The Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize 2016

Taylor Wessing LLP is an international law firm with offices in 33 countries around the world. Since 2008 they have been sponsoring a major portrait competition at the National Portrait Gallery in London. Taylor Wessing specialises in several fields of law. These include: energy, financial institutions, healthcare, life sciences and private wealth.

Out of 4,303 images submitted (from 1,842 photographers) for the 2016 prize, 57 were selected for the exhibition. Three winners are declared.

The winner of the 2016 Taylor Wessing prize (who receives £15,000.00) this year was Claudio Rasano. His image is of a South African schoolboy in uniform. The image was captured with a medium format film camera, [1] outdoors in natural light, against a plain background. It is a compelling image. Certainly it was a good choice for the first prize. It is difficult to say how a photo – which is essentially a school photo – should work so well. It helps that the subject has a frank, sympathetic, and somewhat submissive look. And that he is quite good looking. The composition is pretty simple; just boy and tie. The tie is set off to one side, and the edge of the tie forms a line with the boy’s pronounced cheek-bone. Had the tie been in place, in the centre of his shirt, underneath his jacket, the image would have lacked this strong line. (Was this placed, or a happy accident? Only Claudio Rasano knows). This is a strong and simple composition of an attractive subject with the added allure of his submissiveness. His submissiveness makes us feel good, and safe. No threats here. Even a slight hint of erortic availability.

The second prize went to Joni Sternbach for her image of a surfing couple. The image was captured with a view camera onto a wet collodion plate. This is a process where a positive of the image is formed directly onto a chemical coated plate inserted into the camera. The image is developed directly on the same plate – and at the same time as it is taken. (Which means that the developing chemicals and tank have to be present at the scene of the shooting). Personally this critic has a strong reaction against the image. The young woman’s pose seems to speak of a kind of self-absorption which he finds extremely unattractive. The image has a dated quality. It could have been taken in the 1970s. Quite possibly the use of the wet collodion process, naturally associated with old photographs – and a toned black and white tonal range – subtracts from the image that element of location in time which is typically deducible from the kind of camera and film used. The male in the image has a strong animalistic presence. Perhaps this critic’s dislike for the image is down to the fact that he really can’t see any intellectual qualities in the subjects with which he could engage. That said; it is certainly a professional piece of work; and this is just a personal reaction. Others may well like this image.

Third prize went to Kovi Konowiecki for two images of a Jewish settler at home in the West Bank. One is an image of the father and the other of his two daughters. The image was taken “at their home in an Israeli settlement about 10km south of Jerusalem in the mountains of the West Bank”. This map of the occupied West Bank seems to suggest that this is a West Bank settlement. In 1979 the UN Security Council passed Resolution 446 which stated that:

the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East [2]

More recently, the UN Security Council has passed Resolution 2334 which re-affirms this position. The UN Press Release concerning this Resolution declares:

The Security Council reaffirmed this afternoon that Israel’s establishment of settlements in Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, had no legal validity, constituting a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the vision of two States living side-by-side in peace and security, within internationally recognized borders. [3]

The images – and more to the point, their selection in a prestigious international photo competition, seems to be one in the eye for the Palestinians and for UN Resolution 2334 and its predecessors. Slightly strange one might think from an international law firm. (The catalogue information is reticent about the name of the settlement. The sitter’s name is given as Shimi Beitar Illit. Beitar Ilit is the name of an illegal settlement in occupied Palestinian land 10km south of Jerusalem). [4]

The images were taken with a full-frame 35mm format digital camera using natural light. A large window on one side of the sitters seems to provide most of the illumination. The background is a highly decorated floral wall-paper. The window light is flattering to the man but not so flattering for the two young girls – whose faces on the side away from the window are cast into shadow. (Except the shadow slightly complements the frown that one of them is wearing). The sitters are well-dressed and look characterful. But the lighting could have been better handled. The judges comment that they were “immediately drawn to Konowiecki’s striking and ornate portraits, which provide a glimpse into an otherwise inaccessible community”. One suspects that it is the difference that appeals to them; though a Jewish settlement 10km from Jerusalem is hardly “inaccessible”. As we continue to review a selection of other images we can see that the judges are, in general, drawn to images of subjects who are not usually photographed; the very old, those with extreme special needs, those in extremes of hardship, older people exploring their bodies, and so on.

The three winning images (taking the last two as a single entry) can be seen on the National Portrait Gallery web site.

Following are some comments about some of the other images; which strike this author particularly.

Lauria Griffiths and Jonty Tacon offer a nice image of two boys in Lithuania posing with, apparently, a shared bicycle. This is a well-composed image, with a strong central line (a tree placed between the two subjects) creating an even symmetry. A piece of children’s playground apparatus off to one side, the same colour as the bike, balances the composition and also breaks the symmetry, which would otherwise be oppressive. The red of the bicycle complements the autumn colours of the trees. This is a nice evocative image of the trust and friendship between the two boys. It also gives a bit of flavour of life in this corner of Lithuania. It was shot with a full-frame digital camera using natural light.

