Welcome to the June issue of Benerkenswert!
This issue features:
- A report on the Tiananmen memorial event in Taipei
- Reflections on photography
- Some short recommendations
Remembering June 4th in Taipei
June 4th is the anniversary of Tiananmen Massacre. Click here for the full photo essay in a layout that does the images justice.
(You might like my report on the Oslo Freedom Forum if you are interested in civil society in Taiwan.)
I like to see myself as an amateur photographer in the best sense of the word. Photography is an artistic outlet for me, a way to engage with the world. To let it in and keep it at arms length at the same time. A way to learn something about myself.
I used to play music during most of my life. There is little as meditative and monumental as rehearsing eight ours a day in the Alps for a week with an orchestra of 130 and playing Strauss’ Alpine Symphony in a big concert hall afterwards. But as I left my loved double bass in Germany (logistics, Covid, climate, …), taking pictures has taken its role for now.
It is hard to underestimate how important it is to have an artistic or creative outlet, I think. Not only is it fun, you meet lots of great people, it might help to stay sane. Bob Dylan, The Philosophy of Modern Song:
Therapy works for a lot of people, though entertainers have it easier than most. Instead of having to pay someone an hourly fee to feign interest in listening to them drone on about their lives, a canny performer can reel in an audience, unburden themselves, and receive adulation as well as a nice payday simultaneously. What issues was Elvis working through with thousands of teenage girls calling out his name? What death issues was Screamin’ Jay Hawkins coming to terms with, charging people to watch him emerge from a coffin?
Entertainers understand that a good story is a basic commodity, one they are not about to give away. The therapist is on the wrong side of that transaction—if you have a lurid story to tell, like you want to fuck your father or want to make love to your mother, why are you paying a shrink to listen to it? He or she should be paying you.Bob Dylan, The Philosophy of Modern Song
What fascinates me about photography as a “new” hobby is how chaotic it is in the way it impacts my life. It started as a way to remember as I took photos of trips, moments, family. (I still don’t have an outlet for those images…) But as my hard drive fills, I learned to follow the itch to do something more with it.
Photography is more than taking pictures
The German sociologists Andreas Reckwitz has focused on the idea of “practices” in much of his work. A “practice” is something we do again and again, cooking and sharing dinner, reflecting and writing in a journal, meeting to play music, to name a few examples. As a sociologist, he tries to make sense not of a specific instance, what we feel, why we do it in the moment, but its function for ourselves and in our social surrounding. It is a fascinating perspective, as it allows something simple to become bigger, more important, more meaningful in a concrete and real way. Suddenly “having dinner” becomes a center piece of family life. Not out of tradition or nostalgia, but because looking at how families live, it might turn out to be the only recurring instance where everyone meets. “Journaling” might be not something you do as a “mindfulness ritual,” but an innovation that separates (parts of) Renaissance society from its forebear, a corner stone for individualism as people started to project meaning onto their feelings and to create a specific narrative of self.
Similarly, photography is a practice that allows you to go out and engage with the world. To reduce it to images. To let it in and keep it out at the same time. To freeze time and keep or destroy moments. To look for the small that represents the whole. But beyond this direct more psychological effects, it also changes how we cluster life around us in different stories and places. How we become aware of some (visual) similarities while more ignorant of others. How we appreciate some things (nice places and people) but maybe overlook others (beautiful voices, more complex attributes of places). It changes how we interact with others (by taking photos together, taking photos of them, sharing them digitally). It’s not uncomplicated (Brazilian-Czech media philosopher Vilém Flusser has written a whole book on this issue that still rings true 50 years later), but what is…
Maybe seeing something as a “practice” is just a sciency way to allow it to bring some change and magic into your life – beyond the smaller thing that it itself is or simple “vibes”. Thus, for me, photography is not just taking images, it’s… well, also organizing, editing, publishing images of course, … but: It can change the way to see the world, to engage with it, to approach it. To see other people, engage with them, approach them. For me it has often become the reason to go somewhere. Like to the memorial event mentioned above. Maybe it also makes me not go elsewhere. Who knows. And whatever!
