Mar 25, 2009

The big thaw

Hello hello!

So I've fallen into the blog doldrums, and haven't really kept ya'll updated.

Here three example analyses I've been working on, including some of the different categories of material (photos, video, maps). In each analysis I'm attempting to search out different "ways of seeing," meaning how different motivated viewers (passive, activist, pro-government, xenophobic, etc.) are offered predicated visual understandings of the fishing industries. I'm then drawing from my different viewings to find connecting themes or meta-narratives in order to then try and create an overarching story of how environmental imagery is shaped.

TINRO.2000.p10.CoastalContinentalFish. Catch Sorting (’99)
This photograph is looking down into a dark hold or deck where men are working to sort through a catch of mixed sea creatures. At their feet is an indistinguishable mass of fish, bottom feeders and dwellers. There bodies and colors mesh together into a pattern of blues and browns, much like the desk of the ship. The men have all been beheaded – ether turned away from us or with distinguishing features cropped-out. We are left with their poses and clothes, both of which define them in labor. They are dressed for work with clothes gleaming with wetness. They are booted and gloved to protect their extremities from what we imagine is cold spray and the bodies they handle. Nearby are the tools of their trade: long wooden poles with metal perpendicular spikes for grabbing and lifting, and stacked blue crates (alien and glowing in contrast to the darkness around them) overflowing with the pure colors of different fish bodies. The scene is lit from above by a camera’s flash. The unnatural light highlights certain characteristics while leaving others undefined; for example the separated species in baskets are well illuminated while their uncategorized brethren on the deck are murky in the shadows. The focus envelopes nearly all of the scene from the backs and heads of the workers in the nearest foreground to the feet, fish, and containers on the ship’s deck.
The caption, “Ussurisk Bay. The sorting of the catch at MRC (1999),” adds some slight meaning to the photograph. Ussurisk bay is to the east side of Vladivostok’s peninsula. This body of water is nestled between larger sea ports, and a potentially aging nuclear submarine facility, but also exposed to greater ocean flow (so the pollutants are less likely to hang around and affect the inhabitants). A study of this region is asking not just about the health of stocks, but also the impacts of such a nearby major urban area. The sorting of the catch in relation to TINRO has turned this dark and slick ship’s deck into a scientific laboratory. The characters are not fishermen, but researchers engaged in the grunt-work of catching and sorting a sample of the local marine ecosystem – likely, it is implied, for the scientists to measure and compare numerically over time to gain a better idea of the trends of sea life in the region.
The rational categorization of nature. The photo highlights the ability, with proper knowledge about the functioning of the world, to transform natural chaos into ordered utility. Like Soviet Marxism, this photograph explains the world to us in intentionalized containers define their contents for society. This is the box for crabs – this is what you can do with crabs. This is the box for medvedki – these are the purposes of medvedki. Undifferentiated, wholesale death is thus softened through explanatory packaging of physical characteristics. Along with this mechanization of the seas comes a dehumanization of the fishermen. These characters have been cut-away with their faces and identities, they are distilled to the reality of their appearance to us, namely that of labor and sea. In some ways they are transformed into yet another product to be harvested, they are only superior because they are the dexterous machines for distinguishing the accepted categories and for running the machines of extraction and death.

