too deep for words. Words, indeed, appeared to be superfluous.

(Wright, Morris, 1981, In our image, University of New Mexico.)

Wollen, Peter –            Fire and Ice

  • The lover of photography is fascinated both by the instant and by the past.
  • Barthes’ aesthetic is governed by a prejudice against linear time and especially against narrative, the privaliged form of linear time, which he regarded with high-modernist scorn and disdain.
  • The documentary would imply the narrative, is anything going to happen to interrupt this? What was it like just before and what’s the result going to be?

(Wollen, Peter, 1984, Fire and Ice, in Other than itself, Cornerhouse.)

Part 2:                        Photographic seeing


  • Vertov is right, the task of the camera is not to imitate the human eye, but to record what the human eye normally does not.
  • Bazin argues that photography was at its most authentic when intervention on the part of the filmmaker was mininmised.
  • Barthes and others proposed, ‘the death of the author’, arguing that meaning emerged through symbolic convention, and that the image-maker was merely an agent for recirculation of conventional imagery.
  • Burgin – employs semiotic and psychoanalytic modals in order to produce a representation of the image and the position offered to the viewer in terms of ideology and subjectivity.

Part 3:                        Codes and Rhetoric

Burgin, Victor –             Looking at Photographs.

  • “although photographs may be shown in art galleries.. most photographs are not seen by deliberate choice… Films readily present themselves to critical attention as objects, photographs are received rather as an environment.”
  • “work in semiotics showed that there is no language of photography, no single signifying system.. There is rather a heterogeneous complex of codes upon which photography may draw.”
  • “Marxism and psychoanalysis have most informed semiotics in its moves to grasp the determinations of history and the subject in the production of meaning.”
  • “In its structuralist phase, semiotics viewed the text as the objective site of more or less determinate meanings produced on the basis of what significant systems were empirically identifiable as operate within the text.”
  • “this general symbolic order is the site of determinations through which human becomes a social human being, a self positioned in a network of relations to ‘others’.”
  • “which it rejects any absolute discontinuity between speaker and codes, also evicts the family figure of the artist as autonomous ego, transcending his or her own history and unconscious.”
  • “Though the agency of the frame the world is organised into a coherence which it actually lacks, into a parade of tableaux, a succession of ‘decisive moments’.”
  • Jacques Lacan: between its sixth and eighteenth month, the infant, which experiences its body as fragmented, uncentred, projects its potential unity, in the form of an ideal self, upon other bodies and upon its own reflection in a mirror; at this stage the child does not distinguish between itself and others, it is the other.(separation will come later through the knowledge of sexual difference, opening up the world of language, the symbolic order) The idea of a unified body necessary to the concept of self-identity has been formed, but only through a rejection of reality (difference).(The mirror phase as formative of the function of the I 1968)
  • “Two points in respect of the mirror stage of child development have been of particular interest to semiotic theory; first, the observed correlation between the formation of identity and the formation of images. Second, the fact that the child’s recognition of itself in the ‘imaginary order’.”
  • “Even in the presence of such obviousness another obviousness asserts itself – the very natural casualness of the scene presented to us disarms such analysis, an excessive response. But excess production is generally on the side of ideology.”
  • Film theory: “we can identify four types of look: the look of the camera as it photographs, the look of the viewer as they look at the photograph, the intradiegetic looks exchanged between people/objects, and the look the actor my direct towards the camera.”
  • “the frontal gaze… is a gaze commonly received when we look at ourselves in a mirror, we are invested with narcissistic identification. The dominant alternative is voyeurism.”
  • “photographs are deployed so that we do not look at them for long… as alienation intrudes into our captivation by the image we can, by averting our gaze or turning a page, reinvest our looking with authority. Scopophiia, sexually based pleasure in looking.”
  • “good composition therefore be no more or less than a set of devices for prolonging our imaginary command of the point of view, our self-assertion.”
  • “Composition is therefore a means of prolonging the imaginary force, the real power to please.”
  • “film as ‘wish fulfilling machines’ (Baudry, the apparatus) film has been compared with hypnosis. Spectacle desire.”
  • “work in semiotics has shown that a photograph is not to be reduced to pure form, nor window on the world, nor is it the gangway to the presence of an author.”

