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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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October 10th, 2011

Yuri Kozyrev Wins 2 Prix Bayeux-Calvados Awards for Libya Coverage

© Yuri Kozyrev/Noor for Time. Above: A rebel prays on the battlefield,

Photographer Yuri Kozyrev, who covered the conflict in Libya for Time magazine,  won the Photo Trophy and the Public Prize for photography at the Priz Bayeux-Calvados des Correspondents de Guerre, a four-day festival devoted to war reporting, which takes place in Bayeux, France. The Photo Trophy, sponsored by Nikon, comes with a 7,000 Euro prize; the Public Prize, sponsored by the town of Bayeux, includes a 3,000 Euro prize.

Other awards given at the Prix Bayeux-Calvados, which took place October 5-8, including awards for radio, television, Web and print journalists. More than 40 jurors judged the competition, including photographers Jerome Delay, Karim Ben Khelifa, Laurent Van Der Stokt, Wilfrid Esteve,  agent Robert Pledge of Contact Press Images.

Kozyrev, a member of Noor Images, covered the escalating conflict between rebels opposed to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafy and the Libyan army for Time in February and March, and again in August as rebels closed in on the country’s capital, Tripoli.  He has also photographed in Yemen, Egypt and Bahrain since the start of the Arab spring. In September, Kozyrev was awarded the Visa D’Or prize for news photography at the Visa Pour L’Image festival in Perpignan, France.

September 27th, 2011

Mario Tama’s Close-Up On Netanyahu’s UN Speech

© Mario Tama/Getty Images

Note to photographers covering the United Nations General Assembly: It pays to carry a telephoto lens.

Yesterday, Michael Shaw at Bag News noted that Getty Images photographer Mario Tama had managed to zoom in on the text of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the General Assembly on September 23, capturing the prime minister’s handwritten notes, cross outs and revisions.

Six years ago at another UN gathering, President George W. Bush slipped a note to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice saying he would need a bathroom break. The text of that note was captured by a sharp-eyed Reuters photographer who, like Tama, was shooting from a booth above the hall.

Though slightly less amusing than a request by a world leader to go to the boys’ room, Netanyahu’s revised speech came 40 minutes after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had called on the UN to establish a Palestinian state.  Comparing Netanyahu’s typed text with the speech as he delivered it, Shaw speculates that Netanyahu had scribbled down changes in reaction to Abbas’s statements.

Tama tells PDN that he had been covering the UN assembly for three days from locations among the roughly two dozen booths above the assembly. “Some are filled with photographers, others with video people, others with translators,” Tama explains. “As photographers we have a bit of leeway to explore angles from a few different booths, as long as we stay out of the way of the official UN camera crews and the like.”

As Netanyahu’s speech went on, “I began to notice some heavy blue-ink scribblings on the side of his notes,” says Tama, who has covered the UN many times in the past ten years.  “I don’t recall ever seeing such prominent markings and corrections on a world leader’s speech before.”

He notes, “After shooting all the angles of him delivering the speech, I decided to try and just focus on the notes for the latter part of the speech.” He shot several photos of the notes with a  400mm lens, but couldn’t make out the words through his viewfinder. “I could only properly make them out once I blew them up in Photoshop.” The images, he says, “obviously had to be cropped quite significantly, hence the less than perfect image quality. I felt in this instance the unique content overrode quality concerns.”

Tama adds that if he had seen similar notes on Abbas’s text, he would have photographed those as well; he only recalls seeing that Abbas’s speech was in Arabic.

More of Tama’s close-up images are shown in “Over Netanyahu’s Shoulder” on Bagnewsnotes.com. Tama says to his knowledge “Bag News is the first significant publication of the images.” 

September 22nd, 2011

Islamic Cultural Center Exhibits NYChildren Photography

© Danny Goldfield. Photo: Ben, Burundi.

After months of controversy, the Park51 Islamic Cultural Center  opened in lower Manhattan on September 21 with a photo exhibition that celebrates New York’s diversity. “NYChildren” is an ongoing project by photographer Danny Goldfield, who is photographing a New York City child born in every country in the world.  The hundreds of visitors and international journalists who crowded into the refurbished storefront for the opening last night got to see the 169 photos Goldfield has taken in New York City since he began the project in 2004. It’s a feel-good debut exhibition for Park51, dubbed “the Ground Zero mosque” by protesters who opposed the opening of an Islamic cultural and prayer center within a five-minute walk of the September 11 Memorial site.

The day after the opening, Goldfield was still amazed by the crowd at the event. “I don’t know how many journalists I talked to last night,” he told PDN. He noted that some in last night’s crowd may have been wary visiting the space. “My hope is that they’ll step through the threshold and be in this pristine white gallery with 169 photos and feel more comfortable.”

Goldfield, who describes himself as “a proud Jew,” says his NYChildren project was inspired by the idea that bonding with our neighbors can strengthen communities.

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September 13th, 2011

Interactive Photo Display on Malnutrition: Coming to a City Near You

Photo by Amber Terranova/PDN

Commuters and shoppers passing through New York’s Union Square on Tuesday were presented with information on the fight against malnutrition in an unusual way: At an outdoor exhibit of photographs displayed around a field hospital set up by Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).  The photos, as wells as videos shown on monitors inside the hospital tents, were created by photographers with VII Photo Agency as part of Starved for Attention, the global multimedia and online campaign created in association with MSF.

MSF doctors and nurses gave tours of the hospital and describe their work in the field; VII photographers Jessica Dimmock and Ron Haviv were on hand to answer questions about their photo projects.   Union Square was the first stop on an exhibition tour that includes Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington.

None of the photos in the exhibit, taken in Burkina Faso, India, Bangladesh, Congo and elsewhere, show the now familiar images of starving children with bloated bellies, Haviv notes.
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September 9th, 2011

9/11 Tributes in Photos

The September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City was the most photographed terrorist act — and perhaps the most photographed single news event– in history. Photography also played an important role in efforts to comprehend the grief, loss, and actions that followed.  On the tenth anniversary of the attacks, photographs –taken before, during and after that day – form the centerpiece for numerous cultural events and public reflections.   Here is a partial list of exhibitions and online galleries.

Exhibits and Events
Joel Meyerowitz: “Aftermath”

© Joel Meyerowitz

The only photographer granted access to Ground Zero during the months of recovery will display his work in this gallery exhibition. Phaidon has also re-released his book, Aftermath, in a new tenth anniversary edition.
September 10-17. Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York.  (Opening reception and book signing, September 10.)
www.houkgallery.com/exhibitions/2011-09-10_joel-meyerowitz/

“Remembering 9/11”
The International Center of Photography has collaborated with the National September 11 Memorial Museum on “Remembering 9/11,” a five-part exhibition: “Memory Remains: 9/11 Artifacts at Hangar 17;” photographs from Eugene Richards’s Stepping Through the Ashes; a five-channel video installation, cedarliberty, by Elena del Rivero and Leslie McCleave; “Above Ground Zero,” photographs and proof sheets by Gregg Brown; and excerpts from the storefront exhibition that opened in New York shortly after 9/11, “here is new york: a democracy of photographs.” Through January 8.  International Center of Photography, 1133 Avenue of the Americas at 43rd Street, New York.
www.icp.org

© Camile Jose Vergara

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