Timelapse Video of North Korea’s Capital

Given the exceptionally insular and totalitarian nature of North Korea’s regime, everyday photos and accounts of the country are hard to come by (though contrary to popular belief, outside visits and reports aren’t nonexistent). So I was surprised to see this rather beautiful timelapse video of Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital and premier city, courtesy of Mother Jones. It gives a far more vibrant and organic picture of the city than we’re accustomed to seeing.

The MoJo article points out that the video’s cheery vibe reflects the fact that it is an advertisement for Koryo Tours, a Beijing-based company that has run tours into North Korea and that subsidized the filmmakers’ travel expenses. Moreover, the plight of North Koreans is far more dire than one may imagine from the otherwise sleek-looking capital:

[The] capital is home to the ruling elite, and used by the regime as a showcase city; people here are hardly representative. For example, 16 million of North Korea’s 24 million people suffer from critical food insecurity, relying only on state-rationed food, according to the U.N.; one out of every three children is too short for his or her age. Hunger, poverty, lack of electricity, brutal repression and political reprisals… you name it: A UN special inquiry recently described North Korea’s human rights violations as without “parallel in the contemporary world.”

The lack of traffic in such a large and otherwise modern-looking city is just a mild reminder that most North Koreans are in dire circumstances, regardless of their rulers’ efforts to plaster it all over.

Seeing this, I cannot help but reflect on the potential of a united Korea, and whether I will ever live to see it happen.

Before They Pass Away

A friend of mine shared some great photos from Imgur of various indigenous and tribal cultures that are quickly disappearing in the face of changing times and social pressures.

I did some research and found that they are from a series I had heard about before called Before They Pass Away, a project that collects photos and accounts of some of the most remote and ancient civilizations in the world. It is the brainchild of British photographer Jimmy Nelson, who maintains a website for the series that documents his three-year journey across 44 countries.

There is already a book about the project that includes over 500 of these excellent photos (you can browse through some parts on the website). I definitely plan on buying it one of these days. The images are captivating both aesthetically and in the stories they tell; I love the expression and demeanor of the subjects — often proud and stoic, though sometimes hinting at deeper uncertainty and worry — as well as the sheer beauty of their settings, which are unsurprisingly some of the most isolated and pristine in the world.

That these groups have endured such typically harsh and untamed areas for generations (if not millennia) is a testament to their sophistication and tenancy.

Here are some of my personal favorites, although I fell in love with them all.

The Kazakhs of Mongolia.

The Huli of Papua New Guinea.

The Maori, New Zealand.

The Gauchos, Argentina.

Nelson also has an interesting TEDx Talk where he discusses his journey and the various connections he made and things he learned. I recommend you give it a listen. It is pretty inspiring and makes me even itchier to travel.

The Troubled Waters of South India and How It Impacts Us

I love and appreciate art of all kind, especially that which brings attention to important issues and conveys them in an impactful and digestible manner. Such is the case with the photographs of Selvaprakash Lakshmanan, who has captured the lives and struggles of South Indian coastal communities while bringing attention to a troubling intersection of several modern global problems.

Koodankulam, Tamil Nadu. Fishermen protest near the proposed nuclear plant on World Fisheries Day. Credit Selvaprakash Lakshmanan / New York Terms

The New York Times offers a great slideshow and summary of his brilliant and thus far unique project, as very few journalists or photographers have explored this area.

It was as much an environmental project as a human one, he discovered. As he learned while making “Life in Troubled Waters,” the harrowing issues facing these communities encompassed many symbolic and complex problems that resonate in the globalized 21st Century.

Mr. Lakshmanan was educated about the environmental issues while serving as a participant journalist for the Fojo Institute’s Coastal Management program. “With most of my stories before, it was more people-centric,” he said. “And the cause made me look, holistically, at how it is closely connected to the environment and the social, geopolitical, and economic issues. Each issue is interconnected, either in a direct or indirect way.”

While interviewing residents of villages in Tamil Nadu, he learned that an increase in shoddy industrial construction on the shoreline had led to erosion, which threatened the fishermen’s houses. Several of his photographs documented homes falling back into the sea and the attempts to build storm walls that buttressed against its power. Rising tides, a byproduct of climate change, presumably played a part too.

Indeed, Lakshmanan’s work is sorely needed, since this part of the world — like so many others — remains invisible to the wider global community, let alone the powers that be.

Since most of India’s massive population lives in inland cities, the coastal areas he’s investigating are typically underreported and overlooked. It is Mr. Lakshmanan’s mission to bring awareness of what’s going on in those areas. He has seen the effects of coal-fueled, thermal power plants spewing fly ash into the ocean. And salt mines that raise the salinity of the soil, destroying mangrove forests, which leads to further erosion. In addition, he said, “human waste and urban sewage systems go directly into the sea.”

