This is a very compelling post, and your last sentence in particular is one that resonates strongly across this whole week. It’s a fundamentally simple point but one with vast complexity given how easy it is for us (meaning both everyday people and media scholars) to become insulated within our own perspectives.
Aisha, thanks for this thought-provoking post. What I like about it is not only your reading of the photograph itself, illuminating how it holds various meanings dependent on the viewer’s cultural positioning, but also the way you draw attention to a different story in the video, which is clearly centred on the photographer Steve McCurry. Ostensibly, it is the story of his return to Afghanistan in 2002 to find the refugee girl he photographed, against the ideological backdrop of the US-led occupation. But the other story it tells, and which your post brings out beautifully, is the afterlife of the photograph for Afghans themselves, visible in the background of McCurry’s “hero’s journey.”
I agree Sara. That probably accounts for some amount of the photo’s endless circulation in the West. I recently saw it printed on a towel. The second photo he takes of Gula seventeen years later is much more problematic in my view and opens a whole other can of worms in terms of representation and McCurry’s ‘expert’ comments on Gula’s life.
I really like your take on this infamous photograph, Aisha. While the photo has been quoted endlessly, especially in post-9/11 critiques of Orientalism, your analysis also performs what you understand to be the motivations for Afghans hanging this photo. In other words, it’s also defiant. I see anger in the image as well, especially when we consider that the photographer says he spent “2 minutes” with Gula. I think it’s the anger that is the unconscious haunting for Western viewers too, rather than most media readings of the haunting emerging from some essential aspect of Gula.
That’s a great observation about the ambiguous relationship suggested by the framing, Michelle. I think one of the things that continues to interest me about this film is the way it thinks through the various inheritances of looking from pre-revolutionary Iranian cinema, post-revolutionary cinema (where the look is always assumed to be a priori heterosexual and male), Hollywood, and the various European art cinemas whose influence can be seen in the film. I think the strange angle of the shot of the client is an acknowledgement of the excessive influences and perhaps also the heady quality of diasporic nostalgia, which is accentuated by the opium use in this scene.
Thanks, Sarah. I think Naficy’s notion of accented cinema is highly relevant here, particularly in terms of his discussion of a work’s relation to an imagined homeland. And I think for a lot of young diasporic Iranian artists (and to a degree also for those who grew up and continue to work in Iran), the pre-revolutionary era is something that lives through another generation’s recollections, photographs, and through these makeshift clips from various forms of media. This is especially the case for pre-revolutionary cinema (versus, for example, music), which for the most part hasn’t been re-issued on DVD in any official capacity and is a lot harder to find, though that is changing. Naficy’s A Social History of Iranian Cinema, Volume 2, discusses in great detail “film farsi,” the domestic commercial cinema that featured as one of its modes women in these types of roles.
I love this piece, Michelle. What strikes me from your discussion on the mutual reliance of resources is each river represents a particularity of matter (and a geopolitical specificity) while at the same time sharing that essential quality of being matter with the other, pointing to water’s non-particularity as it were. It’s an interesting metaphor for the economic and political dependencies. The light is especially beautiful with the crashing waves.
Thanks for this great piece, Michelle. I thought about the various symbolisms you pointed out and also about the history and importance of water to each culture, particularly in relation to power. I was looking for a good companion piece to discuss Paul Gilroy’s “Black Atlantic” with students and I think I just found it!
Really nice post, Sara! Your reading of “nostalgia” for “woman as spectacle” is quite interesting. The earlier nightclub performance scene presents a very different view of woman as object-to-be-looked than the dancer in A GIRL WALKS HOME, and I’m intrigued by this question that you pose about the type of spectator each produces. What I think is most striking about the this comparison is the contrast in framing of shots. In the earlier clip, the straight-on shots of both the female performer and the men watching suggest an unquestioned relationship of who looks and who is looked at. But in the GIRL WALKS HOME clip, we only have a profile of the client, from an angle that seems to disrupt the spatial arrangement of the room and his distance from the dancer. This difference suggests an ambiguous relationship between image and spectator both within and outside the film.
Great post Sara! I’m very interested in this film as well. I’m glad to see it being discussed in terms of its relationship to an earlier era of Iranian cinema since this is not something that has been part of its popular critical reception here in the UK. I would love to hear more about these links! Do you think these ‘things Iranian’ inserted into the Western landscape in AGWHAAN bear any relation to Hamid Naficy’s accented cinema? Amirpour herself is an interesting figure in interviews who appears relatively at ease with a wide range of influences. For me, the film fits my interest in films that deal with what it means to be a woman in public. I see the vampire in this film as a representation of the flaneuse, which fits in with your final thought that she is the observer and custodian of Bad City. However, the problem of her monstrousness being the key to her power and independence remains.