Another duet, Karl Ohiri ad Riikka Kassinen, shot a boy-scout in Lagos, Nigeria. The photograph was taken in the street using a plain yellow backdrop. This image was also captured with a full-frame digital camera and with natural light. The colours of the boy’s uniform, yellow trousers and a green shirt, create an image which is composed of strong, simple, colours. It is a nice, clean image. The accompanying text in the catalogue refers to the frayed neckerchief and “uniform too large for his small frame” as evidence of the subject’s “vulnerability”. Some people of course want to see “vulnerability” everywhere (except perhaps where it needs to be seen, see below). – Possibly the subject does look a tiny bit “vulnerable” (if you look hard); but then he is a young boy taken off the street for an impromptu photo, so it is hardly surprising.

Matt Hamon has taken two images of people in the US State of Montana who are part of a group practising primitive living skills. The images were taken with a medium format camera and the photographer used a mix of flash and natural light. It may be a matter of taste but the use of flash, while well executed, is not altogether appealing for this writer. The majority of the portraits in the exhibition, perhaps surprisingly, use only natural light and this perhaps makes these ‘flashed’ images stand out. The colours and the settings in these images are interesting. One can get a sense of the natural and outdoor’s based life which is being depicted. The image of the man with his axe, who is engaged in chopping wood, is particularly strong. But, somehow, in an exhibition full of images shot only with natural light, they jar just a little bit. It may be a matter of taste, and in any event, they are striking images.

Another strong image is the portrait of UK politician Nigel Farage by Charlie Clift.  Charlie Clift shoots editorial and commercial work. His studio lit shot of Nigel Farage shows the influence of both genres. It is a stylish picture but also authentic. It gives an impression of Mr Farage’s character. (The author of the catalogue text accompanying this images chokes a little over Nigel Farage and has to qualify the subject as someone “who divides opinion – celebrated and criticised for his politics and opinions in equal measure”. They can’t just say ‘Nigel Farage’ without some kind of arms-length qualification). The image is shot with a full-frame digital camera. It looks like quite a simple lighting setup. Possibly just one large softbox or umbrella in front of and just off-centre to the subject. The simple background (with the turquoise colour matching the table which Farage is leaning on) supports the image well. Cigar in hand Farage steals the show. A well-executed piece of work.

One of this reviewer’s favourite images is the monochrome image of a shipping company chairman sitting in his office with 3 staff. The image was taken in London by Hania Farrell also using a full-frame digital camera. However; despite being shot indoors only natural light is used. (A slow shutter speed and wide aperture have allowed a low ISO so as to preserve detail. The wide angle has meant that a reasonable depth of field has been maintained despite the use of the wide aperture). The chairman is seated, and looking down. His three staff members are all looking at him. One perhaps as an equal but the other two, perhaps more junior members of staff, stand, as if waiting for instructions. The sense of waiting creates a palpable sense of expectancy. The viewer is, almost painfully, left waiting for something to happen. But what? The composition has been aided by certain structures in the room; such as a triangular alcove, which is used to frame the staff members. This image is a great piece of work because it generates a whole sense of enigma and mystery out of a single print. Wonderful.

Tom Merilion offers two images of street children in Tanzania taken in a studio using natural light. The camera used was a full-frame mirrorless digital model. (The Sony A7R II). The first image is a tinker photographed with his bag over his shoulder. The second shows a young woman called Anastazia, in  a red dress. There is no indication of how Anastazia makes her living on the streets. The practice of taking street urchins off the street and photographing them in a studio was a practice not uncommon in Victorian times. As the catalogue text says this “disconnects” them from their environment. The catalogue attempts to persuade us that this allows the focus to shift to small details. The burnt arm of the young girl. The Chelsea football glove which the boy “proudly” wears. On the other hand this “disconnect” has the effect of trying to make a fashion shoot out of abject poverty and desperation. Seeing the young people in their environment might send a political message. Photographing them in a studio where their “expressions and poses” become the subject of attention hides the social and economic context from sight and invites us to admire the individuals. While we are informed that the photographer took the images for a charity which works with “vulnerable children in Tanzania” the young people themselves are not described as vulnerable. On the contrary we are told that “their expressions and poses suggest strength and quiet dignity in the face of intensely difficult lives”. There is no sense that the author of the catalogue text considers that it might be better if such opportunities to demonstrate “quiet dignity” did not exist. The author of the catalogue text can consider a boy “vulnerable” because his Scout uniform is too big. But desperate street children are praised for their endurance. We have to accept that the charity which commissioned this work was acting in good faith. We also have to assume that the photographer was acting in good faith. It is, however, a disturbing piece of work.

Rachel Molina has taken a photograph of an elderly woman in care home. The hand of the carer is visible in the shot and rests on the main subject’s shoulder. Once again we are invited to consider the subject as “vulnerable”. No “quiet dignity” here. It is a good portrait; which gives us insight into the life of the sitter. The composition is aided by the contrasting colours; the red of the main sitter’s top, and the blue on the sleeve of the carer. Depth of field and framing/cropping are handled well. The image was shot indoors with a full-frame digital camera using natural light. The catalogue text assures us that the subject is “attentively cared for”. That may well be. It may be reading too much into the image but for this viewer the care looks quite professional. Not as “intimate” as the catalogue text suggests. Questions about institutionalised v. family care which could be raised by such an image are thus not addressed. We are invited to accept that institutional care is “intimate” and “attentive”. A message which would be welcomed by one of the private companies which make their profits out of running care homes in the UK.

