Book review: Photography Visionaries

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2015-05-24 11:46:43

5a1oDQ9XvrJL.jpgPhotography Visionaries, by Mary Warner Marien.

Available on amazon UK and USA

Publisher Laurence King writes: Photography Visionaries is an inspiring guide to 75 of the most influential photographers from around 1900 to the present. Entertainingly written by an expert on photography, it provides fascinating insight into the lives and careers of men and women working in a medium which perhaps more than any other in the visual arts has been deeply affected by technological change.

The entries are arranged chronologically, instilling in the reader an understanding of what marks each photographer as a visionary. Each entry is less about providing a full biography of the person and more about creating a sense of excitement regarding their work and the lasting impact that it has had on photography.

With the aid of an arresting selection of photographs, some well-known and others less so, this book offers a unique and engaging perspective on the development of photography through some of its most inventive practitioners.

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Weegee, Charles Sodokoll and Arthur Webber use their top hats to hide their faces, 1942

"A good photograph is like a good hound dog, dumb, but eloquent." Eugène Atget.

Mary Warner Marien knows where to find a quote or anecdote that says more about a photographer's life, career and ethos than a long biography. She found something witty or striking to say about each of the 75 photographic visionaries she selected for the book. Those visionaries are people who experiment, expand the scope and significance of photography and are inspiring to their peers. They work in any field: portraiture, advertising, photo reportage, documentary, fashion or conceptualism.

Each of them gets one page of bio and three pages of images with a timeline charting the most salient moments of their career. There is always also a portrait of the photographers. I thought i didn't care much for artists' portraits until i realized i had never seen a photo of Bernhard and Hilla Becher before. Or one of Cindy Sherman being no one else but Cindy Sherman.

Obviously not everyone is going to be happy with the author's selection. And i'm going to agree with the English reviewers who deplore the absence of Martin Parr. Another reviewer mentioned Hiroshi Sugimoto. Indeed! He should be there as well. I'm going to add Broomberg and Chanarin to the list. What i like in the author's selection, however, is that women and non-Caucasian people do not feature only as subjects. I don't know if there was a conscious effort to include women photographers, black photographers, Chinese photographers, etc. But it feels just that the white male monopoly is somewhat under assault.

Warner Marien is also the author of Photography. A Cultural History, perhaps the most informative, interesting and intelligent photo book i've ever read about photo. Photography Visionaries is very different (i probably shouldn't compare one with the other anyway): it's snappier, shorter and less elaborate. But it's written with the passion and verve that characterizes her style.

And now for some images and (fairly random) comments

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August Sander, Die Boxer, Paul Roderstein, Hein Hesse, 1928

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August Sander, National Socialist, Head of Department of Culture 1938, printed 1990

August Sander's major project, People of the 20th Century, attempted to give an overview of the most archetypal figures of contemporary society, categorizing his subjects by profession or social class. His photos represent types (The Woodcutter, The Farmer, The Sculptress, The Bricklayer, The Bohemian, The Bank Official, etc.), not individuals.

Although there was nothing progressive about this model of society, the Nazis disapproved of Sander's work. In 1936 they confiscated the publisher's copies of Face of our Time (a selection of portraits from his series People of the 20th Century); the printing plates were destroyed and the book was officially banned.

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Liu Zheng, From the series The Chinese, Two Miners, Datong, Shanxi Province, 1996

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Liu Zheng, Convicts Fetching Water, Baoding, Hebei Province, from The Chinese series, 1995

Inspired by Sander's work, Liu Zheng traveled throughout China to portray archetypal Chinese characters from every social stratum: homeless children, transvestite performers, provincial drug traffickers, coal miners, Buddhist monks, prison inmates, Taoist priests, waxwork figures in historical museums, and the dead and dying. The images of The Chinese series depict a country caught between tradition and unprecedented economic upheavals.

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Imogen Cunningham, Irene "Bobby" Libarry, 1976

When she was herself in her early nineties, Imogen Cunningham started working on After 90, a series that portrayed the elderly. One of them was Irene "Bobbie" Libarry who used to be a circus attraction and was living in a nursing home at the time of the photography.

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Edward Weston, Excusado, 1925

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John Heartfield, Und sie bewegt sich doch! (And Yet It Moves!), 1943

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John Heartfield, Self-Portrait with Berlin President of Police, 1929

John Heartfield was one of the first artists to use photomontage, manipulating photographs to satirize the brutality of the Nazi regime.

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Lisette Model, Woman with veil, San Fransisco, 1949

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Lisette Model, Divorcee, Reno, 1949

Lisette Mode never formally studied photography but took it up in the 1930s while living in Paris. Her images are early examples of "street photography," a style which developed after the invention of the hand-held camera, which made impromptu shots possible.

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Walker Evan, Workers Loading Neon "Damaged" Sign into Truck, West Eleventh Street, New York City, 1928-1930

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Margaret Bourke-White, At the Time of the Louisville Flood, 1937

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Henri Cartier-Bresson, Gestapo Informer, Dessau, Germany, April 1945

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Gordon Parks, Colored Entrance, Mobile, Alabama, 1956

Yes, the photo above just made me realize how black and white the book is.

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Nacho López, Hands with cigarettes under cell door, Lecumberri Penitentiary, Mexico City, from the series Prisión de sueños, 1950

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Nacho López, La Venus se va de juerga, 1953

López orchestrated situations in public space and document passersby reactions. In the series "La Venus se va de juerga", for example, a man travels through the crowd carrying a blond mannequin.

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Santu Mofokeng, Democracy is forever, Pimville, 2004

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Eugène Atget, Avenue des Gobelins, 1927

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Frances Benjamin Johnston, Stairway of the Treasurer's Residence: Students at Work from the Hampton, c. 1900

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Unauthorized photos of U.S. intelligence officials stencilled on the walls of your city

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2015-05-21 07:06:22

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Paolo Cirio, Overexposed (Michael Hayden), 2015

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Paolo Cirio, Overexposed (Michael Hayden), 2015

Over the past few months, artist Paolo Cirio has been quietly collecting pictures of high-ranking U.S. intelligence officials on social media. He then blew the photos up using High Definition Stencils (an OS graffiti technique he invented), spray-painted the reproductions of the misappropriated photos and plastered the copies onto the streets of cities like New York, Paris or London.

The individuals targeted in the Overexposed series are some of the officials responsible for programs of mass surveillance or for misleading the public about them. Their names are: Keith Alexander (NSA), John Brennan (CIA), Michael Hayden (NSA), Michael Rogers (NSA), James Comey (FBI), James Clapper (NSA), David Petraeus (CIA), Caitlin Hayden (NSC), and Avril Haines (NSA).

Cirio tracked down these portraits through open-source intelligence (OSINT), an information-gathering method that uses the internet, including social media, as an investigative tool. OSINT is used by government agencies, law enforcement, corporations and people involved in marketing. But activists and journalists are also routinely relying on it for their research. The portraits brought to light by Cirio are photographs and selfies of government officials taken in informal situations by civilians or lower ranking officers.

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Paolo Cirio, Overexposed (Keith Alexander), 2015

By making private portraits of members of the CIA and NSA part of the public domain, both through his street interventions and the detailed documentation of the research he published on his website, the artist invaded the private life of these government officials (though not as much as they might invade ours) and literally gave a face to U.S. intelligence services. The work holds a satirizing mirror to the people participating to operations of mass surveillance, commenting on the need for public accountability and pushing to its most uncomfortable limits the trends for 'overly mediated political personas.'

Cirio's political satire reverses the contemporary means of propaganda, exposing the extent to which a public image can be captured on camera and exploited by the very same systems that intelligence officials seek to control. Overexposed derides the watchers with embarrassing pictures over which they have lost control, effectively turning the tables on them and their advocacy of mass surveillance and lax privacy practices.

An exhibition of Overexposed is opening tomorrow at the NOME gallery in Berlin (keep your eyes peeled for their programme in the future because they work with some of the most thought-provoking artists engaging with digital technologies) so i contacted the artist to get more details about the series:

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Paolo Cirio, Overexposed, (Michael Rogers), 2015

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Paolo Cirio, Overexposed, (Michael Rogers), 2015

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Paolo Cirio, Overexposed, (Michael Rogers), 2015

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Paolo Cirio, Overexposed, (Michael Rogers), 2015

Hi Paolo! To be honest, when i first read the description of the project, i was expecting some blurry portraits and no name at all. But in the series you go full on: the individuals are very recognizable and their identity is given. Do you expect to get into trouble with this work?

