ExcerptsA Place One Has Never Been

by Raina Sacks Blankenhorn

How does one understand a place one has never been? Or a person embedded in a history so thoroughly separate from one’s own? The answer begins by listening to the other, recognizing what is universal and human, and ultimately, allowing for the possibility that there are some mysteries one does not understand. Looking at photographs-to see what is there and to ask what is not there-is a distinct way to experience the paradox of knowing and not knowing the other. The act itself is a step toward the engagement of one culture with another. Ours is a time of critical engagement between Western and Islamic cultures. Extremists on all sides have attempted to destroy what we have in common, to make monsters out of the other. Photographs can help counteract such characterizations by presenting an opportunity to take the time—lots of it—to look at images of the other in a subtle and reflective way. Then, when we take the time to look, all the disciplines slowly come into play: art history, architecture, history, anthropology, economics, technology, psychology—to name just some of the fields of knowledge we rely on to help us understand what we see when we look at a photograph.

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