Two Ladies Step into the Slums of India . . . and Find Stories to Tell

October 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

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Here’s my entry for the “first-world problems” meme: I accidentally left my copy of Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers outside overnight. The next morning the pages were swollen from getting wet and I had to throw the dust jacket away.

Woe is me.

If you’ve read Behind the Beautiful Forevers, you’d recognize the irony.

Katherine Boo

Boo’s National Book Award-winning work, published in 2012, is the true story of the people of Annawadi, a slum in Mumbai, India, where ruined dust jackets are the least of their worries. Most of the characters barely scratch out their livings, many by sorting through trash and selling what they can. All are struggling against the surroundings they’ve inherited. There’s Abdul, a teenage garbage picker who supports his family. There’s Asha, who aspires to be a slumlord, and her daughter, Manju, who hopes to become Annawadi’s first female to graduate from college. There’s Abdul’s neighbor, Fatima, a one-legged woman who sets herself on fire, blaming Abdul and his family for her pain. Abdul, his father, and sister are arrested.

Sometimes trying to scratch out a living isn’t enough. Fatima dies from her injuries. Kalu, a young scrap-metal thief is murdered. And Meena, the first girl born in the slum, commits suicide by drinking rat poison.

Boo, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for her work in the Washington Post, was introduced to India by her Indian husband. As she writes in her “Author’s Note,” “I fell in love with an Indian man and gained a country. He urged me not to take it at face value.”

That she did not do. Instead, she moved to India and chose to dive into the gritty life of Anawadi, asking questions of what and why and how and what now . . . and listening to the many answers.

Before her move, she wondered if she could handle life in India, particularly spending time in the slums. During one night alone in Washington, D.C., she made up her mind:

Tripping over an unabridged dictionary, I found myself on the floor with a punctured lung and three broken ribs in a spreading pool of Diet Dr Pepper, unable to slither to a phone. In the hours that passed, I arrived at a certain clarity. Having proved myself ill-suited to safe cohabitation with an unabridged dictionary, I had little to lose by pursuing my interests in another quarter—a place beyond my so-called expertise, where the risk of failure would be great but the interactions somewhat more meaningful.

Listen to how she begins the story of what she found in Annawadi:

Lana Šlezić

Lana Šlezić is an award-winning freelance photographer who was born in Canada to Croatian parents. For two years she lived in Afghanistan, documenting with her camera the abuse of women there. The result is the book, Forsaken: Afghan Women.

But, she writes at lanaslezic.com, living in Afghanistan “was peanuts compared to raising kids.”

She says the birth of her first child brought an “emotional upheaval” that was “extraordinary.” When her son was just six weeks old, mom, dad, and baby boy moved to New Delhi. Then, less than two years later, their daughter arrived.

[E]very time I left our home in Delhi to drive across the city—my own children singing or crying or screaming in the back seat—without fail, I would see street kids while waiting at a traffic light. They were everywhere on every street corner and in every neighbourhood. At car windows they knocked relentlessly and if not asking directly for money then offering something in exchange—a dance, balloons, matches, plastic flowers, inflated airplanes, anything for a few rupees. It nagged at me but I had not the emotional nor physical energy to do anything but sigh and lean back into my seat. An inexplicable feeling of impossibility sat like vinegar in my stomach and started to turn me inside out so that my heart actually became visible. Friends told me I was grumpy.

So in December 2011 when I was wandering around Old Delhi—eyes wide open, conflicted heart in hand, mother of two with all the love that brings and a little less exhausted—I walked through a gate and onto a dirt field. It was a park, though not like any park I had known as a child. . . .

Šlezić was captured by what she experienced . . . children playing in the dirt, children showing her their homes amid the squalor, children talking about life and death. She returned again and again, listening to their stories, playing with them, and taking photos, lots of photos. Out of this she produced “A Walk in the Park,” a collection of striking documentary-style photographs as well as portraits of the children. You can see a gallery of her photos online, and you can view a set of nine portraits as well, each accompanied by a short story told in the child’s own words.

