And I'm comfortable with this. Trust me, self-esteem is high over here at 50 Books HQ. But every so often I find myself in a blur of activity, where I'm out there doing, and from time to time -- heaven help us all -- even teaching. Such was this past week. I've missed you, internet! Have you missed me?
I wish I could say the frenzy is over (soon, though! Soon!), but until things settle down and I can once again curl up in the web's cozy lap, I thought I'd point you toward this very interesting article, which Rusty just sent me:
The original picture from which [the cover of Reading Lolita in Tehran] is excised is lifted off a news report during the parliamentary election of February 2000 in Iran. In the original picture, the two young women are in fact reading the leading reformist newspaper Mosharekat. Azar Nafisi and her publisher may have thought that the world is not looking, and that they can distort the history of a people any way they wish. But the original picture from which this cover steals its idea speaks to the fact of this falsehood.
The cover of Reading Lolita in Tehran is an iconic burglary from the press, distorted and staged in a frame for an entirely different purpose than when it was taken. In its distorted form and framing, the picture is cropped so we no longer see the newspaper that the two young female students are holding in their hands, thus creating the illusion that they are "Reading Lolita"--with the scarves of the two teenagers doing the task of "in Tehran." In the original picture the two young students are obviously on a college campus, reading a newspaper that is reporting the latest results of a major parliamentary election in their country. Cropping the newspaper, their classmates behind them, and a perfectly visible photograph of President Khatami--the iconic representation of the reformist movement--out of the picture and suggesting that the two young women are reading "Lolita" strips them of their moral intelligence and their participation in the democratic aspirations of their homeland, ushering them into a colonial harem. [emphasis mine]
It's an interesting issue. On one hand, I can see a publisher's graphic design department blithely saying, "We need a picture of Iranian women reading. Aha, here we go. Croppity-crop here... a little more croppity-crop over there. Perfecto!" From a purely aesthetic perspective, the photograph works.
However. Just like words, images have meaning. Unless the people in this picture have been commissioned by a photographer with the understanding that the image could be used in pretty much the same way any stock photography is used, it is very arguable that some kind of ethical violation has occurred.
In light of what Reading Lolita purports to be about -- people, particularly women, and their freedom to choose what they consume, what they write, and what they do -- this charge of "iconic burglary" is, to me, is extremely serious. What do you think?
*Note: I apply this maxim only to myself.