(Burgin, Victor, 1977, Looking at Photographs, screen education.)

Christian Metz –             Photography and fetish

  • photography is a mirror, more faithful than any other actual mirror, in which we witness at every age.
  • Freud has remarkably analysed in his famous study, ‘Mourning and Melancholia’. The funeral rites which exist in all societies have a double, dialectically articulated signification; a remembering of the dead, but a remembering as well that they are dead.
  • Fetish – Freud’s conception, it is the equivalent of the penis, as the primordial displacement of the look aimed at replacing an absence by a presence… fetish always combines a double and contradictory function, on the side of metaphor (phallus) and on the side of metogmy, the wording off of the ordinary, permanent anxiety. E.g clothes at a strip show.
  • It is possible to consider psychoanalysis as the founding myth of our emotional modernity.

(Metz, Christian, 1985, Photography and fetish, MIT press.)

Part 4                        Photography and the Postmodern


  • While structualism sees truth as being behind or within a text, post-structualism stresses the interaction of reader and text as productivity.
  • Post-structualism.
  • 1. Jacque Derrida, concepts, by implication, the erasure of alternative referencing possibilities. Here emphasis is upon the play of meaning, its lack of fixity.
  • 2. Baudrillard, the postmodern dislocated any direct relation between the signifier and the real. Images were seen as central to consumer culture, but involved reference and discursive relations, rather than representation. The emphasis of the signifier.
  • 3. Third postmodern philosophy challenged the legitimising myths and narratives of the modern era. This included historical investigations by Faoucault and Jameson. Faucault excavated the contexts of power in which knowledges are asserted and assumed. Jameson, postmodernism is not a rupture of modern, but as a logical consequence of the relation between industry and consumerism. Marxism.
  • “Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, when in fact all of Los Angeles and the America surrounding it are no longer real, but of the order of the hyperreal and of simulation. It is no longer a question of a false representation of reality (ideology) but of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real…” Baudrillard, 1983, Simulations, New York.
  • One complication in arriving at any neat definition of postmodernism is that it means different things in different artistic media. The term first gained wide currency in the field of architecture.

Andy Grundburg –             The crisis of the real

  • It means an attack on modernism, an undercutting of its basic assumptions about the role of art in culture and about the role of the artist in relation to his or her art.
  • This undercutting function has come to be known as ‘deconstruction’ by Jacque Derrida. Behind it lies a theory about the way we perceive the world that is both rooted in, and reaction to structuralism.
  • Structualism is a theory of language and knowledge based on Saussure’s ‘Course in Genera!’. It is allied with the theory of semiotics, or signs, pioneered by Pierce.
  • What they have in common is the belief that things in the world, do not wear their meanings on their sleaves, Structualism provides a method that allows us to penentrate the deeper structure.
  • Structualism holds that the signifier is wholly arbitrary, a convention of social practice rather than universal law. It holds the obvious meaning is irrelevant, instead it finds t territory within the structure of things.
  • “Copernicus was followed by Marx, who claimed that the true significamce of social processes went on behind backs of individual agents, and after Marx Freud argued that the real meanings of our words and actions were quite imperceptible to the conscious mind. Structualism is the modern inheritor of this belief that reality, and our experience of it, are discontinuous with each other.” Eagleton P167.
  • Poststructualism with Derrida says that it only tells us what our perceptions are, not about conditions of the world.
  • The inability to have a pure, unblemished meaning or experience at all, is exactly the premise of art we’ll call postmodernist.
  • It is a crisis which photography and all other forms of art face in the late twentieth century.
  • Postmodernist art is oppositional in two ways, as counter to modernist tradition and counter to ruling mythologies, which normally led to the creation of modernism in the first place.
  • This self-conscious awareness of being in a camera-based and camera bound culture is an essential feature of contemporary photography that is postmodernist.
  • Prince implies the exhaustion of the image universe; it suggests that a photographer can find more than enough images already existing.
  • “for the heavenly fire no longer strikes depraved cities it is rather the lens which cuts through ordinary reality like a laser, putting it to death.” Baudrillard, simulations.
  • There is no place in the postmodern world for a belief in the authenticity of experience, in the sanctity of the individual artistic vision, in genius or originality.
  • What postmodern art finally tells us is that things have been used up, that we are at the end of the line, that we are all prisoners of what we see… and it takes no great imagination to see that photography, as the nearly indiscriminate producer of images, is in large part responsible for them.