Fabio Forin has provided an image of his boyfriend posing on a common in South-East London. The catalogue text gushes about the “gracefully lifted arm” and the “carefree reverie” of the pose. This is reading too much into the image. The pose is affected and hardly the unconscious “reverie” advertised. Nonetheless the composition is well-constructed with (as the catalogue text observes) the body of the subject positioned so as to balance the “waistline” of the subject against the line of the edge of the hill on which he is standing. The monochrome image was taken with a cropped sensor DSLR. It is a good image. But it is not as described in the catalogue text. Precisely; the subject is not in unconscious reverie and this in turn is inevitably linked to the sexual orientation of the subject. To claim that some look is there which is not is the result of an ideological treatment which prioritises a “correct” vision over seeing reality.

Paul Stuart has taken an image of John Harrison, who is over 100 years old. And who looks bright and alive. The image was taken with a medium format digital camera in the subject’s home. Studio lighting seems to have been used though no information about lighting is supplied by the photographer. The subject, shot half-turned away from the camera, head and shoulders only, looks intently into the middle-distance. The pure black background brings attention to his face. Careful control of depth of field, and the very high resolution of the camera help to produce a striking image of very high quality. The expression of the subject indicates that the photographer had managed to build up a good rapport with him. Taking good portraits is more than just owning an expensive camera and knowing how to use it.

An image which is definitely that of a vulnerable sitter is the portrait of a special needs teenage girl taken in Mongolia by photographer Jon Prosser. The subject was born blind and has additional severe learning difficulties. She is photographed from the waist up, seated on a chair in her home. The subject is presented in profile. As the catalogue text remarks, the carefully arranged bow on the girl’s hair speaks of a “doting” mother. The sitter has an expression as if she is searching the air, trying to read her surroundings. This is perhaps how she navigates her world. The portrait thus does a good job, of giving us insight into the character of the sitter. The photographer has used just natural light, perhaps a window behind the photographer. As with Paul Stuart’s image of a centenarian we can sense that the photographer had made a real connection with his subject. The image was shot using just natural light with a cropped sensor mirrorless camera.

Karsten Thormaehlen has taken an image of a US lady who reached the age of 116. Susannah Mushatt Jones was the daughter of sharecroppers. Her grandparents have been slaves (or “had lived in slavery” as the catalogue text tactfully puts it).  Sadly, Susannah Mushatt Jones died in May 2016. This is a great portrait. In this author’s view it could have been a contender for the main prizes. Technically it is far better than the two images which won third prize.  It is a tightly cropped head and shoulders shot, lit by (apparent) window light to one side. The subject is wearing slightly dated clothing but which nonetheless aids in creating a sense of her character; a head-scarf and a blouse with an elaborate bow. (Again), a simple (dark) background helps to bring our attention to the face. The subject’s eyes are closed as if she is looking back at her memories. This device helps bring us into the picture and helps to convey a sense of the subject’s long life full of experience. It is a simple portrait but manages to convey a real feeling for the subject and to connect us to her as we contemplate her looking inwards. It was shot with a full-frame DSLR.

The cover picture on the exhibition catalogue is a profile head and shoulders shot of a man photographed in Shoreditch High Street in London. The subject, originally from Guinea-Bissau, is wearing a smart jacket, natty shirt and crimson red hat. He is shot against a simple white background. (We aren’t told how the photographer managed to find this studio like background to hand in Shoreditch High Street). Shot in profile, we learn less about the subject than we do about some of the other subjects in the exhibition. Perhaps this in turn tells us that part of taking a good portrait is a period of getting to know the subject and establishing a rapport. In this case we are told that the meeting between photographer and subject was a brief encounter. That being so a profile shot, making the most of the subject’s dress was perhaps the best approach. It is a nice shot, though lacking in the depth of character portrayal that we see in many of the other portraits in this exhibition. The photographer, David Cantor, used a cropped sensor mirrorless camera.

A special prize for new work was awarded to photographer Josh Redman for a striking and powerful image of a nude 83 year old woman. The subject is photographed against a black background. In  a disconcerting way we cannot tell if she is lying on her back or standing up. This creates an effect where she seems to be floating in space. Studio lighting has been used very effectively to add drama to the image. In a way, though, we learn less about the subject herself and more about a type of woman: “a mature woman who has spent a lifetime caring for others” in the words of the photographer. No information was provided by Mr Redman about the camera equipment he used.

