“Well fuck that, is what I say” Christopher Hitchens, duckrabbit, a festive fistful and a challenge to Falmouth University

Part of the absurd fallout from last week’s ridiculous moment when VII’s Anastasia Taylor Lind jumped to her feet and repeatedly punched duckrabbit in the face at the LCC Masters end of year show after-party, have been the attempts behind the scenes to influence what we do or don’t say about it on our blog.

So for any of you concerned or interested, here are ten things worth knowing about duckrabbit, followed by a proposal and a challenge, neither of which involves a face full of knuckles.

1.             duckrabbit is not Jesus, and although I did literally turn the other cheek, the suggestion that I should now be reaching out to somebody who initiated physical violence against me is illogical. I questioned Lind’s integrity, she responded with her fist, end of story.

2.            The duckrabbit blog is founded on the principle of independence. I will defend that fiercely. It allows people to speak openly and freely about the things that they care about, the things that make then laugh, move them and also sometimes about the things that make them angry. If that makes people uncomfortable then good – it means we’re doing something right. Why do you think Conscientious is so influential? Because Joerg is not ever going to be told what to do or think by anyone. Though duckrabbitblog is different, we aspire to a similar independence of thought.

3.            We’ve always engaged with the people that disagree with what we write. The blog has always offered people the right to reply, except to those who respond with their fists.

4.            At duckrabbit, we don’t all think the same way.  We believe in the importance of upholding and exploring contradictions – that’s why we called the company duckrabbit.

5.            The suggestion has been made to me that it would be better for us to keep our mouths shut in order to ‘get on’ in the industry. I was lucky enough to spend many years as a producer at the BBC in a department where everything about our production work was open to debate. That’s what kept our programming sharp and our egos trimmed.  I have also been lucky enough to work in a small capacity alongside Paul Lowe and John Easterby at LCC, both  of whom, as well as encouraging and giving space in their department for critical thinking about the industry, are also two of the most active supporters of photographers in the country.  Their commitment to free thinking and critical debate is, in my opinion, exactly the quality that you should look for in a University department.  An industry that only allows those at the top table to ask questions is not an industry, it’s a feudal system.

6.            Nobody who works with duckrabbit has the power to compromise the independence of the blog. If anybody has been given an indication to the contrary then they have been misinformed.

7.            Stirring controversy is not part of our business model.  We have never run a workshop in how to make money from blogging. Neither the organisations who contract us to make productions for them or our workshop participants come to us because of our blog.  Around 24 million people heard our documentaries on the BBC this year. We let our production work speak for itself and that’s why people contract us to make films for them and want to train with us.

8.            We’ve had the slightly odd suggestion made to us that we are the illegitimate child of the News Of The World or the Daily Mail.  duckrabbit can confirm that we have not yet been called to give evidence at the Levenson inquiry.   In the last 30 days we have published roughly eighty posts. You’ll find a lot about how photography empowers people with disability, but how many of those posts personally criticized an individual working in photography? The answer is none. It’s not that we are afraid to criticize individuals – it’s just that this is a rarity. In the last 30 days the only seriously critical post questioned the value of photography degrees.  And we also posted a balanced response by Ciara.  Let me tell you what I think. The people who consistently attempt to dismiss us in this way are the ones with the most to lose from honesty about the industry.

9.             This year duckrabbit will have had 3.5 million page views, half a million visits to our feed and another half a million visits to our website.  Are people really suggesting that the reason readers come here is for the rare post that challenges some of the norms of the industry and the individuals and agencies who benefit from those norms?  On Tuesday Ivor Prickett told me that duckrabbit are ‘a bunch of fucking assholes’ shortly before his girlfriend lamped me for writing this post (shared over 300 times on Facebook). We respect your opinion, Ivor, just as we’ve celebrated your terrific talent.  Why not come by the blog next week and we’ll see if we can persuade you to take a more enlightened view with a slice of Funky Friday?

10.        Finally, I want to say that how proud I am to work at duckrabbit. What I’m most proud of is that the people at duckrabbit are the kindest, most thoughtful and caring bunch of people I’ve ever had the honor to work with – something that I draw inspiration and strength from everyday. From the dozens of emails I’ve had this week from many professional people working in the industry I am beginning to understand how much what we do is appreciated – and that means an awful lot to us all. And I promise you we won’t stop questioning and celebrating the things that are important to us.

