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China’s communist leaders are promising to revolutionize the world’s second largest economy and move on from being the world’s workshop. Unlike most communist governments, China’s one-party state has survived by embracing capitalism to deliver new wealth. Chinese officials recently reported they would reach their target for annual economic growth of 7.5 percent this year despite [...]

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Eastern Europe has become a popular destination for photographers looking for interesting stories in an exotic and new landscape. The antecedents to this trend range from Jonas Bendiksen’s documentation of spaceship junkyards and scrap-metal dealers to Robert Polidori’s large scale images of desolation and despair. Today, these areas serve as a main destination for young photographers—but, among the hundreds of projects produced in the area, only a couple come from a personal and individual point of view.

Irina Ruppert’s intimate knowledge of Kazakhstan and Eastern Europe comes from an experience of emigration and a complex family history. She moved at the age of 7 with her parents and three siblings from Kazakhstan to Germany in 1976, leaving four other siblings behind, carrying intense and vivid memories of her hometown and everyday life in the villages. After the collapse of the USSR in 1993, Ruppert started traveling back home, where she encountered a place full of political change but the same spirit and feelings she remembered from her childhood.

From 2006 to 2010 she photographed different locations in Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Poland and Kazakhstan. She was most impressed with her hometown and the changes it had gone through since the end of socialism. “It seemed that everything that had to do with the Russian past had been wiped out from one day to the other,” she says. “The Cyrillic alphabet and Russian language were gone. Old Russian statues of Lenin and Stalin were given long beards and their names were changed to those of Kazakh personalities.”

When Ruppert describes her travels in Eastern Europe, she notes feeling immersed in the experience and always feeling at home. “I can smell the food and see that the colors and landscapes are very different from Germany. People’s behaviors are very familiar to me,” she explains. “When I get on a bus and there’s only one person sitting inside, I always sit next. I never take the last seat alone in the back. People in the East are extreme in their feelings and actions; it’s always about being together. I usually travel alone but in the East, you are never alone.”

The work she produced was compiled into a book called Rodina, published in 2011 by Peperoni Books in Germany. Each individual picture in the book displays a different mood and atmosphere; it is the travel diary of a child in self-recognition, immersed in a sea of images. “I want to show my view of the East: a small world of a detached observer who is not judgmental or tendentious.”

Irina Ruppert

Research for upcoming project about Roma people

Nowadays Ruppert travels looking for wolf tracks coming from Eastern Europe into East Germany as part of a new photographic project. She has also recently received a grant from the VG Bild-Kunst to photograph the Roma people in Romania, a series that she will work on this coming summer. A research photograph from that project, which has not yet begun in earnest, is included at right.

Irina Ruppert is a Hamburg-based photographer. More of her work can be seen here. Her book Rodina, is available in the Kominek Gallery in Berlin.

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Oliver Hartung's photos from 2007 through 2009 evidence the omnipresence of the Assad dynasty in Syria and its psychological grip on the people, and also how that presence - and the nation itself - has changed dramatically since.

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For a number of reasons, natural and human, people have recently evacuated or otherwise abandoned a number of places around the world -- large and small, old and new. Gathering images of deserted areas into a single photo essay, one can get a sense of what the world might look like if humans were to vanish from the planet altogether. Collected here are recent scenes from nuclear-exclusion zones, blighted urban neighborhoods, towns where residents left to escape violence, unsold developments built during the real estate boom, ghost towns, and more. [41 photos]

A tree grows from the top of a chimney in an abandoned factory yard in Luque, on the outskirts of Asuncion, Paraguay, on October 2 , 2011. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

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A half-century ago, much of the world was in a broad state of change: We were moving out of the post-World War II era, and into both the Cold War and the Space Age, with broadening civil rights movements and anti-nuclear protests in the U.S. In 1961, John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as the 35th president of the United States, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to fly in space, Freedom Riders took buses into the South to bravely challenge segregation, and East Germany began construction of the Berlin Wall. That year, Kennedy gave the okay to the disastrous Bay of Pigs Invasion into Cuba and committed the U.S. to "landing a man on the Moon" with NASA's Apollo program. JFK also oversaw the early buildup of a U.S. military presence in Vietnam: by the end of 1961, some 2,000 troops were deployed there. Let me take you 50 years into the past now, for a look at the world as it was in 1961. [50 photos]

John F. Kennedy speaks for the first time as President of the United States in front of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on January 20, 1961, during the inaugural ceremonies. (AP Photo)

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In 1961, East Germany erected a wall -- initially barbed wire, eventually concrete -- in the middle of Berlin to prevent its citizens from fleeing the communist country to West Germany during the height of the Cold War. It has been reported that 136 people died while trying to escape, but the total number is unknown. The wall finally came down at the beginning of November in 1989, part of the reunification of East and West Germany. Here are images from this past weekend’s recognition of the construction of the wall 50 years ago, as well as historic images. -- Lloyd Young (30 photos total)
A nun walks in front of a line of wreaths during the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall at the Berlin Wall Memorial at Bernauer Strasse in Berlin Aug. 13. Germany marks the 50th anniversary of the day communist East Germany sealed itself off behind the Wall. Germany had been divided into capitalist western and communist eastern sectors after the end of World War II. At the height of tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, the East German regime started building the wall through the capital on Aug. 13, 1961. (Markus Schreiber/Associated Press)

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This is the story of three adolescents, who made an unlikely discovery on the GDR’s crumbling tarmac: the skateboard. The board from America didn’t just become the fun epicenter of their last summers in East Germany, but also turned into a symbol for their autonomy in a decrepit “Regelstaat” that had lost touch with its citizens. A mix of staged scenes and archive footage allows us an unconventional look into the universe of the late GDR’s youth. The legend of East German skaters is the starting point for this unheard of story about fun, rebellion and the courage to be yourself.