You can also watch the two videos below, which serve as sort of “trailers” for her project. As you can see, because of privacy settings, you’ll have to click the image and then click again to start them on Vimeo. What a bummer. That’s two clicks when one really should be enough.

Woe is me.

(Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Random House, 2012; Lana Slezic, “A Walk in the Park: Artist’s Statement,” lanaslezic.com)
[photo: “Pipe Play 2,” by Meena Kadri, used under a Creative Commons license]

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The Vibrant Palette of Our World

February 18, 2014 § 3 Comments

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For those of you caught in the whites and greys of a brutal winter, know that the bright colors of spring will be here soon.

But until then, just to tide you over, here are two reminders of how colorful our world can be.

If Your City Were Covered by Post-it Notes

When I use a Post-it Note—usually canary yellow—it’s most often to remind me about something I need to do, such as make a phone call, pick up a gallon of milk, or schedule a doctor’s appointment. But with the introduction of its “Colors of the World” collection, 3M wants to remind us of places we’d like to be.

Each grouping of five complementary colors—sort of like those chips from the paint store—represents one of four cities from around the globe: Bangkok, Mykonos, New York City, and Rio de Janeiro.

As reported in a 3M press release, fashion stylist Brad Goreski, serving as Post-it Brand’s “color ambassador,” says,

Trends in fashion, design and pop culture are taking on more global influence, and of course, one thing that’s always in style is color. I am consistently inspired whenever I travel, and I love seeing how the Post-it Brand Colors of the World collection brings the hues from four very chic destinations to life, offering a color scheme inspired by the energy of these places.

It’s an interesting idea: What colors would your city be?

For a chance to win a trip to New York, enter Post-it’s City Escape Sweepstakes. Just create a name for one of the colors in the collection and write a short essay telling what it means to you in relation to the city it represents (or you can submit a photo or video instead). If I’m reading the rules correctly, the trips will be awarded by a random drawing, but the best entries can also be used in future promotions.

If Color Grabs Your Camera Lens

For another colors-based contest, go to Project World Colors. It’s a photo blog started and curated by world travelers and bloggers Naomi Hattaway and Anne Lowrey. Each month they announce a new color, share their own images, and invite other bloggers to craft their own posts based on that hue. Then, near the end of the month, they pick a blogger to feature (that’s the prize—sorry, no trip), and they also share a post from a guest contributor.

For instance, this month the color is red. The post from the featured blogger is at “Project #Worldcolors 2014, a Red February” at It’s Lynny Kansas. The guest contributor is Annie Griffiths, award-winning photojournalist and founder of Ripple Effect Images, which “document[s] the plight of poor women and girls around the world and highlight[s] the programs that are helping to empower them.”

PWC offers guidelines for participation and shares the following enthusiastic invitation:

We invite you to participate in a photo blogging collaboration that celebrates the places that color shows up in our lives and across the web. . . . The goal is to delve into the texture, the beauty and the diversity that color can bring in different parts of the world. Come play with us!

[photo: “Textiles in Souq,” by Katie and Michael, used under a Creative Commons license]

If You’re Stuck in Customs, Browse Trey Ratcliff’s Photos

April 30, 2013 § 1 Comment

Farewell India

Farewell India, by Trey Ratcliff

When I  saw the tag on Stuck in Customs, “Welcome to the #1 Travel Photography Blog,” one of my first thoughts was a paraphrase of Buddy the Elf: “You did it! Congratulations! The #1 travel blog! Great job, everybody! It’s great to be here.”

Then I read more about Trey Ratcliff, the blog’s author, on his “About Trey” page and learned that his photos register over a million views each week. I guess that probably does make him number one.