A Proposal

Yesterday the great contrarian Christopher Hitchens passed away, Christopher was a hugely talented and sometimes merciless debater, a polemicist of epic proportions and also a man of contradictions. Hitchens regularly asked the sort of questions that many of us would be afraid to articulate.  I rarely agreed with Christopher but you’d have to be irrational in the extreme to suggest that the world would have been better off without him.  He set one of the great modern examples of just how important it is to get people on the same stage to exchange opinions and engage in reasoned debate. With that in mind – I want to make a proposal.

I’m told that Anastasia Taylor Lind, as a result of punching duckrabbit, has pulled out of giving a talk at Falmouth University that coincides with an exhibition of Guy Martin’s work from Libya.  Here’s how Falmouth are promoting the exhibition:

During the spring of 2011, independent documentary photographer Guy Martin travelled to Egypt and Libya to record the unfolding Arab Spring. On Wednesday 20 April, Guy’s work in the region was cut short when, whilst covering some of the fiercest urban warfare in recent history, he was severely injured in a rocket attack by Gaddafi loyalists in the centre of the besieged Western Libyan city of Misrata. For the first time since the attack, and following a lengthy and continuing recovery, University College Falmouth’s School of Media & Performance presents Shifting Sands, an exhibition of the work produced by Guy up to this point.

The exhibition frames a series of events including a private view, a talk with eminent women photojournalists, film screenings and Guy in conversation. Each event serves to highlight the heavy price that can be paid by frontline photojournalists in the cause of documenting a country and its people’s struggle for freedom.

 

It’s my opinion that Falmouth have fallen into the trap of promoting the work primarily on the basis that Martin was injured.  Why aren’t they promoting it on the basis that he is a bloody good photographer with a deep and powerful reason to tell the story of the people of Libya?

Reading this it seems the original post I wrote about war photography that caused all this nonsense is still relevant. An estimated 2000 soldiers and civilians died in Misrata, the city in which Martin was so seriously injured.  It is, in my opinion, self-indulgent to promote any photography work about Libya on the wounding of a photographer in that city, instead of the greater tragedy faced by those people in the pictures, and it calls into question the fundamental purpose of photography.

Can we only sell it if it is about us?  

Martin put his life on the line to tell a story about Libyans – why not promote the show in the same sprit?

To Falmouth I have a challenge. Do something positive.  If Anastasia no longer feels she wants to attend then why not host a proper debate, with proper thinkers and photographers on the framing of war in photography. Invite David Campbell, Paul Lowe, Guy Martin, Jenny Matthews (who is already talking) and Stuart Freedman.  Invite duckrabbit’s own David White (who teaches at Falmouth and who will see this post for the first time after it is published on the website) to chair the debate and prove that the purpose of a university is to challenge thinking and engage in rational debate – not to perpetuate dangerous and irresponsible myths about war photographers.

Enough from me.  Here’s Christopher.

http://youtu.be/_R-SjC3lTWk

Author — duckrabbit

duckrabbit is a production company formed by radio producer/journalist Benjamin Chesterton and photographer David White. We specialize in digital storytelling.

Discussion (28 Comments)

  1. Jack L says:

    I was genuinely sorry to hear about what happened at LCC, as an alumni from the Photojournalism BA i know that private views often have perhaps too much alchohol flowing!

    I’m a fan of your blog, and although I don’t always agree with everything you say, it’s still stimulating and important stuff. No industry/institution/organisation should be above criticism and debate and it’s darkly ironic that supposed story-tellers would agrresively confront somebody for their own journalistic expression.

    I hope you’re recovering well and the individual responsible regrets their actions.

    I know your intial argument was framed in the context of conflict reportage, and I agreed with most of your points… But I’d be interested in your thoughts about other situations where the journalist’s story ends up strengthening coverage for a relatively under-reported issue?

    Reluctantly, I’m actually going to use myself as an example… When reporting from India last year on the ongoing pollution in Bhopal, I ended up being hospitalised while investigating the chemicals in a certain abandoned factory. This is kind of an example of the journalist becoming the story and I was reluctantly interviewed by local journalists etc. In many ways it was embaressing, and I recieved a certain amount of jovial “stick” for it.

