the photographer

February 22, 2013


This one stayed with me for a long time after I finished it, and it’s been a strong Myyear gift and recommendation candidate, especially to anyone with an interest in Afghanistan.

A curious hybrid of photos and drawings that works brilliantly, it follows a photographer’s journey accompanying a Doctors without Borders mission through the country. Harsh but full of humanity.


February 22, 2013


A whole lot has happened since the ‘Yes we can’ moments, but I still love this photo: Barack Obama as a college freshman in 1980, posing for student photographer Lisa Jack at Occidental College in Los Angeles, California. Barack, when it all gets too much – this one should still make you smile. It does me.

More in the series.

i can’t stand it anymore

September 18, 2008

Michael Rosen (who somehow looks exactly like a Quentin Blake drawing himself) is the current Children’s Laureate in the UK, and in this fun clip performs his poem ‘I Can’t Stand It Anymore’ in Walthamstow. Sorry, I can’t embed a Guardian video, so you’ll have to hop over yourself. Promise it won’t be a waste of 47 seconds of your time!

lene ask visits tanzania

September 8, 2008

Hurray, hurray, more Lene Ask, and this time it’s all up online! Unfortunately, so far only for Norwegian readers (and the very patient). The creator of ‘Hitler, Jesus og Farfar’ was invited to visit Tanzania by aid agency Norad, to highlight the issue of child and maternal health through her drawings. No easy If you want to see the drawings themselves in real life, they are on show at Literatturhuset for a week starting today.

Her simple but well-formed drawings take on an additional poignancy within this theme, although they also take on the issues of poverty, illiteracy, female circumcision, and more. No easy answers to any of the problems, but an interesting and beautiful way to raise awareness of the agency’s programmes while supporting local artists.

school days

September 4, 2008

It’s back to school for many, and back to work for me. Today I read the first article in a long time, by comedian and Londoner Arabella Weir, on the public vs. private school debate that made me think and possibly reconsider (when the time comes!). It’s clearly a difficult issue and every child, school and country is different, but maybe there is space for big-picture thinking too?

by Arabella Weir

The Guardian Wednesday September 3 2008

Sending your child off to school for the first time in their life is terrifying. You simply cannot imagine how this tiny little precious creature, for whom you have cared since birth, will begin to cope in an unfamiliar environment surrounded by lots of other kids, some of whom might not be as gifted, genius and sweet as yours.

Assuming you have any choice at all, picking their first school is also an alarmingly revealing moment for anyone who considers themselves to be a good, responsible citizen. It is a time when you find yourself assaulted by all sorts of terrors, nerves and unanswerable questions, most of which are so unedifying you cannot believe you are thinking them. Suddenly you forget about everyone else; it is all about your baby and only your baby. Read the rest of this entry »

lol bush

August 13, 2008

George Dubya got the LOLcats treatment for photos taken during his trip to Beijing, and I dare say it works even better on him than on little kitties.

Several other books got in the way, but finally I got to read Dave Eggers’ ‘What is the What‘, his version of Valentino Achak Deng’s story of how war transported him from his village in Southern Sudan through a several refugee camps finally to his struggle to build a new life in America, with several thousand other young men collectively known as The Lost Boys of Sudan.

The book is written in the first person and jumps back and forth between America and Deng’s life story in more or less chronological order. The style was simple and concise, but variously also funny and disturbing. Most importantly for me, it gave a voice and a history to one of the many faces that stare out of photos of war zones and refugee camps. I don’t know if you’ve ever wondered how refugees get to where they are and what life there means to them. This book told me how for one person.

Read the rest of this entry »


May 22, 2008

Hurrah, hurrah, it’s that time of year again, for the kitsch-fest that is the Eurovision Song Contest. I have to say I only really got into this some 5 years ago, and have been wondering ever since how I managed to live without before.

The contest is best experienced with a bunch of friends from as many European countries as possible (non-Europeans are allowed wild shifting alliances). I remember clearly the year when I was gunning for Ruslana and her Ukranian wild dancers. The suspense (and serious block-voting) was enough to reduce a normally cool and collected Ukranian friend to reassure me feverishly, ‘The Poles like us, they’ll vote for us!’

This year there are so many countries participating (soon Malaysia will be eligible to join the way Europe’s borders are expanding) that there are two semi-finals. My favourite from the first on Tuesday was Belgium’s Ishtar, with a kooky tune in a language that does not exist, a huge red-and-white puffy and swingy skirt, and a lead singer who was hamming it up to fabulous effect. Sadly they did not get through (why? why?) though Norway did, with a song that was not quite as desperately mediocre as its detractors claim.

Second round of semis tonight, before the grand finale on Saturday night. Don’t call me till after, I’ll be busy!

palestine by joe sacco

April 23, 2008

Every time I visit the comic book library, there is someone different at the check-out counter. That works well as each person has their own favourites there, so I have been introduced to a host of fantastic books. My last recommendation was Joe Sacco‘s ‘Palestine‘, an illustrated collection recounting his two month trip to the area between 1991 and 1992. Sacco travels to various refugee camps and interviews many of its residents, detailing their stories and grieviances in painful detail.

I have to say the book made for uncomfortable reading to start with, with its stark images and severe telling of the Palestinians’ every day lives and troubles, including graphic descriptions of torture and imprisonment by Israelis. At first, I felt overwhelmed by his drawings, similar to reading the news on the latest in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but more confronting. Also, his position as an observing Western outsider made it difficult initially to get a feel for his stance.

Possibly as his own alliances developed, and as he got to know people better, the stories grew more subtle and gentle, making it much easier on the mind to read. In one of the chapters many Palestinian women give their different answers as to why they do or do not wear headscarves. Towards the end of the book, an Israeli woman in the book expresses anger that Sacco presents only one side of the conflict, however this is as good a version as any of that side as you will ever read.

Several of the people Sacco encounters confront him and demand to know what good his reporting and drawing will do. He doesn’t have a good answer for them, and neither do I for you. But I certainly felt I learnt a lot from it, and it continues to play on my mind now, weeks afterwards.

china powerhouse

April 10, 2008

100 Chinese by Zhang Dali

It was hard enough to avoid China’s sphere of influence even before the kick-off of the Olympic torch relay, and the farce it has become. This both economically with so many products being manufactured there and culturally, with every museum who can hosting its own China exhibition. I’ve been sucked into the buzz myself.

Now the rumblings of protest about China’s poor human rights record have become louder. Jonathon Jones argues in today’s Guardian that such a response is hypocritical in light of how China (and its government) is being courted by many British museums art galleries. I feel the same way but in an economic sense, in our desire for cheap (Chinese manufactured) goods. We seem to pick all of the gain, but leave the distaste of moral outrage for others to deal with.

It’s time to question our cultural rage for China

Isn’t it a bit rich that China, with its human rights record, is being so assiduously courted by so many British museums and galleries?

Jonathon Jones, The Guardian, April 10, 2008

It was meant to be the grand climax to a triumph of cultural diplomacy. The last day of the British Museum’s superb exhibition The First Emperor, made possible by unprecedented loans from China, coincided with the Olympic torch procession through London. The route of the torch went right past the museum, in what was presumably a calculated choice to show off Britain’s cultural relationship with China. From the First Emperor to the Beijing Olympics … let’s celebrate two thousand years of authoritarian government!

I don’t actually think the history of China is exclusively authoritarian – on the contrary – but my one quibble with the British Museum’s Terracotta Army show was that it almost seemed to want to say just that, in some overly sophisticated and disturbingly relativist claim to “understand” the fact that China today is a rapidly developing economy presided over by a brutal, undemocratic regime. Read the rest of this entry »