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March 1st, 2012

Photographer William Daniels, Edith Bouvier Safe in Lebanon

Agence France Presse reports that French photographer William Daniels has managed to escape from Homs, Syria to safety in Lebanon with French reporter Edith Bouvier. The two journalists had been trapped in the besieged city for more than a week.

Bouvier’s leg was badly injured when Syrian troops fired mortars at a makeshift media center in Homs on February 22. Two other journalists –American reporter Marie Colvin and photographer Remi Ochlik–were killed in that attack, while British photographer Paul Conroy was also injured.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy announced at a press conference today: “Edith Bouvier and William Daniels are currently safe on Lebanese territory and will within moments be under the protection of our embassy in Beirut.”

Concern for the safety of Daniels and Bouvier had mounted as the Syrian army moved into Homs today, cutting off water, electricity and other supplies. Reporters Without Borders had earlier today reported that the two had not been heard from since February 23, when they managed to post a video pleading for “any assistance” to get them out.

Photographer Paul Conroy, also injured in the attack that killed Colvin and Ochlik, was smuggled to safety in Lebanon on Tuesday. Several activists who helped in his escape were killed by the Syrian army.

Related stories:

Injured Photographer Paul Conroy Smuggled out of Syria

Remembering 13 Unsung Heroes of Photojournalism

Photographer Remi Ochlik Killed in Homs, Syria

February 23rd, 2012

Were Journalists in Homs Targeted for Bombing?

Radio communications between Syrian army officers have shown that the army was ordered to bomb the make-shift press center in the besieged city of Homs where photographer Remi Ochlik and reporter Marie Colvin were working, The Telegraph newspaper reports. The journalists died yesterday when the center was shelled. Photographers Paul Conroy and William Daniels and reporter Edith Bouvier of Le Figaro were also wounded in the bombardment of the press center, Reuters reports.

Journalists used the press center’s electricity and internet access to report on the shelling of civilians in Homs. Colvin’s reports of the ongoing humanitarian crisis had been broadcast on the BBC and CNN. According to The Telegraph, radio orders intercepted by the Lebanese intelligence service show that Syrian army officers were ordered to bomb the press center, and if journalists were killed,  army officers were instructed to make it appear that they died accidentally in battles with “terrorists.”

Jean-Pierre Perrin, a reporter for French newspaper Liberation who had been in Homs last week before leaving for Beirut, tells The Telegraph that he learned, “The Syrian army issued orders to ‘kill any journalist that set foot on Syrian soil’.” The Army may have used journalists’ satellite phone signals to target them.

Syria strictly controls access to foreign press, and most journalists trying to report on the humanitarian crisis in Homs and elsewhere have entered Syria without visas. Following reports of the deaths of Ochlik and Colvin, the Syrian foreign minister announced, “The ministry urges all foreign journalists who entered Syria illegally to report to the nearest immigration office to legalize their presence.” That’s a request foreign press are likely to ignore.

Related Stories

Photographer Remi Ochlik Killed in Homs, Syria

In Syria, Photojournalist Bears Witness to Violence

Survival Training for Conflict Zones

February 22nd, 2012

Photographer Remi Ochlik Killed in Homs, Syria

© Lucas Dolega

Freelance photographer Remi Ochlik was killed today in the besieged city of Homs, Syria, according to several news organizations. Reporter Marie Colvin of the Sunday Times of London was killed in the same attack. An aid worker told Reuters the journalists were at a make-shift media center set up by rebels fighting the Syrian army when it was struck by shells. Ochlik and Colvin were trying to flee the building when they were hit by a rocket. The same aid worker also told Reuters two other journalists, including British photographer Peter Conroy, were injured in the attack. Syrian videographer/activist Rami al-Sayed also died of wounds sustained during earlier shelling.

This month, Ochlik, who was represented by the IP3 agency, won first place in the General News/Stories category of the World Press Photo Awards for his work on the civil war in Libya.
Our complete story is now on PDNOnline.
February 16th, 2012

Sale of Forged Photos Embarrasses French Auction House

French police have opened an investigation into the sale at auction of 153 vintage photographs that are suspected of being forgeries, according to a report in The Art Newspaper.