(Grundburg, Andy, 1999, The crisis of the real.)

Steve Edwards –            Snapshots of history.

  • For in our age the mass media saturates all experience. We live in, and through, the network of signs. Information swirls around us in a vast process of exchange, no longer coming to rest on an object. It is clear to Lyotard and others, that information is the principle force of production. They claim our world is that of simulacrum – the exact copy of a world that never existed.
  • What Saussare did was to point out that language is arbitrary, having no necessary connection to which it is assumed to refer.
  • This formal and autonomous system necessitated, at the level of abstraction at least, the privileging of Langue (system) of Parole (words).
  • Saussurian sign is best understood on the modals of the commodity which represses the modals of its production in order to present itself as pure and unmediated exchange.

Part 6                                    Documentary and Photojournalism

Martin Rosler –             In around and after thoughts

  • Manipulated photographs draws information together to make a point, just as journalists draw upon notes and interviews in order to weave a story.
  • The foundamental issues are ethicial, relating primarily not to questions of naturalistic accuracy, but to seriousness of purpose, detail and depth of research, and to integrity of story-telling.
  • Photographs give us an unearned sense of familiarity with and knowledge about the world (sontag 1979)
  • Riss, Jacob – The Making of a American – we used to go in the small hours of the morning to the worst tenements, and the sightrs I saw there gripped my heart until I felt that  I must tell of them, or burst, or turn anarchist.
  • It did not percive those wrongs as fundamental to the social system that tolertated them – the assumption that they were tolerated rather than bred marks a basic fallacy of social work. Reformers like Riis and Margaret Sanger strongly appealed to the worry that the ravages of poverty, crime, immorality, prostitution, disease, radicalism, would threaten the health and security of polite society as well as by sympathy for the poor, and their appeals were often meant to awaken the self-interest of the privileged.
  • The war on poverty has been called off. Utopia has been abandoned, and liberalism itself has been deserted. There is no organised national left, only a right. There is not even drunkeness, only substance abuse.
  • The expose, the compassion and outrage, of documentaryfueled by the dedications to reform has shaded over into combinations of exoticism, tourism, voyeurism, psycholgism and metaphysics, trophy hunting – and careerism.
  • The liberal documentary assuages any stirrings of conscience in its viewers the way scratching relieves an itch simultaneously reassures them about their relative wealth and social position.
  • Liberal documentary blames neither the victims not their wilful oppessors.
  • Documentary, us we know it, comes (old) information about a group of powerless people to another group addressed as socially powerful.
  • As sixties radical chic has given way to eighties pugnacious self-interest, one displays one’s toughness in enduring a visual assault without a flinch, in jeering, or cheering.

John Berger –                         Photographs of Agony.

  • Many people would argue that such photographs remind us shockingly of the reality, the lived reality, behind the abstractions of political theory, casualty statistics ir news bulletins.
  • We are filled with either despair or indignation. Despair takes on some of the other suffering to no purpose. Indignation demands action.
  • The truth is that any response to that photographed moment is bound to be felt as inadequate.
  • What we are shown horrifies us. The next step should be for us to comfort our own lack of political freedom. In the political systems as they exist, we have no logical opportunity of effectively influencing the conduct of wars waged in our name.

Edmundo Desnoes –             Cuba made me so.

  • They are not reality, they form part of the language of culture.
  • A face whose tissues are healthy but whose expression reveals an interior corruption.
  • It is an instantaneous truth that has already ceased to exist.

Part 7:                                     The Photographic Gaze


  • Discussing classic Hollywood narrative cinema Laura Mulvey drew upon psychoanalysis to argue that images of women on screen are constructed for the gratification of the male spectator.
  • Freud’s discussion on voyeurism is premised on his proposition that scopophiilia, the desire to look, is a primary human instinct.
  • In patriarchal cultures the male i/eye is central within discourse and woman is ‘other’, in psychoanalytic terms she is complexly constructed as simultaneously the object of desire and a source of fears and insecurities.

