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© Kate Peters

Here we are at the end of the first week of 2016. How’s it going so far? I spent the holidays lying in, reading stuff and watching my team Liverpool at silly hours of the morning. When at my desk, I was putting together a series of year end proclamations for Vantage.

It was a marathon, and by marathon I mean a six-parter. Still, that was more than 10,000 words and scores of images.

Part 1: The Best Nature Photos of 2015

Part 2: The Best Photobooks of 2015

Part 3: The Best San Francisco Street Photographer of 2015

Part 4: The Best Portraiture of 2015

Part 5: The Best GIFs of 2015

Part 6: The Best Photography Exhibition of 2015

Are these actually the best of the year? Are these the most watertight objective statements? Of course not, and I admit as much in the pieces. What they are though is my strongest arguments as to why these projects and ideas are more relevant, caring (even), fruitful and connecting.

Put your feet up. Have a glance.

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Up against the wall, tied to a post, kneeling at a ditch, hundreds of WWI allied soldiers were killed for desertion. Photographer Chloe Dewe Mathews visited 23 sites of execution and made photos at the same time of day and the same time of year.

Shot At Dawn is halting and haunting.

I just wrote about the series for VantageWW1 Allied Soldiers Remembered In Photos Made At Sites Of Execution:

Particularly on this day, Armistice Day, Memorial Day, it is worth meditating on Shot At Dawn. The history of photography is indelibly tied to that of war. Too often we’ve seen graphic images from which we turn away and too often photography has been used as a tool by murderous regimes. Yet, we must seek out photographic projects that bring context, calm assessment, forgiveness of ourselves and empathy for our enemies. It’s take great skill to make relevant and poetic images about death that resonate; it takes greater skill to illuminate the suppressed personal histories of the past’s forgotten victims. Shot At Dawn is an artwork for the ages.

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Chloe Dewe Mathews: Shot at Dawn was commissioned by the Ruskin School of Art at the University of Oxford as part of 14–18 NOW, WW1 Centenary Art Commissions.

Shot At Dawn is on show at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin (25 August 2015–17 January 2016) and at Ivorypress in Madrid (27 May–16 July 2016).

The book Shot at Dawn is published by Ivorypress.

Read the full piece: WW1 Allied Soldiers Remembered In Photos Made At Sites Of Execution.

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Yesterday, I included an existing Medium story, by Peter Schafer, in the Vantage publication. Diary of a Sex Tourist is a very unusual account. Firstly, a man is speaking frankly about his use of sex workers in the Dominican Republic. Secondly, the man is a photographer who chose to pay for services in order that he could get closer and, by his appraisal, make better images. Thirdly, the work ends up focusing not so much on the sex industry as a whole but on private moments between Schafer and D_____ throughout their three year association.

It’s very unusual not because these things don’t happen but because these things are rarely admitted to or spoken of in public.

The images exist between amateur modeling, devotional portraits, candid shots, reportage, phone snaps and voyeurism. They are many things at once just as Schafer’s position on his work and the issue of sex-work is generally. The piece ends with advocacy. Yes, advocacy. Of sorts. Schafer calls supports the Global Network of Sex Work Projects‘ call to Amnesty International to support a move to decriminalise all sex work. They’ve launched a petition which (at the time of writing this) has 8,000+ signatures. It reaches far further than previous moves to decriminalise sex work.

Schafer believes the change will empower women. Many leading female celebrities who have figure-headed campaigns for women’s rights oppose the petition, but Schafer fairly notes that the recommendations to Amnesty International were made based upon feedback provided by sex-workers themselves. Molly Smith writing for the Guardian asks that Amnesty International not be bullied out of acting upon its own findings by Meryl Streep and others.

Asking women who work in the sex trade about the laws that are required to protect them most seems like good policy making.

Opponents to wider decriminalisation, that this petition proposes, worry that it will merely shield pimps and abusive men from the law and not improve women’s lives significantly. Streep, Steinem, Winslett et al. want to maintain the Nordic model of decriminalisation as the policy for worldwide progressive standards. “Legalisation keeps pimps, brothel keepers, and sex-slavers in freedom and riches. Criminalisation puts the prostituted in prison […] What works is the ‘third way’, the Nordic model, which offers services and alternatives to prostituted people, and fines buyers and educates them to the realities of the global sex trade,” says Steinem.

Smith and other supporters of widening decriminalisation, say the Nordic model–also known as the Swedish model–has serious problems. The Nordic model decriminalises the selling and keeps the buying as an offense, but it is applied inconsistently in some cases used by police against vulnerable migrant sex-workers.

The Nordic model also strips the sex-worker of agency. It assumes that all clients are enacting a type of male violence. So, the model is designed to slowly counter that, reduce demand and eradicate the sex trade. Schafer on the other hand believes that paid sex can be an equal exchange, a loving exchange and even part of friendship.

Ultimately, where you stand comes down to what type of interactions you think characterise the sex-industry most and which ones should be protected by, and combatted by, law enforcement. Currently we’re on the lefthand-side of this 4-bit chart. Most pliticans are reluctant to venture toward the righthand side.

Criminalisation / Decriminalisation / Wider decriminalisation / Full legalisation

If you feel that all, or nearly all, interactions between women and male clients and pimps are coercive and abusive, decriminalisation can still break and discourage those interactions. The criminalisation of sex-work (still very common) targets male clients and pimps the same, but has proven very unsafe for female sex workers.

I don’t know what the answers are. I do know that there are many women and men who make good and safe livings from sex work. Equally, there are many, many women who are coerced into sex-work and “trafficked” quickly becomes the best term to describe their circumstance. But even then those two simple binaries are not a reliable reflection of matters. In Schafer’s case, it doesn’t seem like there is a pimp involved in his exchanges with D____. She seems in control. That said, D____’s voice, except a couple of paraphrases by Schafer, is absent. In the pictures, D____’s bottom features in a disproportionate number of the pictures.

In places that have decriminalised sex-work, they’ve done so by putting in place legal qualifiers, paperwork and parameters of operation. These things have been found to obstruct safe practice of safe sex-work. Molly Smith writing for the New Republic notes that New Zealand is an example to follow and has been extensively praised by the U.N. for its removal of bureaucracy and an approach that forefronts women’s safety and access to services. “The director of the U.N. Development Programme’s HIV, Health and Development Practice observed, in accidentally amusing phrasing, “I would like to be a sex worker in New Zealand“,” recounts Smith.

Clearly, there is a debate to be had. I’d like to see that debate led by the sex-workers themselves, but given how marginalised they are it seems unlikely. I know I’ll be following the thoughts of Molly Smith from here on out.

One final thing, I cannot talk about sex-work, without mentioning Red Light Dark Room; Sex, Lives & Stereotypes, a stellar photography and book project by Gemma Rose Turnbull.

Turnbull, during a residency with non-profit organisation St Kilda Gatehouse, taught, photographed and interviewed street sex workers. Red Light Dark Room is a collaborative, frank look at sidelined and denied lives by those who live them. Importantly, the work doesn’t victimise, or claim to save, or preach; it describes and lays out the details for audiences to find connection.

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Heidi Levine hugs her driver Ashraf Al Masri after his home in Gaza was destroyed. Photo: AP/Lefteris Pitarakis

It can be tricky to talk about photojournalists’ work without over-simplifying, romanticising or glorifying. Thankfully, this piece Bearing Witness does none. Writer Doug Bierend does a sterling job of describing the decade-long work of Heidi Levine and teasing out the bittersweet award of the inaugural Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award for her coverage of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza in the summer of 2014. Levine knew Niedringhaus and an award is a strange thing in the face of societies destroyed by war:

“This award has made me reflect, and spend a lot of time thinking back and understanding — I have been very lucky. We were talking about experience — sometimes it’s not even how experienced you are, it can boil down to just having bad luck. I guess I’ve always felt committed to bearing witness, and feel that is just so important to give people the opportunity to know what’s happening in the world, and I don’t believe that there’s any excuse anymore for people looking the other way and claiming, as they did in the past, in history, that they were just unaware and didn’t know.”

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Wounded Palestinian Rawya abu Jom’a, 17 years old, lays in a hospital bed at the Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, July 22, 2014. Rawya was seriously injured when two Israeli air strikes hit her family’s apartment. Her sister and three of her cousins were killed in the attack. She is suffering from shrapnel in her face, her legs have perforated holes in them and the bones of her right hand were crushed. Photo credit: Heidi Levine/The National/Sipa Press

Keith Axline and I are editors of Vantage — a new gorgeous place for looking and photos and learning their context.

Some photos we feature are gorgeous and some are gory. In Levine’s case she manages to combine to the two. As Bierend puts it, Levine makes pictures in “a subtle or even artful way requiring a high degree of sensitivity [that] sees through the violence to the dignity of the subjects suffering at its heart. At its best, this skill can convey the true stories of conflict, the hidden personal and private lives shaken to their foundations by the nations, militaries, and leaders which tend to be the sole subjects in any discussions about war.”

