The Gold Factory is the third novel in the forthcoming trilogy, Light Piercing Water. The first novel is Guest Boy, and the second novel is Crowds of One. The trilogy will be published by Leaky Boot Press, UK, in 2018.
A game-changing scoop in journalism is an eerie beast, especially when a magazine clobbers the major daily media and the 24-hour news cycle.
Jane Mayer in The New Yorker has reported that Christopher Steele, the former MI6 Russia expert who drafted the famous Steele Dossier, handed a second paper to the FBI alleging that during the presidential transition Russia vetoed Mitt Romney for secretary of state and proposed its own man, Rex Tillerson, the current secretary.
By any standard, that’s a stunning disclosure. The circumstantial evidence of Americans colluding with Russia is now persuasive.
But today’s front page of the mighty New York Times, a wee bit uptown from The New Yorker, reflects not a whiff of this development, and the networks seem at a loss to know what to do, so startling is Mayer’s report.
But that report itself is more concerned with context and perspective than its breathtaking disclosure. The headline is a classic magazine headline, Christopher Steele, The Man Behind the Trump Dossier. Why, you’d think from that genteel headline Mayer was rehashing events, and she is, but she’s putting them in a context that makes it an act of perversity to call the Russia scandal fake news and a hoax, as Donald Trump has consistently described it.
If Rex Tillerson, a personal friend of Vladimir Putin’s, is his hand-picked secretary of state, if Trump dumped Romney, whom the Russians found almost as objectionable as Hillary Clinton, the events described by Mayer begin to look and smell very like a smoking gun, the more so when you consider that Trump and Tillerson have refused to implement Congressional sanctions against Russia for meddling and to spend any of the $120 million allocated to counter Russian rolling of our electoral processes.
The resounding silence of other media today in the wake of Mayer’s story means not only that they have to regroup and catch up, they have to revise the narrative. More than 70 percent of the Steele Dossier has been affirmed by subsequent inquiry, and none of its allegations and scenarios have been discredited. Now comes this new report saying that Tillerson is Russia’s mole.
It remains to be vetted, like the remainder of the original dossier, but there is little reason at this point, try as the Republican leadership might, to disbelieve Steele. He has a long history of working with the FBI and the American intelligence community and is well respected by them.
Mayer says the Clinton campaign was unaware of the second Steele report, which was given the FBI after Steele was no longer under contract to Fusion GPS. We don’t know if Eric Holder, Obama’s attorney general, made President Obama aware of the second report. But we can assume that James Comey, when he announced on October 11, 2016, that he was reopening the FBI’s inquiry into Clinton use of a private email server when she was secretary of state, knews about both Steele reports, emphasizing once again that Comey has a lot to answer for.
We can see that the Obama people were in quandary. They had known about Russian meddling all along. Obama had personally warned Putin to lay off, much more than Trump has ever done. He imposed economic sanctions on Russia under the terms of the Magnitsky Act, he seized Russian propertues in America, but he undestandably didn’t want to be accused of trying to tilt the election to Clinton and he withheld a certain amount of information from the Trump transition team. He gets little credit for his discretion. President Trump, having done nothing to counter Russian cyber-espionage, now accused Obama of having done nothing, a patent lie.
But the Mayer story illustrates something much more important than another scoop in journalism, and that’s exactly why The New Yorker so pointedly headlined it as a perspective piece. The New Yorker isn’t a daily news medium, although online, like other magazines, it has been drawn into the 24-hour news cycle. The New Yorker’s editors understood, as their writer did, that they were providing much needed context and historicity to a running scandal that often trips over its own developments. They udnerstood they were doing excactly what American journalism so sorely needs—connecting the dots.
The unwritten point of Mayer’s long story is that the 24-hour news cycle, with its attendant hoopla and hype, boggles the collective mind, disturbs without enlightening, polarizes without historical perspective. The editors are as much to be celebrated as Mayer for seizing a moment in history to show us how inciden reportage keeps sweeping away perspective, carrying it downstream to a jam of debris, half digested facts, rumors and instant-analyses.
In this sense, Mayer’s piece is a watermark in journalism. It not only gives us a chance to take a deep breath and savor the broad outlines of the Russia scandal, it also suggests the crucial question the daily media dodge: how much circumstantial evidence does it take to discern the shape of collusion? How long are we going to let the media turn a national security crisis into a lawyers’ quibble and a shambling circus?
Vivian Maier was one of the great street photographers of the 20th Century. We can only wonder what she might have done with the advent of the digital pocket camera, a far less obtrusive camera than the ones she used.
With Bill Brandt, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Garry Winogrand, Josef Koudelka, Robert Doisneau, Jill Freedman, Walker Evans, Susan Meiselas, Elliott Erwitt, and many others, she recorded the Zeitgeist of her century.
Each photographer has a distinct signature. Maier’s signature is a certain immediacy, a kind of sidelong glance that cares more about the breathless moment than framing or composition. She is exquisitely available to the accidental.
Street photography developed during the Impressionist period in painting and the influence of that movement is evident. Absent color. The street photographers for the most part used black and white film and were therefore more acutely aware of the play of shadow and light than the painters.
At first their cameras were cumbersome and hampered their purpose. For example, when I learned to make photographs in the Navy I used a Speed Graphic camera, sometimes called a press camera. I used glass negatives. You made one image on a milky glass plate, and then you removed the cartridge and flipped it to make your second picture. The camera was heavy but superbly capable.
Cartier-Bresson was using a smaller single-lens reflex camera in the 1930s, but they became popular in the 1950s. In 1975 the filmless digital camera was introduced. Many art photographers, galleries and museums still insist that only images made on film are worth collecting. They’re dead wrong, but it’s the same kind of reactionary Salon-conceit that greeted the Impressionists.
I don’t know what Maier and Brandt and Bresson would have made of RAW photography in which thousands of details not seen in the lens can be revealed during editing. My own feeling is that we make art from the materials of our moment, and if RAW helps me make a more interesting picture I use it. Sometimes the final picture is a mere detail of what I framed in my lens.
Maier, too, understood that the film would reveal detail and composition and light that she hadn’t seen in her lens. In fact, she counted on it.
The street photographer seeks anonymity. It’s essential. The new pocket cameras are instruments of anonymity. You don’t want thousands of dollars of equipment hanging around your neck or slung over your shoulder, because you don’t want attention, you want to pay attention.
This means that in some respects you have to be a savvier, more intuitive artist than the studio photographer or almost any other kind of photographer. You can’t rely on prearranged lighting, settings, surroundings, poses, angles. And you’re more obsessed by art than the prospect of earnings from your art, which means that as a street photographer you’re a kind of dervish.
The street photographer is imbued with a kind of blessed indifference to exhibitionism, to the kind of person who fills a room and sucks up its air, unless of course the interaction of that person with environs speaks to the photographer in a particular way, the way, say, some perfect strangers interest us and others don’t, the way someone might instill a sense of déja vu in us. And Maeir’s photographs often do just that; we feel we have seen that child, that old man before, while at the same time knowing it’s impossible.
One has the sense in many of her photographs that our doppelganger is about to be encountered. That anticipation is rare and goes a long way towards distinguishing her oeuvre.
To be a symphony in concert
is better than to be a team apart.