The legal question is not really about the officials because they are public figure, so the use of their photos fall under parody laws and free expression. The controversy is actually about the ownership of those photos and from where they were obtained, in most of the cases the selfies were taken by civilians, random people or acquaintances of the intelligence officials. On my website you can find the original photos where you have the individuals together with officials in the snapshot taken with smartphones and uploaded directly on the social media. I think so far they still don't know that their pictures ended up on public walls around the world. I don't know how they will react yet, the project was published just a few weeks ago.

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Paolo Cirio, Overexposed (Caitlin Hayden), 2015

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Paolo Cirio, Overexposed (Caitlin Hayden), 2015

And since you actually have a history of getting into trouble with your work, could you explain us which part these (mis)adventures, legal threats, cease & desist play into your work?

It's not just about getting in troubles, instead it's about generating legal reactions that reveal contradictions on the inadequacy or abuse of the laws that I want to criticize. In same cases, confronting the subjects of my performances on the legal terrain lets everyone understand which are the actual power structures that generate particular social conditions.

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Paolo Cirio, Overexposed (James Comey), 2015

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Paolo Cirio, Overexposed (James Comey), 2015

According to the press release, you used your HD Stencils graffiti technique and spray-painted hi-re reproductions of the photos onto public walls. How do you select the locations for these street interventions?

I paste these reproduction of photos mainly in popular street art locations, where people often take pictures that end up on the social media again. This exposes these officials even more through having their pictures in recirculation on the social network with the glamour of the street art.

And how do you go from street graffiti to art gallery? Do you feel that your work, and these stencils in particular, gets another meaning or has to be framed in another way when you change the exhibition context from public space to white wall space?

Beyond the public art interventions made for a wider public, I'm interested in formalizing the pieces as pop art and appropriation art, bringing them in the realm of the art world, which for me it is also a distribution system. Eventually they became historical portraits of figures that mark our time of expansion of cyber-warfare and astonishing programs of mass surveillance, which hopefully we will only remember as an awful war against civil society of the past. Also my technique HD Stencils offers very particular aesthetic qualities that can be fully appreciated with maximum perfection of the works made for the art gallery.

Thanks Paolo!

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Paolo Cirio, Overexposed (James Clapper), 2015

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Paolo Cirio, Overexposed (John Brennan), 2015

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Paolo Cirio, Overexposed, 2015

The exhibition Overexposed opens at the NOME gallery in Berlin on 22 May and remains on view until 20 July.

A detailed catalogue of the show is available for download (PDF.)

Previous mentions of Paolo Cirio's work on the blog: Unstable Territory. Borders and identity in contemporary art, Cultural Hijack, Notes from WJ-Spots Brussels, History and future of artistic creation on the Internet and The Digital Now - 'Drones / Birds: Princes of Ubiquity'.

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A tour of Internet Yami-ichi, the offline Internet flea market

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2015-05-19 11:30:28

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Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Jasna Veličkovic performing live at Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

Internet Yami-ichi (japanese for Black Market) is a flea market where people sell Internet-ish things face to face.

The last edition of the market took place in Amsterdam on 9 and 10 May. More precisely at the Flemish Arts Centre De Brakke Grond, a (vast) space dedicated to promoting and showcasing contemporary art productions from Flanders. Any kind of art and with an emphasis on innovation, cross-over, interdisciplinarity, and artistic guts. Some of their events are in dutch but a big part of their programme caters for the international audience. I've only been to De Brakke Grond twice but what i've seen so far was critical, witty and resolutely embedded into contemporary culture.

The goods on sale at Yami-ichi were both smart and silly. I bought a little mirror to stick on a phone and observe/photograph scenes and people i wouldn't normally dare to watch openly (i'm not one to take the metro and ignore fellow travelers), all sorts of things made or baked to the glory of internet memes and a fabric patch with a glue gun sewn on it. And some mystery eggs. One thrown in a plastic container by JODI, the other enclosing the url of a Fresh Unpopular Video. I was also made a member of the, participated in a 'hate mail writing' workshop and got myself (fake)photographed in the company of Stefan Simchowitz (whom ignorant me had never heard about before.)

Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market is not just a place to throw your wallet around. I quickly found out that it also offers a great opportunity to meet people who are interested in art&tech, hacking, and contemporary culture in general. Artists, designers, art students and hackers were selling objects, offering food and DIY workshop, participating to hilarious performances (singing a cappella the sound of dial-up internet, for example.) And pretty much anyone who's someone in art&tech (whatever that means) had made the trip from Eindhoven, Amsterdam, Brussels or Rotterdam to 'browse' around. It was internet but in the flesh. I didn't count the number of visitors but De Brakke Grond did. Apparently, over 1900 visitors turned up over the Yami-ichi weekend! 'Zeer succesvolle editie'!

All of the above would probably make more sense if i actually showed some images from the event and commented them briefly. There you are:


Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market, 9 & 10 May 2015 at de Brakke Grond, Amsterdam

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The IP addresses of the websites were associated with geographical coordinates using an OS database. The closest images associated with the location were then retrieved through Panoramio and turned into postcards. By Julie Boschat Thorez

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All you had to do was bring your own food and the lightbox turned it into instagrammable foodporn

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Wikilinks, a kit for the conspiration-obsessed

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Corrupted files (for your nails)


And i got one of these Radical Perspective Changers by Sander Veenhof

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I LOVED those ceramic memes. Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Tijmen Schep was selling Crypto fries (Patatje Crypto) at the Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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YouCube, a free stage box for live, open mic performances. Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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People reading the CRYPTODESIGN brochure. The publication announced the Crypto Design Challenge, an open call to young designers and artists in the Netherlands and Belgium to submit plans and proposals to make the encryption of digital images and information accessible to all. Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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A 3D print on demand stall. Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Julie Scheurweghs was selling some vegan Meme Cookies. Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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LINK Center for the Arts of the Information Age was selling some their amazing publications and handing over surprise eggs containing url to overlooked videos

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Faithfull Enemy, a Hate Mail workshop led by the brilliant Iffy Iemand and Ksusha Holmes

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Visors to change the shape of your face when caught on CCTV. On the bottom right corner are some paper pop ups

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Rosa Menkman, institutions of Resolution Disputes [iRD]. Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Rosa Menkman's mother was kindly sewing on my sweatshirt a patch of the institutions of Resolution Disputes [iRD]

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iRD Patch, Institutions key, 2015. Image via the creatorsproject

By the way, institutions of Resolution Disputes [iRD] was one of my favourite projects at the market. It's far brainier than the other pieces sold/exhibited and hopefully i'll find a moment to come back to it in a later post. But in the meantime (and if i don't come back to the work on the blog), do check out this interview that Daniel Rourke did with Rosa Menkman for Furtherfield.

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Free Safari tours! Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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This one might not look like much but it is a brilliant work and i need to track down the artists (they are there, somewhere in the grubby notes i took down) before i can write a proper post about the piece. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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More photos? Check out the ones taken by Sebastiaan ter Burg and mine.

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A monetary system designed within the cultural context of Orwell's 1984

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2015-05-18 11:36:35

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Wealth Beyond Big Brother (payment device)

Austin Houldsworth's PhD research at the Royal College of Art in London focuses on the development of a new design method called Counterfictional Design which embeds alternative socially dependent technologies into social science fiction novels. The 'technology', Austin is interested to explore in this context is Money.

Money, he says, 'is inherently conservative.' As currency expert Bernard Lietaer points out in his 2001 book The Future of Money, money functions through belief. You believe that everyone else believes that the money is valuable. What we are talking about here is belief about a belief. This collective belief contributes to economic stability, but it also fosters scepticism towards alternative monetary ideas. In his paper on the stone money of Yap (the inhabitants of this small island in Micronesia used huge stone wheels as a medium of exchange and as a store of wealth.) Milton Friedman suggests: 'Our own money, the money we have grown up with, the system under which it is controlled, these appear 'real' and 'rational' to us. The money of other countries often seen to us like paper or worthless metal.'

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Rai, stone money indicating great wealth in Yap. Image

According to Houldsworth, the conservative nature of money explains why most market driven payments devices are focused on increasing efficiency of the current monetary system, rather than designing alternatives. His counterfictional design method acts thus as a tool to help shift the cultural design constraints surrounding money and imagine alternative systems, which would otherwise be impossible to envision.

