Larry Towell, one of Canada’s best known Canadian photographers has been the subject of an attempt at censorship by the Canadian government. He explained to me how it happened and why he refused.
Towell has received many awards for his photographic work. He has published over a dozen books of photography from difficult corners of the world from central America to Afghanistan. He is the only Canadian photographer who is a member of the international and prestigious Magnum Photos Agency of New York.
Towell regularly travels the world, often to complicated areas – investigating, doing photography and speaking. Among other places, he has visited Israel/Palestine, including Gaza. In 1999 he published a book “Then Palestine” and another in 2005 “No man’s Land”, both on the topic of the situation of the Palestinians. (The books are available through Amazon). Towell’s most recent interest is the situation in Ukraine.
Towell was recently invited to participate in a photographic festival to take place in January 2015 in Dacca, Bangladesh. The organizers offered to pay his local expenses and approached the Canadian High Commission for a grant to cover his airfare, a normal practice with Canadian artists invited to travel abroad.
However, they were stunned to hear from the High Commission that the Government of Canada would be prepared to cover Towell’s airfare on certain conditions. He had to agree to talk about Kiev, where he had been recently, but on no account was he to talk about Gaza!!
“Obviously, I turned it down,” Towell told me. “Neither the organizers nor I would accept any form of censureship about what I can talk about.”
Canada’s reputation for defending artistic freedom has not been enhanced in Bangladesh by this action.