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Itineraries to translucency

October 26, 2011 8:00 pm

With Doreen Mende
Language: English

In 1980 and 1981, the East German press photographer Horst Sturm taught photography to Palestinians along the rue de Damas in Beirut. During that time, the Palestine press and information agency (Wafa) had its headquarters in the city, and received support from international agencies such as the general German news service (adn) of the German democratic republic (GDR). While assistance of this kind is well known—between socialist countries and peoples elsewhere undergoing the struggle for liberation—Sturm’s activities expanded upon them by using the cultural practice of photography as both the visual and social means of a solidarity project. However, the official photos show an ambivalence to the Palestinian revolution. On one side is a militant image declaring independence from a dominant voice, enhancing the war by way of visual means, and on the other is an imperative image reiterating the figure of the victim-hero.

My interest is not in the officially distributed press images of martyrs, but in the photographs that capture intimate moments of friendship: an informal dinner after a workshop; walking in the streets in Beirut; Sturm with Fedayeen in south Lebanon; and the Palestinian students inspecting their film in the studio in Beirut—images showing the very conditions of photographic production during the period. There are only a few images of this kind, not to be considered an archive but perhaps a set of “souvenirs” (as jean genet called his written memories of being with the Palestinians and the black panthers). As a group, these photographs have become itineraries to guide research into the geographically dispersed production of images haunted by a socialist internationalism. What is an image that comes from there?