Mark Chew: A Photographer Reminisces

On the 15th June 2020 Mark Chew writes

Ten years ago this month I was asked to make some photographs of Julian Assange. We spent a couple of hours together and as I worked I found him fascinating, if a little self-obsessed. There was something strange about his world view, perhaps because it was formed 12 inches from a glowing laptop screen. I seem to remember that I didn’t really like him, but I admired his firm belief that knowledge is usually preferable to ignorance.

Ten years on, over my morning coffee, I see pictures of what seems to be a different man, peering from the back of a prison van, like a mole sticking his head out of a burrow, blinking at the daylight. Assange, at the age of 48, is wanted in the US to face seventeen charges under the Espionage Act after the publication of hundreds of thousands of classified documents in 2010 and 2011 around the time I made this portrait. If convicted, he faces 175 years in prison.

Right now he is being held at Belmarsh Prison in South London while the court system tries to reschedule his extradition hearing, which was postponed owing to the coronavirus pandemic. There are plenty of reasons not to like everything that Assange has done over the years. I doubt anybody who really knows him would deny his flaws. However, before you make a final judgement you should perhaps remind yourself of this.

There are a few interesting overlaps here with George Floyd’s murder.  In both cases an over entitled,  over armed, under informed enforcement apparatus of the USA took matters into their own hands…..and it was recorded for the world to see.

Without  Darnella Fraizer, the 17-year-old high school student who recorded and posted the last minutes of George Floyd’s life perhaps the world would not have convulsed as it has over the last fortnight.

Without the work of Assange our opinions of world order would certainly be different. Would we really prefer that we had never known?

So should the British Government be handing this Australian over to the country that is America in 2020? 
I myself would prefer a world where exposing murderer is not a crime in itself.

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