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Sophie Butcher

In 2007, after only one year of working as a freelance photographer in Toronto, Philip Cheung was asked to shoot for a newspaper in Abu Dhabi, a move that eventually led him to spend a total of five years professionally photographing the Middle East.

“It was a very spontaneous move,” Cheung told TIME. He arrived knowing very little about the region — when he was still in Canada, he was able to find very little concrete information about the country. But once he arrived, he began relentlessly observing and researching the lives he found around him. This diligence aided him as he crafted a series of photographs that embody much of the United Arab Emirates’ fast-changing landscapes.

It’s not hard to notice the rate at which the UAE is developing and adapting as a country. “In 2008 and 2009, I spent some time taking pictures in Mussafah, an industrial town and a suburb of Abu Dhabi. It was known for its labor camps, home to many of the country’s labor force. A year later, when I returned to Mussafah, once a small, bustling city within a city, full of shacks, low-end restaurants, convenience stores and makeshift markets  — it had completely disappeared. The camp had been demolished and the laborers were moved to better housing,” he says.

Oil-driven development has propelled cities and suburbs through drastic change. Foreigners now make up 85% of the population, people come and go, and with them come radical cultural shifts. Cheung’s approach is interesting and unusual, focusing on rather anonymous objects in sparse environments. Ultimately, his photographs show the strange and beautiful result of two very different cultures — the local Bedouin culture and the international business-oriented culture — as they try to co-exist in one space.

Cheung explains that the absence of men, women and cultural reference points was deliberate, so that he may push the boundaries of the kinds of photos he wanted to make, and take a closer look at the environment and its awkward subtleties. “My focus for the project is space — as a holding environment for human interaction or the remnants of it. People, especially the expatriates, are present in many of the images indirectly as the foreign influence on this evolving space.”

Today, when one searches for ‘Abu Dhabi’ online, there are pages and pages of links detailing countless tourist attractions and activities. Cheung’s series of photographs are an interesting documentation of this change, but also act as a personal reminder of Cheung’s experience there. “Taking these photos was like writing in a journal,” he says. Now, back in Toronto and starting to re-build a home for himself, he looks back on his five year journey.

“Just like all those people coming in and out of the city, it felt like my time to go through the revolving door and head home.”

Philip Cheung is a photographer currently based in Toronto. He has recently returned to Canada after five years in the Middle East where he worked on commissioned and self-initiated projects.

Sophie Butcher is a writer and photographer based in New York.

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egypt380If I were to describe a country where the Internet contributes as much as a percentage of GDP as its health services, education and oil industries, and is growing at nearly twice the rate as in Europe — driven in large part by growth in private and corporate-backed entrepreneurship — where would you guess?

Looking forward, if such a country has the largest population of Internet and mobile users in its region with one of the largest youth populations in the world; is a large consumer market in the early days of e-commerce; is a global tourist destination where roughly only five percent of all travel revenue is booked online — might this be an intriguing investment opportunity?

Am I describing Germany? China? Brazil?

Try Egypt.

Two years after the Arab uprisings and in the midst of wrestling significant economic and political change, the Internet is quietly and increasingly growing as a central platform of economic development around the country as it is around the globe. And according to a new Google-commissioned study by The Boston Consulting Group — Egypt at a Crossroads: How the Internet is Transforming Egypt’s Economy — policy makers, executives and investors alike are poised at a central moment of opportunity to embrace this platform for economic growth, job creation and returns.

David Dean, Senior Partner and Managing Director at the Boston Consulting Group — and one of the authors of the study — told me that this is the latest of fifteen country-wide studies his company has done, and he was impressed by what he found. “I think the biggest positive surprise was that there are many entrepreneurial companies using the Internet to grow their businesses.” The report highlights a handful of among hundreds of recent Egyptian startups as diverse as the content portal Masrawy, which now reaches over eight million unique users per month; e-commerce destination Nefsak, which offers over 25,000 products; and Alexandria’s Vimov, whose paid weather app WeatherHD was the fourth-best seller in Apple’s App store after its recent release. It notes that Vodafone, among other global investors, is making serious commitments both to the infrastructure and to funding startups in the region. “The report makes clear that there is much uptapped potential for Egypt’s nascent Internet ecosystem,” Samir El Bahaie, Google’s Head of Policy in the Middle East and North Africa, said — adding that “there is also a great opportunity for investment, economic growth and job creation waiting to be seized.”

The study underscores that the opportunity is now. Egypt’s population of 31 million Internet users is the largest in the Middle East, and while mobile penetration exceeds 100 percent in many parts of the country, the big news is that smartphones — with real computing capabilities — are expected by some to reach 50 percent penetration in the next three to five years. Unmeasured in penetration and GDP figures are what the report calls “ripple effects” on the Egyptian economy and society: The ability to reach new markets, to have better informed consumers, to have greater work efficiencies in the knowledge economy, to have simplified access to government and social services for people to take more control of their lives. Egypt, with its mobile penetration, is especially poised to capture opportunities in mobile banking (as significant success has been seen in Africa) and to fully embrace all the opportunities offered for tourism. Dean notes, in fact, that travel and tourism is “possibly the largest short-term lever that the Internet can have in the country.”