For this reviewer the least appealing images in the exhibition are the two of a group of Devon teenagers. These are two photographs by photographer Sian Davey of her teenage daughter and her group of friends in Devon from (heaven help us) an entire series dedicated to this subject. Unlike the other images in the exhibition these are not considered portraits. They are unposed or semi-posed group shots taken in situ as people are going about their lives. In this case teenagers chilling in a field. The backgrounds are not, as with most of the other images in this exhibition, controlled; they are the backgrounds as we find them; a clutter of trees and shrubbery. The two images are shot in a park or wooded area. In both cases the frames crop though subject’s heads or bodies. It is difficult to see why these images were included in the final 57 images unless they were included to balance out the overall trend in favour of very simple, uncluttered backgrounds. The virtue of the first image is that the central figure in the group, the daughter herself, has quite a strong presence. (Children of photographers are often highly photogenic as they have been trained to the art from a young age). The second image shows a group of teenagers in shorts and swimwear and belongs to the genre of image which gains its effect by showing a lot of uncovered skin on young subjects. However; the real problem with these photographs is not in their technical execution. Indeed, both images show good colour control, exposure and depth of field management. The problem is that what they portray is the utterly vacuous and hedonistic lives of this group of teenagers who stare from the (first) image with a singular lack of intelligence, as they roll their roll-ups, and play with an expensive digital camera. Rather than “Martha” these images could be re-titled “Vacuity in the age of capitalism”. The juxtaposition between these images of a group of vacuous British teenagers and the very serious expressions on the faces of the two Tanzanian street children shot, in the studio, by Tom Merilion could not be greater.

 

The Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize 2016 is a political project. It is political propaganda. It is pushing the one message that Big Brother is constantly pushing these days. The main themes are all here: an exaggerated respect for sexual deviancy, a tendency to identify and over-prioritise “vulnerability” everywhere, in the old and in the young, except in those whose vulnerability is the direct result of economic exploitation, who are, instead, praised for their tenacity (“resilience” in some narratives). A blending of the modern and progressive politics of the self (gay rights, the sexuality of older women) together with a completely unreconstructed Victorian outlook (street children photographed in the studio) and corporate politics: the Israeli occupation is accepted de facto and this does not need to be discussed because the Palestinians are a non-people. Whether or not it was the aim of the Partners of Taylor Wessing to produce an installation of political propaganda for power, or whether this message is something solely to do with whoever wrote the text in the catalogue and for the message boards accompanying the pictures in the exhibition it is not possible to say. At any event all 6 judges, 2 from the National Portrait Gallery, a museum curator, a magazine editor, a photographer and a partner from Taylor Wessing seem to have been unaware that promoting a portrait of a Jewish family from the settlement movement at home in the West Bank without mentioning the political context was a contentious thing to do.

All the photographers whose work appears in the exhibition are being used. Of course they are being used to promote the corporate sponsor of the project. But, more insidiously, they are being used to promote the agenda of power – with its over-focus on the politics of the self as it continues, unabashed, its Victorian and imperialistic politics of the ruled and the rulers.

The quality of the work in the exhibition is (with one or two exceptions) exceptional. Most of the images are high-class portraiture. A simple background. Uncomplicated lighting. Attention to detail in the framing and cropping. Absolute technical control of depth of field and color balance. Simple compositions. An expression on the subject which allows something about their character to come out in the photograph. In most cases the lighting is expertly handled. In many cases, and the best images, are those where it is evident that the photographer took the trouble, or had the time to, to get to know her subject(s). These images especially work because they convey a real sense of the character of the subject. Which is what portraiture is about. It is worth visiting the exhibition or, at least buying the catalogue.

Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize 2016

National Portrait Gallery, London until 26th February 2017.

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Notes

1. The National Portrait gallery has, helpfully, published technical information for the images in the exhibition.

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_Security_Council_Resolution_446

3. https://www.un.org/press/en/2016/sc12657.doc.htm

4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beitar_Illit

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More anti-Russia propaganda in the Guardian

Really; it is so irrational that hate may be the best explanation.

This is one of the Guardian’s propaganda writers, sorry ‘journalists’, writing on Russia and Ukraine.

At least Shaun Walker has taken the trouble to visit Ukraine. (Note that he did so and was able to write his anti-Russia propaganda and then presumably to return to Moscow to write up his article – which can be read by any Russian with an Internet connection. That must be the ‘Kremlin media bubble’ and ‘oppressive media climate’ the Guardian informs us about so often).

The article concerns the recent flare-up of violence along the contact line in Eastern Ukraine.

The line promoted is the one offered by Kiev – Russia started it. There is the usual completely unevidenced claim by Kiev of convoys of Russian vehicles and supplies moving into Donbass. The area occupied by the militias (as always misleadingly named ‘Russia-backed separatists by Mr Walker – an attempt to mask over the actual aspirations of people in that area of Ukraine) is tiny. Just a fraction of the provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk are occupied by the militias. If every claim by Kiev of convoys of Russian armour and vehicles moving into Donbass was true you would hardly be able to move in this region without bumping into a Russian armoured vehicle or fuel tanker. Maybe some of it is true; but it would be good to see some evidence. Talking of evidence – the OSCE monitoring mission has been showing for some time that Kiev has been moving heavy weapons around in violation of the ceasefire. At least – both sides have. [1] This alone destroys the “it is Russian aggression” narrative.

