who is allowed to speak?
Since becoming a photographer, I have been fascinated with the question of agency in the relationship between photographer and subject. Perhaps consequently, my work as a photographic artist poses the Spivakian question: “How does ‘Who is allowed to speak?’ affect what we see?” Using various pedagogical and artistic techniques in vastly diverse contexts including over a decade of work in Ethiopia, my projects incorporate the voices of my subjects, which often collide with history and subvert prior modes of seeing. These “subjects” frequently become collaborators in works that we author together. These collaborations take various forms. In Sudden Flowers (1999-2009), I engaged in several public interventions in a neighborhood in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with a collective of young photographers and filmmakers that I co-founded with Ethiopian filmmaker Daniel Debebe Negatu. In Studio Karmen/Another Beautiful (2010), I documented a studio photographer in Jordan whose painful estrangement from his homeland in Palestine filtered into his photographic practice. In Pictures Woke the People Up (2007-2012), with collaborator Wendy Ewald, I worked with members of the Innu Nation to stage outdoor installations, guerrilla film screenings and to revisit the archive of images that defined their identity as indigenous Canadians. In my most recent project Untitled Project On The Novel That Killed Baalu Girma (2011), the project takes form in several mediums – photographs, film, public performance and collaborative translation – in dialog with thirty-year-old texts left behind by assassinated Ethiopian journalist, novelist and government official Baalu Girma.
I have always been interested in deconstructing the binary relationship between photographer and subject and -- through collaboration, alternative pedagogy, deep listening and conversation -- in blurring the lines of authorship and stretching (or breaking) the rules of image production and display to develop a process that aims to replace expired aesthetic and political paradigms. Sometimes I do that by blurring the line between myself as a photographer and my subjects, or between myself as a teacher and my students, or between any other and myself. Sometimes I do it by displaying work in unexpected contexts or without clear goals. Always, I aim to create critical conversation about how expression on the linguistic, geographic or political margins can enter a local and a global canon.