But like so many humanitarian issues nowadays, the bigger picture is far more complex, and the intrepid photojournalist did an excellent job capturing both the nuance and global relevance of this seemingly localized issue:

But rather than present the fishermen as blameless, Mr. Lakshmanan was quick to point out why the Sri Lankans are so angered by the poaching. Apparently, the Tamil Nadu fishermen use a technique called bottom trawling, which has been banned in Sri Lanka but not India. In this type of fishing, nets are dragged along the seabed, which destroys fragile Sri Lankan coral reef ecosystems.

This was confirmed earlier in the year by Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, the Sri Lankan Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Development, who said, “Because of this method of fishing, the bottom of our Northern sea and the marine environment get completely destroyed. In the future there will be no fish left in the North.”

Ironically, most of the catch for which these Tamil Nadu fishermen risk their lives is then shipped out internationally or to the voracious urban markets in India. From there comes the sewage that pollutes the water, forcing the fish further out to sea where the fishermen follow, to their peril. It is a baroque tale that befits our intricately woven globalized society and perhaps a harbinger of larger resource wars to come.

It is that final point, which I have emphasized, that made this project stand out for me. It reaffirms a crucial but underestimated fact about our rapidly globalizing world: that just about every system — commercial, political, or cultural  — on every level — local, national, and regional — has significant  international connections and influences.

Much like the butterfly effect of chaos theory (which I admit to possibly misattributing), even the seemingly smallest and most localized actions can set in motion numerous other changes and consequences beyond our initial calculations.

As Lakshmanan notes at the end of the article, the environmental calamity looming over south India and northern Sri Lanka — like so many catastrophes across the world — is in large part driven by the voracious demands of consumers halfway across the planet. We take for granted how easily our goods come to our homes and stores, unaware of the exploitation, corruption, and environmental degradation we are unwittingly driving.

And just as our actions have impacts across the world, so too does the reverse happen: the destabilization and degradation resulting from our consumption will come back to haunt us, in ways ranging from refugee crises to climate change. We need a global perspective that recognizes this reality and can implement solutions across borders — no small feat, to say the least.

Street Life Through Puddles

One of the great things about art is its ability to unlock new perspectives and angles that can change our own everyday perceptions and thoughts. Such has been the effect on me of Un Regard,” a photographic series by Congolese painter-turned-photographer Kiripi Katembo Siku.

His artwork captures daily life in the bustling city of Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, as reflected in puddles. As you would imagine, this adds a pretty interesting effect to each photo.

Here are some photos courtesy of HuffPo, where I first stumbled upon this unique series.

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A pretty neat way to capture the everyday world around us. It kind of makes me want to get a closer look at puddles from now on! What do you think?

 

Twenty-One Children and Their Bedrooms From Around the World

PolicyMic is featuring the engaging works of James Mollison, a Kenyan-born, English photographer based in Venice whose 2011 photo book, Where Children Sleep, collects photos of various children and their sleeping quarters. It was meant to draw attention to each child’s “material and cultural circumstances” and to put perspective on the class, poverty, and the diversity of children worldwide.

I strongly suggest you check it out here; it’s well worth your time. Some of these images are pretty powerful, highlighting the vast discrepancies in standard of living between (and within) countries around the world. Many of the subjects have a lot of personality and character as well (which is no doubt why they were chosen.

Beyond Sochi: Photos of Russians, By Russians

Russia has always had an image problem in the West, even before it adopted communism and became a perennial rival during the Cold War. The Winter Olympics at Sochi have only confirmed or added to the existing biases of Russia as an austere, corrupt, and dour place. And while it’s true that the country is rife with political and social problems, like any society, there is more to them than we realize.

Thankfully, some Russians have become proactive about depicting a more nuanced and down-to-Earth view of their nation. NPR has reported on one enterprising photographer in particular who is leading the way:

Russian photographer Valeriy Klamm felt that foreign photojournalists who came to work in his country arrive with the pictures they want to send back home already in their head: Bleak images of a cold and desolate place where autocrats lord over drunks.

“They already know how to take pictures of Russia, and that’s how they arrive,” Klamm said. “It’s always a wild country that’s in some kind of difficult transition period.”

Klamm, himself, had never photographed much outside of his home city of Novosibirsk, where nearly 2 million people live on the banks of the Ob River in the middle of Siberia.

But in 2000, he started to visit these small towns, camera in hand. He began to ask his photographer friends, both foreign and local, to share images of simple life the rural Russian villages that dot the vast expanse from Europe to the Pacific Ocean.

And in 2009, Klamm started “Birthmarks on the Map,” a collective photo project and website that collects these images in one place.

