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The Smithsonian magazine's 10th annual photo contest's 50 finalists have been chosen, but there's still time for you to vote for the Readers Choice winner! This year's competition has drawn over 37,600 entries from photographers in 112 countries around the world. Editors will choose a Grand Prize Winner and the winners in each of five categories which include The Natural World, Americana, People, Travel and Altered Images. Voting will be open through March 29, 2013. -- Paula Nelson ( 22 photos total)
THE NATURAL WORLD - An Onlooker Witnesses the Annular Solar Eclipse as the Sun Sets on May 20, 2012. Albuquerque, New Mexico, May 2012. (Colleen Pinski/Peyton, Colorado/Smithsonian.com)

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There are now over one billion automobiles on the road worldwide. An explosion in the auto markets in China and India ensures that number will increase, with China supplanting the United States as the world's largest car market. It's fair to say humanity has a love affair with the car, but it's a love-hate relationship. Cars are at once convenience, art, and menace. People write songs about their vehicles, put them in museums, race them, and wrap their identities up in them. About 15% of carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels comes from cars. Traffic fatality estimates vary from half a million per year to more than double that. Gathered here are images of the automobile in many forms, and our relationship to and dependence on our cars. This is the second in an occasional Big Picture series on transportation, following Pedal power earlier this year. -- Lane Turner (40 photos total)
Antti Rahko stands next to his self-made "Finnjet" during preparations for the Essen Motor Show in Essen, Germany on November 22, 2012. The car rolls on eight wheels, offers ten seats, weighs 3.4 tons and is worth about one million US dollars. (Marius Becker/AFP/Getty Images)

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Love makes people do strange things. The history of mankind is rife with love producing illogical and oddball behavior. When it comes to photography, falling in love with the medium is hardly an exception. For example, someone painfully shy might find themselves impulsively photographing strangers without asking for permission. Or, they instinctively photograph something without any ability to later explain why. Alec Soth’s newest book Looking for Love, 1996 is, in its way, about both—the search for love guided by the heart and the search of love guided by the eye.

Soth, a Minnesota native, came to national attention in 2004 after his project Sleeping by the Mississippi was featured at the Whitney museum during its Biennial exhibition and consequently released in book form by the prestigious German publisher Steidl to critical acclaim. Rapidly thrust into the worlds of art and commerce he followed up his debut with equally strong and provocative bookworks: Niagara (2006), Dog Days Bogota (2007) and Broken Manual (2010). Looking for Love, 1996 (Kominek Books, 2012) is a look to the past at his early beginnings as a photographer working with black and white film and a medium format camera.

In his brief introduction to the work Soth describes that time as one of working a miserable job (printing photos at a large commercial lab) and retreating to a bar to be comforted by “the solitude I found among strangers.” He began to concentrate on his own pictures, slyly using the lab to make prints which he smuggled, concealed under his jeans, out to his car. He writes of imagining one day “a stranger would fall in love with me.”

The first photographs of couples we encounter in Looking for Love cling possessively to their partners and leer at Soth’s camera as if to ask, “this is mine, where is yours?” While his journey takes us through the outside landscape and various social gatherings—the aforementioned bar; a convention hall that seems to bridge religion, spirituality and dating under one roof; poker games; singles parties; high school proms—we can sense a young photographer eager to hone his photographic instincts for metaphor and craving the fruits of collaboration between artist, medium and world. A photo of a flirtatious blonde cheerleader sits on the opposite page of a lone, slightly gothic teen outside a music club. The prom king and queen stand proudly before an auditorium empty but for a few hidden background observers and a basketball court scoreboard. An older man sits phone to ear at a ‘Psychic Friends Network’ booth while a quaffed blonde with a #1 ribbon pinned to her lapel passes by paying no mind. Alongside the underlying melancholy of some of these pictures is also the excitement of a photographer discovering their talent and seeing an affirmation of life stilled in photographs.

That affirmation makes the parting photograph all the more important. In it we see Soth himself sitting sprawl-legged in a rental tuxedo as if his own prom has just ended. Perhaps it had. I hope the love he may have found, lasts.

Looking for Love, 1996 is available from Kominek Books.

Jeffrey Ladd is a photographer, writer, editor and founder of Errata Editions.

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Photographer Stephen Ferry has spent ten years documenting the ongoing internal armed conflict in Colombia — a situation that, he says, is often overlooked or miscast as a ‘drug war’ outside of the country. In his recently-published book, Violentology: A Manual of the Colombian Conflict, Ferry presents a comprehensive look at this incredibly complicated and brutal conflict with the use of his own photographs, historical imagery and text.

Printed on heavy newsprint and produced on the rotary press of the Bogota daily newspaper El Espectador, Violentology’s physicality references the tradition of print journalism  an industry which has played a central role in shedding light on many of the atrocities committed in Colombia.