Over a year ago, the designer illustrated the counterficitional design method with Walden Note money which explored the way money might function within a behaviorist society.

His latest project, Wealth Beyond Big Brother looks at what happens to trans-border exchanges when they take place inside highly unregulated states. The literary context this time is Orwell's book 1984. But instead of looking at the paternalistic control of Big Brother, the scenario takes place in the disputed territories that lie between the super states of Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia.

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George Orwell, 1984 book cover of a Turkish edition

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1984 fictitious world map (the disputed territories are coloured in pale yellow), via wikipedia

In practice no on power ever controls the whole of the disputed area. Portions of it are constantly changing hands, and it is the chance of seizing this or that fragment by sudden stroke of treachery that dictates the endless changes of alignment.
George Orwell, 1984

Because each new invasion of these areas brings a new ruler, no trusted financial institution ever has the chance to establish itself. People living within these areas have thus developed a completely decentralised payment system which serves as both personal protection and a medium of exchange.

How the payments work (and i'm going to mostly copy/paste below a text that Austin sent me when i asked him for more details about the project):

All of the disputed territories contain valuable minerals, and some of them yield important vegetable products such as rubber.
George Orwell, 1984

Through continual war and invasion, the disputed territory regions have been depleted of most natural resources. Scarcity of even semi precious metals like copper has led to a high demand for such materials. Therefore, gold, silver and copper act as a standard 'store of value' and 'medium of exchange.'

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Wealth Beyond Big Brother (transaction)

People living within the disputed territories mostly trade with people they know and therefore these small groups operate through a type of gift economy. However, when a resource is needed from another area, trade with strangers is inevitable. Historically these trades have often ended in blood shed. Given the impossibility of establishing a state-controlled culture of trans-border commerce, the factions have decided to take matter into their own hand and cast their currency into the form of bullets, creating a payment system which acts as security and therefore helps contextualize the meaning of value. Both sides are forced to be civil to one another, with the potential for loss of life or livelihood playing a key role in maintaining harmony between people who have little reason to trust each other.

Individuals craft their own payment devices from reappropiated weapons left behind during the ongoing conflicts between the super states. As most of the components of these weapons were made under the guidance of big brother Ministry of Plenty, the gun parts are made from very cheap plastics, electroplated to look like gunmetal. They have little metal content and are in fact worthless compared with the small metal bullets used as a medium of exchange. The payment device has a groove cut out of the revolver section, without the need for the buyer to remove it from the breach.

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Wealth Beyond Big Brother (payment device)

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Wealth Beyond Big Brother (payment device)

During transactions, the buyer holds the device towards the seller, with all the bullets required during the transaction, loaded into the breach. When the buyer and seller have agreed on the price of the item being traded, the buyer takes the required amount of gold, silver or copper bullets from the guns breach and hands the unfired bullets to the seller in exchange for the goods.

Very rarely is the payment device used as a weapon. But occasionally transactions have been known to turn hostile and pressing the release catch to fire the gun becomes necessary. The bullets themselves have an electronic ignition, and are activated when the electrical contacts from the bolt touch the contacts at the back of the bullet.

I did have one last question for Austin:
Today's life constantly and worryingly echoes 1984 so I was also wondering about what we, ordinary citizens, could take from your project?

That institutional control isn't always a bad thing. And a completely decentralised payment system can also produce nightmarish scenarios.

In light of the banking sector scandals. Decentralised systems like Bitcoin suddenly appear rather alluring. Yet financial institutions, I believe, can both represent individual interests and collective interests for the benefit of society. A financial institution like a bank or building society can set precedents on idealised behaviour both for the institution and individuals within a given context. Money by itself, doesn't often offer any ideological framework.

Therefore, perhaps remembering both nightmare visions within 'Nighteen Eighty Four,' the extreme control of 'big brother' and the dog eat dog environment of the 'disputed territories'.

Previously: Walden Note money - How would money function within a behaviorist society?

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Nearest Costco, Monument or Satellite

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2015-05-13 10:22:14

Nearest Costco, Monument or Satellite does exactly what its title suggests. Its 14 colourful arrows point you with impeccable accuracy into the direction of the nearest Costco (a warehouse club chain popular in the U.S.), monument or orbiting GPS satellite.

Drawing from ideas in psychogeography, locative technologies and the human sense of location, the work consists of networked electronic pointing devices built into individual flight cases. Each case contains the electronics required to control a pointer arrow held above the case by a telescoping antenna. At its literal base, the cases contain and represent the rational, networked, technologized information available on place and direction. From this base, the antennas extend this information up into a swaying field of poetic movements, governed by materiality more than information.

The absurd piece turns the human sense of direction into a mechanical performance and critically comments on the way our daily perception of the environment is mediated by technology. Nearest Costco, Monument or Satellite will be part of the upcoming edition of the Sight & Sound, a festival that brings together digital artworks under a common theme. This year the festival explores the idea of being 'hyperlocal' and Daniel Jolliffe's piece responds well to S+S's exploration of the horizontality of networked art production and its contextualization within an ultra-localized setting.

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Since i suspected that Nearest Costco, Monument or Satellite was more than the sum of its very humourous parts, i contacted Daniel Jolliffe to know more about his work:

Hi Daniel! One of the striking characteristics of the work is how cheerful and colorful it is. What made you decide to make the installation so visually appealing?

For a long time I have been making works that use sculpture as a kind of camouflage for the electronic systems that give rise to a piece. Partly, this is because I think the idea that plain, or exposed electronics in a work puts ideas about technology in the viewer's head that come mostly from movie clichés about futurist robots and the like. Most people, when presented with an electronic system that is all diodes and motors and integrated circuits have a hard time knowing what is really going on. This means in turn that the possibility of being critical about the ideas in the work gets eaten up by the complex cliché of the technical system. As an artist I would prefer to avoid the discussion of how something works on a technical level, and encourage instead the discussion of what issues the work explores. So, I almost always put the electronic systems I use into sculptural forms that act as a kind of camouflage for the technical system of the work. For "Nearest Costco, Monument or Satellite" (NCMS) I went to a lot of trouble to find certain colours for the sculptures and the cables in order to generate the visual feeling you are talking about-- the zone of technological encounter that is playful, non-threatening and hopefully beautiful. I think it also never hurts to employ some classic visual art strategies like colour to engage the viewer on a purely visual level to start off.

0NlocatingCMS4_1200.jpg (Nearest) Costco, monument or orbiting GPS satellite(s). Why did you pick up the location of those three? Why not nail salons or art museum, for example?

The answer to this threads into your first question, as the colour has a lot to do with humour. Lately I have been very interested in having some humour in my work. My performance/sculpture/web work One Free Minute had moments of humour, and I realized with that piece with how powerful it is to make make the viewer laugh. You can make them laugh, and then make them think. In NCMS, the whole premise of the piece is humorous: it's a kind of ridiculous system that actually works! It points to the nearest Costco (from the current show in Wroclaw, it is pointing to the nearest Costco in the UK), the nearest well-known monument (the Aleksander Fredro Statue in Wroclaw) and it goes into a third mode to track the orbiting GPS Satellites. You can, of course, find all these things in a few minutes on your cell phone. Even the current positions of GPS satellites are easily found online.

On a more serious level, the three things NCMS points to are loose placeholders for the way we conceptualize places and location in the contemporary mind. Most people can conceptualize in their mind the route from their house to the nearest Costco, IKEA or major chain store. This is one way of thinking about location in the contemporary mind. Another is when you are talking to a friend on the phone or texting to arrange a meeting place: we could meet here, in front of this statue or there, in front of that yellow building. This is a kind of call to the collective memory of place.

The third function-- pointing to GPS satellites-- tries to talk about how irrelevant that information is, and in turn about how abstracted and distanced we are from the machines that generate ideas of location in our minds.

So the piece is kind of elaborate joke, but it's a serious one. I say this because I think that within the quick and efficient access to location data that we have on our cell phones, there is something lost in the human experience. This is really what this piece is about. It slows down the process of locating things, putting it into a ridiculous visual component form that hopefully makes you think about the the faster systems that we all actually use to find things in real life.

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I had a look at the video of the work of course and believe it or not, i was actually amazed to see that all the arrows ended up pointing to the exact same direction. does it always work so flawlessly? Apologies for the dumb question but what happens when the nearest monument is actually 2 monuments located at the same distance from your piece?

