May 2, 2011
Without realizing it, Sohaib Athar, a Pakistani IT Professional from Lahore on a retreat in the vacation town of Abbottabad, live tweeted the 1am arrival of helicopters in the raid that killed Bin Laden.
Other interesting tweets from the area: Another live-ish tweet, It was a known militant hideout, Supposed Post Mortem Picture of Osama circulating in Pakistan (Tin Eye confirms it's a fake- circulating since last year), Some thought helicopter crash was a bomb, lots of choppers, Another local report
Update: Video from a Neighbor
May 2, 2011
If you are interested in how news starts to follow a narrative especially when facts and boots on the ground are sparse, study the details of the reports on Abbottabad. I happen to have been through Abbottabad as it's on the tail end (or beginning, depending on your direction) of the Karakoram Highway and have a sense of the place. The media has repeatedly defined the city as a suburb of Islamabad (the Pakistani capital) and as a military garrison. Also, interesting, is the description of the house as a mansion/luxury compound and a fortress.
Abbottabad was founded as a British Hill Station, a place where English military officers and officials would escape the heat of cities like Peshawar, Rawalpindi, or Lahore (Islamabad, the Pakistani equivalent of Brazillia, didn't exist yet). The city is a popular tourist destination, weekend getaway, and honeymoon spot for middle and upperclass Pakistanis. THE honeymoon spot is another town called Murree which is higher in the mountains, Abbottabad is sort of a second tier spot.
The city is about 100 km from Islamabad over a road that takes roughly two hours to drive if the traffic isn't terrible which it often is. Many news organizations are reporting the distance between Islamabad and Abbottabad by drawing a straight line on a map without looking at topography. The straight line from Islamabad to Abbottabad crosses very high mountains. The road that actual people travel takes a more circuitous route.
A big prestigious military academy sits on the north side of the town and lots of military folks build retirement and vacation homes there. This is mainly because the Pakistani brass have the the type of money/sway to build houses in popular vacation spots. If you show up in the town center you wouldn't think of the town as being any more or less of military town than any other town in the region (the military has a heavy presence throughout the area). All the cities here have a large number of tribal people and the central government needs the military to reign them in.
Much has been made of the fact that the military owns lots of land in the town, and that the compound couldn't have been built without the military's knowledge, but just as almost everywhere in Pakistan, a little baksheesh greases the wheels and helps avoid questions.
Many if not most of the large homes in the middle and upper middle class areas are surrounded by high walls (often topped by barbed wire or broken glass). Many many multi-family compounds are scattered throughout the city. As far as mansions go, I've seen much nicer looking homes in Pakistan. I presume the primary reason this house stuck out for the intelligence guys was that the size of the house didn't fit the profile of the people who were supposedly living inside it. The lack of phone and internet would also be unusual, but probably not unheard of (many people in Pakistan only use cell phones, and many people, even wealthy ones, are unwired).
A few other impressions: Abbottabad is also something of a college town with dozens of small colleges. Many students would be considered Westernized liberals in Pakistan. One legacy of the British occupation is a sizable Christian population. I distinctly remember hearing church bells in the town. There are still several prominent churches scattered about.
Here are some media characterizations of the city:
"garrison suburb of Abbottabad, about 30 miles from the center of Islamabad" - National Review
"Abbottabad is essentially a military cantonment city in Pakistan, in the hills to the north of the capital of Islamabad, in an area where much of the land is controlled or owned by the Pakistan Army and retired army officers." - New Yorker
"U.S. forces for months had watched the luxury compound in Abbottabad, a city 65 miles from the capital that is home to two Pakistani army regiments" - Washington Post
'"Mansion? Next to a military base? 18 miles from the capital? Staying there for three years?" he said.' - USA Today
" Mr. bin Laden was killed Sunday in a targeted assault in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, roughly 40 miles outside the capital city of Islamabad." - Wall Street Journal
A more accurate representation:
In August 2010, the intelligence agencies found the exact compound where this courier was living, in Abbottabad. That home was in an affluent suburb of a nondescript garrison town, perhaps selected for its very anonymity and, of course, its good communications and ease of access to the tribal zones. - The Guardian
It will be interesting to see how the picture of the town morphs over time.
Photoset of images from Abbottabd
May 2, 2011
I'm a big fan of this short set of images by the New York based Belgian photographer Clémence de Limburg on Mali. Her images leave me wanting more, and to dust off my traveling shoes...
May 6, 2011
I love Julia Gillard's Series American Holidays. This one is titled "Labor Day, Detroit Michigan". I wish there she introduced her portfolios. I'd like to hear more about the thinking behind the images.
May 6, 2011
I was looking around for someone to develop 127 film today and came across Film Rescue a company specializing in old film stock development. Even better they've uploaded a huge flickr set of pictures of old film stock. Not pictures on old film stock, pictures of the rolls of film themselves. It's a litmus test of your film geekiness. Double thumbs up over here.
Related: Film Box Group
May 11, 2011
May 15, 2011
Newsha Tavakolian is a well known photojournalist, but her work has gradually become more metaphorical. She has many projects that challenge assumptions we might have about Iran and Iranian women in particular.
Interesting interview with Ms. Tavakolian from last year where she speaks of being inspired by Naser al-Din, an early Sha of Iran and, apparently, a photography buff.
May 17, 2011
Strict ethnographic portraits are deeply out of favor in academia and yet it's hard to deny that they are compelling. Phyllis Galembo specializes in these portraits very much in the style of 19th century ethnographer's without modern overlay, comment, or idiosyncratic technique; their power is their subject matter.
May 18, 2011
p.s. This photographer's work reminds me a bit of 木格's (Mu Ge's) work who is also from Chongqing. Friends? Do they influence know each other? Maybe even the same person?
Are there any Chinese photographers out there who can shed more light on on the great work coming out of these Chongqing natives?
May 20, 2011
Want the inside scoop on the North Korean music scene? Check out this this fascinating series of articles by the Guardian collectively titled Pyongyang goes pop.
Related: Music for Maniacs offers an entire album's worth of North Korean tunes.
More North Korea Links: Russian Student in Pyongyang, North Korean Children Playing Changgu, North Korean Stop Motion Animation, North Korea Uncovered (a Google Earth file to heavily annotate the map of North Korea, North Korean Soliders Taking Snapshots, and (my favorite) Kim Jong Il's water slide
Ok. Ok. Just one more.
May 24, 2011
From Mrs. Deane, a wonderful set of images of Schützenkönig or Rifle Kings. Click through for more info and many more pictures.
May 27, 2011
What's not to love about solargraphs—multi-week or month exposure images made by pointing pinhole cameras at the sky and recording the trails left by sun. I've always thought of solargraphs as portraits of time itself.
A Finnish student named Tarja Trygg sends pinhole cameras to "assistants" around the world. They record images and mail the cameras back for processing. Trygg has set up a solargraphy website to showcase the results. Some examples (from Alexandria, Egypt and Tijeras New Mexico respectively):