It’s a sobering piece. Levine talks about risk, fixers and luck. I’ll leave you with another statement of hers:

“If you’re not trained, it’s really, really important to become trained, to take a hostile environment course, to take a combat medical training class … I have seen a lot of people out there in the field that are very inexperienced. It’s not like rockets or bullets discriminate between who is experienced and who’s not experienced. As you saw, Chris Hondros, who was one of the most experienced conflict photographers, was killed in Libya.”

Read in full at Bearing Witness.

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Women mourn during the funeral of the boys killed by an Israeli naval bombardment in the port of Gaza, Gaza City, July 16, 2014. Four boys died instantly during an Israeli naval bombardment in the port of Gaza, a fifth boy died shortly after the attack in hospital. Israel stepped up its attacks on July 16 by bombing the homes of Hamas leaders after the Islamist movement rejected a truce proposal and instead launched dozens more rockets into Israel. Photo: Heidi Levine/The National/Sipa Press

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Palestinian men run with a white flag in the Shejaia neighborhood, which was heavily shelled by Israel during the fighting, in Gaza City, July 20, 2014. At least 50 Palestinians were killed on Sunday by Israeli shelling in the Gaza neighborhood, and thousands fled for shelter to a hospital packed with wounded, while bodies were unable to be recovered for hours until a brief cease-fire was implemented. Photo: Heidi Levine/The National/Sipa Press

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Palestinians collect religious books in the rubble of the Al-Qassam mosque in Nuseitat camp, located in the middle of the Gaza Strip, July 9, 2014. Photo credit: Heidi Levine/The National/Sipa Press

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Hidya Atash stands on the top floor of her home as she overlooks the destruction in Shujayea, at dawn Aug 8, 2014. Her family’s home was hit two weeks prior by a warning rocket and the family of 40 people fled. When they returned during the cease-fire, they discovered their home was heavily damaged during the fighting. Photo credit: Heidi Levine/The National/Sipa Press

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Verint Israel and NICE System Monitoring Center, Astana, Kazakhstan 2014.

Much of my weekend was spent putting a final editing-touches on the latest Vantage article Panopticon For Sale. The piece, details trade between authoritarian regimes (such as Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain and others) and corporations that manufacture and maintain cyber-surveillance.

The author, Mari Bastashevski, spent 12 months researching this shady industry —  trailing paper work, filing FOIA requests, interviewing and protecting sources, and corroborating statements. Many previously unreported (but commonly suspected) business relations uncovered by Bastashevski have been confirmed by information included in the July 5th hack of Hacking Team (a company that manufactures surveillance technologies) when the identities of its clients were posted online.

As Bastashevski writes in her closing statements:

Companies like NICE, Gamma Group, Verint, and Hacking Team, who sell this power to governments for which “watched a YouTube protests video” constitutes criminal behaviour become co-arbiters of what is and isn’t a “wrong act”. Yet for the companies, much like for their clients, their own secrecy remains absolute and proprietary: not something for press consumption, researchers, or advocates.

Private corporations are facilitating the unfettered surveillance of citizens by paranoid rulers.

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NICE Systems HQ, Ra’anana, Israel 2014.

The comparatively unregulated republics in the post-Soviet region are proving grounds for the shit that the power hungry can get away with.

I’ll stop yelling now, encourage you to read Bastashevski’s #longread, and leave you with an my editor’s foreword to further convince you to take in Bastashevki’s text and images.

This is a narrative built upon information that’s incredibly difficult to verify. Outside of the community of privacy advocates and cyber-surveillance researchers, no-one really saw this story, or necessarily knew what it was or why it mattered. That’s because everything that Bastashevski was looking at — or looking for — is invisible, confidential or both.

When Hacking Team was itself hacked, Bastashevski felt vindicated. Not only did the hack confirm the presence of Hacking Team in countries she investigated, it also confirmed the presence of other companies she knew were providing surveillance to those countries. The lies and questionable dealings of a catastrophic industry were laid bare.

“To photograph or to look at what exists on the verge of catastrophe,” critic Ariella Azoulay once wrote, “the photographer must first assume she has a reason to be in the place of the nonevent or event that never was, which no one has designated as the arena of an event in any meaningful way. She, or those who dispatch her, must suspend the concerns of the owners of the mass media regarding the ratings of the finished product and with her camera begin to sketch a new outline capable of framing the nonevent. Photographing what exists the verge of catastrophe thus is an act that suspends the logic of newsworthiness.”

By virtue of hackers’ actions, and not the logic of the news industry, I find myself in a position to publish Bastashevski’s remarkable findings. A condensed version of this work was exhibited at Musee de Elysee and published in the Prix Elysee catalogue (Musee de Elysee, December 2014). It has since been expanded to include a review of targets and surveillance in Azerbaijan, and cross references of the recent evidence obtained through Hacking Team leak.