If the opportunity is now, however, so is the potential for missed opportunities. While access to the Internet is growing, there is still a lack of Internet skills in the workforce, even as compared to other emerging markets. While business adoption of the Internet as an economic platform in Egypt is competitive among larger enterprises, small- and medium-sized businesses still rank lowest among emerging growth markets. More fundamentally, there remains significant question of the most appropriate, entrepreneurship-driving policies — areas such as rule of law, copyright protection, lessening bureaucracy in starting businesses. “Of course, these are clearly not just questions for Egypt,” Dean explained to me. “What would really be encouraging would be a commitment by the Government to the Internet as an economic factor — which would mean simplifying the process for opening businesses, encouraging investment, demonstrating the benefits of the Internet in the way the government operates, and using the Internet to address some of Egypt’s most pressing problems, such as youth unemployment.”

Google hopes to play a continued role in working with governments like Egypt’s. Studies like these are extremely useful as they provide factual economic data points around the value of the Internet, El Bahaie noted. “We hope to work with the government of Egypt to leverage these data points to unlock the potential of eCommerce and mCommerce and well-informedly create a more enabling business environment for Egyptian small- and medium-sized business, and to help the country reach its full economic potential.”

Christopher M. Schroeder is a leading U.S. Internet entrepreneur and venture investor, a member of the advisory boards of the American University of Cairo School of Business, the regional entrepreneurship portal Wamda.com and incubator Oasis500. He is the author of “Startup Rising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution That’s Remaking the Middle East,” to be published September 2013 by Palgrave/MacMillan. He can be followed on Twitter @cmschroed.

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In the fall of 2012, the Mars Curiosity Rover—after years of travel—finally reached its destination, touching down on the Red Planet and transmitting back to Earth a series of strange landscapes of the planet’s surface. Here on Earth, the scenery sometimes resembled the barren Martian terrain, as wildfires, droughts and natural disasters shaped the landscapes of Earth. Climate change, too, had a say on Earth’s canvas—bringing a cold snap to Europe, a dusting of snow to the Middle East and a super-powered hurricane to the East Coast of the United States.

But as much as natural phenomena shaped Earth’s landscapes, humans forced their intentions upon Earth as well. Wars in the DRC and Syria reduced entire city structures to rubble. Careless chemical spills dyed our waters strange and unnatural colors, and continued deforestation in Brazil’s rainforests left huge swathes arid and bare. And finally, large-scale accidents remind us of man’s hubris, like the Costa Concordia in Italy— it’s abandoned carcass standing as a monument to man’s recklessness.

Here, TIME looks back on the byproducts of man’s folly and nature’s fury in a gallery of the year’s strange and surreal landscapes.

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Syria’s Internet infrastructure remains almost entirely dark today. Almost.

The folks at Renesys, who were the first to notice that something was amiss with the telecom infrastructure of the war-torn Middle Eastern nation, have been hard at work sifting through their data — and they’ve found something interesting.

At least five networks operating outside Syria, but still operating within Syrian-registered IP address spaces, are still working, and are apparently controlled by India’s Tata Communications.

These same networks, Renesys says, have some servers running on them that were implicated in an attempt to deliver Trojans and other malware to Syrian activists. The payload was a fake “Skype Encryption Tool” — which is, on its face, kind of silly, because Skype itself is already encrypted to some degree — that was actually a spying tool. The Electronic Frontier Foundation covered the attempted cyber attack at the time.

Cloudflare has also been monitoring the situation in Syria and has made a few interesting observations.

First, pretty much all Internet access in the country is funneled through one point: The state-run, state-controlled Syrian Telecommunications Establishment. The companies that provide this capacity running into the country are PCCW and Turk Telekom as the primary providers, with Telecom Italia and Tata providing additional capacity.

There are, Cloudflare notes, four physical cables that bring Internet connectivity into Syria. Three of them are undersea cables that land in the coastal city of Tartus. A fourth comes in from Turkey to the north. Cloudflare’s Matt Prince says it’s unlikely that the cables were physically cut.

Cloudflare put together a video of what it looked like watching the changes in the routing tables happen live. It’s less than two minutes long.

For what it’s worth, Syria’s information minister is being quoted in various reports as blaming the opposition for the shutdown.

So the question is: Why now? Clearly, the Syrian regime is under more pressure than ever before. Previously, it tended to view the country’s Internet as a tool to not only get its own word out to the wider world, but also to try and spy on and monitor the activities of the rebels and activists.

With fighting intensifying in and around the capital and the commercial city of Aleppo, the decision to throw the kill switch might indicate a decision to try to disrupt enemy communications. Or it might mask a seriously aggressive military action that it wants to keep as secret as possible. We don’t know yet.

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It was a typical day at one of the hospitals here in Aleppo, a typical three hours, to be even more specific. Children seemed to be everywhere, on hospital beds, in the hospital lobby and waiting with listless faces outside the clinic. Blood seemed to seep through every piece of clothing they had. Some, as young as three, composed themselves as needles pierced their skin to stitch up deep wounds.