I've just set it up at the WRO media art Biennale in Wroclaw, and watching it, I'm amazed too that it does indeed flawlessly point out the actual locations. The way it is programmed, it sometimes takes one or two of the arrow pointers a while to catch up. It's like the person in a group of people who finally agrees with the others about the right way to get to the restaurant. This makes me laugh almost every time.

There is no confusion about pointing to the nearest monument, and it does this spot-on every time. The way I get this information very low-tech. First I ask a number of local people where the most significant and well- known local monuments and meeting places are. Once i decide which one the piece will point to, I ask two or three local people to do that in real life. After that I turn the way they pointed with their arms (the angle, basically) into code for the piece. This way the arrows are just reproducing what a local person would do if you asked them.

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Was there any challenge you encountered while developing the work?

About a hundred, but why are happily all behind me now! it took a long time to figure out how to get the arrows into the air and have them reliably point. I also did three different sculptural prototypes of the work before I came up with this one.

What's next for you? Any upcoming event, field of research or project you'd like to share with us?

I am working on some more work to do with humour. This piece is travelling a few places this year, to Montreal, then to the Museum of Nantes in France and finally to ISEA in Vancouver.

Thanks Daniel!

Check out Daniel Jolliffe's Nearest Costco, Monument or Satellite at the Sight & Sound festival in Montreal next week from 20 May until 24 May 2015. The programme is pretty good this year, Nicolas Maigret will launch another of his drone performances and Martin Howse will be doing a Earth Coding workshop.

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Tracking Drones, Reporting Lives

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2015-05-11 10:57:23

Last panel, last post about the Drones event organized by the Disruption Lab Network in Berlin a couple of weeks ago.

Compared to my previous post (Eyes from a distance. Personal encounters with military drones), the talks from the panel Tracking Drones, Reporting Lives zoomed out from the personal perspective and brought together a data journalist, a documentary director and an artist whose work examines the drone issue:

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Missiles being loaded onto a military Reaper drone in Afghanistan. Image BIJ

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From left to right: Tatiana Bazzichelli, Marc Garrett, Jack Serle, Tonje Hessen Schei and Dave Young

Data journalist Jack Serle, who works at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London, as part of the Covert Drone War research team, is involved in the Naming the Dead project which attempts to reveal the names of the civilians and militants killed by the drones in Pakistan since 2004. Film director Tonje Hessen Schei is currently showing in theaters across the world DRONE, a documentary that focuses on the CIA drone war. Artist, musician and researcher Dave Young presented The Reposition Matrix, a workshop series that investigated the military-industrial production and use of military drones through collaborative open-source intelligence and cartographic processes.

The panel was moderated by Marc Garrett, director and founder (together with Ruth Catlow) of the community and art space Furtherfield. In his intro to the panel, Garrett reminded the audience of the role that artists have played in exploring the dark sides of drones, sometimes even anticipating their power as the video BIT Plane demonstrates. In this work (shown at the Furtherfield exhibition Movable Borders: Here Come the Drones! two years ago), Natalie Jeremijenko and Kate Rich from the Bureau of Inverse Technology operate a radio-controlled model airplane over the Silicon Valley. By filming the aerial views, the BIT Plane can be seen as a precursor to the emerging DIY surveillance video enabled by the new availability of drones.


Bureau of Inverse Technology, BIT Plane

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Another project mentioned by Garrett in his intro to the panel: Joseph DeLappe, The 1,000 Drones - A Participatory Memorial, 2014

The talk of the first panelist, Jack Serle, focused on the BIJ's Covert Drone War, a research aimed at providing a full dataset of all known US drone attacks in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.

When the investigation started, there was online one version of drone attacks and it was coming from Washington. Their official line was that drones were surgically precise and that they were so efficient that no civilians were killed in the strikes:

It's this surgical precision, the ability, with laser-like focus, to eliminate the cancerous tumor called an al-Qaida terrorist while limiting damage to the tissue around it, that makes this counterterrorism tool so essential.

But the data coming from Pakistan quickly demonstrated that the reality was otherwise.

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From The Reaper Presidency: Obama's 300th drone strike in Pakistan, December 3, 2012

BIJ's work is based on open source data such as media reports, NGO reports, court documents, information leaked by governmental sources, accounts from eyewitnesses, etc. The observation of this data enables also the BIJ to pick out patterns revealing some uncomfortable facts about the war on terror.

For example the BIJ noticed that sometimes a strike would hit a building in Pakistan and that another strike would be launched on the same building 20 to 40 minutes later. The same pattern was observed elsewhere. It reveals that when the CIA was hitting a building, they were in fact waiting for the rescue team (made of both civilians and militants) to come and pick up people who had been injured in the strike. This is obviously a very bloody tactic.

Another pattern observed involved strikes hitting funerals. The CIA exploit a local custom: local commanders often attend a man's funeral. But of course the people who take part in the funeral and were injured or killed by the drones are not necessarily militants. Many of them are civilians.

There's more details about these two practices in Chris Woods and Christina Lamb's article CIA tactics in Pakistan include targeting rescuers and funerals.

By gathering numbers, names and other evidences, the Naming the Dead project counters secrecy and anonymity. Concealing as much as possible is a key element of the drone program, it enables it to continue its activities unquestioned.

Serle explained that with the Drone War Project, the BIJ doesn't want to morally judge the technology per se. Instead the work of the team aims to bring transparency and enable people to make changes.

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The funeral of Akram Shah, a government employee, killed with at least four other locals, all civilians, in June 2011. Image THIS KHAN/AFP/Getty Images, via BIJ

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A Pakistani tribesman sifts through the rubble of his house after an attack in January 2006. Photo: Tariq Mahmood/AFP/Getty Images, via BIJ

Next in the panel was Tonje Hessen Schei, the director of DRONE which was screened later in the evening (and which i'd recommend you see.)

The film looks at drone under different angles: the families of Pakistani victims of drones, the human rights advocates and activists, the drone pilots (namely Brandon Bryan) and the vast and incredibly lucrative industry which interests lay in keeping this war going on forever and ever.

The director talked about the relationships between the entertainment industry and the military, her disappointment at Obama who had promised to close Guantanamo Bay and who's now sending drones to kill people, etc.

One of her main concerns regards Europe which knows what is happening and remains silent. The United States is setting a worrying new standard of warfare with the drone program and it's only a question of time before we see Russia, Iran, China and other countries use drones to go after anyone they regard as a threat to their country. When that time has come, how will we be able to counter it? How are we going to say that the practice is illegal when we've done nothing to stop the United States?

Drones have changed warfare and its future. They've become the new normal even though there has never been any proper debate about the ethical, moral and legal challenges they present.

A survey found that 66% of the U.S. people is in favor of drone strikes. Perhaps the percentage would me much lower if people were actually presented with all the facts. There has been a wide media coverage of the DRONE documentary in both the UK and Norway but the film is still very much under the radar in the U.S.

The trailer of the documentary is very catchy and spectacular. It's part of the strategy of the film director who wanted to relate to mass culture and appeal to the broadest audience possible.


DRONE, the trailer

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Image from the documentary DRONE. Google Earth

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Image from the documentary DRONE. Photographer: Lucian Muntean Copyright @ Flimmer Film 2014. All rights reserved

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Image from the documentary DRONE. Archive Footage

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Image from the documentary DRONE. Photographer: Noor Behram Copyright @ Flimmer Film 2014. All rights reserved

The last speaker in the panel was artist Dave Young who made a series of valid points:

- The war on terror operate often in deserts. This is what Deleuze calls a 'smooth space', a surface that can be interrupted, moved and reconfigured without leaving any trace.

- Young also talked about The Reposition Matrix, a series of workshops dedicated the use of cybernetic military systems such as drones and the Disposition Matrix, a dynamic database of intelligence that produces kill-lists for the US Department of Defense. Working together, workshop participants developed a 'cartography of control': a map of the organisations, locations, and trading networks that play a role in the production of military drone technologies. The artist explained how some of the information used in the workshop came from unexpected sources: such as google satellite maps where sometimes the shadow of a drone would appear on a view or facebook where many soldiers post photos of their life. So in the background of selfies or group portraits, one can glimpse the base where they are working.

