Monday, June 7, 2010

Promoting Humanity Through Art. . .

Rosalyn and I have just returned from working the bookfair at the Congress for Social Sciences and Humanities - Canada's largest annual academic conference. This year it was held at Concordia University in wonderful Montreal (and trust me, if you have to spend 9 days in a row at a conference, Montreal is THE city to do it in!). While the show can be fairly exhausting at times, I have always found Congress quite exhilarating, and intellectually stimulating; I have great conversations about books with professors, grad students and other publishers, and I was delighted to find many NYRB groupies among them. For that week the bookfair also becomes Canada's largest bookstore, showcasing not only academic books (many of which would appeal to a broad reading public) but many from the smaller literary presses as well. I love to visit the booths, browse through catalogues and yes, I can never resist picking up a few books for myself. I'll blog about some of my discoveries and upcoming books in a few days, but first a nod to the other thing I love about Congress - the talks by influential thinkers, writers and artists.

Reza is an Iranian photographer, now living in Paris, who has worked as a journalist for the last thirty years covering Afghanistan, Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East. His talk which was part of a day devoted to Human Rights, was very inspiring. Not only did he relate the stories behind his incredible photographs - all included in this stunning collection War + Peace - but talked about the importance of bringing humanity to areas of the world devasted by war or famine. As an example, he talked about a four month project in which he and some volunteers took photographs of 12,000 African children who were displaced orphans, in the hopes of connecting them with perhaps an uncle or a grandmother. The photos were exhibited in refugee camps and the project reunited 3,500 children with a member of their extended family. He's helped Afghani women start up their own radio station, and Afghani children their own magazine written by, and for, themselves. He talked about the importance of bringing education into the home and said that he judges a country's level of civilization by the percentage of their gross national product that governments spend on education. The book has an introduction by his friend Sebastian Junger and it would make a perfect visual companion to Junger's recently published War.

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