    Long story short though, the personal angle from a sick reporter seemed to give the story extra credibility and although I’d never say the pictures & words were published because of my experience, it was cerainly encouraged that I talk about it in my articles…

    Is this unethical? Is it bad journalism? What happened was beyond my control, but as an interesting (and rather painful) piece of evidence was it worth including?

    I guess what I’m saying, in some situations, maybe the journalist’s personal story can be relevant and important… and have a positive effect? I’d welcome your thoughts.

    Cheers,
    Jack

    • duckrabbit says:

      Hi Jack,

      thanks for sharing your story.

      I think there’s lots of amazing reporting where the journalist drives the story, either in front of the camera or behind it.

      I think we all know we’re talking about a different form of narcissism that rears its ugly head from time to time.

      Just to re-iterate my point is not about Guy Martin’s pictures (David tells me there is some superb work), just the way they are being sold by other people/institutions.

  2. ziyah gafic says:

    for a while journalism is becoming too auto-referential, but photojournalism has totally succumbed to this plague without any resistance. am afraid it reached a point of becoming a pissing contest where being in certain place at certain time (NO, it is not decisive moment, decisive moment is a bit more complex) is more relevant that what you bring back or god forbid what you give back to the community that allowed you in for a sneak preview of their worst nightmares. or maybe it’s just that thru inadequate use of language our true intentions and motivations (which are sadly all too often selfish,shallow and yawn boring) are reaching the surface.
    my five cents for world peace,live long and prosper

  3. J A Mortram says:

    ‘It is, in my opinion, self-indulgent to promote any photography work about Libya on the wounding of a photographer in that city, instead of the greater tragedy faced by those people in the pictures, and it calls into question the fundamental purpose of photography.’ End of argument right there.

  4. joe says:

    your blog has the best bullshit radar in the business and thats why i keep coming back, you tell it like it is and for that i raise my glass to the DR team.

  5. Bravo. I’m a student at UCF and… well all I’m saying is that I’m glad your very own David is part of our staff.

    I’ll also be first to buy tickets should UCF ever decide to take up your offer on that debate…

  6. Nick says:

    Dont get me wrong, I love this blog.

    I think it is one of the most interesting sources for debates and critiques of the visual industry, and I will continue to read.

    BUT, I am disappointed by reading this whole episode here.

    This article marks out in some detail your rights to independent speech etc – OK. Thats fair enough. Not many people reading this would argue against your points. But to suggest VII are plotting against you, conspiring to restrict your ability to crtitisise the industry (which this article does) frankly seems way over hyped.

    Stephen Mayes is one of the leading figures (in my humble opinion at least) for change and analysing the industry. VII seem to be at the forefront for recognising the need to evaluate photojournalism’s place in the world. I would strongly doubt he (VII) is orchestrating plans to censor your blog as you are suggesting.

    It is frustrating too that this article has an air of moral superiority. If you wanted to take the high ground you should NOT have mentioned the incident AT ALL. Instead you are milking it as a PR campaign which frankly is as low as responding to a debate with aggression.

    Was it really necessary to name to the individuals involved?! I expect you will respond with ‘They should be accountable for their actions etc’ – and you would have a point. But it should not have been from you guys. It would have said more if you showed some dignity and didn’t comment at all.

    This is a small industry. We would have all found out eventually without reading about it here. Instead I’m afraid you are comeing across as children in a school playground.

    I have met Anistasia on a number of occasions and would like to say her actions seem out of character.

    Please continue to write about issues which matter (which you do very well) and not use this site to air your dirty laundry in the future.

    • duckrabbit says:

      Hi Nick,

      thanks for your comment.

      I am wondering, did you actually read the post? Where is it written VII are plotting against us? I find that idea bizarre. Why would they do that?

      I totally agree with your opinion of Stephen Mayes. Always worth listening to.

      I also find it odd your suggestion that I should have left out the punch or not named the person who hit me? This was a photographer, at a photography event, who took offense to a post about photography and ended up punching me. That’s the context for the post isn’t it?

      I find it even stranger that you think this post is ‘ as low as responding to a debate with aggression.’ Really? If we bring things up for debate that’s the equivalent of punching someone in the face? I can’t believe you are actually seriously suggesting that. That’s an argument for totalitarianism.

      I feel you make a lot of general statements but don’t actually pick up on what’s written. Maybe you can get stuck into the detail of what’s written here.

