We have to think of the photographer as her own subject in Thana Faroq’s how shall we greet the sun. For most photographers, this would be an impossible approach to take — doesn’t the camera allow hiding away your own sorrows behind that little opto-mechanical barrier that you put between yourself and your “subjects”?
While for many photographers that approach — the hiding away — is an easy and convenient cop out, this particular one does not have that option available. Having left her home land under circumstances many people will (hopefully) never have to experience and living a new life far away, in a country that while hospitable is filled not only with welcoming people but also with the likes of Geert Wilders: Neanderthalian neofascists, Faroq now faces exile in what might or might not remain a safe space.
And there are others like Faroq: women ejected from their homes, to arrive in a different environment, an environment that exchanges some problems for others. In how shall we greet the sun, we get to see some of them, some photographed against the sea, the wind blowing about their hair and clothes, some photographed in the woods. It’s very clear that theirs is a shared experience, and the women act as stand ins for the photographer herself.
There is a little envelope at the very end of the book that contains a small folded up note. “I write,” part of it reads, “because I don’t know things with absolute certainty and I often find myself in a position of digging and unburrying. [sic!]” The note saddened me a little bit because to me it came across as asking readers and viewers for permission to rely as much on text as the book does. In my experience, most photographers are reluctant to write; when they do, they often speak of their discomfort with it.
But I wish that I still had the ability to approach writing the way Thana Faroq does in this book. There is text, ample text, and for me, it’s the text that creates the book’s explosive power. The writing is raw and visceral, it’s filled with hurt, it shows someone at their most vulnerable. It’s the kind of writing that professional writers have to re-learn after years of experience with craftily putting together words for effect. It’s the real thing, and it unfolds over many pages in how shall we greet the sun, interlaced with blocks of photographs.
The above is not to intended to say that there is a problem with the photographs. No, they work very well, and their use is very effective. Towards the final third of the book, the sequence alludes to a ride back to the city at the end of the day, a day possibly spent with someone making pictures somewhere in the woods or near the ocean. As the sun sets, we enter an apartment that is solely illuminated by whatever light is still available outside.
As a viewer, you immediately feel that this is a feminine space. By that I mean that it’s a space where vulnerability and feeling are not hidden away by male bravado and denial. Instead, vulnerability and feeling infuse the space as the camera stays very close to what it intends to capture. The sense of fragility is almost too hard to bear.
But I do think that this particular section — without which the book would not even remotely work as well — has been charged up by all the words that precede it. As a writer, I’d say that there certainly are different voices (or maybe positions) in Faroq’s text. Ordinarily, seeing a writer go back and forth between different kinds of authority — the personal or professional one — would be muddying the waters. However here, the mix vastly contributes to the overall effect.
It’s one thing to be lost, and we might all know it in one way or another — even if our experiences of what it means to be lost can and will of course differ immensely. But it’s quite another to accept being lost and to make work out of it and about it. That takes courage — certainly for a photographer, because it requires to put down the camera and face yourself. Anyone can point a camera at a stranger. But to face yourself? That’s so hard!
I’m in awe of the courage it must have taken to make this book. In a world of photography that too often celebrates the supposed bravado of machismo, we desperately need a lot more work that is gentler and that does not paper over our individual and collective hurts. After all, we will only be able to attend to these hurts if we accept them and if we understand that rawness and true vulnerability are what it takes to be open to the world.
“I believe,” Faroq writes, “that the ambiguity of emotions doesn’t mean the absence of them. It just means that it’s hard to describe them.” And: “We have to put our pasts on mute mode.”
Obviously, these words specifically address the situation Faroq and the many women in the book found themselves in. But I do think that in a completely different fashion, collectively we have also become refugees from our own emotions — to the extent that larger numbers of us now project their own hurt onto others and then for the Geert Wilders types: fascist brutes who promise salvation but only deliver evil (that always comes at the expense of others).
If we want to have any chance to break this cycle of violence, then we have to bring ourselves back to our own hurt and switch off the mute mode Faroq wrote about. And in the world of photography, I see this as the best model to break the still dominant machismo with its cheap and by now very trite posturing.
Remember, “the ambiguity of emotions doesn’t mean the absence of them.” Facing ambiguity certainly pays off, as how shall we greet the sun demonstrates. Remaining in the space where ambiguity reigns brings its own rich rewards.
how shall we greet the sun; photographs and text by Thana Faroq; 168 pages; Lecturis; 2023
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