“Life in the middle of nowhere has always been difficult,” he said. “But I see dignity in the difficulties of these people on the outskirts of our geography. Their patience and simple wisdom gives strength and hope. And this stuff is always necessary to mankind.”

Klamm wanted to fill his site with images of real Russia life, and the result is something closer to ethnography or anthropology than journalism. Klamm actually works with ethnographers who study these small communities to find untold stories.

More than 60 photographers, both award-winning professionals and hobbyists, have contributed. One photographer is a dentist with a massive collection of classic film cameras that he takes to the villages around his city, like Rossiyka, in his spare time.

Below is a small but rich sample of photographs. You can view more of them here.

A meeting of Cossacks in Nizhny Tagil, a town in the Ural Mountains.

A meeting of Cossacks in Nizhny Tagil, a town in the Ural Mountains. Fyodor Telkov, Yekaterinburg

On Trinity Day in the village of Biysk in Altai, grass and birch branches are  brought inside to decorate an Orthodox Church.

On Trinity Day in the village of Biysk in Altai, grass and birch branches are brought inside to decorate an Orthodox Church. Valeriy Klamm, Novosibirsk

An eighth-grade student plays in a pick-up soccer match with her girlfriends in the Mari El Republic between the Russian cities of Kazan and Nizhny Novgorod.

An eighth-grade student plays in a pick-up soccer match with her girlfriends in the Mari El Republic between the Russian cities of Kazan and Nizhny Novgorod. Fyodor Telkov, Yekaterinburg

A man places reindeer antlers on a shrine in the Murmansk region, a peninsula in the Arctic north of St. Petersburg where he and others keep herds of reindeer.

A man places reindeer antlers on a shrine in the Murmansk region, a peninsula in the Arctic north of St. Petersburg where he and others keep herds of reindeer. Alexander Stepanenko, Murmansk

Meyram Moldakimov takes care of a water pump facility in a village near Novosibirsk and washes under this pipe twice a week, no matter what the weather.

Meyram Moldakimov takes care of a water pump facility in a village near Novosibirsk and washes under this pipe twice a week, no matter what the weather. Valerik Klamm, Novosibirsk

A celebratory dinner for a funeral in Altai, a region that borders Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China.

A celebratory dinner for a funeral in Altai, a region that borders Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China. Igor Lagunov, Magnitigorsk

Swimmers enjoy a thermal spring with water that contains radon, a radioactive element. The locals revere the spring near the Mongolian border in Altai for its healing powers.

Swimmers enjoy a thermal spring with water that contains radon, a radioactive element. The locals revere the spring near the Mongolian border in Altai for its healing powers. Valeriy Klamm, Novosibirsk

A Cossack practices tricks on his horse in the Rostov region near Russia's border with Ukraine in 2010.

A Cossack practices tricks on his horse in the Rostov region near Russia’s border with Ukraine in 2010.Misha Maslennikov, Moscow

A boy named Zahar sits on an old car in a village called Rossiyka near Krasnoyarsk.

A boy named Zahar sits on an old car in a village called Rossiyka near Krasnoyarsk. Alexander Kustov, Krasnoyarsk

Over the past five years, Klamm has relied on this loose collective to build a massive collection of imagery that depicts a Russia you won’t see when you turn on the closing ceremonies of the Sochi Olympics this Saturday.

Grant Slater is in Siberia on a Social Expertise Exchange fellowship. He’ll be contributing to the “Birthmarks” project. You can follow along with his travels on Instagram.

A kitten loves on an old woman in the Cossack village of Velikopetrovskaya near Cheliyabinsk.

Labor of Love

In the following photo, Dr. Zbigniew Religa, a Polish cardiac surgeon who was one of the best in the field, monitors his patient after a successful 23-hour successful lung and heart transplant (his assistant is sleeping in the corner). The photo was among National Geographic’s 100 Best Pictures.

The procedure took place in 1987 Communist Poland, with the technology of the time requiring constant monitoring and care — something Religa was willing to do even after nearly 24 hours of difficult surgery. The following is an interview with the photographer, James L. Stanfield:

He’d captured the anxious eyes of Dr. Zbigniew Religa tracking the vital signs of a heart-transplant patient. “I never let him out of my sight, never turned my back on him,” he says. “This was the payoff.”

It was 1987, in an outmoded operating room in post-Soviet Poland. Stanfield was looking for an image that would portray the critical state of the country’s free health-care system—and that’s exactly what he got.

His lens not only focuses on a dedicated surgeon’s eyes, but also on a patient hooked up to technologically outdated equipment. Stanfield also includes a weary staff member (far right) sleeping after assisting Religa with two transplants during an all-night session. “Each of these elements,” says Stanfield, “gives dimension and drama to the photograph, while helping tell a story”.

