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no answer (the melon seller)

A shiny black van pulls up, wheels skidding on gravel. Five, maybe six men step out all at once. They wear black t-shirts and army fatigues. Their heads are shaved, slick with sweat in the afternoon sun. Their arms are huge, squeezed into those shirts a few sizes too small. All at once they circle a fruit stand by the road. It is made of plywood, held together with a few screws. One good sneeze could level it. Rows of torpedo shaped melons sit on bulging shelves, below them a cage full of watermelons. The men yank smartphones from their pockets, taking pictures, making calls. I assume they are some covert team that extorts vendors, either sending them home and destroying the fruit or worse. I somehow expect the man does not have a permit and the right papers to sell anything. In Russia, you need permission to do just about anything. There are no five year olds with lemonade stands here. 
I cross the street, distancing myself as I glimpse the men between the cars and trolley buses tha…

leaving the party


I got kicked out of a photography group for saying "all art is political, in some way". Someone had posted an image of a protestor, and there was a consensus that politics should not be allowed in this community. People wrote all in caps, how they needed a safe space away from the headlines, to post their landscapes, their scantily clad women, their close-up pictures of flowers. I know it was no great loss, but the expat life is often a lonely one. No one wants to be told to leave the party.

Since then, I have paid much more attention to the role of politics in creative work. I took it as a given, a latent set of bones in the skeleton to flesh out. Social documentary work inspires no confusion. It is exactly what it is - elegant advocacy. Lights shine on unknown stories, bearing witness to events as they unfold. There is a sort of guarantee for this work, meaning - it has a place in the world. It is needed, the same as we need to know how many people died in the latest attack, how many citizens stepped up to defend a stranger, how many ran screaming into the street, how many bullets, how many wounded, how many days since the last attack.

The information can become overwhelming, as phones blink with silent alerts in the middle of the night. Of course I want to know. But how to wake up later, how to navigate the morning, how to decipher this reality and then pick up a camera or a pen, how to load another roll of film, or spread my hands across a fresh empty piece of paper. How to dig deep, and make something valuable? It seems like a very tall order. I live under a great deal of censorship here. I pick my words very carefully, even in private. I have a family.

My thoughts turn, holding up the work to the light wondering how irrelevant it may be. Who cares about some nuns in the street? Who wants to know the story behind that waiter rushing across the cobblestones with a glass in his hands? Are those young boys really smoking? What song are these men singing in the street, their heads tipped back, their mouths wide?

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