22 April 2009

The Wire aesthetic

I've been thinking a bit about photography lately, investigating various moments in its history, particularly in the context of India. But in surfing life I often check the In Pictures section of the BBC--or similar sections of any news organization--to see what they've got up, what kinds of images they choose, this sort of thing. So today, I went over to the BBC for the first time in a while and discovered a set of images titled Urban Decay. About Baltimore.

What struck me about the photographs was the aesthetic of the "failed city" to riff on the "failed state" phrase. I teach the picturesque: a valuing of the ruin, of the once great and now fallen, of the vegetation taking over human-constructed monuments, buildings, homes. Usually these images, in the context of India especially, are dotted with small "natives" that add scale and a sense that there are people here, just not anyone that really cares about the city.

I'm not sure this is some sort of failed city picturesque, but it does strike me that images of Baltimore, a city without a really recognizable skyline, without an obvious "landmark" (and don't say: the first Washington Monument, because no one outside of B'more knows about that), that a city without that but with other iconic images from television may remain in this mode of ruined city aesthetics for a while, perhaps forever. Even the photograph of the bannister in Mount Vernon, a downtown neighborhood that's a mix of grit and high-end, even that celebrates the agedness, the moment in the past when curved iron railings decorated the homes of the railway barons and shipping magnates in haute B'more.

It strikes me as similar to that Indian picturesque: the construction of urban decay and its relation to B'more will remain with the city for a long time. As will the reality of urban decay. This kind of picturesque doesn't tell me anything new about poverty, cities, or B'more. It repeats. But if people continue to come to B'more (as they do) looking for "the Wire tour" of the bad neighborhoods, then we continue to reenact an understanding of the city that constitutes it as a place of devastating, immovable poverty. I think that doesn't do justice to Simon's love of the city, and I think that doesn't help cities like B'more figure out ways of becoming un-broken.

14 April 2009


South Waziristan Institute of Strategic Hermeneutics
has just published its 14th report, in this case advising al-Qaeda of their current situation in a Barack Obama era.

I've been reading these reports on and off for the last few years, and they are both tongue-in-cheek and very very illuminating. I love the format. Provides quick overviews of current events as they impact particular groups, usually al-Qaeda but occasionally other actors...check them out: