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July 9th, 2012

How Sean Hemmerle Photographed Drones

© The New York Times Magazine/photo: Sean Hemmerle

To accompany an article in the latest issue of The New York Times Magazine about how the Air Force trains its pilots to control unmanned drones used for deadly strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, the magazine assigned architecture and portrait photographer Sean Hemmerle to photograph the aircraft at Holloman Air Force Base, a training facility in New Mexico. His images, shot with a Mamiya 7, make the drones look stark and strange—“They’re blind moles in the sky,” says Hemmerle—and also technologically astonishing. That, says Hemmerle, was his intent. “When I got there I thought: Wow, these are strangely beautiful,” he says. “They’re curious to look at. I was hoping the pictures would sort of lull you in with beauty, and then hopefully an hour later you’ll say:  ‘What did I just see?’”

Stacey Baker, the photo editor at The New York Times Magazine who produced the shoot, says she gave Hemmerle a wish list of shots to take. Despite—or perhaps because of—the increasing criticism of the CIA’s use of remotely piloted drones to carry out assassinations in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, Hemmerle was allowed to shoot everything on Baker’s list. “They basically threw open the doors to us,” explains Hemmerle, who was accompanied throughout the two-day shoot by First Lt. Logan Clark of the public affairs office. “They only asked that we not show the last names of the pilots.”

He photographed both types of remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), the Predator  and the Reaper, take offs and landings, a flight simulator, and rows of ground control stations (GCS): the windowless, antenna-studded containers from which pilots control the aircraft while watching video monitors. At Holloman, which is located near the White Sands Missile Range south of Albuquerque, trainees learn to hone in on targets by tracking cars driving along local highways.

Captain Emily Chilson, chief of public affairs at the base, tells PDN that Holloman is a training facility “so there’s nothing classified here.” The facility had hosted a “media day” for photographers and reporters in February; another media event is scheduled for later this month, Chilson says. Wanting something different for The Magazine, Baker secured permission to send a photographer when other press weren’t around. She contacted Hemmerle on May 11, and on May 15 he and Ari Burling, a photographer friend who acted as his assistant, flew from New York to New Mexico.

© The New York Times/photo by Sean Hemmerle

Hemmerle spent two 16-hour days, shooting from dawn to dusk, hoping to get the best light possible. Shooting in a World War II-era hanger, “They were long exposures, of 15 or 30 seconds, to make dawn look like day.” Baker had asked him to shoot film, and he backed up everything he shot on the Mamiya RZ by shooting with a Canon 5D Mark II. Once his film was processed, he looked through about 60 contact sheets and about 100 digital frames before sending a selection of his 20 favorites to Baker. Four images appeared in yesterday’s print edition; nine images appear online.

Hemmerle, who has shot in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan, has photographed other centers of power.  Kathy Ryan, The Magazine’s director of photography, had recently seen Hemmerle’s photo of a meeting at US Central Command in Tampa, Florida, which he shot for the MIT Technology Review. Ryan and her husband, editor and curator Scott Thode, are co-curating an upcoming exhibition of work by School of Visual Arts alumni, and had visited Hemmerle’s studio two weeks before he got the call from Baker.

Hemmerle served in the US Army from 1984 to 1988, and believes mentioning this experience on his bio has helped him when he’s photographed the military. “The commanders are always respectful.” Of the Air Force personnel he met at Holloman, he says, “Everyone’s so accommodating, so professional, and smart, too.”

He didn’t know other photographers had visited at Holloman, and didn’t know why he was given so much access.  “I was thinking that if they’ll let me see that and they’ll let The New York Times publish it, it’s the cherry picked tip of the iceberg. When I see that we can photograph that, I’m like,  ‘What else you really got going on?’” He adds, “There’s a touch of Dr. Strangelove there,” referring to the Cold War movie about military hardware run amok, “but the experience of actually photographing them was fantastic.”

June 4th, 2012

BBC Fooled by Syrian Rebel Propaganda Photo on Twitter

The BBC recently suffered a predictable consequence of relying on citizen journalism: It published a photograph circulated on Twitter by a Syrian anti-government activist that purportedly shows dead civilians after a government massacre last month in Houla, Syria. The image turns out to have been misappropriated and mislabeled for the purposes of propaganda.

The photo was actually a 2003 photograph from Iraq by Getty images contract photographer Marco di Lauro, John Harrington reported May 27 on his Photo Business News & Forum blog.  The image shows dozens of bodies dug up from a mass grave. They were victims of a brutal crackdown by former dictator Saddam Hussein against a Shi’ite uprising after the 1991 Gulf War.

A Syrian activist reportedly circulated the image on Twitter as evidence of a Syrian crackdown against its citizens, in order to stoke the international outrage against Al Assad’s government. The BBC saw it,  “obtained some information pointing to its veracity,” and published the image with a disclaimer saying it could not be independently verified, according to the mea culpa that BBC published on May 29.

“It was a mistake,” the BBC said, “and we apologise for it.” The image was displayed for approximately 90 minutes before it was taken down, the BBC says.

Harrington argues that the mistake was a predictable consequence of the rush by the BBC and other news organizations to embrace citizen journalism, while mouthing all the right words about upholding standards for accuracy, fairness and objectivity.

One would think that a few glaring errors like this might make reputable news organizations realize that there are no shortcuts to gathering and vetting news–and also make them twice shy about crowd-sourcing news in order to save money.

But for now the BBC seems undeterred. “Fortunately, such mistakes are very rare,” the BBC assures its readers. “BBC News has a strong track record of using content from non-traditional sources, and of stopping numerous examples of incorrect material making it to air or online – but it does underline the need to handle such material with great care.”

May 23rd, 2012

Police Brutality? Pictures Tell a More Complicated Story

 

©Chicago Tribune/Brian Cassella

The Chicago Tribune has posted a dramatic series of photographs showing a clash between police and protesters outside the NATO summit meeting in Chicago on May 20. The images were shot by Tribune photographer Brian Cassella, who explains on his blog how he got the photos. The last image of the series shows a police officer cocking his fist to punch a protester. By itself, it’s easily read as (another) act of police brutality against citizens exercising their constitutional rights. But context is everything, as the rest of Cassella’s images illustrate: The police officer is throwing the punch to stop a protester from swinging a heavy stick (for the second time) at the head of another police officer who had lost his helmet. That helmet-less officer had already been struck once in the head by another protester swinging a lighter stick, which Cassella captured as it broke over the officer’s head. It’s a complicated story about two wrongs that don’t make a right, and Cassella tells it with clarity in nine frames. To see the series, visit the Chicago Tribune’s web site. (Cassella also talks about the photographs in this Chicago Tribune video.)

May 9th, 2012

Jeff Wall Photograph Fetches Artist Record $3.6 Million at Auction

"Dead Troops Talk (A vision after an ambush of a Red Army patrol, near Moqor, Afghanistan, winter 1986," © Jeff Wall.

A 1992 photograph by Jeff Wall sold for $3,666,500 yesterday evening during a Post-War and Contemporary art auction at Christie’s in New York City. The previous record sale for a work by Jeff Wall was $1.1 million.

The work “Dead Troops Talk (A vision after an ambush of a Red Army patrol, near Moqor, Afghanistan, winter 1986″ depicts a grisly scene in which Soviet Red Army soldiers killed by the Afghan mujahideen have come back to life and are conversing with one another.

The photograph, framed in a light box, was the first in an edition of two, with one artist’s print. The photograph has been in the collection of David and Geraldine Pincus, who acquired it from Marian Goodman Gallery in New York. The Pincus’s substantial collection formed a major part of the sale, which set a record for a Post-War and Contemporary art sale at $388.5 million, according to Christie’s.

The high lot in the sale was Mark Rothko’s “Orange, Red, Yellow,” which sold for $86.9 million, another record for a work from the Post-War period.

Three other photographs were included in the sale. A Richard Prince work that appropriated a Marlboro advertisement, “Untitled (Cowboys),” sold for $602,500. Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled #122″ sold for $206,500. And Nan Goldin’s “Ballad Triptych” sold for $218,500.

Related: Eggleston’s First-Ever Large Pigment Prints Earn 5.9 Million at Auction

May 4th, 2012

Three News Photographers Murdered in Veracruz, Mexico

Three photographers who had covered organized crime and drug violence in the Mexican state of Veracruz were found dead yesterday, AP reports. The bodies of  Guillermo Luna Varela, Gabriel Huge and Esteban Rodriguez were recovered from a wastewater canal near the port city of Veracruz, about 250 miles east of Mexico City. Their bodies had been dismembered and stuffed into black plastic bags. The Veracruz Attorney General’s office also reported that their bodies showed signs of torture.

Their deaths, discovered on World Press Freedom Day, bring to seven the number of journalists killed in Veracruz in the past year and a half. “Veracruz has seen a wave of lethal anti-press violence that is sowing widespread fear and self-censorship,” Carlos Lauria of Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement.  Lauria called on Mexico’s government “to end the deadly cycle of impunity in crimes against the press.”