And somewhere along the way, I added to his view total by looking at a bunch of his photographs. His work is pretty amazing. Not only does it span the globe, but he is an expert in—and proponent of—high dynamic range (HDR) imaging. By Ratcliff’s definition, HDR “is a post-processing method of taking either one image or a series of images, combining them, and adjusting the contrast ratios to do things that are virtually impossible with a single aperture and shutter speed.” The result is a picture that better imitates what is actually seen by the eye, and remembered by the brain, with a fuller range of light and color. If you’re interested in creating your own HDR masterpieces, take a look at Ratcliff’s free tutorial (in nine languages).

A gallery of Ratcliff’s photos are at his online portfolio or at his Flickr account, or you can follow his blog and see a photo a day.

Oh, yeah. The other part of Ratcliff’s blog that caught my attention is its name. For a site focused on global/cross-cultural content, Stuck in Customs is quite possibly the #2 title out there.

Customs: If you can’t clear ’em, enjoy some photos while you’re stuck in ’em.

Miracle in Iceland

Miracle in Iceland

River Runs through the Andes

River Runs through the Andes

A Moody Evening at the Great Wall

A Moody Evening at the Great Wall

[photos:  “Farewell India,” “Miracle in Iceland,” “River Runs through the Andes,” and “A Moody Evening at the Great Wall,” by Trey Ratcliff at Stuck in Customs, used under a Creative Commons license]

POYi, the Best Show-and-Tell of the Year

March 5, 2013 § Leave a comment

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The bust of Donald W. Reynolds is displayed in the Reynolds Journalism Institute at MU.

Last week, Pictures of the Year International completed its slate of winners for 2013, marking its 70th annual competition. POYi, “the oldest and most prestigious photojournalism program in the world,” is sponsored by the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

Below is a list of 14 winning photo collections that offer a great show-and-tell of global and cross-cultural issues. There’s a lot here, but it’s still only a small part of this year’s entire POYi gallery. It’s well worth your time to settle down with a cup (or a pot) of coffee and click through all the winners, including the work of Paul Hansen, who was awarded Photographer of the Year honors in the newspaper division. Earlier in February, Hansen’s “Gaza Burial,” was named World Press Photo of the Year.

If, after looking at these photos, you’re inspired to try the challenging life of an international photojournalist yourself, watch the video at the end of this post. It’s Ed Kashi’s Photojournalisms, the third-place multimedia documentary winner. A companion to his book Witness #8: Photojournalisms, the short video was made from a compilation of Kashi’s photos and nearly 20 year of journal entries and emails addressed to his wife. “Home for me,” he writes, “has always been a shifting term, with shifting people and shifting objects vying for my attention.”

Here, in no particular order, are some of the people and objects that caught the attention of some very talented and dedicated photographers in 2012:

Life without Lights, Peter DiCampo
+++1.5 billion people around the globe don’t have access to electricity.

The Siege of Aleppo, Javier Manzano (includes graphic images of war)
+++The U.N. recently reported that nearly 70,000 have died in Syria’s civil war.

Beyond 7 Billion, Rick Loomis, et al.
+++“The biggest generation in history is just entering its childbearing years.”

North Korea—Collectivism, Vincent Yu
+++While the majority of North Koreans suffer, the government presents a “glossy” image to the world.

Water Is Personal, Brent Stirton
+++Drought, floods, and lack of clean water affect people all over the world.

A Long Walk, Shannon Jensen
+++These are the shoes of refugees who fled northern Sudan.

Paris Suburbs, Arnau Bach
+++Poverty and drug trafficking are prevalent in the neighborhoods surrounding Paris.

Dark Isolation, Tokyo, Salvi Danés Vernedas
+++“It is easy to find oneself isolated and alone among a crowd.”

Labor Movement, Alejandro Cargagena
+++From an overpass above a highway in Monterrey, Mexico, one can see laborers traveling to work in the open beds of pickup trucks.

Uncounted Casualties, Jay Janner
+++“They survived the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. But they did not survive the homecoming.”

In the Devil’s Footsteps, Tyler Anderson
+++The people of Northern Uganda try to recover from the devastation left by Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army.

