Instead of an Epilogue: Two Photos Materializing History

 

During my first evening at their home, Ernesto tried to find two photos, two particular photos among the many others the family was showing me. Most photos depicted the family or other people of the encampment (now settlement) in the different stages they went through before living as Landless Workers at the place where we were now. A lot of photos, however, did not present persons but materialities – the tent in which they lived in the encampment; the first wall they constructed of what later became the house where they live, etc. Some other photos were from relatives or friends that participated in the demonstrations of the Landless Movement.

I was very interested and constantly asked questions. Ernesto continued to look for two specific photos. Yes – there they are! One had been taken recently: the hill with all its trees and plants, where the family worked and which we would visit the next day.

 

The other photo depicted exactly the same location 15 years ago.

I was impressed. Rocks and soil covered the hill and there was only one tree. “In that time,” Ernesto explained to me, “nobody cultivated anything here. No water or irrigation existed. We first constructed the lake you saw before to hold the rainwater, then planted the trees and now… you see?” He was so happy to have found the photos and so happy to share this history – his history – with me. I was very interested in the technical interventions and material arrangements in the fields – but soon realized that these went together with semiotic orderings materialized in photos, wounds, and other “materials” not in the fields – and the fields cannot be thought independently of broader material-semiotic arrangements (Haraway, 1997; Latour, 1999). “We remember these incidents sometimes with old comrades and we cry,” Ernesto told me in front of the many photos on the dinner table. “It is not that difficult now for the new land occupiers, they could never imagine how hard these times were…”.

How does the above-mentioned objective discourse about nature as physical, chemical, and biological matter go together with personal memories, oral and written histories, and poems, songs, and other pieces of art about police violence? How does it go together with the first and next steps in creating a better future of justice and freedom for all? Where does the emotional-subjective witnessing of the past, the present, and the future meet the natural-scientific “facts” about nature? Why is poetry and art something other than science and something separate from what everyday people – i.e. the landless workers – create in their everyday lives?