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The National Geographic Traveler Magazine photo contest, now in its 25th year, has begun. There is still plenty of time to enter. The entry deadline is Sunday, June 30, at 11:59 p.m. Entrants may submit their photographs in any or all of the four categories: Travel Portraits, Outdoor Scenes, Sense of Place and Spontaneous Moments. The magazine's photo editors showcase their favorite entries each week in galleries. You can also vote for your favorites. "The pictures increasingly reflect a more sophisticated way of seeing and interpreting the world, making the judging process more difficult," says Keith Bellows, magazine editor in chief. (The captions are written by the entrants, some slightly edited for readability.) As always, you can take a look at some of last year's entries and winners.. -- Paula Nelson ( 40 photos total)
OUTDOOR SCENES - Portrait of an Eastern Screech Owl - Masters of disguise. The Eastern Screech Owl is seen here doing what they do best. You better have a sharp eye to spot these little birds of prey. Okeefenokee Swamp, Georgia, USA. (Photo and caption by Graham McGeorge/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest)     

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Patrick Traylor

It’s hard to pin down where John Francis Peters might be at any given time. Upstate New York, China, Mexico… and that was just last year. “Travel has been a big part of my life since childhood and engrained in my experience as a photographer,” recalls Peters. “Part of my focus on photography as a [...]

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After cutting a destructive path through the Caribbean, Hurricane Sandy caused extensive damage along the East Coast this week. Sandy made landfall in southern New Jersey and brought with it major flooding, travel disruption, structural damage, and power outages. New York City was especially hard hit. The storm system was so large ­-- nearly 1,000 miles wide at times -- it brought blizzard conditions to West Virginia and 20 foot waves to Lake Michigan. It is projected Sandy will have caused about $30 billion in damages in the United States. To date, the storm claimed more than 100 lives. -- Lloyd Young ( 57 photos total)
Flooded homes in Tuckerton, N.J., on Oct. 30 after Hurricane Sandy made landfall on the southern New Jersey coastline on Oct. 29. (US Coast Guard via AFP/Getty Images)

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Andreas Raptopoulos wants drones to deliver our stuff. As the founder of Matternet, he hopes to build networks for “micro-transportation” that will allow unmanned aerial vehicles to ferry all sorts of goods across long distances, especially in places where the roads either suck or are crammed full of commuters.

Raptopoulos imagines networks of tiny drones that can deliver medical supplies to far-flung areas in the developing world, and he sees delivery drones soaring over the traffic-jammed streets of Sao Paulo. The little drones will be able cover more ground thanks to waypoint stations that will automatically swap out and recharge their exhausted batteries; eventually, these airborne delivery sentries would fly back and forth autonomously, bouncing across whole regions, no pilot required. I caught up with Raptopoulos at this year’s PopTech conference, and he told me all about how drones and micro-transportation could eventually change the way our stuff moves.

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An Irish Catholic upbringing contributed to photographer Shannon Taggart’s lifelong interest in the rituals and art of religion. After photographing Spiritualists—people who believe they can communicate with the dead—in upstate New York, Taggart has since been documenting the Haitian religion of Vodou since moving to Brooklyn in 2005.

Taggart’s project began when she met a Mambo, or female Vodou priest, named Rose Marie Pierre, who runs a temple in the basement of a nondescript storefront in the working class neighborhood of Flatbush. It was here that Taggart made these images of priests and laymen undergoing possession by the Loa—powerful spirits that act as intermediaries between humankind and Vodou’s distant god, Bondye. Most Loa are benign, some are malevolent, but every spirit has a distinct personality, role in the world and set of demands and services. In their different ways, practitioners believe, these spirits determine our fate and must be consulted and appeased.

Beckoning the Loa requires elaborate preparations unique to the particular spirit desired. Practitioners indicate the Loa they want to call upon by drawing its vever, or symbol, in cornmeal sprinkled on the floor. They place offerings on an altar and perform particular songs and dances. When the Loa possesses the worshiper Taggart says the scene becomes “wild, very physical and intense.” Though she works with black-and-white still images, Taggart is able to convey the noise and energy of these rituals. “There is screaming and thrashing…sometimes [congregants] run around the room as if confused. It can happen suddenly, so it’s often jarring. People immediately gather around the one possessed and assist them with what they need and catch them if they collapse.” Practitioners say the experience induces short-term amnesia; “Mambo Rose Marie is always surprised (sometimes shocked) to see my documentation of what has taken place while she was possessed,” recalls Taggart.

Popular culture often depicts Vodou as dark and menacing, but fails to understand its more unusual elements. One example, animal sacrifice, exists to rejuvenate the Loa after exhausting ceremonies. Taggart says that the chickens, pigs, goats and cows are killed humanely and eaten immediately. In Haiti, where there was no safe way to store meat, the practice provided people with a regular source of safe nourishment, Taggart explained.

Another often misunderstood practice is the presence of weapons in Vodou ceremonies. A man in slide #2 is shown possessed by a warrior spirit named Ogou. He holds a large machete symbolic of that Loa. But as Taggart explains, weapons like these are not used to harm others. Instead, they are relics of Haitian slavery that Vodou practitioners have appropriated as symbols of their faith—much as the cross is a relic of Christian persecution that Christians have turned into a symbol of their faith. These exercises, born of practical and psychological necessity, are far from the spooky behavior that appears so often in film and folklore.

This December, several of these Brooklyn practitioners will undergo a two-week long initiation rite in Haiti. Accompanying them will be Mambo Rose Marie and Taggart, who will photograph the ceremonies. “I don’t know what I will find there, but I am assuming it will be a special experience,” she says.

Shannon Taggart is a Brooklyn-based photographer. See more of her work here.

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