Buzkashi, Casper Hedberg
+++North of Kabul, thousands gather to watch Afghanistan’s national sport in which men on horseback fight over an animal carcass.

Zone of Absolute Discomfort, Justin Jin
+++Few people live in the frozen tundra of the Russian Arctic.

Fukushima: Taking Back a Nuclear No-Man’s Land, James Whitlow Delano
+++Japan’s 2011 nuclear disaster left “a vast network of nuclear ghost towns” waiting to be reclaimed.

[photo: “Reynolds Statue, Reynolds Journalism Institute,” by moohappy, used under a Creative Commons license]

‘Tis the Season for International Photo Awards

February 26, 2013 § Leave a comment

2865183436_189dee1a69_mNot only is it the month for the Oscars, but February is also a busy time for selecting the prize winners in international photography. The judges have hard work wading through the thousands of photos, but we are the beneficiaries, as we get to browse through the best of the best.

Sony World Photography Awards
On the 6th of this month, the World Photography Organisation announced the shortlist winners for its 2013 Sony World Photography Awards. The finalists, in the professional, open, and youth categories, were selected from 122,000 entries representing 170 countries.

Lens Culture has a high-resolution slideshow of 45 of the shortlisted photos, or you can click through the galleries at the WPO site here. Final winners will be announced in April.

56th World Press Photo Contest
On February 15, World Press Photo announced the winner of its “Photo of the Year” for 2012. It is Paul Hansen’s “Gaza Burial,”  an image of men carrying the bodies of a young brother and sister to be buried after the two were killed by an Israeli missile strike.

Galleries containing all the winning photos, selected from the work of 5,666 photographers from 124 countries, are on display here.

Coinciding with the photo contest is World Press Photo’s third annual multimedia competition. The gallery of winners is here, including the following videos covering subjects outside the US (viewer discretion advised):

Into the Shadows, Pep Bonet, dir. (1st prize, Online Short)
Desperate Africans who migrate to Johannesburg face terrible circumstances.

Aleppo Battleground, Clément Saccomani, ed. dir. (3rd prize, Online Short)
A photojournalist joins the Free Syria Army at the front lines.

Too Young to Wed, Jessica Dimmock, dir. (1st prize, Online Feature)
Destaye was 11 when she married a priest in Ethiopia. Now 15, she has a 6-month-old son.

Dreams on FreewheelsYang Enze, dir. (3rd prize, Online Feature)
The seven members of the China Disabled Track Cycling Team train for the 2012 London Paralympic Games.
(This video not available for embedding.)

Pictures of the Year International
POYi started announcing their latest winners on February 5, with the final group announced today. I figured I’d wait until they were finished to start working my way through the results—it does take a while. And after I’m done, I plan to post again with links to some of their photos that tell stories from around the world.

[photo: “Flickr Photographers : Mauronster,” by Sergio Bertolini, used under a Creative Commons license]

Sorry You Weren’t the One to Buy “Afghan Girl”

February 15, 2013 § 2 Comments

My apologies.

It’s been more than two months since the National Geographic auction at Christie’s, and I need to set something right.

It’s quite likely that at least one of you, dear readers, saw my post about the sale of Steve McCurry’s Afghan Girl at auction, arrived at Christie’s on December 6 with only $12,000 in your pocket, and watched in horror as other bidders immediately left you behind . . . far behind . . . so far behind that you weren’t able to lift your paddle even once.

The pre-auction estimate that I quoted for McCurry’s iconic photo was indeed cited at $8,000 to $12,000 in October, but the estimate listed on Christie’s website, where the photo was displayed, was $30,000 to $50,000. Not that that would have helped a lot anyway, as the print’s winning bid came in at a whopping $178,900 (with the buyer’s premium added to the “hammer price”).

And Afghan Girl wasn’t the only item to bring in an enormous amount of money. N.C. Wyeth’s Duel on the Beach topped the sale at $1,082,500. The entire auction brought in $3,776,587.