- During World War II, Norman Wiener worked on a research project at MIT on the automatic aiming and firing of anti-aircraft guns and guided missile technology. He studied how a missile changed its flight path through the use of advanced electronics. What intrigued him was the principle of feedback that was used, i.e. the missile gave feedback regarding its position and flight path towards its target. It then received instructions for small adjustments to its flight path in order to further stabilize it and to arrive at its target, etc. (via) His research was abandoned after the war but the concept of continuous feedback between the missile system and its environment can actually be extended to other systems and this eventually led him to formulate cybernetics.

- Young's account of the tactics deployed by the U.S. army during the Vietnam war was equally fascinating. Some of the technology does indeed foreshadow the use of drones. One was a 'people sniffer', a detector that could 'smell' human urine and sweat and thus detect enemy soldiers in hidden positions. This Operation Snoopy (because that was its name) and other tactics are presented in the 1969 video Bugging the Battlefield


Bugging the Battlefield, 1969

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Personnel detector pamphlet. Photo: National Archives, via War is Boring

- another important point Dave Young made is that the military is always trying to remove the agency of the soldier. A soldier can be disobedient, he or she can question an order or strategy.

Don't miss DNL's next event: CYBORG: Hacktivists, Freaks and Hybrid Uprisings, it will take place on May 29 and 30 at Kunstquartier Bethanien in Berlin.

Previous posts about the Drones event: Eyes from a distance. Personal encounters with military drones and The Grey Zone. On the (il)legitimacy of targeted killing by drones.

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Book review: Works of Game. On the Aesthetics of Games and Art

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2015-05-07 11:02:02

Works of Game. On the Aesthetics of Games and Art, by John Sharp, Associate Professor of Games and Learning at Parsons.

Find it on amazon USA and UK.

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Publisher MIT Press writes: Games and art have intersected at least since the early twentieth century, as can be seen in the Surrealists' use of Exquisite Corpse and other games, Duchamp's obsession with Chess, and Fluxus event scores and boxes--to name just a few examples. Over the past fifteen years, the synthesis of art and games has clouded for both artists and gamemakers. Contemporary art has drawn on the tool set of videogames, but has not considered them a cultural form with its own conceptual, formal, and experiential affordances. For their part, game developers and players focus on the innate properties of games and the experiences they provide, giving little attention to what it means to create and evaluate fine art. In Works of Game, John Sharp bridges this gap, offering a formal aesthetics of games that encompasses the commonalities and the differences between games and art.


Myfanwy Ashmore, Super Mario Trilogy

Works of Game is part of MIT Press' Playful Thinking, a series of compact, short, sharp volumes on game-related topics that should interest pretty much everyone, from academics to industry professionals to members of the general public. I've only got this one book from the series but i can confirm that it counts some 115 pages only (excluding the notes which, by the way, are surprisingly amusing to read) and that it analyses its subject in depth while remaining extremely readable to art experts and curious players alike.

In the book, John Sharp attempts to explore the way game makers and artists conceptualize and create game-based artworks. He identifies three connected community of practice:

Game artists appropriate the tools of the video game industry to create art.
Meanwhile, the artists who produce artgames see games as a medium for artistic expression and experiential understanding that enable them to delve into territories traditionally explored through poetry, painting, literature or film.
And finally, there are the creators who produce artists games and use games are a vehicle for questioning, critiquing and exploring unexpected potentials. The main characteristic of their work is that their concept and interactivity speak to both the contemporary art and the game communities.

Sharp illustrates the three practices with examples and brings them in parallel with key moments or players of the history of art. It is one of those rare books in which Donkey Kong finds itself in the company of Marcel Duchamp, Dune and Raby, Nicolas Bourriaud and Sol Lewitt.

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Julian Oliver, ioq3aPaint, 2010

A clear example of Game Art is when Julian Oliver exploits a bug in the Quake 3 game engine to 'paint' abstract images and videos. The result is a wok of art that stand on its own but that might not necessarily appeal to a gaming community who expects interaction.

A great artgame would be Castle Doctrine, a massively-multiplayer game set in the early 1990s. Each player has two missions: protect their home and break inside other players' houses and steal money from their vaults. It's not pleasant, you can lose everything and commit suicide, be mauled by a guard dog, or be killed by the traps your neighbour has installed to protect their belongings.

In creating this paranoid game, Jason Rohrer was influenced by his childhood fear of his house being robbed, shootings that made the headlines, and his own political views regarding gun rights and home invasions. Castle Doctrine demonstrates that a game can be autobiographic, like a painting or a poem.

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Brenda Romero, Train, 2009

In her The Mechanic is the Message series, Brenda Romero uses games as a medium for exploring human tragedy.

The series is composed of six separate non-digital games that experiment with the traditional notions of games and the way they can extend human experience and create emotions not traditionally associated with games.

One of them is Train, a board game where players have to transport as many yellow game pieces from one end of the game board to the other. But the winner discovers the name of their destination only once they've reached it. All of them are concentration camps. The player can then choose to stop playing or attempt to sabotage the game by intentionally trying to draw derail cards.

Another game, Síochán leat (aka "The Irish Game") re-creates Oliver Cromwell's mid-17th century invasion of Ireland. As the English army advances, the Irish people (game pieces) are displaced onto other squares of the board until the figures representing Irish people can barely squeeze into increasingly crowded areas. Two players manipulate the Irish pieces. When there isn't enough free spaces left, the Irish people will have to fight one another in order to stay alive, for example by sending some of the Irish people to one side of the board where they will wait to shipped to Barbados to serve as slaves.

All the games in the series put the player in the very embarrassing position of playing an active part into a human atrocity. The rules of the game are not published anywhere, you discover them as you play.

Now artists' games have the best of both world. They satisfy the art community because of their critical and conceptual rigor and they entertain the gamers with their level of interactivity and their representation of real phenomena experiences.

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Mary Flanagan, [giantJoystick], 2006

An example of artists' game is Mary Flanagan's [giantJoystick] which critically engages with the design, play and cultural place of games. In the installation, you have to handle an oversize Atari VCS joystick to play classic games designed for one player. However, you need the help of another player in order to successfully manipulate it. The idea is thus very simple. However, questions soon arise in the mind of the player: How do you collaborate on a game that was designed for one player only? How does the playing activity change once you're in a museum rather than alone in your living room? etc.

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Molleindustria, The Best Amendment

Molleindustria's The Best Amendment, a game that pushed the pro-gun rhetoric to its most absurd limits, is as ludic as it is socially-engaged and as such, it appeals to both the game community and the art crowd. It particularly challenges Wayne LaPierre's argument, made in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, that "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

In the concluding pages, Sharp states that the artgames movement is more or less on its last leg and that game art is relegated to the 'marginalized world of media art.' He does however make a great case for artists' games, explaining why they deserve to get the attention of galleries and museums, what is their place in culture and also why we should develop a new literacy to better appreciate (and create) them.

Now who might enjoy this book? That's a no-brainer!

Works of Game is a book for people who love contemporary art and read Jonathan Jones' art column on The Guardian (i like Jones' writing but his good sense seems to evaporate as soon as any form of technology is involved.)

It is also a book i'd recommend for gamers, for the media art crowd and anyone else who want to further reflect on art's contribution to games. And vice-versa.

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Eyes from a distance. Personal encounters with military drones

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2015-05-04 12:08:32

More notes from the Drone event organized by the Disruption Lab Network in Berlin a couple of weeks ago (the first post, The Grey Zone. On the (il)legitimacy of targeted killing by drones, is over here.) Eyes from a distance. On Drone-systems and their strategies brought together a former drone operator, investigative journalists, criminal law researchers, artists and critical thinkers to reflect on the following issues:

What is the politics and the regime of power beyond drone-systems? Which are the consequences both on militant networks and civil society of an increasing automatism of conflicts? Can we track down the hidden strategies that move target-killings? Can we understand better drone technology?

The symposium was brilliant. For many reasons: the impeccable choice of speakers, the variety of perspectives, the stimulating Q&A with the audience. But i think i should salute the fact that many women participated to the conference, both as speakers and as members of the public. This will hopefully be a inspiration to conference organizers who believe that technology is a 'man thing.'

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Predator Cockpit. Photo Bryan William Jones via Wired

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Brandon Bryant keynote for Eyes from a distance. On Drone-systems and their strategies. Photo by Disruption Network Lab

But let's get to the talks of the first evening. Two of them were given by people who have or used to have a direct, daily experience of drones.

i was incredibly moved by Asma al-Ghul's video contribution. She is a journalist and author from Gaza who writes about human rights, social issues and is never afraid to openly criticize Palestinian ruling authorities. She has won numerous awards for her work, including the international award for courage in journalism. On August 3, 2014, at least nine members of her family were killed in an Israeli airstrike. She was not allowed to get out of Gaza (more about that below) and sent a video to tell us about everyday life under drone surveillance and sometimes attacks.

