Cartooning the big issues

Geneva. It’s a wealthy, safe and pretty place that is, at times, surprisingly left-leaning especially when it comes to issues such as freedom of speech. Every year, the city sponsors a lakeside exhibition of “Cartoons for Peace” from all over the world. Beautiful? Maybe. Brilliant? Absolutely!

Cartooning 1

One hundred huge panels display the best of cartoons that accuse, taunt, embarrass and blame the powerful, the corrupt and the cruel. The pencil-wielding warriors don’t pull the punches. Those war-mongers must really cringe! However, the exhibition has mission creep. It’s no longer just about peace. Other subjects that reach us daily via global media get a caustic drenching from these observant graphicists. For the viewer, the slick images fire an intriguing alloy of emotions.

Cartooning 2

Boligan (Mexico)

There is a universal desire for peace. There’s an app for everything now. Hey! You military guys! It really could be that easy!! This makes me feel a kind of pity for humanity.

Some people can think up jokes. They have the ability to merge different elements of a narrative into a timely punch-line. I guess a cartoon is a kind of visual joke. A few disparate observations or notions are drawn together into one arresting and complete visual concept. At first glance, a cartoon is simple; but the viewer is invited to examine the image, refine its elements and then “get” the interaction of those elements in a mental join-the-dots exercise. There is then an emotional impact. What fascinates me more is that by “getting” a cartoon about a big global issue, I feel I am actually doing something about it. Ha! Slactivism!

Cartooning 3

Cristina (Belgium)

A major car company. Guilty smile. Lies. Children’s toy. Innocence. This amuses me.

Cartooning 4

Joel Pett (USA)

Superior American military technology. Unthinking citizens. Anonymised “collateral damage” (especially children.) Killing at a distance. Unknown and unseen perpetrator. This makes me very angry. Too close to the bone!

Cartooning 5

Hani Abbas (Syria)

Writing not possible although it should be. Erasing is the norm. Censorship. I feel a kind of objective concern. I’ve never lived for any length of time in a country where I cannot say what I think. I admire the simplicity of the image.

Cartooning 6

Shahrokh (Iran)

Sinister anonymity of a man of violence. Juxtaposition of delicate flower and ammunition. Making a wish. Wind blowing right to left (east to west?) I am afraid.

Cartooning 7

Firoozeh (Iran)

Migrants from islamic countries. Families about to drown. Only possibility of survival is Europe. I feel sad and enormously lucky to live where I do. I also feel a responsibility but I am not sure what I can do.

Cartooning 8

Brandan (South Africa)

A compass. Is it worth undertaking the journey? Stark choices for Africans. Desperation. I feel totally helpless.

A cartoon may work in our minds like a joke but is not always amusing. Unlike the verbal equivalent, a cartoon on being propagated can identify its talented creator. Let’s not forget that in many countries, the emotional reaction to these clever drawings might end in a prison sentence or worse for the cartoonist responsible.

“Révélations” at the Musée Rath

I visit “Revelations” at the Musée Rath in Geneva This is that rare kind of exhibition that you can just get lost in. It is where the cultural, scientific and political history of this extraordinary town meets photography. Archives have been searched, venerable institutions have collaborated and local photographers interviewed. The exhibition is beautifully designed. No surprise that Philippa Kundig had a hand in it!

What an extraordinary invention photography is! In a week of troubled politics on both sides of the atlantic, I am reminded of just how powerful images can be. Here, I limit my self to three photos indicating the diversity of what’s on show. I hope to whet your appetite.

Revelations 1

Jean-Louis Populous, La rue du Marché, 1848

Yes… 1848! What an amazing image! Down-town Geneva nearly 170 years ago. I am fascinated by this photo. Where was the photographer positioned? What kind of camera? Where are the people? I imagine the taking of such a photograph was such a big event that the whole street was cleared.

Revelations 2

Anne-Julie Raccoursier, Remote Viewer 3 (part of), 2007

Anne-Julie Raccoursier’s contribution is two huge juxtaposed photos. One shows an aerial view of a graveyard for military aeroplanes with a road running through it. It is simply mind-boggling. I guess we understand that fighters and bombers are built and sold and maybe used in armed conflict but I am not sure we give much thought to what happens to them when they are redundant. Well, now we know!

Revelations 3

A. Stephani, Radiograph of a giant Dolium (Tonna Galea), 1971

My absolute favourite is an x-ray image of a sea shell. I try to determine why it appeals so much. There is something very beautiful about the rhythm and progression of the lines and curves of this creature as revealed by radiography. It speaks of the mathematics of natural forms; of fractals and the Fibonacci sequence. But there is something else; a fleeting, gorgeous pop image. Perhaps I shouldn’t admit to it, but it reminds me of Marilyn Monroe standing over the subway grate. Now, that’s a photo!!

Everyone is a photographer now and “Révélations” has something for everyone. This dazzling exhibition reveals the importance of photography in our lives and how it has advanced humanity. Go to Musée Rath. Take your time.


Northumberlandia 1

I have a meeting with a lady. She is, apparently, very beautiful. She is called Northumberlandia. Although we have not met before, I know I am about to become one more admirer. I drive a long way to our rendez-vous in Northumberland, England. The weather gods have served up the vilest of British weather for our first encounter. I emerge from a dripping beech forest and catch my first awe-inspiring side-view of her face and breasts. She takes no notice of the lashing wind and rain.

The full extent of her beauty is revealed when, later, I go on-line and find an aerial view taken in unimaginable sunshine.

Northumberlandia 2

Ol Batten’s award winning drone photo of Northumberlandia, 2015

Northumberlandia, seen from above or explored at ground level, has the air of some ancient pagan queen. She is immense. She exudes fertility. Her coy pose and raised right index finger indicate that she is at once inviting and admonishing. Her vital statistics are impressive. She is four years old. She is 400 metres frown crown to toe. Her nose is 40 metres above the ground. She weighs 1.5 million tonnes. Her features are drawn by six kilometres of sandstone paths. She is beautiful stuff on a grand scale. I am smitten.

This is one more dazzling project conceived by architect-sculptor Charles Jencks who took inspiration from the feminine forms of the distant Cheviot hills. Today, these hills are lost to view.

Northumberlandia 3

Big public sculpture doesn’t get better than this. The whole enterprise was sponsored by the BANKS Group. They run the adjacent Shotton surface coal mine from which the rock and clay for the construction were transported. DEFRA provided additional funds. The land was donated by the Blagdon Estate. The site is co-managed by the Land Trust and the Northumberland Wildlife Trust. It warms my heart that such co-operation is possible in the spirit of creativity and environmentally conscious development.

Northumberlandia 4

I stand atop her right breast. I can’t help thinking that the undulating green of her right hand could have been the work of Old Tom Morris.

I am alone. The wind blows harder. I struggle unsuccessfully to keep my camera dry. I decide to take cover in the visitor centre. I meet Wayne, Northumberlandia’s warden. Today, he has time to chat. Nice guy. He makes me a warming cup of coffee. He is justifiably proud of his charge. When the weather is fine, he tells me, the place is heaving. Last year saw 90,000 visitors. I buy a post card, say goodbye and trudge soddenly back to my car.  I am cold, wet, enthralled and enchanted. I am determined to see Northumberlandia again.