The sale took place last March at Artcurial Deauville, an auction house in the city of Deauville near Le Havre on the English Channel. The auction house said prior to the sale that the photographs in question were made in 1848, and that they were from a collection alleged to have come from the family of a minor artist, Charles Edouard de Crespy Le Prince, who died in 1850.

The sale totaled €554,200, but some of the collectors who purchased lots have refused to pay or asked for the sales to be canceled and their money refunded after inspecting the works.

The investigation was initiated when Grégory Leroy, the independent expert who presided over the sale and initially verified the authenticity of the photographs, made a complaint to French police in December.

“This seems to have been a carefully prepared swindle,” Leroy told The Art Newspaper. “We were all taken in.”

The consignors, who are said to have bought the works in the 1990s believing they were authentic, sued the auction house unsuccessfully in December for the money owed to them from the sale.

Police have not commented on who, if anyone, they suspect in the forgery of the works.

February 14th, 2012

Yemeni Woman in World Press Photo of the Year Speaks Out

© Samuel Aranda

In Samuel Aranda’s photo, named World Press Photo of the Year last week, she is an unidentified, veiled woman who symbolizes thousands who have suffered in the anti-government demonstrations that swept the Arab world this past year. Now the woman behind the veil has come forward, according to an article in the Yemen Times.

Fatima Al-Qawas, a resident of Sana’a, Yemen, tells the Yemen Times that she had gone to a field hospital on October 15 in search of her 18-year-old son, who had taken part in demonstrations against the Yemeni government. The photo shows her holding him as he was recovering from tear gas exposure.

“It was after an attack against demonstrators on Al-Zubairy Street,” she says. “I went to the field hospital and did not see my son among the dead or wounded protesters. I checked the place again and saw my son lying on the ground suffocated with tear gas,” she explained. “So I embraced him and [the photographer] must have taken the photo at that moment.” Al Qawas’s son, Zayed, says of the photo, “I did not expect this photo to win among thousands of pictures and it is a real support to the revolution,” he told the Yemen Times. “It demonstrates that Yemenis are not extremists.”

Related Story
Samuel Aranda Wins 2012 World Press Photo of the Year

February 8th, 2012

In Syria, Photojournalist Bears Witness to Violence

photojournalist Alessio Romenzi in Homs, Syria

© Time/Photo by Alessio Romenzi

With Syria strictly limiting access to foreign press, most foreign journalists trying to report on the uprising in Homs, Syria, have had to remain in nearby Lebanon while relaying reports from locals on the scene.  Italian photojournalist Alessio Romenzi, however, has managed to move through the besieged city. More than two dozen of his images of civilian casualties, women and children taking shelter during shelling, and fighting between the army of the Assad government and the rebel Free Syrian Army were posted today on Time’s Lightbox. Patrick Witty, Time‘s International Picture Editor, edited the pictures.

Romenzi, whose previous work from the Middle East and elsewhere has been published in Time, The New York Times, Washington Post, Le Monde and other publications, has been in Al Qsair and Homs, Syria, since late January. Previous posts to his PhotoShelter page include his images of Syrian journalists as they have tried to file reports on the fighting.

On assignment for Time, he has moved among fighters in the Free Syrian Army and at one point he took shelter from the shelling in the basement of a home in the southern Homs neighborhood of Bab Amr, according to a report on Lightbox. He reported seeing 25 civilian casualties in two hours of shelling. In an email to Time he wrote, “The word ‘safe’ is not in our dictionary these days.”

*Update:
The Committee to Protect Journalists reported on February 8 that Syrian journalist Mazhar Tayyara, a stringer for AFP and other news organizations, was killed in Homs on February 4, when the Syrian government shelled the neighborhood he was reporting from.  “The Syrian conflict is growing increasingly dangerous for all kinds of journalists, from citizens who have taken the role of documenting unrest in the country to international journalists who report from the frontlines,” says the CPJ.

December 29th, 2011

Official News Agency of a Totalitarian Regime Doctored a News Photo. Imagine That.