The other speaker was Brandon Bryant, a former U.S. Air Force pilot who joined the Predator drone Program in 2006 and left in 2011 when he started questioning the ethics of the program and his own role as a soldier. He has since shared with the world his battle with PTSD, his guilt over killing people and his concerns about the U.S. drone operations.

Bryant also recently set up Project Red Hand to expose mechanisms of corruption, manipulations and wrong doings.

You can watch Bryant's presentation on YouTube but here's a small summary.

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When the GQ article came out in 2013, it was titled Confessions of a Drone Warrior. The word 'warrior' offended him. Drone technology made him feel like a coward, not a warrior. He could kill a human being at the other end of the world at the click of a button. 'What's more cowardly than that?'

And since the technology is used by the U.S.A., a country supposed to be the most powerful in the world, then he believes that the U.S. is the worst type of coward. Instead of leading by example, the U.S. is acting like the bully in the playground.

When you're a drone operator, you're a low class sniper. No one respects you in the military. You don't have to do the hard stuff. Yet, you are given the responsibility to take someone else's life without really being given the information necessary to understand what's going on and who exactly you've just murdered. You are told to look for people doing 'nefarious things', but we have no understanding of these people's culture. The first time Bryant had to shoot, he was told to fire at 3 individuals simply for the fact that they were carrying weapons.

Bryant also believes that as citizens we have responsibilities as well. Our duty is to raise our voice whenever there is a concern about the involvement of our government in the drone program. And if you're not American and think this doesn't really concern you, do check out his video, towards the end he describes the role of Europe and in particular Germany in making the drone operations possible.

Bryant's talk was very moving, especially when he revealed that 'back home' people don't want to hear his story. His brave decision to speak out and denounce the lack of ethics of the drone program was not seen with a kind eye, he even received threats from friends and colleagues who said he deserved to be shot for raising his voice.

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Smoke and flames are seen following what police said was an Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip July 9, 2014. Photo Stringer/Courtesy Reuters, via CFR

Israel is the world's number one drone exporter. It has been experimenting the technology with deadly consequences on Palestinians for years so it wasn't surprising that the DNL had invited two writers from Gaza to Berlin to share their experience with us. Unfortunately, it was also no surprise to learn that neither Ebaa Rezeq nor Asma al-Ghul had been allowed to get out of Gaza.

However, Asma al-Ghul sent a video to tell us about life under drones in Gaza. Alghoul couldn't come to Berlin because of the closure of the borders. She is blacklisted for some unknown reason (like half the population of Gaza, she explained) and wasn't allowed to go beyond the Erez checkpoint controlled by Israel.


DNL #1 "DRONES. Eyes from a distance" - Video-message by Asmaa Al-Ghul

Gazans are very familiar with drones. They have lived through 3 wars in 8 years and even a child is able to recognize the arrival of a drone. They are so much part of everyday life that people in Gaza are giving the drones nicknames such as as 'Buzzer' or 'Zanana', onomatopoeia that come from the ugly sounds they make in the sky. In fact, drones have taken such a part of people's culture that they started calling 'zananas', the intelligence men who follow people or simply nosy people.

Drones cause serious stress and anxiety among the population. A drone evokes war and death. Once you hear it coming, you brace yourself for a bombardment and the death of people. On a side note, it's impossible to ignore their presence if you are watching TV because they ruin the transmission. "Every Israeli aircraft is dreadful,' she explained. "Apaches, F-16s and drones. Especially the F-16, when they break the sonic barrier and make severe explosions in the sky. "

Some Israeli drones are used for reconnaissance purposes, others fire missiles. Some do both.

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An Israeli drone flies above the Gaza Strip. Photo via Occupied Palestine

From 2008 to October 2013, Israeli drones have killed 911 Palestinians like Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in 2004 and Ahmed Al-Ja'abari in 2011.

"It's been six months since the war ended,' she says and war is still inside of us. People keep asking us whether there's a war coming. Since the end of the war, 40 people who live by the border-line areas have been killed by drones. One of them was a resistance fighter. Over 60 boats have been destroyed. 66 civilians including fishermen were detained by the Israeli forces in the post-war six-month period.

These statistics show there's no peace, there's no real truce and people feel they are threatened all the time."

A study recently released by Aid agencies in Gaza shows that over 100,000 Palestinians are still displaced. The situation is catastrophic. Gazans live in complete depression, in addition to unemployment and poverty.

Young people still dream of change, of reconciliation, of a new life to be born.

In addition to the domestic obstacles which cripple the population, Gaza is also facing political arrests and lack of speech freedom for journalists. The West Bank is not any better than in Gaza. Any journalist who criticizes president Mahmoud Abbas on Facebook can get into trouble, for example. Even the political reconciliation is far away now. It's the first anniversary of the Beach Camp accord this month and nothing has been applied.

The next event of the Disruption Network Lab will take place on May 29-30 in Berlin.

Previously: The Grey Zone. On the (il)legitimacy of targeted killing by drones.
Photo on the homepage: Illustrative photo of an IDF soldier operating a reconnaissance drone. (photo credit: Tsahi Ben-Ami/Flash90).

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The Grey Zone. On the (il)legitimacy of targeted killing by drones

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2015-04-27 13:09:14

Last week, i was in Berlin for the talks and screenings organized by the Disruption Network Lab, a platform of events and research focused on art, hacktivism and disruption. DNL opened its program with Eyes from a Distance. On Drone-Systems and their Strategies, a conference that explored the politics and the regime of power beyond drone-systems. A couple of the talks have already been uploaded online. They will all be there eventually and in the meantime i'm going to dutifully post my notes from the conference.

Starting with the brilliant panel of the first evening. The Grey Zone. On the (il)legitimacy of targeted killing by drones, moderated by journalist Laura Lucchini, explored drone strikes under the perspectives of an investigative journalist, a criminal law researcher, an activist and a blogger/journalist who lives in Gaza under the constant surveillance of the Israeli drones (more about her in a later post but go ahead if you're curious...)

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Grey Zone panel. From left to right: Laura Lucchini, John Goetz (investigative journalist), Chantal Meloni (criminal law researcher) and Marek Tuszynski (activist, Tactical Tech)

The grey zone is of course the dangerous, blurry area where drone attacks operate. The practice of targeted killing by drones raises many questions: "How many civilians have been killed as collateral damage during these strikes?" "And even if we're talking about militants, how can the killings be justified when there has been judicial supervision? "If these drones can reach their targets anywhere, then how is the battlefield defined?" "87 countries (and counting) are now equipped with military drones, which they use mostly for surveillance. Only 3 countries use drones for targeted killings: the U.S., Israel and the UK. Where will this stop?" "And if these targeted killings are illegal, why does Europe keep silent?"

0geheimerkrieg.jpgThe first panelist was John Goetz, an American investigative journalist and author based in Berlin. He wrote, together with Christian Fuchs, the book Geheimer Krieg (Secret War) which reveals how the war on terror is secretly conducted from covert U.S. bases in Germany.

Goetz's presentation attempted to reconstruct one day of a drone attack in Somalia and as the narrative unfolded, we got to hear about Germany's involvement into these military operations, the way the U.S. gather intelligence in foreign territories and how innocents end up being caught in the line, if not directly targeted due to inaccurate information.

As he explained at the conference (and as an article in The Intercept further confirmed), drone strikes wouldn't be possible without the support of Germany. The Germans might not launch the attacks themselves but they provide intelligence and they coordinate the strikes that target suspected terrorists in Africa and the Middle East, but that also kill civilians.

The U.S. drone war in Africa is controlled from U.S. bases in Germany, namely Ramstein and Stuttgart. Germany is also responsible for gathering human intelligence. There are many Somali immigrants and asylum seekers in Germany and as they arrive, they are asked about streets, shops, location of members of Al-Shabaab, etc. Any information that could be used by the "War on Terror" is immediately relayed to U.S. intelligence officers.

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Image Der Spiegel

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US Air Force Base Ramstein. Photo Der Spiegel

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Transatlantic cables connect U.S. drone pilots to their aircraft half a world away. (Josh Begley, via The Intercept)

The second speaker was Chantal Meloni, a criminal lawyer and the author of Is there a Court for Gaza? A Test Bench for International Justice, a book about the crimes perpetrated during the Operation Cast Lead against the Gaza Strip.