This is not a photo essay but rather an essay with photos. Bastashevki makes photographs, in many ways, to show her stories cannot be photographed. These images are way-markers along roads of discovery.

Read the full piece Panopticon For Sale and see more large images.

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Ministry of Communication Tashkent, Uzbekistan, 2014.

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SNB lunch spot, secure Gazalkent district, Tashkent Uzbekistan. 2014.

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Monitoring centre (roof) -Tashkent, Uzbekistan. 2014. Location where data obtained with Hacking Team, Nice Systems, and Verint Technologies is analysed and processed.

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PU-data collection point Kazakhtelecom-Almaty, Kazakhstan, 2014.

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Presidential Palace and MNS HQ, Baku, Azerbaijan 2013.

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Inside Verint Israel HQ, Herzliya Pituach, Israel 2014.

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Transaction — Dedeman Silk Road Radisson Blu, Tashkent ,Uzbekistan. 2014.

All images: Mari Bastashevski

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I spoke recently with photographer Kike Arnal about his experience documenting a crafts work program in the low security Quencoro Prison in Cuzco, Peru.

The World Bank/United Nations wanted to loan resources to the Peruvian government in order to replicate the programs in other prisons in the country. The World Bank also wanted to extend the educational programs being afforded the prisoners at Quencoro. Arnal had virtually no track record of photographing in prisons but the assignment opened his eyes and heart.

“I wanted to document the hardships and (if there was any to see) the positive aspects of prison life. To tell the story of the daily lives in a prison on the Altiplano of Peru. I did not anticipate what I was going to find at all, but once I was inside I was inspired by what I saw,” says Arnal.

Read our Q&A and see Arnal’s photographs large at VantageThat Souvenir Andean Rug of Yours? Woven by a Prisoner in Peru, Probably

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I had a quick chat with Sébastien van Malleghem about why he is crowdfunding a photobook following his three years photographing prisons in Belgium.

It’s over at Vantage: Making Photos Inside To Bring The Stories Out

In short, this:

“The book is, for me, the closure of the story. Photographs must end on paper. That’s how the medium exists — in print. On paper, with full context, you can touch the pictures, understand the whole story. Things fade away on the Internet. Clicked, Like, then something else. Good photos in a book stick to your head. The largest part of my photo story will be exclusive to the book.”

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Lands in Limbo: Nagorno Karabakh

A church choir sings during a sparsely attended Sunday mass in Shushi. Shushi was primarily an Azeri city of cultural significance. Once home to 30,000 people, only 3,000 people call it home now.

My article When a Country Is Not a Country about Narayan Mahon’s series Lands In Limbo just went up on Vantage, for Medium.

Mahon travelled to Abkhazia, Northern Cyprus, Transnistria, Nagorno Karabakh, and Somaliland — five nations that are not formally recognised by the international community as states.

Lands In Limbo defies genre. It is partly documentation, but not complete documentary. Some of the images look like news photos but Mahon has a stated artistic intent. Here is an inquiry about huge geopolitical forces in a globalized 21st century … but it is based upon momentary street photos and portraits.

“I wanted to see what these countries’ national identities looked like, [learn] what’s it’s like to live in such an isolated place,” says Mahon.

Read the full article and see Mahon’s image large at Vantage.

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Friends enjoy an afternoon on the Black Sea coast of Abkhazia. Much of the Abkhaz coastline is littered with rusting ships and scrap metal.
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An Abkhaz man, known as “Maradona,” yells obscenities about Georgian politicians and declares the freedom of Abkhazia.
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A man walks into a small store in the center of Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno Karabakh. Stepanakert lost nearly half it’s population to forced deportation of Azeris during the breakaway war.
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A man stands among snow covered pig heads in Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno Karabakh.
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Karabakhi soldiers stand guard at a war memorial in Kharamort, a village that was once evenly populated by ethnic Azeris and Armenians. The village is now half the size since the Azeris fled and their homes were burned.
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During and after the breakaway war with Azerbaijan, Karabakhi-Armenians burned and destroyed not only Azeri villages and town quarters but also desecrated Azeri muslim mosques and cemeteries. This is common practice throughout the Caucasus, used as a deterrence for people wanting to return to their homes.
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Men and women walk through the bustling central market in Hargeisa, passing war-damaged buildings.
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Shabxan, a young Somali girl living in rural Somaliland, does chores in the home.
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A young Somali boy checks himself out and fixes his hair in the mirrors of a small barbershop in Hargeisa.

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