At the present stage it is (if for one moment we think about the situation rationally – as Russia is certainly doing) extremely unlikely that Russia would have provoked the current flare-up. The new President in the White House has at least spoken conciliatory words. The Russians would have everything to gain by waiting to see if Trump will exercise some leverage on Kiev to support a settlement in the region (i.e. to oblige Kiev to implement Minsk 2). A much more likely explanation is that the current round of fighting was provoked by Kiev in an attempt to draw Russia into the conflict and thus force Trump to take their side. This theory is partly confirmed by an admission by one Ukrainian soldier in Walker’s report – who admits that Kiev has been taking territory. This theory was also supported by an accidental admission recently by a Ukrainian government minister about advancing ‘one meter at a time’. [2] This latter admission was widely reported on Russian state media and not so widely reported in the West. (But this must be because Russian state media only presents ‘fake news’?). In reality it seems that – if we look at the evidence and consider the probable explanations – this theory is the most plausible. There is no rational reason for Russia to initiate anything at the present time. To his small credit Walker does at least mention the comments by a Ukrainian soldier – but in the main his article repeats the narrative officially put out by Kiev. Does it not occur to Walker that Kiev may just be spinning a story to achieve a certain end? Apparently not.

The article then is par for the course. It supports an irrational narrative. The (rational) Russian viewpoint is striking by its absence. The aspirations of the actual people who live in Donbass and who don’t want to be part of a European Ukraine are vanished out of the picture.

It’s all pretty shameless.

Notes

1. http://www.osce.org/ukraine-smm

2. RT

Imperialistic journalism v. journalism based on universal rationality. [1]

This is an article in the Guardian about a group of Russian hackers who, apparently, have spent 3 years hacking the accounts of Russian officials – for money.

The Guardian is quite keen on this group. Previously, a Guardian journalist met with someone from the group on a yacht ‘outside a European city’.

The Guardian is quite happy to preserve the anonymity of this group, which appears to have been working to a commercial agenda. The articles are free of any condemnation or even criticism.

Apparent Russian hacking of the US Democratic Party in the run-up to the election, however, is reported on in terms of “interference”. Terms like “fake news”, “disinformation” and “cyber-espionage” activity are bandied about. All the US claims against Russia for “hacking the election” are taken as true. And this is in ‘reportage’ articles. The opinion pieces couldn’t condemn the (alleged) hacking more strongly.

Concerning another story; the woeful situation in Libya, which was torn apart by the NATO intervention in 2011, carried out on the basis of distorting a UN resolution, the Guardian today carries a report about how Russia may be about to help General Haftar seize power. The Guardian reports:

Diplomats are watching to see if Russia engages constructively in Libya, or seeks instead solely to back Haftar to undermine the laborious UN efforts to get the multitude of Libyan factions to compromise.

and

Moscow, which is eager to recover lost oil and infrastructure investments in Libya has feted Haftar, and also tended to his wounded soldiers.

“Constructively”, of course, means in line with Western interests and plans. That Moscow may be motivated by considerations regarding its oil and infrastructure investments in Libya is quite possibly true. That the West is motivated by exactly the same considerations in backing the process they are backing, is not mentioned. We are perhaps supposed to believe the usual hogwash that the West is always acting from some high and disinterested moral principals? Of course they are not. This is an article in Der Spiegel detailing the competition between European firms for a share of the Libyan oil market right at the time of the 2011 attacks on Libya. It shows how the “rebels” were already working on deals with oil companies even before Gaddafi was toppled (butchered on the battlefield with the assistance of the SAS).

What we see here is that the Guardian journalists write articles, without thinking, which adopt the narrative of Western power. The articles are written from the point of view that the West is “right” and anyone in conflict with the West is “wrong”. This is an imperialist outlook – which essentially dates from the Victorian era. It appears to be largely unconscious. Morality, as Kant pointed out, only works if it applies to everyone, equally, all of the time. There are two possible perspectives which journalists can write from. One is the imperialist perspective. From this point of view our spies are good, theirs are bad. We act out of high moral motives; they act out of low and sinister motives. And so on. This is a sort of “my country first” position. It has nothing to do with universal rationality. From a perspective of universal rationality such assumptions are not made. From this perspective one looks at the act as an act regardless of who made it. It would be entirely possible to do journalism from a perspective of rational universality. Such journalism could contribute to world peace. Imperialistic journalism will only prolong the war.

 

 

Lies from Winchester College, Hampshire, about child sexual abuse

A series of allegations have surfaced about a senior figure in the Church of England Evangelical movement. The allegations are that during he 1970’s this man carried out regular and repeated homosexual sado-masochistic beatings of boys and young men – both at Christian camps and, apparently, in his garden shed in Winchester.

It appears that Winchester College (a “leading public school”) knew about these activities and did not report the matter to the police. The present authorities at Winchester College have issued a media statement. The text is copied here:

Physical Punishment, 1977 ‐ 1982

Winchester College deeply regrets the terrible ordeals of the victims and pays tribute to their courage in speaking out.   The College has never sought to conceal these dreadful events.  Nothing was held back in 1982 in the school’s enquiries. Housemasters were informed, and many parents consulted.  The then Headmaster met John Smyth and required him to undertake never again to enter the College or contact its pupils.  No report was made to the police at the time, not least because, understandably, parents of the victims felt that their sons should be spared further trauma, and these wishes were respected.  We do not know whether any pupils or parents, undergraduates or university authorities, reported the matter directly to the police.