Meloni put the issue of targeted killing by drones into a legal framework.

Since 2004, up to 5,500 people have been killed by drone strikes in Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan. These are countries the U.S. is not officially at war with.

Killing has supplanted capture as the centerpiece of the U.S. counter terrorism strategy. Opposition to drone killing is growing but it is not as effective as the opposition to torture was. A reason for that might be that the legal framework for drone strikes is more complex.

Drone strikes have escalated under the Obama administration and they are characterized by a lack of transparency: states don't disclose who has been killed, why and who are the collateral casualties. Obama doesn't disclose the identity of the people on the kill list. There is no public presentation of evidence, nor any judicial oversight. The level of opacity is actually ridiculous. The little information we have is provided by media reports, leaks or testimonies.

An analysis by the human rights organization Reprieve found that US operators targeting 41 men have killed an estimated 1,147 people. So who are the 1,106 individuals? We don't know, most of them remain unnamed. What is sure is that the collateral damage shows that drones are not as 'surgically precise' as the U.S. claims.

Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown professor and former Pentagon official under President Obama, sums up the situation: "Right now we have the executive branch making a claim that it has the right to kill anyone, anywhere on Earth, at any time, for secret reasons based on secret evidence, in a secret process undertaken by unidentified officials."

We associate the start of the drone attacks with the U.S. and their post-9/11 counter-terrorist strategy but the military use of drones started long before that, in Israel, a country that has the longest track record for targeted killing (aka "targeted prevention") of Palestinians. Targeted killings can be defined as the state-sponsored practice of eliminating enemies outside the territory.

Nowadays, most of the drones sold around the world are used for surveillance purposes but it has been forecast that in 10 years every country will have armed drones.

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Photograph: Guardian

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% of total UAVs (1985-2014) supplied by exporting country (via The Guardian)

60% of the world export of drones come from Israel. Israeli manufacturer Elbit is producing the best selling model: the Hermes drone which was used in the latest attacks on Gaza. 37% of the killings that occurred during the attacks on Gaza can be attributed to drones.

One can see the appeal of drones for governments and policy makers: they are relatively cheap, they are claimed to be 'surgically precise', they make it easy to kill without any risk and they allow the army to reach their target in areas that would otherwise be difficult to reach. But do their use comply with the martial law?

Targeted killings are generally unlawful under international laws.
There are two different regimes to consider under international laws: the one applicable during war time and the one applicable in times of peace.

The laws under war time are more permissible regarding the use of lethal forces. However, the right to use armed force is not unlimited. Civilians, for example, need to be protected from direct attacks.
Outside the battlefields, the use of lethal forces is more restricted. You can use lethal force only when it is absolutely necessary. For example, when you have to protect human life from unlawful attacks. And even in that case, you may only use lethal forces if there is no other alternative.

States have thus expanded the concept of war on the battlefield as to include situations that should in fact be regulated by law enforcement agencies. The 'war on terror' is a total war for which no end nor boundaries is conceived. The number of enemies is infinite too. Governments justify the use of lethal forces by claiming that this is 'anticipatory self-defense' but, under the laws applicable under war time, the self-defense argument allows killing only when all other solutions, such as capture, have been exhausted. Most targeted killings outside the battlefield constitute thus premeditated deprivations of life, violations of the right to life.

When killings cannot be justified they constitute war crimes and other states have the duty to investigate and not leave dormant this huge accountability vacuum.

Tactical Technology Collective, Unseen War (Exposing the Invisible)

The final speaker was Marek Tuszynski, the co-founder of Tactical Tech, an organization 'dedicated to the use of information in activism.'

Tuszynski's talk focused on a series of short documentaries called Exposing the Invisible. The films look at the investigative work of journalists, artists, reporters, activists and technologists who explore publicly accessible data in order counter mainstream reports and go further than traditional journalistic investigations. One of the documentaries, Unseen War examines the physical, moral and political invisibility of US drone strikes in Pakistan.

He argued that counter powers should build their own intelligence practice.

The operations in Pakistan might be located far away but they concern us because
- the use of drones legitimizes a state of permanent surveillance, it makes it ok to gather all kinds of information about an individual,
- they legitimize multi-layered total surveillance systems in which the data collected by drones is accompanied by information provided by human intelligence on the ground,
- they legitimize two aspects of surveillance: one is the schematization of behaviour. You're not targeted because of who you are but because of how you behave. Models of behaviour are built and based on these models a system will determinate who is bad and who is good. Besides, they legitimize systems that detect misbehaviour. If someone is doing something different from the normal patterns, this person has to be put under surveillance.

But there's no reason to be passive, we need to protect ourselves because surveillance doesn't require machines flying above our heads, we are already providing a vast quantity of valuable indormation when we use social media and that data can be used to analyse our digital behaviour. To protect yourself from intrusion to privacy, check out Tactical Tech's Security in-a-Box website.

Image on the homepage cnet.

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Ebola, Molotov Cocktails and decaying discotheques. The Sony World Photography awards

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2015-04-24 13:44:34

It's that time of the year again. The winning images of the Sony World Photography Awards have been revealed. It's the eight edition of the competition and, as usual, the Italians made a killing and take a large portion of the awards, there is a fair deal of suffering, at least one of the awards goes to an image featuring Palestinians being bullied by soldiers with sophisticated weapons (this year however, the photos are joyful), and it is always strange to look at the photos and realize that the main events of the year before have almost already been erased from consciences.

I've received the press images this morning, selected the ones i found most striking, made my community proud and copy/pasted the description and then i hit publish:

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John Moore (L'Iris d"or, photographer of the year), A burial team sprays disinfectant over the body of a woman suspected of dying of Ebola in her home. From the series Ebola Crisis Overwhelms Liberian Capital

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John Moore (L'Iris d"or, photographer of the year), An MSF health worker in protective clothing carries a sick girl at an Ebola treatment center. From the series Ebola Crisis Overwhelms Liberian Capital

In the summer of 2014 Monrovia, Liberia became the epicenter of the West African Ebola epidemic, the worst in history. Although previous rural outbreaks were more easily contained, once the virus began spreading in Monrovia's dense urban environment, the results were described by Medecins Sans Frontieres as "catastrophic". With a tradition of burial rites that include the washing of the dead bodies of loved ones, Liberians became infected at alarming rates. Only a decade after a long civil war, Liberia's fragile health system was unable to cope, international agencies were slow to react, and the country struggled.

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Donald Weber (Still Life Photographer of the Year), Untitled. From the series Molotov Cocktails

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Donald Weber, Untitled. From the series Molotov Cocktails

Molotov Cocktails have been the weapon of choice for the EuroMaidan protestors in Kiev. Using fire to their advantage, the protestors were able to defend their barricades, extend their lines and fortify their positions. In order to set fire to tanks, armoured vehicles, buses, and tires in opposition to local cops, Kievís protestors used thousand and thousands of Molotov Cocktails, inspiring and mobilizing people throughout the city to collect as many bottles as possible.

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Turi Calafato (Winner Mobile Phone), A day on the beach

It is usual to see scenes like this because people spend all day along at the beach and all the usual activities, like playing, eating, sleepping, etc., are done outdoors. All kind of people are seen, and it is a pleasure to contemplate at the same time so much of humanity enjoying and relaxing under the sun.

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Daesung Lee (2nd place Conceptual), Untitled. From the series Futuristic Archaeology

35% of Mongolians are living a nomadic life and depend on their land for survival. This is increasingly difficult due to serious changes: 25% of the Mongolian land has turned into desert in the past 30 years. Potentially 75% of the territory is at risk of desertification. These environmental changes directly threaten the Mongolian nomadic way of life, which has been passed from generation to generation. This project attempts at recreating the museum diorama with actual people and their livestock in a real place where decertifying is taking place. It is based on an imagined image that these people try to go into museum diorama for survival in the future. This is accomplished with printed images on a billboard placed in conjunction with the actual landscape horizon.

