Read the Introduction from Passport Photos, The Shame of Arrival
Watch the video clip of Amitava Kumar reading “This is only a letter”
(a poem which was published in Passport Photos)
Passport Photos, a self-conscious act of artistic and intellectual forgery, is a report on the immigrant condition. A multigenre book combining theory, poetry, cultural criticism, and photography, it explores the complexities of the immigration experience, intervening in the impersonal language of the state. Passport Photos joins books by writers like Edward Said and Trinh T. Minh-ha in the search for a new poetics and politics of diaspora.
Organized as a passport, Passport Photos is a unique work, taking as its object of analysis and engagement the lived experience of post-coloniality–especially in the United States and India. The book is a collage, moving back and forth between places, historical moments, voices, and levels of analysis. Seeking to link cultural, political, and aesthetic critiques, it weaves together issues as diverse as Indian fiction written in English, signs put up by the border patrol at the U.S.-Tijuana border, ethnic restaurants in New York City, the history of Indian indenture in Trinidad, Native Americans at the Superbowl, and much more.
The borders this book crosses again and again are those where critical theory meets popular journalism, and where political poetry encounters the work of documentary photography. The argument for such border crossings lies in the reality of people’s lives. This thought-provoking book explores that reality, as it brings postcolonial theory to a personal level and investigates global influences on local lives of immigrants.
Winner of the Myers Outstanding Book Award, Gustavus Myers Program for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights in North America
“Passport Photos is a radiant text. It connects its own ironic lyricism with an acute awareness of historical context, and is a moving document of the questions posed by symbolic migration.”—Sara Suleri Goodyear, author of Meatless Days
“Amitava Kumar brings his talents as a photographer, poet, scriptwriter, and journalist to the job of critical commentary, refusing to partition and delegate these skills to separate provinces of his intellectual life. The result is an ethical voice and a technical style that often defies our expectations of the critical commentator. I find that voice and style immensely appealing, no more so than in the multi-genre documentary work of Passport Photos. This is not a heavy-handed screed on the conditions of immigrants. It is a sensuous guide to the common contradictions and experiences faced by immigrants to the U.S., whether they are coming from the underside of the international division of labor or from well-heeled and credentialed birthrights. An undeniably original contribution to several academic and journalistic fields, Passport Photos will, I expect, be a widely-acclaimed publication and much cited as a fresh paradigm-shaker.”—Andrew Ross, author of The Celebration Chronicles
“An important, timely, and unique book that seems to have multiple lines of descent–as if postcolonial theory were cross-pollinated with poetry, photojournalism, and memoir all at once.”—Michael Bérubé, author of Life As We Know It: A Father, a Family, and an Exceptional Child
“Amitava Kumar is the most grounded of the postcolonial writers today. Passport Photos is a brilliant illustration of his skills. A must read for anybody interested in immigration, transnational identities, and globalization.”—Manthia Diawara, author of In Search of Africa
“Passport Photos is a meditation on the modalities of the immigrant: on language as law and record of living immigrant dailiness; on place as a world one loses that gives rise to identity and belonging; on knowledge as the possession of some and not others, as what the immigrant can be but cannot have.” Lisa Lowe, author of Immigrant Acts
“… as welcome as a heart massage.” Canadian Literature