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New Beginning or Inevitable Decay

BredaPhoto Festival shows the state of the art of contemporary photography on the basis of a socially relevant and international recognizable theme. A pamphlet, outlining the direction for BredaPhoto 2020, is the starting point for an in-depth discussion to determine the final theme for BredaPhoto Festival 2020. Mohamed Somji, International Associated Curator BredaPhoto Festival, reflects on the pamphlet.

Economy

While the assertion that the premise of unfettered growth in our economies is being challenged as a sustainable model, I am not sure that we are close to any radical new beginnings that will improve the challenges of inequality and rising poverty and a shrinking of the middle class.

Big capital and corporate globalization have been very successful in limiting free elections (as evidenced by campaign financing deregulation in the US restricting political actors to those fully funded by corporations) and hence undermining democracy. The power they wield in limiting democratic discourse, environmental and climate change reform in extremely imaginative ways to reinforce itself, protect itself, to undermine democracy, and to discourage resistance.

Furthermore, one of the drivers of the economy today is technology which is leading to a dwindling working class as technology takes over jobs. Not to mention how the strength and dominance of Big Tech like Apple, Google, Facebook is ensuring that controlling us is easy through increasing surveillance and policing of online discourse.

Finally and as it has pointed out, the choice to be a conscientious consumer is a privilege afforded to people who have the means to buy almond milk or organic meals. It excludes the single mother in New Jersey who is working two jobs and has only $7.00 to buy a McDonald’s happy meal for her kids for example or processed junk food.

Politics

I agree here that change is in the air. The forces of populism are on the rise and while there is hope when you see Green party movements and new thinking like Alexandra Ocasio Cortez or Corbyn in the UK, I feel that there is more to fear than look forward to. We have seen in the US, Brazil, Brexit, Germany and others how politicians are co-opting the economic despair to mobilise millions in the politics of fear and vote in right wing radical politicians. This is not going to change anytime soon – the hope is that the people drinking the KoolAid will see that the populists are the same in different clothing. And this will give way to more uncertainty.

Society

I feel from all the domains, this one is the one that offers the most promise and hope for a better world order. The MeToo movements and an intense questioning of power dynamics will help enlighten more people mired in the patriarchal and racist ways of our world to reshape their thoughts.

Although this too will take time and we will see resistance and a reframing of the issues as identity politics. Just last week, there was a cover story in the Esquire in the US during the Black History Month about “What it Feels like to be White” https://www.theguardian.com/media/2019/feb/12/esquire-cover-story-american-boy-black-history-month

There will be a strong fight by the structures of power to resist progress by feminist, civil rights and LGBT movements and photographers and artists have a huge role to play here to keep fighting the good fight, to create work to raise questions, to provoke thought, to spark conversations.

Culture

While I agree wholeheartedly that there are significant moves in the right direction here, I often wonder if these cultural products like Black Panther or the music video, This is America is actually changing minds and attitudes. I am not cynical and of course want to see more of this but it is something that we need to address and ask. How can we be effective in a world that is increasingly polarized and where cultural content thanks to technology and social media can be so manipulated.

Overall Thoughts

I really love the idea of exploring this new world order that affects each and everyone of us and I think it is a worthy and important topic to address. At the same token, we have to make sure we don’t lose sight of the big picture with what is actually happening on the ground and how effective these changes and paradigm shifts are for a wide range of people across different income groups and geographies. What seems to be the case on the ground in Holland seems a world away to someone in Bangladesh or even Warsaw.

And I think that artists and photographers must do more than just document – they need to critically engage and they are all active participants in one or more domains and that they can collectively help to answer the questions this pamphlet raises.

Mohamed Somji

International Associated Curator BredaPhoto Festival