College authorities did their best to deal responsibly and sensitively with a difficult situation, in accordance with the standards of the time.  That John Smyth went on to abuse further, reveals the inadequacy of those standards.  The law today is very different from 35 years ago, insisting that any allegation must be immediately reported to the authorities. Winchester College has already been in contact with the police regarding the allegations and will assist further in any criminal investigation.

The School has already reached out to victims where it has been able to do so.  A Victim Support Plan has been drawn up, and access to this provision is available to any former pupil who has been affected by these appalling events.

Comments:

This is a truly disgusting attempt to evade any responsibility and precisely what we would expect from a school such as Winchester College. Firstly; what is alleged is anything but the innocuous sounding “physical punishment”. The alleged abuser held no official role in the school (at least he was not  a teacher). It seems he simply hung around preying on young men who were interested in Christianity. He invited them – according to the allegations – to his shed and abused them there. This has nothing, zero, to do with ‘physical punishment’. It would appear that Winchester College is trying to cover up this foul abuse by downplaying it as “physical punishment”, which would have been lawful at the time.

The most sickening aspect of this attempt to evade any responsibility however lies in the attempt to blame “the standards of the time”. They are trying to say that they followed the “standards of the time” – and it was the standards which were not good enough. Thus – no blame can be attached to them. However; there were no “standards” at that time – as there are today. (As in standards of ‘Child Protection’). The “standards” referred to here are an invention of Winchester College. It is true that at the time (the 1980s) it was characteristic of institutions to deal with this kind of scandal by attempting to hush it up. But that is not a standard. The problem is (and we would hope that at least the ‘Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse‘ manages to establish this) that at that time institutions – such as Winchester College – acted in these matters only to protect themselves. Abusers were left free to abuse others. (In a sordid attempt to blackmail potential critics Winchester College tries to explain that this was done to protect the children from trauma. In reality being part of a cover-up protects no one from trauma. This would be a truism of child protection today and it is astonishing that Winchester College presents it as a reason for their inaction). In trying to construct this illusion about “standards of the time” Winchester College is trying to evade responsibility. In attempting a new cover-up Winchester College shows that it is still not ready to take responsibility. Those who don’t learn from history are, of course, condemned to repeat it. (Interestingly, during the 1980s history was not taught as a subject at Winchester College…)

Even today Winchester College clearly has no grasp of the law and regulations concerning Child Protection. They write: “The law today is very different from 35 years ago, insisting that any allegation must be immediately reported to the authorities.” That isn’t the case. There is currently a campaign by some charities to have such a law passed. But it is not currently the law. This is explained in a government consultation document on mandatory reporting: “There is currently no general legal requirement on those working with children to report either known or suspected child abuse or neglect”.  [1]. If Winchester College can’t even get basic facts right in an important statement about alleged serious abuse we can ask – what do they know about current Child Protection standards?

This author had the misfortune to attend Winchester College during the 1980s. He was abused by a revolting alcoholic house-master for 5 years. This man’s severe alcoholism was known to the school authorities but he was allowed to continue in post – to cause untold emotional damage to dozens of young men. When this author wrote to the current authorities at Winchester College in 2001 he was immediately referred to the College’s lawyers. When he replied pointing out that he had not mentioned legal action he received a dismissive reply that the College was pleased that he was not taking legal action about “a matter which happened such a long time ago”. The common theme is that Winchester College has only one interest; to protect itself as an institution. In neither this author’s experience, nor in their response to the current sexual abuse allegations, do we see any real evidence of contrition or apology.

My thoughts above are expressed much more eloquently by one of the abuser’s Winchester College victims:

As I said after the final news report in my silhouetted interview, I am hoping that those institutions who have known mine and other victims’ stories for so many years, but merely stepped back and observed, will now reconsider their responsibilities and act in the best interests of the victims, not themselves and their reputations. [2]

Except we can add that based on the media statement by Winchester College there doesn’t seem to be much sign of them acting in the interests of the victims and doing anything other than considering their reputations.

Notes

1. UK gov. consultation document on mandatory reporting

2. Telegraph

 

The Guardian’s departure from truth

The Guardian is continuing to produce an endless stream of anti-Russia propaganda. (They are so keen on doing this that they even publish anti-Russia stories produced by the US propaganda outlet ‘Radio Free Europe’ and Bill Gates’s charitable foundation and present them as ‘news’ [1]).

The following is an example of one approach. In this approach – a claim by activists is reported and then by a magical process morphs itself into absolute uncontested truth.  – We should, of course, not be naive. Russia does sometimes operate tactically in a way that allows for ‘plausible deniability’. The presence of volunteer Russian servicemen in Eastern Ukraine might be cited as an example; it is unlikely that they are not being coordinated to some extent by Russian intelligence. Their presence as volunteers allows the Russian state to officially say that “there are no Russian troops in Eastern Ukraine”. On the other hand; elevating unproven claims against Russia made by die-hard ‘anti-Kremlin’ activists to the status of truth is not journalism either.

