Euro Agbo Photo Journos Redux 1: The Butterfly and the Whale (enacted by 2 roosters)

With the help of Ghana Tech Wahab Odoi, and the miracles of the internet, I have managed to put together a lot of the pieces behind the strange alt-coinish entry by the  band Placebo.  Their MTV video's use of Agbogbloshie as a backdrop for "Life is What You Make It" debuted during the middle of this blog's series on Euro Agbo Porno Photo Journos.

As far as making friends with people you run into in strange places - well, chalk this chicken fight up to unfortunate timing.

I was in the middle of a "photo journo flog" series.  And Sasha Rainbow was thrilled with what seems her studio's most prestigious work to date. And the band and Placebo fans were unprepared to play a part in an environmental lesson plan.  What does work for photography often does not work as journalism?... um no it's about the music dude.

Artists look for simplicity - a simple, powerful photo can tell a thousand words. But those words may be false, and quite easily proffer mere racial profiling.  I brought their video into the "Free Joe Hurricane Benson" debate, and they seem angry and perturbed.  Easier to describe me as a trollish brute than to entertain the possibility that their depiction of poverty was bleeding with collateral damage, and wrapped in #ewaste activist folly.

How did we meet in this place?  All of us? How does Awal, Yahroo or Razak wind up with a Whatsapp treasuretrove of white contacts from UK, USA, Spain, etc?  Since just the last month, I've been sent photos and been handed by phone to speak directly to five "freelance documentary makers".  It's a land rush... but they don't know what kind.

Knitting with Syringe Needles

Now a ghostly sounding trans-glam-rock-artist i the top twitter reference for the Accra city dump and nearby slum. The slum is a landing point for economic migrants from the far north of the country, who arrive in the big city as a religious and linguistic minority.

It's not hard to believe that 40,000 people live in lean-tos and empty sea containers at the slum.  The history of the slum's nick-name "Sodom and Gomorrah" traces back to papers published by Accra Metropolitan Association [AMA], whose interests are in developing the property - and who sent bulldozers to evict thousands of settlers by force exactly two years ago, in June 2015.

common red-faced ruffled whitie
What is fascinating is just how small our communities are. Like three amazingly tiny surgical needles, colliding point to point, inside the body of an elephantine colossal continent of Africa, Sasha, Razak, and Robin wind up on the tiny screen of Awal's cell phone.  And the two white saviors (me included) squawk and ruffle our feathers at the clucking fellow found afoul on our turf.

We've both invested "weeks upon weeks" in Africa. We both proudly pose with the victims we've groomed.  I claim to have found Razak, Awal and Yahroo a job (and given them T-shirts), and Sasha says Leiticia and Kofi are now in boarding school (I assume Awal, 25 with wife and son, declined).

For the unfortunate of fans following the kerfluffle, the focus is taken away from Placebo. The music video stands in nicely as a place where rock and roll "holds the mirror" to guilt trip hoards of privilegees, unfathomably adrift in the cognitive dissonance of guilt over colonialism, consumption, and not having learned how to DIY fix their elective upgraded electronics.  It's a juju, a fetish, a European rain dance, to ward away evil guilty memories via an MTV video "dedicated to the workers of Agbogbloshie".

Live from Uppsala, Sweden (no joke), home of Gapminder, I'm going to try to wrap this all together.  The unintentional, unwitting and unwilling, good people who break their syringe needles point-to-point in the arteries of Accra's slums.

How did all these people meet, and where, of all places?  Two blind roosters flog the scenery...

Dr. Livingstone I Presume?

So in 2017, Belgian vocalist Brian Molko (born 1972) and Luxembourg guitarist Stefan Olsdal have put the band back together, and are kicking off a 40something rock band revival.  Belgium (Leopold) has a particular complex over colonization in Africa, and a do-gooder vocalist like Molko understandably rose to the occasion when Sasha Rainbow showed him images of children, poverty, pollution.  There's actually very little "e-waste" in any of the photos.  A single close up of a junk circuit board acts as stand in to for the "largest e-waste dump on earth".
"Close-up shots do not show the subject in the broad context of its surroundings. If overused, they may leave viewers uncertain as to what they are seeing. Close-ups are rarely done with wide-angle lenses, because perspective causes objects in the center of the picture to be unnaturally enlarged. Certain times, different directors will use wide-angle lenses, because they can convey the message of confusion, and bring life to certain characters." - Wikipedia 17.06.27
Having recognized a common cell phone pal, hurling a gasoline soaked mass of burning wires overhead, I felt empowered to chime in.  Or to cluck and wave my wet feathers.

We've tried to engage with director Sasha Rainbow and Alsdair Mitchell about the video, and our concerns (factual mistatements at the end, claims by Awal Muhammed that people were not paid).  We reached out by Facebook messenger, showed photos showing we have several friends in common in Accra.

We pleaded for them not to walk away with a simplistic solution that offends the Tech Sector. You need to show Africans making things, fixing things, recycling things (a good thing), consuming things.  You are less likely to get the full picture about imports and exports if you don't interview the importers and exporters.  We aren't hiding.

Unfortunately, so far they are letting the Placebo Fans do the talking.  Some of the participants on a Placebo Fan listserve were scurrilous about my descriptions of Agbogbloshie, calling them "fake news" and ascribing my motives as undoubtably sinister.  Having enjoyed their artist and the film and the message, they succumbed to a kind of "baby duck syndrome", my view of Ghana's used tech sector economy in a war of images with their crystal shaped calamity of otherness.

Baby duck syndrome[edit]

In human–computer interactionbaby duck syndrome denotes the tendency for computer users to "imprint" on the first system they learn, then judge other systems by their similarity to that first system.[13] The result is that "users generally prefer systems similar to those they learned on and dislike unfamiliar systems".[14] [15]
Data journalists log, photojournalists flog.

In Euro Agbo Photo Journo REDUX Part II, let's try to put together the lessons of using artistic images to teach moral lessons.  And as a backdrop, here are some photos from my visit yesterday to Stockholm's Photografiska Museum.

How do we make the Tech Sector importers of Ghana, and the scrap workers of Agbogbloshie, the protagonists of their own shots?  Rather than as extras in the angst of white do-gooder surplus wealth gotcha karma?

I think I can see ourselves - Sasha and Robin - through the lens of these men.  Will try tomorrow.

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