NewellQuotas.p52. Quota Distribution In Far East (2001)
This map describes how different fishery harvest quotas have been distributed among the different krais and fishing regions of the Far East. It visually dissects the oceans into angular sections, and thereby categorizes them in terms of fishing utility. The method of distinguishing regions has cultural and biological influences. First, the oceans are generally visualized at a never-ending and slowly changing expanse. Unlike territories on land, the seas have historically been treated as world commons. The constructions of political borders have only recently advanced beyond the shoreline, as societies have increasingly become fixated on the waters and what they hold. These fishing zones have thereby been drawn by political hands, interested in sectioning the wealth of the seas like the previous sectioning of the wealth on land. From this metaphor, as translated into a physical visualization of ideology in maps, designated and labeled fishing zones diametrically appear arbitrary and rooted in political and social history. Second, any arbitrariness is emphasized by the methods of drawing the map. One would expect that land-based territories would extend into the sea based on specific and reasoned criteria, a veritable extension of the national and state borders. While some areas (Primorskii, South and North Kurils) represent this theory, most others do not. Rather some other driver of differentiation must be present. One possible interpretation is that political influences of various regions played a major role in the size is sectioning of fishery resources (as fit within constrains of international agreements). Therefore, division lines may correlate with land-based power. Third, another interpretation may rely on biological differences to distinguish zones. Differences in abiotic aspects such as temperature, underwater landscape formation, etc. could offer suggestions – such as how inanimate features have often define terrestrial borders. Differences in fish populations and diversity as well as questions of ecosystem boundaries may also encourage the separation of zones in terms of productivity and utility.
Maps are a symbolic gesture of power of the center over the periphery. Besides representing a region, they also attempt to explain and even define unknown or distant territories. In this case the map works to define these fishing zones not just by their spatial construction and distribution, but also in terms of specific use-values. The values characterized are the distribution of Total, Pollock, and Cephalopod fishing quotas (rather than studied fishery populations). This reduction of diverse and complex ecosystems speaks strongly of the utility valued in these seas either by the quota creators, or the creators of this map. This form of simplified understanding speaks to the nature of modern fisheries to focus their energies on a small number of target species. It is important that Pollock and cephalopods are not necessarily the major aspects of fishing in the prior history of Russian and Soviet cultures. Largely ignored are the anchovy and sardine fisheries, and traditional use of salmon, mollusks, and shallow-water bottom dwellers. The valuation of species is also reflected in an evaluation of the different zones in terms of quotas granted. In this case it is clear that certain zones are much wealthier (in wither resources or attention) than others.

Zvezda.3/08.FightWithPoachers. Typhoon PK - Браконьеры задержаны. Удачный улов морских пограничников
News desk with images of fish, ships, industry (story). Rusty fleet at dock and fishing flags. Ships with bullet holes tied up to border patrol with guns. Correspondent in front of impounded ships. Fishermen smoking as border control officers open hatches. Pulling crabs out of tanks, close-ups, scuttling across desk, slid back into sea on a slide. Interview with border captain and officer. Crab pots and stray dogs on board. Zoom out of ships impounded on barren shore.
Text: Resulting from the last five days of a special operation around 10 ships were captured engaged in poaching. Now this port in Nakhodka is beginning to resemble like an ocean prison. The officials haven’t yet inspected each ship, the crew swill be there to watch.
Audio: Special operation, raiding ships and impounding them in Nakhodka. The operation is part of many taking place across the Far East. Ships fish under convenient flags, don’t have permits for crab. Transporting to Korea. Corruption and trickery. Crab is a Japanese delicacy, receiving high prices along with their eggs – worth around half a million (rubles?). It is very difficult to watch all fishing operations in the area and to have a true understanding of ecological impact.
This news story attempts to paint a very clear image that border patrolmen are actively halting the flow of poached sea products to foreign markets. This is a problem of corruption and limited resources tied with irresponsible foreign demand. However, the captain’s complaint that he was permitted to act similarly last year can be seen as indicative of the nature of law enforcement in the region. One may break the rules, but have to be careful with how they do it.

Sep 29, 2008

What has been happening?

(The Lenin statue across the street from the historic train station, end of the Trans-Siberian)

This feels a bit backwards.

At the beginning of August I returned from six months spent in Primorskii krai in the Russian Far East.  I feel like I'm fairly disconnected with the group and what has been happening, and hope that this blog and subsequent work can help give you all a better idea of what I've been up to and what my objectives have been.  One blog post can't cover it all, so I'll start with this overview of my goals and methods.

(Artistic collage of Vladivostok; bottles, garbage, tires)

Some background:
As you likely know from my remote power point presentation last spring, I used my grant to extend a study abroad experience in Vladivostok.  Vladivostok was founded in SW Primorskii krai in 1860 on the warm-water Golden Horn port and was the historic administrative hub of the Far East (a region equaling over 1/3 of Russia's total territory, running from the North Korean border to the arctic circle) until the end of the Soviet Union.  A major industrial and naval port, the city was off limits to foreigners and most citizens.  Today it is open to visitors and international trade and is attempting to grasp its geo-political potential, while overcoming infrastructural, ecological, and economic problems in the face of negative political perceptions.