Sharing is caring
One thing I struggled with for a long time was to find outlets that felt authentic. Radio Taiwan International featured some of my images online. I supported Anna’s office opening with some portraits and interior shots. But taking these organic opportunities aside, “outlet” feels like too big a word for my current solution. I haven’t sent my images to photo journals or competitions, for example. Didn’t hold any exhibitions.
But that’s my strategic, structured mathematician-brain talking, and I enjoy to embraced the chaotic creative process of just doing things and see where it gets me. “Doing things” means taking photos (and organizing, culling, editing, …). “Seeing where it gets me” mostly meant to set up what started as a small personal website. It… let’s say… metastasized a little bit into a place to share my favorite images, cultural insights about Taiwan, favorite places to travel to. (I even hooked up Google maps to show where all the places are!) And I love how this thing grows wildly before I prune it a little bit, instead of following a strict plan. Let’s see what happens!
The other part is about sharing, “distribution” as the kids say these days. I used to hate social media (for reasons I will not write about now) but got around to try it again (ditto) and started to like it again (ditto). You might see it coming, this is the advertising block…
One part of the “pruning” process was that I started a project (✨) to share a photo a day to test whether it’s true that on social media, consistency is king. (It’s true.) It’s a fun project which allows me to pick a couple of images every weekend and throw them in one of those scheduling apps. If you like, you can follow the project on Instagram, Pixelfed/ActivityPub, RSS, or just by visiting the project on my Website directly.
Communities of practice
As the casual social media user I was before, I underestimated its power to meet people once I took the step from consuming what others “share” to posting my own stuff. Especially with photography, it’s really easy to just meet people for a “photo walk.” Last week for example, some casual messages lead me to join a group of eight for an evening in Tamsui, Taipei’s “coastal” district.
So, if you are taking your images alone, reach out to others and just take a walk. Highly recommended. Five stars. ★★★★★
(The only problem is: Other people might see you like a hungry pack of wolves and avoid you. In that case, just feast on each other!)
Stéphane Brizé, Un Autre Monde & La Loi Du Marché
Stéphane Brizé is a French director. He directed a powerful trilogy featuring actor Vincent Lindon, a testimony to the pressure on people in all parts of society. You could say they dissect capitalism, but that sounds too clinical and too theoretic to do his work justice.
The first part, “The Measure of a Man” tells the story of Tierry, an unemployed father of a disabled child in France, trying to get back into “the system.” We see all the humiliations he has to endure only to get a job as a security guard where he is the one to push others back down. Depressing and powerful!
Part three puts Lindon in the role of a plant manager who sees his private life dissolve while he is made the hangman of his own employees for the betterment of the career and bonuses of his bosses. It’s even more crushing than the first part, but the fact of his virility (and the money he can fall back on) makes it somewhat less bleak.
Both movies are fascinating milieu studies, showing life that is easy to miss when reading the news or staying within one’s own bubble. It’s auteur cinema at its best, and European.
Parts 1 and 3 are available on Mubi right now. (In Germany, but Mubi is quite lenient with VPNs, not like other services.)
Sam Mallory on Photography
Mallory is a US American photographer roughly my age with a self-ironic twist to tell its story. Talking about both photography and social media in this issue, I want to highlight his YouTube channel as one entertaining example of the authentic creativity it can spark. He too has a philosophical itch to scratch, but (given his medium?) addresses it lighter than I do here.
As common on the platform, it’s a lot of product reviews, but often with a very creative and well-crafted twist (here in the style of Wes Anderson). I think it was one of his videos that made me aware of Voigtlander, the producer of all my lenses. He also has some great educational material and travel logs.
In the age of cheap AI content and cheap “growth hackers,” I appreciate everyone who goes the hard way of sitting down, creating something, and sharing it with their (small and hopefully growing) corner of the world.