Today I was working at the Kupang airport, killing time between flights. And then, this happened.
These days, it’s unusual for new printed media to be born. But when they do, they follow a long-standing tradition, going back to the age of the very first newspapers, when they were barely one-page lampoons handed out at the market.
Back in the day, the first issue of a newspaper would outline the publisher’s editorial philosophy. The first editorial would describe a newspaper’s approach and values. Readers could therefore get a summary of a daily’s working methodology and ethical guidelines, its geographical reach, and its position on issues of interest to their community. It was, in short, a statement of principles; a road map to guide both editors and readers.
I deemed it pertinent to do something similar upon launching this blog. After all, it’s only fair to establish certain ground rules of sorts, so I can narrow the topics I’ll write about and readers know what to expect.
So here it goes.
Why is this blog called ‘Amphibians’?
I’m very attracted to the concept of ‘cultural amphibians,’ originally coined by writer Stefan Zweig to refer to people who lived across borders (read, in exile) during both World Wars and couldn’t fully identify with the identity of any one country. Rather than feeling disenfranchised and torn between loyalties, they lived ‘amphibiously,’ graciously moving between nationalities, languages and identities.
These ‘amphibians’ were able to breathe in and out of the ‘water.’ They were able to use their legs and tell those living in land: “You know, the people who live in the seas are quite nice, actually.” But they could also dive in, breath underwater and tell fellow swimmers: “You should give land people a chance; they are just like you.”
In other words, the first ‘cultural amphibians’ could relate to two or more cultures and foster mutual understanding. They were naturally gifted to use cross-cultural communication and make people understand a different culture or social group.
These ‘hybrid’ people with multiple homelands were in many cases those forging the peace movement. Their experience had taught them that nations that were supposed to be ‘enemies’ weren’t all that different.
The concept of ‘cultural amphibians’ has also been applied to sociology, referring to people who can seamlessly flow and bridge the gap between different social groups.
I feel we should all be ‘amphibians:’ able to adapt to a changing environment and to empathize with different types of people.
Similarly, international journalism should bear in mind its responsibility to make people at home understand the nuances of distant cultures and places. Yet it’s impossible that correspondents do so unless they become full-fledged ‘amphibians;’ they must comprehend both cultures in depth and be able to decode their values and norms.
I also think it’s possible to apply a similar approach to better understand our world. We need to use a combination of different disciplines to shed lights on issues that affect us.
Sometimes I find it strange that people who share a strong interest in the humanities rarely talk to each other. Journalists, humanitarians, scientists, academics, activists… are often interested in the same social issues, yet they rarely come together to find a solution that incorporates their different concerns and expertises.
So what will this blog be about?
This blog will talk primarily about photography and photojournalism. Yes. These days, however, the lines between the ‘classic’ photographic genres (documentary, commercial, editorial, art, news, etc.) are withering away and I’ll be paying special attention to the work of photographers who are not afraid to be innovative and incorporate techniques once exclusive to other categories.
The ‘amphibious’ approach will also be used when I talk about other topics, trying to find the spot where two or more fields overlap. Because of my background working across sectors and continents, I’m interested in the commonalities of aid, business, communication, human rights, information management, journalism, photography, political science and sociology.
I would like this blog to become an open space for dialog, not only for like-minded people but also for those in disagreement. Apart from the comments (often the most important part of a blog), I’ll be interviewing and featuring guest posts from leading professionals in these fields.
I hope you enjoy it and come back regularly (and don’t forget to subscribe to the RSS feed).