My project was hoping to answer a piece of the question: How do Russians relate with their environments?  Specifically I was interested in how the use of visual images may be a medium to affect the overall perceptions of environmental issues.  By visual images I was hoping to see whether and how artistic photographs and paintings, advertising, scientific journals, journalism, and environmental propaganda and education represented the situations around them.  I decided to focus on a case study of the health and use of fisheries as the regions' development has been characterized by the growth of resource extraction industries.  The RFE produces around 2/3 of the country's total annual catch, with Primorskii krai providing up to 20% of that.  The management of the fisheries of the Far East is of monumental concern to the regions, people, and country - as these waters are some of the most productive in a world of diminishing maritime returns.  However, they face the same concerns as other environmental issues in Russia, "which demands taking into account all aspects of the socioeconomic development and use on natural resources" of the Russian Far East (Novomodny, Amur Fish: Wealth and Crisis, 2004).  

What I hoped to do:
This project could be seen as having two distinct segments to t
ry to get the most information that I could, taking advantage of being situated in the location.  The primary goal was to conduct and record convenience interviews, or talking to different samples of people about their perceptions and ideas/narratives.  I split this aspect into two groups: the "elites" or individuals involved directly in some aspect of the situation (including Environmental NGO's, fishing companies, governmental scientific and industrial organizations, educators, and news agencies) and "everyone else" (random samples of various populations throughout the krai to try and get a base of the consumption of images).  A secondary task was to record and collect materials that I saw as representing the visual representations of sea and fish; this included scientific and news journals, books of local artists works, propaganda pamphlets and anthologies of articles, and my personal photographs.

This seems like a good place to end this post, the follow-up will get more into my time and travels, how my methodology worked or didn't, and where I stand now (besides back here in Portland).

(Sitting at the radio desk of the local regiment of forest fire fighters)

Sep 14, 2008

Siberia reborn

(Image from Tribute website, Russ)

Have you ever felt a ghost nearby?

Well, you may have sworn there was somebody right behind you if you'd attended this last Saturday's showcase of the songs of Yanka Dyagileva channeled by Alina Simone at Funky Church; an evening possibly best summed up by a band-member as "psychedelic spookiness." Let's set the scene:

Funky Church ( is... properly monikered. A one-hundred-year-old or so structure, this space has gone through many different incarnations - the latest being a home and occasional lo-fi music venue. It offers domed wooden ceilings, dim and warm lighting, and a stage on a rug-covered loft backed by stained glass and stuffed with pillows and chairs, with a door to balcony and real-to-god belfry.

It was a four-band line-up, with three local acts (Jacob Golden, Down South Sallie, The Battle of Land and Sea) and a Ukrainian-born, Massachusetts-raised singer/songwriter named Alina Simone, playing stripped-down tracks off her cover-album Everyone Is Crying Out To Me, Beware. Singing in Russian, her set-list offered interpretations of the work of Siberian folk-punk cult icon Yanka Dyagileva. Characterized by howling agony and lo-fi recordings (only ever produced on mixtape until well after her death), Yanka's music spoke out to the last soviet generation, bringing together the desperation of the taiga and its rich culture, whispering of uncertainty as the union splintered. This artist's career only lasted four years and 29 songs, cut-short by her suicide in 1991, but has gone on to inspire a new country of musical artists and the disaffected.

The spookiness of those original home-recordings reverberated kindly through the set and space all night: artists were practically silhouetted against a single lamp, speckled time from time by the reflections of a swaying disco ball, while a mysterious, unfelt breeze kept lampshades rocking and scattered set-lists and lyric notes. It seemed as if an ice-whipped breeze had somehow been transplanted into this late-summer evening through all those years and thousands of miles after brushing Yanka's face for the last time in the woods.

Sep 11, 2008


Первий из много, или может быть нет...

Рыбаки и моряки, лосось и палтус, ещё белий кит вкусно...