“The point here is not just to present photographs but also that they be accompanied by an investigation that is very serious,” said Ferry. “And all of that really detailed and important and dramatic information is information that came from the Colombian press. So, I wanted the design to reflect my respect for their practice.”

The book’s outsize pages are the width of magazine spreads, another nod to print journalism, but also, Ferry said, a way to get readers to spend time with the tome.

“The topic is a very serious one and its not necessarily a topic that is in the headlines, so I wanted to use whatever visual and design strategies I could in order to slow the readers’ down and keep people’s attention on the subject,” he explains.

Ferry’s Violentology project was awarded the inaugural Tim Hetherington Grant in 2011 by World Press Photo and Human Rights Watch. Additional support from the Open Society Institute has helped to make the book available in both Spanish and English versions. Selected chapters are also available as downloadable PDFs.

Stephen Ferry is a photojournalist whose work has received numerous honors from World Press and Magnum Foundation among others. See more of his work here.

Violentology was recently published by Umbrage Editions. See more about the book here

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Easy Way (Camino Fácil) by Juan David Velasquez Bedoya is from Bogota, Colombia, a country where CG animation is just starting to emerge. It’s about 8-minutes and well worth a look. It’s a metaphor for life, as Juan David explains:

Easy Way is the story of a man who, from childhood to adulthood, is prepared to follow a specific path. When he begins his travels, he discovers that it is more difficult than he thought. He decides to change course to a path that seems easier, but the travel is equally difficult – and he’s unprepared for this new challenge.

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It's not every day you stumble across a video game that is, at its core, about the fear and pain of growing up with an alcoholic, abusive father. But it's just that kind of personal backstory that makes upcoming PS3 indie puzzle platformer Papo & Yo stand out among crowds of first-person shooters and throwaway casual games that seem to be the focus of much of the industry these days.

Not that the game is in your face about its message. You can play Papo & Yo and be totally unaware of the specific inspiration for the game's hulking pink monster, who can eat frogs to transform from being young protagonist Quico's best friend into an uncontrollable force of nature that is Quico's biggest threat. But creator Vander Caballero said he hopes the metaphorical beast will convey the feelings he had growing up in a house with just such an unpredictable parent.

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Today is Valentine's Day, a day set aside for expressions of love and affection. The traditional western holiday has spread to many countries around the globe, despite some efforts by religious and cultural groups to fight its adoption. Valentine's Day spending in the U.S. this year is expected to reach nearly $15 billion -- $2 billion of it on flowers alone. Ninety percent of the flowers Americans will give to their sweethearts are imported, and nearly all of those imports originate in Colombia and Ecuador. Included in today's posting is an 18-photo series depicting the voyage of the roses from South American farm to florists worldwide. [37 photos]

A couple kisses during a flashmob organized by a local television station on the eve of Valentine's Day in the Russian city of Stavropol, on February 13, 2012. (Reuters/Eduard Korniyenko)

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SMELLING A ROSE
SMELLING A ROSE: A woman kissed a rose during Yemanja Day in Rio de Janeiro Thursday. Yemanja is an African sea goddess. (Christophe Simon/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

CROWD STRIKES
CROWD STRIKES: Palestinians who have relatives held in Israeli jails attacked a convoy carrying U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as it entered the Gaza Strip Thursday. Protesters pelted vehicles with shoes and sticks, accusing Mr. Ban of being biased toward Israel. (Majdi Fathi/Demotix)

SOCCER BACKLASH
SOCCER BACKLASH: Protesters ran from tear gas fired by security forces in downtown Cairo Thursday. Thousands of Egyptians protested the police and military’s failure to stop rioting at a soccer match that left at least 74 people dead Wednesday. (Khalil Hamra/Associated Press)

FELINE RESCUE
FELINE RESCUE: Firefighter Joe Ostermiller and other responders treated cats with oxygen after rescuing them in Boise, Idaho, Wednesday. Neighbors reported a house fire; no one was inside the residence at the time. Investigators were investigating the cause of the fire. (Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman/Associated Press)

BACKSTROKE
BACKSTROKE: A Child swam in polluted waters in a slum in Cilincing, North Jakarta, Indonesia, Thursday. (Agung Kuncahya B./Xinhua/Zuma Press)

CLEAR STREETS
CLEAR STREETS: A woman waited for transportation in Bogota, Colombia, Thursday. Many residents in the capital walked, biked or took buses and taxis to their destinations on the annual ‘Day Without Cars.’ (William Fernando Martinez/Associated Press)

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Sri Lankan prisoners prepare to perform a traditional dance at the main Welikada prison in Colombo November 17, 2011. The cultural event is organized by the prisons department as part of the rehabilitation program for convicts, according to officials. Occupy Los Angeles protesters march through downtown during a rally Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011. Occupy Wall [...]

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