Luna was a photographer on the crime beat for the web site veracruznews.com.mx who was last seen on Wednesday May 2. He was the nephew of Huge, a journalist who had been working for the local newspaper Notiver until he fled Veracruz after two of the newspaper’s reporters were murdered last year. According to a fellow journalist who spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity, Huge had recently returned to the state. Esteban Rodriguez had been a photographer with the newspaper AZ until he too fled; according to some news reports, he had recently been working as a welder. Also found on the scene was the body of Luna’s girlfriend, Irasema Becerra.

April 11th, 2012

At Bosnia Reunion, Journalists See Unfinished Work

Over 400 Bosnian and foreign journalists who covered the Bosnian war gathered in Sarajevo last week for the 20th anniversary of the outbreak of the conflict. But the reunion, organized by former Le Monde correspondent and editor Remy Ourdan and TV reporter Willem Lust,  with support from AFP, the Association of Journalists of Bosnia and Herzegovina and other organizations, generated as much discussion about the problems in today’s Bosnia as it did about the past, according to photographer Gary Knight, who traveled to the event with his wife, filmmaker Fiona Turner. “It wasn’t very celebratory,” says Knight. “For so many of us, there was an affirmation that we need to get back to work in that country.”

In Sarajevo, Knight, Ourdan and photographer Jon Jones (now director of photography for London’s Sunday Times Magazine)  presented the layout of the book they are self-publishing: Bosnia 1992 to 1995, featuring images donated by 45 photographers and essays by journalists who covered the conflict, edited by Jones. When the book is published in July, they will donate about 250 copies to Bosnian public libraries; they will also sell copies and send proceeds to charities in Bosnia (selected with help from Bosnian colleagues). Though Knight had anticipated that revisiting Bosnia and reconnecting with his old colleagues would be “emotional,” he says, “I didn’t anticipate to what degree and why.” He explains, “It’s staggering what has not happened in 20 years.”

The official unemployment rate in Bosnia is 45 percent. Tens of thousands are still displaced 20 years after they were forced out of their homes. “You have people living on 100 euros a month,” he notes, “and there’s no justice.”

(more…)

March 9th, 2012

Behind the Photo of Invisible Children’s Founders Posing with Guns

© Glenna Gordon. Photo: Founders of Invisible Children pose with members of the Sudan People Liberation Army near the Sudan-Congo border, April 2008.

The Stop Kony2012 campaign video, which has now been viewed 55 million times on YouTube, has unleashed criticism about the video’s creators, followed by a backlash against the backlash.

The video, created by the charity Invisible Children, calls for intervention to bring Ugandan rebel Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, to justice. It is being criticized by Ugandans, NGOs working in Uganda and neigboring countries where the LRA operates, academics and the press.

Amidst the controversy there has been an outcry over a 2008 news photo showing Invisible Children’s founders posing with machine guns amidst members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), which has battled the LRA. Photographer Glenna Gordon took the photo on assignment for AP in 2008, Ri-Kwangba, on the Sudan-Congo border, during peace talks between the Ugandan government and the LRA.
Gordon notes on her blog, www.scarlettlion.com that Vice magazine used the image without her permission –and without a caption – to illustrate its article “Should I Donate Money to Invisible Children?” That’s a valid question, she says, but just as the Kony 2012 video is being criticized for its lack of context, Gordon says her photo needs context, too. Without it, she says, the image “continues to perpetuate misinformation and to mythologize the film makers as bad asses, a practice I do not support.”  She says she tried to publish more information about what she calls the “questionable practices” of the founders but “no publication would bite.”

The Washington Post has just published an extensive interview with Gordon.  She is asked for her reaction to Invisible Children’s work and the video, and her thoughts on the photo:

Q. Invisible Children has received some criticism that their efforts and this photo seem “colonialist,” or hint at the “white man’s burden.” What do you say to that?
Gordon: I think all of those things are true. The photo plays into the myth that Invisible Children are very much actively trying to create. They even used the photo on their official response page. I don’t think they think there is a problem with the idea that they are colonial. This photo is the epitome of it, like, we are even going to hold your guns for you.

Invisible Children’s Jason Russell disagrees, the Post reports. Russell, who is shown in the photo along with colleagues Bobby Bailey and Laren Poole of Invisible Children, says they wanted to meet and film members of the SPLA to get their reaction to the peace talks.

“And because Bobby, Laren and I are friends and had been doing this for 5 years, we thought it would be funny to bring back to our friends and family a joke photo. You know, ‘Haha – they have bazookas in their hands but they’re actually fighting for peace.’ The ironic thing about this photo is that I HATE guns. I always have. Back in 2008 I wanted this war to end, like we all did, peacefully, through peace talks. But Kony was not interested in that; he kept killing.”

The full interview with Gordon, and links to both criticism of the campaign and the reaction by Invisible Children, is on Washington Post.

Correction: an earlier version of this story misstated the location at which the image was taken. Apologies for this error.

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.