13 March 2013

They knew better

I have all of Luís Bustamante's books. First and foremost, because I love to leaf through the photographs themselves. Also because they are suffused with the gentle humanity which I so much admire in their author.
And because they are so different. We are used to photographers having a personal stamping ground which they explore in new ways (or not), often with a trademark style. Luís' work is different; though there is always, in everything he does, a balanced blend of personal conscience and political awareness, content and approach are not subordinated to it.
The latest, They knew better, is in a way the most overtly political image set of those so far published, but no less humane. It follows the progress of a group of secondary school pupils through the British anti war demonstrations of 2003-2005, but looks also at what is going on around them.
I remember the student protests of the 1960s; this was the first time, since then, that the same passionate mass commitment seemed to resurface. It seems to have gone underground again; I was saddened to hear that The Guardian, supportive of the antiwar movement at the time, declined to review this book.
Shot through with both commitment and humour, it's a delightful thing to have, to hold, and to return to over and over again just for the pictures.
As with all of Luís' books, you'll find the full content available to browse (I recommend using the full screen option) here:
From the preface to They knew better:
Ten years ago, on 15 February 2003 protests against a neo-conservative war on Iraq drew millions of people across the world, the largest mass protest in history. This was the peak of a series of events that started in 2002.
By the end of 2002 and early 2003, large numbers of people mobilised against the West's preparation for war. Demonstrations took place in capital cities and at local level. For the first time in decades, people looked beyond consumer choices and started questioning the morality of their leaders' actions. On one day alone, up to 2 million people went into the streets of London and around 20 million mobilised across the world.
The demonstrations took wide sections of the British public into the streets. This is the story of a group of school children [...] who took part in demonstrations against war and neoliberalism over the years. They attended the largest London demos as well as provincial ones, ending up with the Make Poverty History demonstration in Edinburgh in July 2005.
While originally concerned with recording the group of youngsters as they went from one event to another, the camera inevitably got drawn to other participants, taking advantage of a unique opportunity to explore the rich demographics which make up British society.
The debate still goes on but it's lost much of its relevance. We've moved on as T. Blair insisted we should. The world is a different place now, although not necessarily better. Despite the overwhelming use of force and cutting-edge technology, the war on terror hasn't been won but nobody seems to talk about it any more.
A guilty silence surrounds the lies that preceded the attack on Iraq, its catastrophic effect and the flagrant abuses of international law and human rights. The perpetrators are still at large and some of them are treated as celebrities. An air of impunity surrounds those who went against the wishes of so many people.
The waste of resources in this and other crazy schemes has pushed the West into a situation in which it just cannot go to war at will. The Western economy has been on the brink of collapse and many people have been disenfranchised.
There was a sense of freedom and hope that lingered for a time even in the dark moments of preparation for war and then during the unleashing of the world's most devastating war machine on a country that was already on its knees. It became tangible that the world wasn't divided just between the audacious and the don't cares. For a short time humanity was possessed by an energy which had been lost by generations of conformism.

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