© Korea Central News Agency

The photo of the funeral of Kim Jung-Il distributed by the Korean Central News Agency, the official news agency of North Korea, was stunning: Limousines driving in formation behind a giant portrait of the Supreme Leader, rows of mourners lining their route, snow whitening the ground, a giant North Korean flag billowing majestically at the top of the frame. It was picture perfect. Too perfect, apparently.

Today The New York Times Lens Blog compares the image from the official news agency with one taken at almost the same moment by a photographer with Kyodo News of Japan, and distributed by AP. Working with digital forensics expert Hany Farid of Dartmouth, they show that the image from Korean Central was Photoshopped. The Lens blog goes into lots of detail, showing (with several close ups) that some men standing on the sidelines with a camera were erased, replaced with cloned snow. (Read more about their analytical methods and see the photos here.)

Lens reports that the doctored photo had been distributed by European Pressphoto Agency, Reuters and Agence-France Presse (AFP) before the retouching was discovered by The New York Times (which had also, briefly, run the image on its Web site). Once Lens reported

Undoctored photo, © Kyodo News

that the photo was doctored, the three agencies issued kill notices, Lens reports. “This photo was altered from the source and not by AFP,” the agency noted.

Gee, if you can’t trust an official news photo from the government of a secretive nation with a history of repressing journalism, who can you trust?

Maybe the agencies can be excused for not anticipating that such a stage-managed spectacle would be doctored. The retouching doesn’t seem politically motivated, as in all those airbrushed photos from Stalinist Russia. Why would a North Korean photo editor go to the trouble of Photoshopping out a few anonymous figures?

The Lens blog offers one explanation: “totalitarian esthetics.”

“With the men straggling around the sidelines, a certain martial perfection is lost. Without the men, the tight black bands of the crowd on either side look railroad straight.” When it comes to stage-managed spectacle, symmetry is all.

November 14th, 2011

Gursky’s Print Goes for $4.5 Million, Observers Say: Huh?

© Andreas Gursky/courtesy Christie's

A print of Andreas Gursky’s “Rhein II” sold for $4.33 million last week, making it the most expensive photo ever sold at auction. This might be considered good news for the fine-art photography market, but most of the press about the sale has ranged from puzzlement to downright mockery.

Some of the criticism is of the predictable, my-4-year-old-could-do-that type of scoffing, but some seems to be genuinely wrestling with just how stark and plain this digitally retouched image looks, at least online. We can’t remember anyone writing this way about Gursky’s previous record setter, the diptych “99 Cent Store,” or about the Cindy Sherman self portrait that is now the second most expensive photo ever sold.

Here are some sample comments about Gursky’s “Rhein II”:

“It’s nice. Is it $4.33 million nice? We don’t get art sometimes. Okay, all the time.”
–Dan Amira, New York magazine

“…While it is hard to argue that he [Gursky] has achieved his aim – it is even harder to see why someone would pay a substantial sum of money to own the piece.
But the digitally altered – and some might say visually uninteresting – ‘Rhine II’ has become the most expensive photograph ever sold at auction.”
–Charles Walford, The Daily Mail

“It’s not worth a penny over $4.2 million if you ask me, but at least one collector disagrees.”
–Amy Rolph, Seattle Post Intelligencer

“This mediocre pic is the most expensive photo in the world, worth $4.3 million dollars. Behold!  It’s some…grass…and we’re pretty sure that’s a– lake?  Right?  Maybe?”
-Jo Pincushion on ESPN1420.com (a sports radio station’s Web site. Zheesh, everyone’s a critic.)

One dissenting voice is that of Florence Walters. Writing in the Telegraph, she says,  “This image is a vibrant, beautiful and memorable – I should say unforgettable – contemporary twist on Germany’s famed genre and favorite theme: the romantic landscape, and man’s relationship with nature.” She also notes, “For all its apparent simplicity, the photograph is a statement of dedication to its craft.”

For those who would like to judge for themselves, other prints from the same edition are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Modern in London, Munich’s Pinakothek der Modern, and the Glenstone Collection in Potomac, Maryland.