McGrath, Roberta –            Feminism, photography and psychoanalysis

  • Sexual difference, masculinity and femininity, is not biologically determined but socially, psychologically and culturally constructed.
  • In the relationship, in the gap between artist and object, a gap which neither an art nor a technological history can bridge. This is the place of production: both material work carried out in the darkroom and work carried out in that other dark space, the unconscious.
  • The photograph allows the voyeur to look without fear of retribution.
  • “she does not look, pretends she is not being looked at, and yet in the same moment we know very well that she knows.”
  • The condition for the photograph is precisely the absence of the real object.

Lutz, Catherine and Jane Collins, The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes

  • The gaze – whether from the photographer, the institution, the reader, or the person photographed – are ambiguous, charged with feeling and power, and are central to the stories (several and conflicting) that the photo could be said to tell.
  • The reader is “invited to dream in the ideological space of the photograph”. (Tagg 1988)
  • The look into the camera acknowledges the photographer and possibly the reader. Film theorists have disagreed about what this look does, some arguing that it short circuits the voyeurism identified as an important component of most photography:  there can be no peeping if the subject meets our gaze, or it implies a more open voyeurism.
  • The camera gaze can also establish at least the illusion of intimacy and communication… view the frontal shot as a device for cutting across language barriers and allowing for intercultural communication.
  • The photographed person is still subjected to an unreturnable gaze, not candid, and influenced by the photographer. (Tagg 1988.)
  • Those who are culturally defined by the west as weak – women, children, colour, poor, tribal rather than modern, those without technology, are more likely to face the camera.
  • It is also part of frontality’s work as ‘code of social infiority’ (Tagg 1988).
  • Off frame – it might portray either a dreamy, vacant, absent-minded person or forward looking future-oriented, and determined one.
  • Photographs now considered iconic representations of the Vietnam war do not include American soilders. The Buddhist monk, the napalmed girl… each of these images, frequently reproduced, erases American involvement.
  • In Lacan’s terms, the Other’s look could threaten a sense of self-coherence so in this historical moment the Westerner – whose presence in the picture makes it possible to see ourselves being seen by the Other, withdraws.
  • For many, self-knowledge is a central life goal; the injunction to ‘know thyself’ is taken seriously. The mirror most directly suggests the possibility of self-awareness.
  • The myth is that history and change are primarily characteristic of the West and that historical self-awareness was brought to the rest of the world with ‘discovery’ and colinisation.
  • In other pictures, the native holds the camera. This violates the prerogative of the Western surveyor to control the camera as well as other means of knowledge. From an early point in the history of photography; its users recognised that the camera was a form of power.
  • Rabinow (1986) suggests we denaturalise the images of difference in the magazine in part because those images and the institution which has produced them have historically articulated too easily with the shifting interests and positions of the state.

Part 8:             Image and Identity

  • Subjectivity develops and changes as a consequence of myriad encounters within the world of experience, including response to ways in which ideas, people and places are represented to us.

Bell, In Our Glory

  • All colonised and subjugated people who, by way of resistence creates an oppositional subculture within the framework of domination, recognise that the field of representation (how we see ourselves, how we see us) is a site of ongoing struggle.
  • You are there, it says, because I am looking at you. Fictively dramatising the way a photograph can have a living presence.
  • A friend and I lay out the snapshots of his boyhood, to see when he began to lose a certain openness, to shut down, close himself away. Through those images he hopes to find a way back.

Martin and Spence, Photo-Therapy

  • “The victim who is able to articulate the situation of the victim has ceased to be a victim; he, or she has become a threat.” James Baldwin.
  • What we have unmasked through the re-enactment and mapping out of these gazes is a validation of our anger and discontent at our inability to come to terms with these fragmented selves constructed out of the needs, views, attributions of others and our powerlessness in relation to them.
  • Photo-therapy re-invents and asserts ourselves by becoming the subject rather than the object of our own histories.
  • The images in circulation in a particular culture act to mould and set limits upon how each of us will see ourselves and others. Although we are never fixed, they do shape.
  • They are a major constituent of the dominant culture as well as being used continually to construct official histories.

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