Here is a touching photo of the patient, no doubt grateful for the doctor’s dedication and skill.

I cannot imagine carrying out even the simplest task after nearly 24 strait hours, much less something as complex as a multi-organ transplant. This is a clear testament to the doctor’s skill and compassion.

Dr. Religa passed away in 2009 aged 70, two years after he finished serving as the Minister of Health of Poland.

Behind the Veil: Visions of the Islamic World

The Economist’s cultural columnist, Prospero, recently reported on a fascinating new exhibit at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts that seeks to offer a nuanced and intimate view of the Islamic world as presented by its own denizens. The premise had already piqued my interest, but the review is even more encouraging.

“She Who Tells A Story” collects the work of 12 contemporary female photographers and film-makers from the Middle East. At a time when American and European views of the Islamic world tend to be filtered through a lens of fear and anxiety, these images offer a more nuanced portrait of a culturally complicated place.

Take for example the giant triptych that opens the show. “Bullets Revisited #3″ (pictured top, 2012) by the Moroccan-born Lalla Essaydi depicts an olive-skinned woman draped across a sumptuously bejewelled bed against an ornately tiled wall. The image recalls the sensuous odalisque paintings of Western art history—a clichéd view of Eastern opulence that Said railed against in his 1978 book “Orientalism”. But closer inspection reveals that the bed in the photograph is made from shimmering bullet casings; the tiles are too. The woman’s body is covered in scar-like calligraphy. This enticingly exotic subject of Western fantasy may well be a corpse.

In the “Today’s Life and War” (2008) series by Gohar Dashti, an Iranian photographer, a couple pursues a relationship amid the detritus of a battlefield. They eat supper in front of a tank. Their laundry is strung along barbed wire. Their wedding car has been reduced to a burned out shell. Shadi Ghadirian’s “Nil Nil” (2008) series features still lifes that juxtapose combat boots with red stilettos, a grey helmet and a colourful head scarf, a grenade and a bowl of fruit. These works suggest not so much the atrocity of war but the day-to-day reality of living with it.

Largely narrative-driven and eschewing strict realism, these photographs are measured in their anger and melancholy. Newsha Tavakolian’s “Listen” (2010) series, for example, features portraits of professional Iranian singers who are forbidden to perform in public. She photographs each of them mid-song; with their eyes shut, their faces filled with tenderness and passion, these singers look a bit like classical busts articulating an ancient, nameless pain. Few photographers have used the silence of the medium more gracefully, and to such powerful effect.

The following are some of the samples of the exhibit:

As the writer concludes, this showcase does a great job of humanizing much-maligned and poorly understood group, as well as giving Muslim women a much bigger voice than they’re often credited with. I for one have learned by experience that indulging in the culture of other people — their music, cuisine, film, literature, and art — erodes much of the anxiety and distrust with which we reflexively respond to them. Culture is humanizing, it gives us a common ground to understand one another, and it allows us to see the value in groups or societies for which we have little or no understanding of.

As an agnostic atheist and secular humanist, I of course have disagreements about the Islamic view of the world (as I would with any religion). But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate its cultural and scientific contributions, or that I can’t connect with the raw human element that makes up any given ideological, social, or cultural group. It’s important to see the nuance in all things, and part of that begins by opening our minds to something as simple as an art piece, musical composition, or conversation with the “other” in question.

For those who won’t be able to see the exhibit in person (I being one of them), you can purchase a book that compiles these works here. I’ll definitely be saving up for it.

Slideshow: A Bird’s Eye View of the World

Courtesy of Foreign Policy, these 30 photos offer a breathtaking aerial tour of our beautiful Earth. Unfortunately, they’re coded in a way that prevents me from saving or sharing individual photos. But no worries, just visit the site and browse through these stunning photos yourself.

20 Historic Black and White Photos Colorized

Eupraxsophy:

What a beautiful find. Hat tip to my friend Chris for sharing this.

Originally posted on TwistedSifter:

 

One of the greatest facets of reddit are the thriving subreddits, niche communities of people who share a passion for a specific topic. One of the Sifter’s personal favourites is r/ColorizedHistory. The major contributors are a mix of professional and amateur colorizers that bring historic photos to life through color. All of them are highly skilled digital artists that use a combination of historical reference material and a natural eye for colour.

When we see old photos in black and white, we sometimes forget that life back then was experienced in the same vibrant colours that surround us today. This gallery of talented artists helps us remember that :)

Below you will find a collection of some of the highest rated colorized images to date on r/ColorizedHistory.

I’ve also provide a list of some of the top contributors (in no particular order):

zuzahin aka Mads…

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