This article, by Guardian journalist Alec Luhn, writing in Moscow, describes how a US based Kremlin critic, Vladimir Kara-Murza, has fallen ill while on a trip to Russia. His wife has alleged that he has been poisoned. On a previous trip he apparently fell ill in a similar way. On that occasion, the Guardian reports, samples were sent to laboratories in Israel and France – but no poison was identified. That Vladimir Kara-Murza is being poisoned by the Russian state is taken for granted by the liberal anti-Russian Western propaganda machine. This is Alec Luhn:

Kara-Murza is not the first Putin critic to have been poisoned. Former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko died in London in 2006 after drinking tea that was found to be laced with polonium-210, a the radioactive substance. An inquiry last year said two Russian agents had murdered Litvinenko and that the hit was “probably approved” by Putin.

But poisoning has not been proved. No poison was “identified” in the previous case. (Which may, it seems, in fact mean that no poison was found – see below). And no evidence whatsoever of involvement by the Russian state is provided. To claim as Alec Luhn does that it is a fact that Vladimir Kara-Murza has been deliberately poisoned is itself a fabrication. And while Alex Luhn avoids directly saying the “Putin did it” by linking it to the Litvinenko case he as good as does.

Interestingly Kara-Murza himself was more circumspect when talking about the 2015 incident:

The diagnosis which I received was a high level of “intoxication,” but they did not manage to find out the reason exactly. It is hard for me to believe this was an accident, because I am a healthy person and so that one after another of my organs would start to shut down abruptly…But I can’t confirm anything because when I was in City Hospital No. 1 in Moscow, the doctors – and I am incredibly grateful to them, they pulled me back from the other world literally; the experts gave me a 5% chance of survival when I landed there — but finding out the reason was not a priority for them. And when I went for rehabilitation in the US, too much time had passed for the tests to show anything definitive. [2]

The “inquiry” mentioned by Alec Luhn into the assassination of Litvinenko was, of course, an inquiry run by a British judge which based its findings on material provided in secret by British intelligence, material which was probably based on information provided by Russian defectors. It is weak journalism to omit this background information about the “inquiry”.

So; there is no evidence of intentional poisoning. And certainly no evidence of Russian state involvement. The article incorrectly, it seems, takes it as given that these illnesses are the result of intentional poisoning and then floats the idea (in a way which allows for deniability of course) that it was an act by the Russian state. This isn’t journalism. It is a kind of faith based religion. We believe that “Putin is evil and Russia is evil” – and then whatever happens is fitted into the article of faith. This is exactly how primitive superstition works; there is a big fierce God in the sky – and then everything that happens is explained on this basis. It is a pity that highly educated Western journalists descend to this level.

Notes

1. RFE propaganda as ‘news’ in the Guardian

“News” in the Guardian provided by the Bill Gates Foundation

2. http://www.interpretermag.com/russia-update-august-19-2015/

 

Anti-friends

Therapy has monetised friendships. In an economy-society in which everything is treated as a source of profit and financial gain it was entirely inevitable that human relationships should have become monetised. Psychotherapy – as a mainstream practice – is an American innovation. It reeks of American consumerism. That isn’t to say that there aren’t greedy people in the UK who are willing to exploit the vulnerable for money. Sadly; there are plenty.

Since therapy makes its money by monetising friendships it is clear what the greatest threat to therapy is: friendships. Therapists will do everything they can to undermine any friendships their clients have, at the same time, as they assist their client towards a shallow narcissism that is eventually incapable of friendship at all.

It is normal for therapists to disparage the friends of their clients. “That person does not have my professional expertise; there is no point talking to her about your problems”. They continually fan the flames of petty annoyances; whereas actual friendship often involves overlooking minor “errors” on the part of friends or family. They may openly sabotage friendships; suggesting people break relationships rather than try to mend them. All this is done in the name of “you need to protect yourself”. Above all; by injecting commercial considerations into the heart of the client’s emotional life and by reducing the client to a babyish state of dependence in which their emotions become shallow and self-centred they obliterate any capacity the client might have to have friendships.

Therapy is the enemy for friendship. Therapy is a defining evil of this society which is so focussed on money.

More propaganda in the Guardian on Ukraine

Journalists have a substantial responsibility to write the truth. Or, least to do their level best to do so.

In a nominal democracy where public opinion influences (even slightly) public policy people who are in a position to form public opinion have a particularly strong responsibility to write the truth.

Unfortunately many journalists in the West, much of the time, either due to laziness or due to deliberately malign intent write propaganda. They produce the narrative that power wants to see produced. They don’t dig behind the given narrative of power to get at the truth. They, precisely, neglect their true function.

This is an example from the Guardian. It is a report on the recent renewed fighting in Eastern Ukraine. It is a typical piece of Western media propaganda of the kind that floods the press day in day out. It is reasonably well-written. Where it quotes checkable facts (as in “someone said such and such”) the facts check out. At the same time it gives a one-sided version of events. Naturally, the version preferred by Western power mechanisms. It does this by a) missing out the context, b) using loaded language to generate the narrative, c) selective reporting of facts and d) in place of reportage much of the article is add-on narrative and interpretation.