I was wondering what would make a print of a photograph worth so much. The anonymous buyer didn’t get the original Kodachrome slide. He didn’t purchase future licensing rights. And he didn’t buy the last copy of the photo ever made.

I think I’ve figured it out, though. The print is signed, of course, and dated. But then comes the really special part. Next to the signature is the marking “1/1.”

That does it for me. Not 1 of 200 or 1 of 10 . . . but 1 of 1.

Afghan Girl truly is an iconic photo. Monica Hess of The Washington Post calls it “the photograph of photographs of photographs” and then describes “the ragged red scarf, the scissors-sharp green eyes, the hungry, hunted, haunted beauty.”

Ah, yes, the eyes.

If you’d like to get a better view of what $178,900 got for one bidder, do this: Go to this link—which will bring you a larger-than-life image of Christie’s “Sale 2603 / Lot 194″—and click on the zoom-in symbol a few times. Re-center the photo and look into those “scissors-sharp green eyes.”

Those eyes. Two of two.

(Monica Hess, “National Geographic’s Auction of Images Fetches $3.8 million,” The Washington Post, December 6, 2012)

[photo: “Steve McCurry: On the Outside Looking In,” by Steve Evans, used under a Creative Commons license]

Get Steve McCurry’s “Afghan Girl” for $8,000 or More, or How about Much, Much Less?

November 20, 2012 § 10 Comments

Most online introductions of Steve McCurry say something like “He’s the guy who took the photo of the Afghan girl.” Yes, his portrait of Sharbat Gula, a girl in a refugee camp, was featured on the cover of National Geographic in 1985—and became one of the most recognized photographs of all time. But it should also go without saying that McCurry has produced many, many more remarkable photos over his career. He continues to travel the world, capturing the images as they develop before him. As reported in the blog CNN Photos, his philosophy is “travel to a place, work with the locals, and see what emerges.”

If you’d like to own some of McCurry’s photos, including Afghan Girl, there are numerous ways to acquire them, covering a wide range of budgets—from really, really expensive to free. Just in time for Christmas, here are your pricing options, arranged for your convenience from highest to lowest:

$8,000 to $12,000 (estimate)
For the first time, the National Geographic Society is auctioning off some of its vast collection of 11.5 million photographs and illustrations. The sale will take place December 6, at Christie’s, and will include a special print of McCurry’s Afghan Girl. The 240 pieces offered are expected to bring a total of about $3 million, so don’t expect too many bargain-basement prices. (For an update on the auction, see “Sorry You Weren’t the One to Buy ‘Afghan Girl.’“)

Something less than $8,000, I presume
McCurry offers signed fine-art prints of his work at his website. A pdf catalog is available, but prices aren’t included. If you want to find out how much a print costs, you’ll need to contact a lady named Bonnie.

$65
Also available at McCurry’s site. At this price you can get a 20 x 24 inch poster of one of ten McCurry photos. Proceeds go to Imagine Asia.

$37.46
McCurry has just published a new book, titled Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs. It covers his best of the best (165 images) from the last 30 years. Amazon sells the standard hardback at the above price, but if you absolutely have to spend more, there’s the deluxe edition for $248.85 and a signed edition at Phaidon for $79.99.

Free
If you’re like me, then browsing the photos on the Internet will have to do for now. But it’s not a bad alternative. It certainly gives you the best selection. Several of the links above can get you started, but for the most images, go to the galleries at stevemccurry.com. Wow, he definitely has had some amazing things “emerge” in front of his lens.

Hear McCurry tell how he captured the photo Beggar Girl, Bombay, India:

(Elizabeth I. Johnson, “Curiosity Inspires Iconic Photographer,” CNN Photos; Ula Ilnytzky, “National Geographic to Auction Famous Photos, Art,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 23, 2012)

[top photo: “Steve McCurry Exhibit,” by Steve Evans, used under a Creative Commons license; Bottom photo: “Occhi che scrutano” (Eyes that stare), by Giuseppe Nicoloro, used under a Creative Commons license]

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