George Orwell's Burmese Passport Photograph
Rene Descartes (1596-1650)
In his 1641 book, Meditations on First Philosophy, Rene Descartes starts by considering the nature of reality. How do we know, he asks himself, that the world around us actually exists and is not just a projection of our minds?
Stephen Campbell Moore as Joe and Claudie Blakley as Tess in Chimerica. Photo: Johan Persson.
In the summer of 2001, I was living in a factory, in a village, in central China. I was in the middle of a two-year stint of fieldwork for my PhD.
It was hot. So hot in fact, that the factory’s furnaces blazed only during the night, for fear that workers would succumb in the day. Most nights, I lay awake into the small hours, sweating, my senses overloaded by the clangs and flashes from the factory courtyard.
One morning, I was roused by one of the labourers. He announced that a VIP, Mr. Liu, had driven from the city during the night to collect me. Mr. Liu was a senior regional official who had taken me under his wing. I knew him well and we had become close. In fact, he had taken me out on many trips before, though never perhaps with quite this sense of urgency. I got dressed, washed the sweat out of my eyes with a bottle of drinking water, and went to the factory gates to meet him.
He looked at my dishevelled frame disapprovingly, then thought better of his critique and smiled: “We are going to do some business. We will eat with some friends.” I knew well what this meant. His driver beckoned me into his shining black car, and off we drove down uneven roads through the pinks and oranges of dawn, to a remote part of the province.
Nancy Crane and Sean Gilder in Chimerica. Photo: John Persson.
Find out more about the ficitional and the not-so-ficitional people that feature in Chimerica.
Karl Collins as David Barker in Chimerica. Photo: Johan Persson.
Assistant Director Choon Ping explains the references to American culture in Chimerica.
Anton Chekhov at his home in Melikhovo with his dachshund Khina in 1897
Dan Rebellato’s 2010 play, Chekhov in Hell, opens with a quotation from Anton Chekhov, the Russian playwright and author who died in 1904. He says ‘you ask me what life is. That’s like asking what a carrot is. A carrot is a carrot, and there’s nothing more to know’. Like Chekhov’s characters, Rebellato’s characters to search for an appropriate way to fill their lives, an action often left unfulfilled. In The Seagull, Semyon asks Masha, ‘Why do you always wear black?’ to which she replies, ‘I’m in mourning for my life’.
The Moscow Art Theatre at the end of 19th century.
At the end of the nineteenth century, Konstantin Stanislavski and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko set about to reform Russian theatre. Their aim was to create a home for naturalism, in order to challenge melodrama’s dominance of theatre in Russia. They were heavily influenced by the work of other naturalist theatre companies in Europe, including André Antoine’s Théâtre Libre in Paris and the Meiningen Company in Germany. Naturalism may dominate our stages in the twenty-first century and seem like the most conventional of theatrical forms, but at the end of the nineteenth century it was seen as a highly radical approach to making theatre. As Stanislavksi recalls: ‘Our programme was revolutionary, we rebelled against the old way of acting, against affectation and false pathos, against declamation and bohemian exaggeration, against bad conventionality of production and sets, against the star system which ruined the ensemble and against the whole spirit of performance and the insignificance of the repertory.’
Elizabeth Chan in Chimerica. Photo: John Persson.
Assistant Director Choon Ping explains the references to Chinese culture in Chimerica.
Stephen Campbell Moore as Joe in rehearsal for Chimerica. Photo: Johan Persson.
“A photograph is not an opinion,” mused Susan Sontag. “Or is it?”
It may be a mission. Exemplary practitioners like Robert Capa, Philip Jones Griffiths, Don McCullin, James Nachtwey and Gilles Peress are documentarists who refuse to be confined by that description. They are witnesses. But they are not neutral. They have a point of view – they are against forgetting. “What sustains me is the overall value in communicating,” says Nachtwey.
Find out more about the times in which Chekhov lived and worked.