The background to the article is that fighting has broken out again between the forces of the (self-proclaimed) DPR and LPR and Kiev in Ukraine. The narrative preferred by the West on Ukraine is that Russia is to blame for everything. This has to be the narrative because it absolves the West from its responsibility in forcing the conflict in Ukraine and is the only way that the West will “win”, that is secure the whole pie of Ukraine into the EU and NATO. That the vast majority of people in the Eastern provinces of Ukraine do not want to join the EU or NATO [1] – and thus were wholly unrepresented by the February 2014 coup in Kiev – is simply air-brushed out of reality.  That is, the wishes and feelings of millions of Ukrainians don’t count. They are the wrong wishes from the perspective of Western liberals and so Western liberals have no qualms ignoring them.

Turning to the article. There is the usual use of loaded terms. The local militias are described as “Russia-backed separatists”. This neatly eliminates any need to pay attention to the democratic reality. People in the East of Ukraine do not want to join the EU and NATO. The political party of the deposed President Viktor Yanukovych was most strongly supported in the East. [2] When Yanukovych was chased out of office by a Western-backed mob burning policemen (or, of course, “peaceful protestors singing hymns”) the people in the East were in democratic terms disenfranchised. Russia may indeed be “backing” the militias. But to describe the militias as “Russia-backed”, and thus to frame them in terms of their link to Russia, is to mask and hide the legitimate and rational aspirations of the people in this region. The fact is the militia leaders in Donbas have signed up to a political agreement (Minsk 2) which envisages autonomy but not independence. It is therefore factually wrong to describe them as “separatists”. “Russian-backed separatists” as a term specifically serves to mask the legitimate aspirations of people in the East of Ukraine and thus to mask the anti-democratic nature of the Western power-grab in Ukraine.

In this case the US State Department has not blamed Russia for the current uptick in violence.

The article naturally manages to find a source which supports the narrative:

The state department statement was markedly different in tone to comments from the US mission to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is staffed by career diplomats and may be out of step with the new mood in Washington.

“Russia and the separatists initiated the violence in Avdiivka,” said the US chargé d’affaires to the OSCE, Kate Byrnes. “We call on Russia to stop the violence, honour the ceasefire, withdraw heavy weapons and end attempts to seize new territory beyond the line of contact.”

A look at the OSCE monitoring mission in Ukraine report for 30/1/17 seems to show multiple violations by both sides to the conflict.  [3] Both sides are moving heavy weapons around in violation of the Minsk agreements. Both sides appear to be shelling the other side. The State Department’s version, in a refreshing departure from the “blame Russia” narrative, is closer to the actual OSCE reports. This may not last for long, however.

The Guardian journalist gives the last word to an outgoing official from the last administration:

Diplomats who served during the Obama administration have cautioned against making deals with Russia. “For almost three years the United States has worked closely with our European partners to support a peaceful resolution to the conflict through full implementation of the Minsk agreements, including by using sanctions to encourage Putin to comply,” said Dan Baer, formerly the US ambassador to the OSCE. “This should continue to be US policy going forward; anything else would be irresponsible.”

The destabilisation of Ukraine by the US and EU – who did everything possible to manipulate the shift of Ukraine away from Russia and to the West including the completely shameless signing of the political part of the EU Association agreement with a regime which came to power in a violent coup – is not mentioned in this narrative. The lack of concrete steps by the new regime in Kiev towards implementing the Minsk agreements including a refusal to talk to the other side is also absent from this absurd narrative. But it’s the one that Western liberals mean to stick to if they possibly can.

Another major lacuna on the part of the Western media and Guardian journalists like Shaun Walker, who wrote the article discussed here, is the economic blockade [4] conducted by the regime in Kiev against its own citizens in the areas under control by the DPR and LPR. The blockade is notable for its refusal to pay pensions to elderly residents of these areas. One can scarcely imagine the horror and outrage that we would see in the Western media were Russia to be implementing such a blockade on a region within Russia. Yet this blockade is scarcely mentioned in the Western media.

One final irony. The Guardian is constantly telling its readers about the lack of media freedom in Russia. But we can note that this propagandist and anti-Russian article was written by a journalist who is based in Moscow and who is, presumably able to carry on his work without being harassed by the FSB. And the same article can be read by anyone in Russia with an Internet connection. (The Guardian is not blocked in Russia).

Notes

1. Gallup Poll. April 2014. See p31.

2. WikiPedia

3.

These reports are very difficult to interpret. They often simply describe that an explosion was heard at a certain location, without saying who fired the weapon. This is probably due to a desire to avoid being seen to be pointing fingers. Nonetheless this report (for 30/1/17) clearly records ceasefire violations by both sides in terms of moving around heavy weaponry. In addition, in the detailed annex to the report, a large number of explosions are recorded. In many cases the explosion is listed as “undetermined”. However many are identified as either “impact” or “outgoing”. From this information we can see that both sides are exchanging fire.

4. Sputnik News (Russian State media)

RT