Category Archives: In the News

What is the “Refugee Crisis”? And why should you care?

AKA: why are there suddenly refugees everywhere, and when are they going to go away? (Hint: never)

This is a summary of the notes I took on the first day of the “Hacking the Refugee Crisis” expedition in Athens. More on that in a bit, but first…

Crisis, What Crisis?

Today, globally, there are 65 million displaced people. More than ever before.

Refugees have always existed. In the past, a country would go to war; people would be displaced; they’d spend a year or two as refugees; and eventually return home.

Today though, the problem is chronic. Global warming and permanent instability means displaced people no longer have homes to return to. Folks are born and grow up as refugees.
Continue reading What is the “Refugee Crisis”? And why should you care?

Wawa river, Bacoor, Phillippines

When it relaunched in its new Berliner format, the Guardian added a wonderful new feature, Eyewitness, which occupies the centre pages of most editions of the paper and fills the entire double-page spread with a single photograph. Some wonderful pictures have appeared in this slot, and they really benefit from the huge size (approximately the same as a 30″ x 20″ print).

Last Saturday was perhaps the most eye-grabbing I have seen yet – simultaneously fascinating, shocking, disgusting and thought provoking, with that added “WTF” factor which has one heading straight for the accompanying caption. The photo showed the head of a boy emerging from water among a flotilla of junk. It instantly prompted thoughts of death, bodies thrown up in some tsunami or other natural disaster, but this boy appeared very much alive, if rather wary of his surroundings. The caption read “Risking it all: A Filipino boy beats the heat in the Wawa river in Bacoor, south of Manila. Almost all major rivers in the region, Metro Manila, are now considered biologically dead”. The photograph is credited to Mike Alquinto/EPA.

I have searched online for a version of this photo, without success, but somebody has posted another photo obviously from the same set to Livejournal.

Gail Orenstein – deleted

Flickr have, without warning, deleted the account of Gail Orenstein, one of the few genuinely interesting and unique individuals I have had the pleasure to bump into on there (oh yeah, and also the only person to have written me a Flickr testimony).

For those unfamiliar with Gail, she is a working photojournalist, who has covered conflicts around the world, but more recently has turned her attention to the sex industry in London. Her photos, usually of London sex workers, are invariably accompanied by headlines, plucked from global newspapers or websites, which at first seem to bear no relation to the image. However, the photos of semi-naked women draw the crowds in, and the headlines get them talking (usually) about current affairs. Gail’s photos are, with the exception of Shhexycorin, probably the hottest talking points on Flickr. Her 3,451 photos have had over 1 million visitors served, and she herself had 150 testimonials. 40 of her pictures had over 1,000 comments.

So last night, I got this email from Gail:

:: Flickr has taken me down

Flickr took me down in the middle of the night without warning and without ability to retreave my work.

Please alert others I have already restarted my site at:

We are going to rebuild very quickly.

Please spread the word and let other know

Please join this group on my coming back to life

Please check out Gail’s photos, join the group, and cast disapproving glances in the general direction of Flickr, for their daring to try to silence one of the heros of the Internet in such an underhand way.

Kash Gabriele Torsello

Kash Gabriele Torsello A very strange day yesterday. I spent it at the Frieze art fair in London. The whole place stank of money, but I had a pleasant time. But then, the minute I was leaving after 5 hours of art overload, I got a phone call from a foreign number. It was from Associated Press in Rome.”I believe you have taken a photo of the journalist Kash Gabrielle Torsello?””Yes””And you have that photo on your website?””Yes”

(I’m thinking “weird, has Kash spotted it, and perhaps wants it taken down?”)

“We’re getting reports that Kash has been kidnapped in Afghanistan. It seems that you have the only photograph of him online. I got your telephone number by going to your website and viewing your CV. Could we use your photo to put out a press release about his kidnap”.

Very strange. I sent him the photo – which involved some serious improvisation, as it had “fallen off the end” of my free Flickr account and I had a train to catch from London back to Sheffield. By the time I reached Sheffield, it would have been too late for Italian press deadlines. I managed to find an Internet café, login to Flickr, pay the $24 to upgrade my account to Pro, recover the photo, mail it off, and catch my train, just.