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Eduardo Leal (3rd place Campaign), Plastic Tree #22. From the series Plastic Trees

Plastic bags are considered the most ubiquitous consumer item in the world, but this has become the main source of pollution worldwide. Unfortunately, the properties that make it so useful such as its durability, weight and low cost also turn it into a problem, which is even more acute in developing countries where waste management infrastructures are not developed and where the population is used to throw everything away. This accumulation of plastic bags in the environment cause deterioration of the landscapes and agricultural soils and it is associated with the death of domestic and wild animals. This series, Plastic Trees, was made to call for attention on this problem, focusing on the spreading of plastic bags on the Bolivian Altiplano, where millions of bags travel with the wind until they get entangled in native bushes, damaging the beautiful landscape.

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Antonio La Grotta (3rd place Architecture.) From the series Paradise Discotheque

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Antonio La Grotta. From the series Paradise Discotheque

Discotheques, the symbol of 80s and 90s hedonism, were fake marble temples adorned with Greek statues made of gypsum, futuristic spaces of gigantic size, large enough to contain the dreams of success, money, fun of thousands people. And then the dreams are gone, people disappeared and nightclubs became abandoned wreck, cement was laid on large empty squares, places inhabited by echo and melancholy. The grass is growing in the crack, the Discobolus is hiding under a porch, priggish Venus lurks behind the bars. The Paradise Discotheque, contemporary monuments of our civilization, are waiting to be burned to the ground, and in this expectation made of vacuum, only the memory of a former glory remains.

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Simon Norfolk, (Landscape Photographer of the Year), Mt Kenya 1963(a). From the series When I Am Laid In Earth

These fire lines I have drawn indicate where the front of the rapidly disappearing Lewis Glacier was at various times in the recent past; the years are given in the titles. In the distance, a harvest moon lights the poor, doomed glacier remnant; the gap between the fire and the ice represents the relentless melting. Relying on old maps and modern GPS surveys I have rendered a stratified history of the glacier's retreat. Mount Kenya is the eroded stump of a long-dead, mega-volcano. Photographically, I hope to re-awaken its angry, magma heart. My fire is made from petroleum. My pictures contain no evidence that this glacier's retreat is due to man-made warming (glaciers can retreat when the don't get sufficient snow, or if the cloud cover thins, for example,) but it is nonetheless my belief that humans burning hydrocarbons are substantially to blame.

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Rich Wiles, (3rd place Arts & Culture), Untitled

The Palestinian Circus School was established in 2006. In 2011 it moved into its own premises in Birzeit near Ramallah. Around 150 young people participate in regular circus classes which accommodate different age groups and ability levels. The school's policy affirms that no student will ever be turned away if they cannot pay the tuition fees. Gender equality is considered an intrinsic aspect of the circus school's structure and practice. Weekly workshops are held in refugee camps and cities across the West Bank for people unable to attend the school in Birzeit. The school has implemented performance tours in various European countries. Exchange programs have been established with European circuses to host qualified trainers and performers in Palestine. The Palestinian Circus School fuses contemporary culture with Palestinian storytelling and identity. The first production, Circus Behind the Wall, explored Palestinian separation from family, land and water by Israel's Wall.

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Valery Melnikov (2nd place Current Affairs), Civilians escape from a fire at a house destroyed by air attack in the Luhanskaya village. From the series Black days of Ukraine

These pictures were taken in June-July near the city of Luhansk (Luhanskaya village). I arrived there half an hour after Ukrainian army airstrikes. Buildings were destroyed and blazed, some locals were dead, while others were escaping in fear. In 2014 the conflict between rebels and the government army in Ukraine led the country into full-scale hostilities. The local residents of the strategically located city of Luhansk were left without water and electricity for three months over the summer, while constant gunfire could be heard above their heads.

According to the Federal Migration Service, more than 800 thousand Ukrainian citizens had to be relocated as a result of the conflict.

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Liza Van der Stock (3rd place People), Performance at the erotic fair, 2015. From the series Paradise Lust

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Liza Van der Stock, Performance at the erotic fair, 2015. From the series Paradise Lust

In a Flemish village, surrounded by nature, Laura and Maurice live together with their daughter Eva. In the garden, Eva plays with her dog or meets with her classmates. Friends and family come along and fill the house with activity. But when Eva is at school, Maurice and Laura shoot what most people prefer to keep to themselves. The porn they make is not populated by Barbies or muscled superheroes. Ordinary women play with men who are also dad or neighbour. A humanity that not only exists in the porn they make, but also emerge behind the scenes and in their family life. In recent years, Laura has built strong bonds with a number of like-minded people: every one of them confident women who have consciously chosen this lifestyle and only depend on themselves with respect to their work. On a regular basis, they go to erotic fairs, rendez-vous evenings or an erotic nightclub: to make money or to have fun - or both.

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Cosmin Bumbut (Architecture Photographer of the Year), Intimate Room, Targsor Penitentiary, Romania, 2011. From the series Intimate Rooms

Romania joined the European Union in 2007, the whole prison system went through major revamp and the biggest reform was to introduce the right to private visits. This means that a prisoner who is married or in a relationship has the right to receive, every three months, a two-hour private visit which takes place in a separate room inside the prison compound. Plus, if a prisoner gets married in detention he or she can spend 48 hours with the spouse in the special room and is allowed visits once a month in the first year of marriage. I started photographing the private rooms in 2008 and I have now photographed the private rooms inside all Romanian penitentiaries (35 penitentiaries).

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Riccardo Bononi (Sport Photographer of the Year), Untitled. From the series Las Valkyrias de Bolivia

Bolivia is proud of being the Latin American country with the highest the number of actively working women. Bolivian women no longer are the subject for the ìweaker sexî prejudice, they are rather associated with the outstanding physical stamina, the inclination to struggle and the great brute strength. Then must not be surprising the fact that, in the poorest neighbourhood of La Paz (4000 mt), a bunch of female farmers from the countryside get together every Sunday in the ring for a public fight. Wearing the traditional cholitas (the term originally refers to the ìindigenous mixed raceî people) clothes and bowlers, Bolivian Valkyries deal with even more demanding fights once they get off the ring, raising their children all by themselves and working between the fields and the urban street markets.

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Jens Juul (3rd place Portraiture), Hair, 2015

I started visiting different hair salons to capture the moment where we let other people get intimately close and shape the way the world sees us. When I meet ordinary people, I'm intrigued by the fact that they have so many fascinating stories and interesting personalities. Meeting strangers and getting to hear a chunk of their lives really gets me. In this case the stories were found at the local hairdresser. The project is not yet finished - there is still so much to discover in Copenhagenís smaller hair salons.

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Jonathan Syer (2nd place Campaign), Tooting Bec Lido, London. From the series Lidos Of England: Lost & Found

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Jonathan Syer (2nd place Campaign), Broadstairs Lido, Broadstairs, Kent, UK. From the series Lidos Of England: Lost & Found

Lidos were perhaps at their most popular between the wars when people took their holidays here in England. Many of them were built in the 1930s or earlier and were naturally located on the English south coast, which was a favoured holiday destination for those living in London and the home counties. However there were many that were built in towns and cities to cope with the demand that once was and many of these remain. However, when the affordability of overseas holidays started to emerge in the 1960s many of these lidos fell into decline and have never recovered. Some have survived and have benefited from investment and so have taken on a new lease of life as popularity has started increasing again. Most have been left to decay or lost under modern developments, such as Ramsgate's once booming pool which is now under a car park.

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Dougie Wallace, image from the series Glasgow; Second City of The Empire

In Iraq, life expectancy is 67. Minutes from Glasgow city centre, in Calton, it is 54. I looked at this community and the day-to-day lives of its inhabitants. My intention was to juxtapose Glasgow with the vastly different setting of Kensington and Chelsea in London. Being from Glasgow and familiar with the landscape, I am moved by what I perceive to be missing chunks of life and the bleakness of those shortened lives lived in the Calton compared to those lived in Kensington and Chelsea. The difference in fortunes is not only apparent in mortality but in the cut of their suits and coats, the accessories they carry, the way the women apply their make-up, even their expressions tell a tale, confident and haughty vs downtrodden and malnourished.
(i LOVE that series.)

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Petr Bambousek (3rd place, Czech Republic, National Award), Crested Macaque / Makak chocholat˝

I walked along with enormous macaque troop on Sulawesi tens of hours and learned many about their behavior. At one moment the troop rested all around me, babies played each other while adults checked surrounding if it is safe enough. I noticed there is one male in dark shades nearby.

The winning photos of the World Photography awards are exhibited at Somerset House, London until 10th May 2015.

Image on the homepage: © Marcin Klocek, Poland, Sport, Shortlist, Professional Commpetition, 2015 Sony World Photography Awards.

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