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David R Arnott writes

Former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic appeared before a court in The Hague Friday to hear charges of genocide. Follow the latest developments in the case here, and read a story from a survivor of Bosnia's killing fields here. In the wake of Mladic's arrest, Reuters photographer Damir Sagolj, who served in the Bosnian army during the war of 1992-95, recounted his personal recollections of working in Srebrenica:

"I've been to more than one hundred mass graves, mass funerals and witnessed the long, exhaustive process of victim 
identification. I've taken pictures of bones found in caves and rivers, dug from mud, recovered from woods and mines or 
just left by the road.

"Most of these terrible assignments were around the small, end-of-the-road town of Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia.

Damir Sagolj / Reuters, file

One of hundreds of coffins with remains of Bosnian Muslims is taken to a cemetery near Srebrenica, late July 10, 2007. The mass burial of 465 victims of the 1995 massacre of up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb forces was held the following day at a joint cemetery near Srebrenica.

"The international criminal court says that a genocide was committed in Srebrenica in July of 1995 when Bosnian Serb forces massacred thousands of Muslims after the enclave, ironically under U.N. protection as a safe haven, was overrun by an army led by its ruthless commander.

"Ratko Mladic, a typical officer from what used to be the Yugoslav people's army, was the commander of the forces that overran the enclave. He described it as revenge upon the Turks for the events of the early 19th century. Thousands of white Muslim gravestones at the terrifying and extremely sad Srebrenica memorial remain as a symbol of that 'revenge'. Thousands are still missing, their bones hidden in heavy Bosnian soil.

Damir Sagolj / Reuters, file

A woman holds a photo of her missing son as Bosnian Muslim relatives of the victims and survivors of the Srebrenica massacre meet with ex-Dutch peacekeepers in a former U.N base in Potocari on October 17, 2007. A group of Dutch ex-peacekeepers whose mission was to protect civilians in the U.N. safe haven of Srebrenica visited the site and met with survivors and relatives of victims.

"I was in Sarajevo when the news came to us, transmitted over a noisy, primitive radio system. Local reporters from Srebrenica - who would disappear themselves over the next few days - sent the dramatic message that Ratko's troops were entering the town. We all knew it was going to be bad, but still I had no idea of the scale of the tragedy. Yes, the enclave had fallen, but the U.N. were there, so the civilians and prisoners of war should be treated in accordance with the Geneva conventions. How wrong and naive I was!

Damir Sagolj / Reuters, file

A destroyed house is seen from inside a car on December 20, 2007 near the site where the Srebrenica massacre occurred.

"I have never seen Ratko Mladic, I never photographed him, but his bloody signature is written all over my pictures. Every time I would go to another mass grave or a mass funeral of victims of his 'revenge', the face of a man confident he is doing the right thing would come into the frame. Sleeves rolled up, binoculars in his hands as he ordered his artillery 'Don't let them sleep. Make them lose their minds.'

"I will carry the mud from mass graves and the smell of decomposing bodies on my shoes wherever I go. I will continue shooting my Srebrenica pictures on every story of crimes against humanity no matter how far away and how different they may be.

Damir Sagolj / Reuters, file

Bosnian Muslim returnees to Srebrenica arrive for morning prayers on the first day of Eid al-Adha celebrations, December 20, 2007.

"Last week, after more than 15 years on the run, Ratko Mladic was captured in a small village in Serbia. Looking at the pictures of an old man emerging from a Belgrade court – Mladic is almost seventy now – sends chills down my spine. I'm not even sure I want to see him any more, to hear what he has to say. His words from back then were enough, there is not much else to say.

"All that is important can be understood from the pictures – a sea of coffins lined up for the funeral every 11th of July, a wrinkled face of a woman, the only survivor in her family, as she holds a photo of her dead son, bones bulldozed in the mass graves, the names on the memorial…

Damir Sagolj / Reuters, file

A Bosnian Muslim man searches for the name of a killed relative amongst gravestones of victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, following morning prayers on the first day of Eid al-Fitr in Srebrenica on October 12, 2007.

"Covering a story like this is not an easy thing to do, no matter how big and important it is. Fifteen years of the same – one could ask 'Does anyone care anymore? How many times can the same story be written?'

"The threshold was raised as the years passed and questions were asked – How many at this mass grave, is it over one hundred? Anything special? A baby skull with a bullet hole, maybe a body impaled on the stake? Only thirty bodies?

"As I went from one atrocity site to another Mladic was still in hiding, raising questions that made my head hurt like hell. He would only appear from time to time on the posters or T-shirts of his supporters – there are people still calling him a hero. That is where reality bites and the pictures get scary – ghosts of victims dancing between white grave marks in our photos are harmless.

Damir Sagolj / Reuters, file

Bosnian Muslim women look through the bars as U.N. chief war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte arrives for a mass funeral at a cemetery near Srebrenica on July 11, 2007. Families of victims of the Srebrenica massacre gathered to bury more remains in an annual ceremony that has become the main event of their lives since the 1995 atrocity by Bosnian Serb forces.

"The general is in custody now, but, just like these pictures, his 'revenge' remains imprinted in the sad history of a beautiful country.

"Some of the best advice I've ever heard in our profession was to take every assignment as if it had never been done before and
you were the only one to witness it. No matter what year it was – 1995 or 2005 – every time I went to Srebrenica, I had the feeling that I was doing something more that just a regular story.

It is, simply, the biggest story of my life."

Damir Sagolj / Reuters, file

A flower is placed onto the names of the Srebrenica victims as relatives visit their memorial in Potocari, near Srebrenica on October 16, 2007.


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