      I would also be very surprised if this isn’t out of character for Anastasia. If it was in my character to go round punching people after a while I would be locked up right?

      THANKS again for your comment.

      p.s. On the PR thing it would help if you didn’t write anonymously, otherwise people might think the comment is exactly that.

    • craig says:

      Nick – The transgressions were on the part of Lind and Prickett in the form of violence and personal abuse. Ben has reported the event, which in so much that it was an end of year show for aspiring photographers and that he has actually taught students at LCC on the same course seems like reason enough?

      All this is a distraction though from the good points made and disucussed in the original post which were and remain pertinent. Have a look at this from the Guardian a few days ago, celebrating the late Tim Hetherington, which for me illustrate the thrust of the duckrabbit argument clearly:

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/gallery/2011/dec/16/tim-hetherington-libya-war-pictures#/?picture=383292546&index=9

      It’s all about the photographer – not the poor guy lying dead in the morgue. I just can’t get my head around that.

  7. Mimi says:

    I am totally shocked by reading about the assault.
    I am not an angel myself, but i would find it extremely contradictory for a photojournalist to physically assault someone on the base of different views, ideas and opinions.

    I personslly know Guy and I know he’s a fine person and a good photographer, but i agree with Duck’s view on Guy’s work legacy due mainly to the “spectacularity” of his terrible injuries. I just think it’s sad to capitalise on smeone’s horrible experience to run a sellable article or to produce a sensationalistic exhibition, as by doing so, the intrinsic meaning of the work is spoiled by what happens around the content rather than paying attention to the very reasons that brought, Guy in this case, to photograph the unfolding of events in Lybia.

    I support debate, not egoistic violence.
    duck, i’m with you!

    • duckrabbit says:

      Hi Mimi,

      Thanks for your comment.

      I agree the important point is that it cannot be wrong to question the contradiction between photojournalism supposedly telling stories of other lives and then in contrast the selling of the work in way that absolutely deflects from this purpose.

  8. Tom says:

    I love Duckrabbit precisely because you kids speak your mind!

    Blogs like Mark Pages late Manchester Photography Blog I loved equally because it was so refreshing honest (though a little more whimsical)

    I spend my life either working as a photographer or doing design work for photographers in the industry. I have setup numerous blogs for photographers, agencies etc and all are almost completely self-referential or sycophantic. I understand they perform a specific function and you might make friends like that but you don’t earn respect.

  9. Andre Liohn says:

    Once again a great articulation and intelligent reflection from Duckrabit. I have been working closely with Guy and Ivor and both photographers deserve the respect for their serious journalistic works and motivations to go to the field. And the question raised about why can’t Guy’s work be treated as a quality photojournalistic documentation of Libya is more than relevant.

    • duckrabbit says:

      Thanks for your comment Andre.

      Actually when I went to speak to Ivor it was to try and understand exactly what his problem is with what I’ve written, because apart from calling me a fucking asshole and banging on about how duckrabbit is some kind of feral beast he was unable to articulate anything. I insisted (repeatedly) he at least try. 15 years as a journalist has taught me if someone is going to get away calling you and your company assholes they should at least be able to back it up.

      I’d still like to know. And the reason I’d still like to know is because I like him and I like his work. We both might benefit from the discussion but he is totally closed to it.

      Shame.

  10. JKaranka says:

    We showed Guy Martin at Third Floor at the Arab Revolutions exhibition. It’s fine work, no mention of injuries or anything in any press release or web. The selection process we used for work was based in covering all the countries and as many incidents as possible. Amazingly, this forced us to include Yuri Kozyrev pretty much on the basis alone of him having worked in Yemen and Bahrain… that even before considering that his work was obviously stunning. Syria was a nightmare to cover, just plenty of youtube footage really.

    http://thirdfloorgallery.com/exhibitions.html#exhibition15

    On this whole spat all over the industry. I guess the main thing is that we should all be allowed to be wrong. If we had to be right with any statement we produce we’d probably never say anything of any interest. Duckrabbit is often wrong, Jon is often wrong, I’m often wrong. I guess that just means that sometimes we get it also a bit more right than if we stuck to saying the safest thing around. But yeah, if Benjamin arranges a conciliatory mud wrestling with Ivor I’ll get you both a beer and buy a raffle ticket. I’d even bring my camera along.

