The man who sold iguanas

Just after writing about Muslims, Islamophobia and free speech yesterday, I went to have a procrastinating session on the Net, and look at picture albums on Picasa by a very good amateur photographer named Robin Cristofari. (yes, the name rings a bell; he also happens to be my brother)

Robin is, among other things, fascinated by Asia and the Middle East. He has travelled a lot to the Axis of Muslim Evuuhl, including Iran, Syria, and ost recently, Pakistan. During this last trip, he went as far as the tribal lands around Peshawar, that were just recovering from the floods and where Talibans were momentarily too busy helping flood victims to commit any attack. He took lots of pictures as usual, then he came back and we developed them together in the bathroom lab, then he put a selection of his best on Picasa: flooded valleys, temples, people. I was just recently browsing them again, and thinking that they were pretty good. And then I suddenly understood why.

My brother doesn’t take pictures of cute Old Natives in picturesque turbans, nor close-ups of women peering sensually from behind their black veils. He takes pictures of people doing interesting things, beautiful people, eager people, people he wasn’t really paying attention to but who asked to be photographed because his dinosaur Leica looks funny to them. Suddenly, when looking at his pictures, you don’t see turbans and beards whose only business is to look exotic for the camera. You don’t see the East as pictured by a person who read the Arabian Nights and wanted to see a Shehrazade in every girl and a fairytale sultan in every man. You see normal people with their everyday lives, people having an ordinary day and then meeting a European guy with a big old-fashioned camera and asking to sit for a picture. You see people who aren’t like you and me because they didn’t have the same lives and don’t live in the same place, but who aren’t anything like a Westernised Shehrazade either. They don’t have "Muslim" or "Pakistani" tagged to their foreheads. They’re just living there, in their own place that’s so much unlike ours, but that’s just as varied, complex, hard to grasp.

Go have a look. My brother doesn’t need any publicity, he’s not aiming to become a professional right now, he’s already got a degree that will get him a job as soon as he asks and he studies biology in the meanwhile, and he doesn’t even have a regular website, so this has nothing to do with promoting his work. But since he chose to publish his pictures on the Net, they may just as well be useful. Have a look at them. Go see what the Axis of Evil is really like from the inside. Show them to people that only know the East as a place of stereotypes and supposed barbarity.

I don’t know if hatred truly springs from ignorance, as some people say. But despising whole nations because of stereotypes sure does. So have a look a The Man Who Sold Iguanas, The Lady Advertising Glasses, The Nationalists in the Colonial Home. You don’t populate a country with stereotypes. And you can’t declare war on a concept you invented yourself.

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These pictures are copyrighted and they are the property of Robin Cristofari. I’m sure he won’t mind of you want to reproduce them anywhere, but please ask him first!

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