Just as I was leaving my last posting, a friend of mine sent me a poem. She is another nomad, and like me is also an aid worker. The poem is one I’d not read before, and by a poet I don’t know, but it touched me, and I’ve re-read it several times since receiving it. I imagine I’ll read it again before too long.
The poem speaks to me both as a photographer, and also as an aid worker. I can see why my friend, who has been working in an extremely difficult and confronting context herself, dwelled on it. In fact as she herself pointed out, it quite easily could have been titled “I Am An Aid Worker”. From my own perspective it captures the turmoil that I so often wrestle with walking into many of the places I visit, and it resonated with particularly vibrant echoes much that I took with me from my latest posting, which was frustrating, wrought with suffering and politics and shocking manipulations of the truth that seemed to soil everything they touched.
The poem is by a man called Douglas Dunn and comes from a collection appropriately titled “Emergency Kit: Poems for Strange Times”. I reproduce this without permission, so if an author or publisher has a problem with this, please let me know.
I Am A Cameraman
They suffer, and I catch only the surface.
The rest is inexpressible, beyond
What can be recorded. You can’t be them.
If they’d talk to you, you might guess
What pain is like though they might spit on you.
Film is just a reflection
Of the matchless despair of the century.
There have been twenty centuries since charity began.
Indignation is day-to-day stuff;
It keeps us off the streets, it keeps us watching.
Film has no words of its own.
It is a silent waste of things happening.
Without us, when it is too late to help.
What of the dignity of those caught suffering?
It hurts me. I robbed them of privacy.
My young friends think Film will be all of Art.
It will be revolutionary proof
Their films will not guess wrongly and will not lie.
They’ll film what is happening behind barbed wire.
They’ll always know the truth and be famous.
Politics softens everything.
Truth is known only to its victims.
All else is photographs– a documentary
The starving and the playboys perish in.
Life disguises itself with professionalism.
Life tells the biggest lies of all,
And draws wages from itself.
Truth is a landscape the saintly tribes live on,
And all the lenses of Japan and Germany
Wouldn’t know how to focus on it.
Life flickers on the frame like beautiful hummingbirds.
That is the film that always comes out blank.
The painting the artist can’t get shapes to fit.
The poem that shrugs off every word you try.
The music no one has ever heard.