  11. ST84Photo says:

    Re TheIncident – What amazes me with is that (a) anyone would resort to violence over a debate, and (b) that they’d do it at an MA grad show. Considering it was an LCC show, and Duckrabbit had worked there, there was a pretty fair bet that they’d be at the show.

    That’s like going to a friend’s house for dinner and punching another guest in said friend’s home. Seriously, who the fuck does that?

    You know, leaving aside the whole trivial matter of how violence is wrong and violence in response to an opinion you don’t like is wrong, the whole discourtesy of picking someone’s degree show to piss all over and detract from by a round of fisticuffs is, well, highly lame.

    As for the more interesting point of debate in this article – I don’t think anyone’s undermining Guy’s work (or the work of others who have been injured) by pointing out that we should be judging the work and why they felt it was necessary to make it, rather than fetishising the idea of the renegade Westerner running through dangerous situations in the pursuit of high ideals. Because we’ve been doing that for quite a while, in various guises, and every time it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. Not to mention the fact that, in many cases, it means distorting the character of the person(s) who made the work. Great way to celebrate them.

  12. ST84Photo says:

    Meh. Meant to add…

    The above comment is from Sara Trula, one of the Duckrabbit blog writers. I’m just being inept at logging in this afternoon.

  13. As a stranger to the people and events described, I find the anonymous author’s post biased and self-serving, with more than a hint of self-righteous bullying. Where are your journalistic standards of fair reporting? This reads like a personal attack on someone’s reputation hypocritically cloaked as a moralistic critique of photojournalistic practice.

    • duckrabbit says:

      Hello,

      why is it that the two people critical of the post can only speak in total generalities without referring to a single specific of what is written?

      And how am I supposed to have a discussion with someone who doesn’t understand the difference between news, reporting and comment (of course its biased)?

      If you can dig into the detail then I’m happy to have a discussion (you might be right) but otherwise there’s nothing here I can actually engage with.

      Apart from pointing out that Lind assaulted me (I don’t think anyone is doubting that) there is no comment about her, personal or otherwise. She made her own comment with her fists.

  14. You present yourself as an arbiter of journalistic standards which you are paradoxically egregiously flouting in your own writing and comments here. There is nothing specific to reply to in your post — it’s a rant of contradictory and mean-spirited statements.

    I actually don’t find you credible even in the one supposedly undisputed fact of the assault.

    • duckrabbit says:

      Hi Alessandro,

      Did you actually read the post? I can’t be the only person thinking not.

      People might take you more seriously if you actually offered some evidence to back your argument. I mean I may be a half-baked journalist in your eyes but I know at least that much. So if you want to offer a ‘credible’ argument then when you say the post is ‘a rant of contradictory and mean-spirited statements’, you would need to actually refer to something written. Otherwise I could just say that you are a big fat hairy gorilla who loves ballet. You may be right, but we can’t get anywhere, apart from a slagging match, without specifics.

      Speaking of which where exactly do we ‘present ourselves as the arbiter of journalistic standards’ or did you just make that part up cause it sounded like nice soundbite, a bit like how some silly people come out with the line that we are the News Of The World? Ethics should ALWAYS be open to debate, no-one’s more so than ones own.

      So if you want to actually debate something I’m happy. If not then you are acting like a troll and your comments will be treated as such.

      Thanks

  15. Stan B. says:

    And had Lind been Jesus, she would have written your sins in blood with her finger. Or at least with some of the cheap red wine that must have gone to her head.

    Fortunately, yours is hard enough to keep calling it when you think it wrong, pointed enough to say why, and level enough to invite dialogue and sense when ya may not have it quite right.

    Did she “Like you” on Facebook?

  16. Student Photog says:

    I’m happy to learn via this article that actors of the documentary photography and photojournalim industry were present at our degree show. It’s a shame that they didn’t interact more with the students, who were all too ready to discuss their work and hoping for feedback. Over the course of the evening, only two people from the ASA photography collective were kind enough to introduce themselves to me and make suggestions. Big thanks to them!

    In fairness, I did spot duckrabbit engaging with some of my fellow students who had produced multimedia pieces… but I’m always frustrated that these events end up being more about socialising – in a good or a bad way – with the “in” crowd than they are about discovering and encouraging new colleagues.

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