Reflective reality and Ryszard Kapuscinski

I heard somewhere that journalists are second only to politicians and estate agents as the most hated among the British public. Who actually proposed this and what survey (everything has to have a survey attached these days) provided the evidence, I don’t know, but I do know my own thoughts:

If by participating in life, somehow, regardless of intentions, you inevitably participate in its decline, what can you do to transcend it? Well i think, you can, at least, describe it.

Describing is what journalists do, so I don’t feel so bad for liking and aspiring to the best of journalism. There is, though, a wide margin between the endless conveyor belt of instant drama thrown out by newspapers and blogs forced to scratch out content on a daily basis, and what could be termed ‘literary reportage’; well documented, described, commented upon, stories.

For me, regardless of actual possibilities of photography, the interesting thing about the medium is its ability to capture, like written jornalism, for lack of a better term, a reflective reality. This is a kind of journalism, a report on perceived reality. It may only be a fraction of a second, but it’s a story nevertheless, and when done in a certain way may even faithfully describe a reality. This kind of journalism does not cancel out imagination, neither is it separate from art.

There is one particular journalist who fits the bill for me, and there are moments in his descriptions that could easily have been photographs, they are in any case photographs etched on the memory and conveyed by words. The journalist is Ryszard Kapuscinski.

Very memorable for me, in the context of photographic lucid imagery in a written form, is his description of dogs in Angola, in his book: Another Day of Life (1976), a unique and closely observed account of the collapse of Portuguese colonialism in Angola. The particular scene occurs after the departure of all the wealthy Portuguese from their suburb properties in Luanda:

The dogs were still alive.

They were pets, abandoned by owners fleeing in panic. You could see dogs of all the most expensive breeds, without masters – boxers, bulldogs, greyhounds, Dobermans, dachshunds, Airedales, spaniels, even Scotch terriers and Great Danes, pugs and poodles. Deserted, stray, they roamed in a great pack looking for food. As long as the Portuguese army was there, the dogs gathered every morning on the the square in front of the general headquarters and the sentries fed them with canned NATO rations. It was like watching an international pedigreed dog show. Afterwards the fed, satisfied pack moved to the soft, juicy mowed lawn of the Government Palace . An unlikely mass sex orgy began, excited and indefatigable madness, chasing and tumbling to the point of utter abandon. It gave the bored sentries a lot of ribald amusement.

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