I first came across JJ Tiziou’s photography through his work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (you can see some of the photos here). I found his style, and of course his subject matter, compelling.
Recently I was able to interview JJ for Shareable about how financing social justice work – particularly media work – is a challenge, despite how vital this work is. Telling our stories, celebrating our victories, and analyzing our defeats are some of the most important things we can do to strengthen social movements. We need people like JJ to continue doing this work, just like we need magazines and websites as vehicles to tell these stories.
Here’s an excerpt from the interview:
Jen: JJ, maybe you can start by talking about how digital technologies and online content sharing sites have changed photography?
JJ: The advent of digital photography opened up the possibility of a new practice of photography as public art. Digital makes it easier for photographers to invest in personal community projects, and easier to share images directly with the communities that are being photographed. And millions of hobbyists are now practicing photography as public art through Flickr, Facebook, etc.
This is great, but this practice of sharing images online is also directly at odds with the ways that photographers have traditionally earned a living. Photographers have been able to survive as professional imagemakers through strict enforcement of copyright, by licensing images on a pay-per-use model. In other words, to survive as a photographer, you’re supposed to practice the opposite of sharing.
Yes, every year I post about where I am planning on donating money and encourage you to donate as well. Here’s my post from last year, where I talk about what the financial impact to social movements would be if people gave away just 1% of their income.
Today, I would like to reference, again, this quote from activist and media scholar Sut Jhally , which while it talks about independent media, can obviously be applied to broader social movements as well:
“Independent media have been severely under-funded relative to how much individuals give to the corporate media. If you have cable, and I include myself in this when I think about where I spend my money, my media money, if you have cable or satellite TV or a connection to the internet, you are directly funding corporate media. People think nothing of spending $100 or more a month on cable and the internet. And yet independent media has to beg to get a few scraps. I just did the math on this. It’s sometimes really good to fantasize—fantasy is always a prerequisite for social change—Let’s presume you could get a million people on the Left to take media issues seriously. That’s actually, given that MoveOn has three and a half million members and a lot of other sites have membership in the millions, that is not an unreasonable thing. Let’s say you could get a million people to rethink their media consumption and their media expenditures. Let’s say you could get a million people to spend $100 a month on independent media. If you don’t have a calculator, I’ll do the math for you. That is 1.2 billion dollars. If we act together and if we make the media something that is central to how we think about politics, think of what that would make possible, and how we would aid progressive forces in this country. Why don’t we do that? Because media issues are still seen as secondary.”
We need to start taking the issue of funding seriously. Now.
So, here’s who I will be giving money to this year:
OK, so we’re gonna have few posts in reverse order here.
Last week I spoke at the Black Rose bookstore in Portland, Oregon. First of all, thanks to Kevin for setting it up and the crew at the bookstore for hosting, and for running a great space.
Ostensibly, the talk was about two projects I’ve worked on recently: the Clamor pamphlet, and the article I wrote on independent media for In The Middle of A Whirlwind. I chose to focus on two issues common to these pieces: money and power.
In both, I talk about how I feel that within activist culture, we focus on the evils of money and power, and often resist understanding them and using them to our advantage. I know that because our knowledge of financial matters was so limited, we made many mistakes at Clamor that hurt us later. This is perfectly illustrated by Stephen Duncombe, whom I quote in the Whirlwinds article: “Progressives worry about abuse of power before we have it, this is a sign of our reluctance to pursue it.” When I asked Duncombe to expand on this point, he replied:
Power is scary. With it comes responsibility. As with leadership, if you don’t acknowledge that power is necessary then you won’t do anything about re-imagining it. I think leftists have gotten very comfortable being critics of power. Criticism on the road to power may be useful, but criticism by itself, in our day and age, is actually an attendant to dominant power. “Look,” the powers that be argue, “we have critics, that means you have freedom and democracy, right?” Criticism, by itself, is just self-serving politics: it makes the critic feel better about their non-compliance but changes nothing. Therefore I’m interested in moving past criticism and really thinking about what is necessary to win power. For without power you can’t change things. And I’m in this game to change the world, not just comment about how bad it all is.