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Original author: 
Ken Lyons

A tornado touches down near El Reno, Okla., Friday, May 31, 2013, causing damage to structures and injuring travelers on Interstate 40. Another series of deadly tornados swept across Oklahoma injuring hundreds and causing multiple fatalities including a team of storm chasers. Smoke rises from the International Red Cross building after a gun battle between [...]

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Original author: 
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The 25th annual National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest is under way, and entries will be accepted for another six weeks, until June 30, 2013. First prize winner will receive a 10-day Galapagos expedition for two. National Geographic was once more kind enough to allow me to share some of the early entries with you here, gathered from four categories: Travel Portraits, Outdoor Scenes, Sense of Place, and Spontaneous Moments. Photos and captions by the photographers. [42 photos]

A fennec fox walks against the wind in Morocco. The fennec, or desert fox, is a small nocturnal fox found in the Sahara Desert in North Africa. (© Francisco Mingorance/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest)    

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The northern Indian city of Varanasi, perched on the banks of the Ganges river, is perhaps the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, a site that has drawn pilgrims literally for millennia. It’s famed for its burning ghats—the sloped-approaches to the waterfront where for centuries devotees have brought their deceased loved ones for cremation, then floating the ashes into the mighty, holy Ganges. Some Hindus still believe it’s auspicious to pass away on these steps. In Varanasi’s morning fogs and along its shrine-lined streets, visitors can feel an ancient, intangible power, a sense of place that is defined more by ritual and time than geography.

Varanasi’s burning grounds drew critically-acclaimed photographer Fazal Sheikh, whose latest project, Ether, on exhibit at Pace/MacGill gallery in New York City till Oct. 20, is the product of his own nocturnal wanderings in the old town. New York-born Sheikh’s two earlier India-based projects—Moksha (2005), of a community of widows, and Ladli (2007), portraits of young women in orphanages, hospitals, brothels—had a decidedly engaged, political edge. Ether is less so. “Other documentary pieces of mine are much clearer in the pointed nature of what I wanted to say,” says Sheikh, who first came to prominence with his work from refugee camps in Kenya. “This project is a bit more open and broad. It’s an exploration of a mood.”

Sheikh’s vigil would begin at nightfall and end at dawn. “Ether” itself is that mysterious, unfathomable fifth element of the universe—the others being water, air, fire and earth—and is a property Sheikh attempts to articulate in his work. He makes elemental gestures throughout: The embers of a fire glow with an almost cosmic intensity. The stars wink and gleam in a night sky. Four dun-colored city strays curl into the trammeled earth.

Sheikh describes working in Varanasi as “a sort of nurturing experience. The whole place was calming; there was a kind of quiet.” In Ether, there is a dreamy, contemplative quality to the pictures, but it rarely feels overly sentimental. Departing from Sheikh’s earlier portraiture, many of Ether’s images are of bodies—both those of sleepers and the dead—who don’t directly engage the camera. The inability of a photograph to fully penetrate its subject fascinates Sheikh: “There are some things that a person holds for themselves, some things that will remain inaccessible.” But if there are visions of a world beyond our world, its traces are in the ether.

Fazal Sheikh is a photographer based in Zurich, New York City and Kenya. His latest project Ether, is on display on exhibit at Pace/MacGill gallery in New York City till Oct. 20.

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SACRED SITE: A Hindu holy man walked through a narrow alley in Varanasi, India, Thursday. Varanasi is among the world’s oldest cities, and millions of Hindu pilgrims gather annually here for prayers and ritual bathing in the river considered holiest among Hindus. (Rajesh Kumar Singh/Associated Press)

GROUP JUMP: Indonesian paratroopers descended after jumping off a transport plane as part of a training exercise at Sultan Iskandar Muda Military Base in Aceh Friday. Most Indonesian paratroopers must attend a jump training at least once a year, to refresh their skills. (Hotli Simanjuntak/EPA)

STANDING GUARD: A soldier guarded Guatemalan president Otto Perez Molina during his visit to San Juan Atitan. Mr. Perez Molina launched a program against poverty in one of the poorest communities in the world. (Saul Martinez/EFE/Zuma Press)

WAITING FOR THE POPE: Cardinals arrived for a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI at the new Sinod’s hall at the Vatican. (Evandro Inetti/Zuma Press)

GREEK DRAMA: Policemen rushed to detain a protester during an anti-austerity rally in Syntagma Square in Athens Friday. Greece appears to be closing in on a new international rescue package despite unresolved doubts among euro-zone partners about how fast it will manage to bring its debt down. (John Kolesidis/Reuters)

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Ultra-Orthodox Jewish bride Nechama Paarel Horowitz fulfils the Mitzvah tantz during her traditional Jewish wedding with Chananya Yom Tov Lipa, the great-grandson of the Rabbi of the Wiznitz Hasidic followers, in the Israeli town of Petah Tikva near Tel Aviv, Israel. The Mitzvah tantz, in which family members and honored rabbis are invited to dance [...]

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SOON TO SEE BETTER: Elderly villagers were taken home in an ambulance Thursday after undergoing surgery for cataracts in Varanasi, India. (Rajesh Kumar Singh/Associated Press)

HONORING VETERANS: Lloyds of London staff held their annual Remembrance Day service in London Friday. The U.S. observed Veterans Day, which is often referred to as Remembrance Day in Britain and Armistice Day elsewhere in Europe, to mark the end of World War I. (Olivia Harris/Reuters)

TAKING THE TEST: More than a thousand students took mid-term examinations on the playground of Sihuang Middle School Thursday in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. (Zuma Press)

LAYING DOWN THE GLOVES: Workers prepared the casket of boxing great Joe Frazier for a viewing at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia Friday. The former heavyweight boxing champion died Monday at age 67 after a brief bout with liver cancer. (Matt Slocum/Associated Press)

HANDING OVER: Former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, left, and his newly appointed successor, Lucas Papademos, met Friday in the Maximos Mansion, in Athens, Greece. Mr. Papademos named a cabinet to implement the country’s latest €130 billion ($177 billion) bailout. (Orestis Panagiotou/European Pressphoto Agency)

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