I only met Kash once, when I took this photo: it was at an art gallery in London nine months ago. We chatted for quite a long time: I was just getting together the courage to try some street photography, in fact it was the day before I wrote this blog entry.

I was somewhat overawed at his courage as a photojournalist in Kashmir and Afghanistan. He told me “in Afghanistan, you never lift your camera quickly. There have been several assassinations by people disguised as journalists.” He told me about his work out there, about some of the incredible and heart-rending things he had seen. I was quite moved by it all.

I emailed him afterwards, then we dropped out of touch. A month ago, I discovered his profile on Lightstalkers and mailed him again. We chatted briefly by email. I saw that he was back in Helmand province. My last words to him were “Stay safe!”

More on the kidnapping:
BBC news
Observer/ Guardian newspaper
Editorial Photographers UK

I’m feeling very strange about this. It’s not as if I know the guy, but that makes this feeling even more peculiar. I just hope he makes it through this OK.

Update: Kash’s kidnappers have been in touch with the Italian authorities. In exchange for Kash’s return they have asked that Abdul Rahman, the Afghani who was sentenced to death for the crime of apostasy (abandoning Islam and converting to Christianity), be returned to Afghanistan. They have set a deadline of the end of Ramadan (which is next Tuesday, 24th October). I hope above hope that the kidnappers have a change of heart, although I am not very optimistic. I certainly can’t see the Italian government returning Rahman to Afghanistan to be executed.

The NUJ have set up a page for the latest news updates on Kash’s situation, where you can also leave messages for Kash.

That Newsweek Afghanistan/Liebowitz Thing

It seems as if it’s been hard to move on the web this last week without stumbling on somebody (rightly) mouthing off about the latest issue of Newsweek, which has as its cover story “Losing Afghanistan” across the whole world, except in the USA where there is some fluff on Annie Liebowitz’s family with the headline “My Life in Pictures”.

There are implications in this so plain to see that it’s easy just to present the covers juxtaposed and say “look” and leave it at that. So it’s very refreshing to see that the excellent political/photography/photojournalism blog Bag News Notes has a much deeper look into the issues and implications including much on the fact that Liebowitz’s late partner, Susan Sontag, was perhaps the last century’s most widely respected theorizer on photography and renowned for her avoidance of the glare of publicity.

Patch Adams and Kennth Kaunda

Sorry, it’s “let’s quote the Guardian day” today… good thing I don’t get to lie here doing this more often, or this page would be nothing more than a string of Guardian quotes. Anyway, I couldn’t pass up this one from the ever-witty Simon Hoggart:

Extraordinary people come here. Kenneth Kaunda, the former president of Zambia, is one of this year’s panellists. So is Patch Adams, the doctor who believes that happiness is an important part of any course of treatment (and yes, Robin Williams made a bad film about him, which is a fate none of us would wish to suffer.) Anyhow, Adams wears only clown suits, of which he has several.

On Monday I saw him at a party with Kaunda. After a chat, Adams carefully, even reverently, placed a red nose and a comedy frog hat on the former president’s head. It had a wonderful surreal quality – the kind of event that makes you wake up and say to your partner, “I just dreamed I saw Kenneth Kaunda in a red nose and a comedy frog hat.”

I’m also listening to last Tuesday’s Late Junction from BBC Radio3 – heard Phoebe Smith singing some of the most moving vocals I’ve ever heard, I’m off to Amazon to get that CD!

The Love Triangle behind Britpop

Fascinating piece in the Guardian about the love-triangle behind Britpop. This line, from the second page, brought tears to my eyes, it rung so true, I find myself constantly having dreams like this about long-lost friends:

With Albarn once again absent, she decided to re-establish contact with someone whose company she had not shared for the best part of six years: Brett Anderson. “I had a terrible dream about him: that he was dead, and I wasn’t invited to the funeral,” she says. “I was watching the funeral from the other side of some gates. And I realised I hadn’t seen him for years, and it was sad, so I called him. He was really nice, straight away.”