Related Story:

Andreas Gursky’s $4.3 Million Print Sets New Record

November 7th, 2011

Pictures of Photog’s Arrest Force Police Accountability

The arrest of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel photographer Kristyna Wentz-Graff (©Lita Medinger)

Once again, police officers have arrested a photographer doing her job–this time in Milwaukee–only to let her go a few hours later without charges. The summary round-up of journalists at street demonstrations is a form of intimidation, and rough injustice: It’s a convenient way of putting journalists out of commission for the duration of a police action. But with cameras so ubiquitous now, it’s ultimately a losing strategy for police.

In Milwaukee, Journal Sentinel photographer Kristyna Wentz-Graff was arrested last Wednesday while photographing a peaceful Occupy demonstration. Just before she arrived on the scene, police had ordered protestors to leave the street. Police had blocked the street with their cars, and started making arrests. Wentz-Graff started taking pictures of an arrest as soon as she arrived.

According to the Journal Sentinel, “While she was taking pictures, she was grabbed by an officer, handcuffed and arrested, without warning or without being told why she was being arrested.”

Under criticism for violating the First Amendment rights of a journalist, the Milwaukee police chief held a news conference Thursday to defend his officers. He said the arresting officer thought the photographer was a protester and added that her status as a journalist “was not obvious to the officers” at the scene.

But looking at the pictures taken by others of the arrest, one has to wonder: Do Milwaukee police officers need to get their eyes checked? Wentz-Graff had her press ID badge clearly visible, as an image by Lita Medinger in the Journal Sentinel shows, and two cameras around her neck–one of them with a very large Canon telephoto lens that screamed “journalist.”(That camera and lens are hidden behind the police car in the Journal Sentinel image, but were clearly visible in this  TV video of the arrest.)

The mayor, after watching a TV video of the arrest, said to the Journal Sentinel, “It appeared very clear to me that she was a photojournalist.” He added, “I very much support her First Amendment right to be there.”

The police chief acknowledged that Wentz-Graff had “big fancy cameras,” but protestors carry cameras, too, he noted. And he added, “According to the officer at the scene, he didn’t notice her ID. He was just focusing on the task at hand. He perceived her as part of the problem he had to solve.”

Fair enough. But with his boss in the hot seat, the arresting officer has probably been advised to pay more attention to what he’s doing.

More importantly, though, Milwaukee’s police chief has pledged to try to make things right with the media. He says he’s going to meet with editors of various Milwaukee news outlets to examine police policy, and “identify those circumstances in which the perception is we are not playing fair with the press and let’s correct it.”

It’s hard not to imagine that all the pictures of the incident had a lot to do with an outcome that’s so good for the First Amendment, and for democracy. It’s not too much of a leap to argue that the whole Occupy movement has been at least partially protected by a force field of cameras. A few incidents of police brutality have resulted in more support for the movement, and widespread condemnation of the police departments involved (in New York City and Oakland, California.)

The police certainly do a tough, important job protecting us from crime, but to avoid accountability by arresting photojournalists, they’re going to have to arrest pretty much every bystander with a cell phone.

November 1st, 2011

Banned for 20 Years, Photographer Returns to Tunisia

© Le Monde/photos © Karim Ben Khelifa

As a kid growing up in Belgium, photographer Karim Ben Khelifa spent all his school vacations in Tunisia, visiting his aunts, uncles and cousins, enjoying family gatherings in his grandparents’ home, going to the beach. But in the last 20 years, he had been unable to return. Family members in Tunisia warned him that his work covering Islamic insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan would make him the target of the government of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, described as a “predator of press freedom” by Reporters without Borders. Because Ben Khelifa, 39, holds a Tunisian as well as a Belgian passport, the government of Tunisia could jail him with impunity.

After the ouster of Ben Ali in January inspired demonstrations across the Middle East, Ben Khelifa says,  “I managed to go to Yemen and Libya on assignment for Newsweek, Le Monde and Stern,” he says, but his dream was to return to Tunisia. “This is my country. It’s the one I want to work in more than any other.” In September, at the Visa Pour L’Image festival in Perpignan, he convinced editors at Le Monde to send him to Tunisia during the run-up to the country’s elections on October 23.  But he asked for a deal:  “If you send me back, I don’t want to cover any news. The work is about me going back to my roots after 20 years. They decided to take a different angle on the story.”

© Le Monde/photos © Karim Ben Khelifa

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