Mohamed, 13, tried hard not to cry as he lay on a hospital bed, wincing in pain from the injury he’d sustained after a shell landed near the breadline where he had waited for hours. No one knew he’d been hurt yet and his cousin arrived only thirty minutes later to transfer him to another hospital.

More civilians flooded in, and those who were conscious had a resigned look of acceptance—this was just what happened now these days.

A teenage son, his face smeared in red, collapsed in tears over his father’s body laying on the gurney. He was hit in the head by a bullet, caught in the crossfire as their car made their way through the confusing myriad of streets, unaware of where the snipers or perhaps even the army was. He didn’t seem to register the reality and stared at his father’s bloodied body in disbelief. The doctors bound his father’s hands together and covered him in a blue sheet. They carried his body into the back seat of the car, his feet sticking oddly out of the right window. The boys in the back couldn’t hold it in any longer—as the car pulled away, they wailed.

A man’s body, uncollected by his relatives, lay on a bed in an alley behind the hospital. Another man came rushing in, his eyes wide with fear. In his arms was a bleeding young girl. The hospital staff were all busy attending other civilians and fighters. “What do I do?” he screamed. He was panting, panicking. Someone told him to go to another field hospital. Back in the surgery room, almost easy enough to miss, was an 8-year-old girl who had apparently died in an airstrike. Her body was being wrapped in a shroud and a doctor picked her up to bring her to a waiting taxi.

And minutes later, 15-year-old Fareed was rushed into the hospital. His eyes were wide open as he took deep, labored breaths—his last few before turning motionless. The doctors rushed him to surgery, attempting to resuscitate him. His mother appeared in the lobby, screaming, hyperventilating, crying and grasping at her face in disbelief.

Fareed couldn’t be saved. The little piece of shrapnel had entered his back and passed through his heart—there was nothing the doctors could do here. The hospital had so many needs—for staff, surgeons in particular, and crucial medical equipment like oxygen tanks. It is simultaneously a little house of horrors, and a little house of miracles, where death hangs heavy in the air but every saved life brings a renewed sense of purpose for the doctors.

“I feel a lot of pain inside. A lot of pain, when I see women and children injured. But I have to control myself because I have to help them,” says 28-year-old Abu Ismail, an anesthetist from Aleppo. Abu Ismail wears a black headband with white writing: There is no God but Allah, and Mohamed is his prophet. “This headband gives me strength. I don’t save the lives—Allah does,” he says calmly as the horns of cars rushing to the hospital echo downstairs. Abu Ismail doesn’t flinch—his eyes remain excited and he is always smiling, even though he slept less than two hours the night before.

These are the everyday scenes in one hospital of one neighborhood in Aleppo. A microcosm of what the war looks like for the civilians of Syria, where every day the horror multiplies for even the youngest sufferers in this war. They are often the ones who cry the least as they are treated by doctors, while just a few beds over, grown men, fighters of the Free Syrian Army, scream out in pain. Daily shelling and attacks by helicopters and fighter jets seem to not break the civilian spirit. They remain resilient—they remain because they have no other place to go. Or simply, because they would rather die at home.

Nicole Tung is a freelance photographer who previously documented the uprisings in Libya and Egypt. Tung has previously filed dispatches from Syria recounting the aftermath of an airstrike in Aleppo and civilian funerals in Idlib

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The land upon which the nation of Israel sits is steeped in stories and myths. It’s ancient, holy; all three major faiths that took root here see salvation in its domes, its olive groves, its cracked earth. It’s a land where people still seek the messiah. In one Orthodox Jewish messianic tradition, He will return riding a white donkey. On a blistering summer’s day in 2006, Yaakov Israel peered through the heat waves and saw, emerging in the distance, a man atop a white donkey. “He materialized,” says Israel, a photographer based in Jerusalem, “like a fata morgana,” a mirage.

Israel’s book The Quest for the Man on the White Donkey will be released in the U.S. this fall.

This man on a donkey was no illusion — nor, most would contest, was he the messiah. Instead, his arrival from the desert and into Israel’s lens gave the photographer a guide for a photo project he has worked on for the past decade, crystallized in a new book, The Quest for the Man on the White Donkey. Israel’s pictures are the product of years of wanderings in Israel, in the Occupied Territories and in the spaces in-between, seeking to document a vision of its people and landscapes away from the noise of an intractable political conflict and the rumbling news media that watches it.

In the spirit of U.S. photographers who chronicled their journeys through the American vastness, Israel would wake up early in the morning and head off in a direction, photographing what he saw and whom he encountered along the way. Of course, unlike in the U.S., Israel, traveling in the country that bears his name, would invariably run into one or two political borders by nightfall. And so his gaze dwells on the quiet of certain moments — “the small clues for me that exist in each image,” as he puts it — that tell a story of daily life in a land whose deep history and uncertain future are woven through with gestures that are at once religious, political and inescapably human.

A girl wades into the Sea of Galilee, her arms held wide as if choosing between crucifixion and baptism. Spools of barbed wire are followed in the book by tangles of thorns and a sea of dandelions; men with guns look on, at times curious, at times detached. A backpacker sleeps. The hills glow and soak in sunlight.

Israel emphasizes the everyday nature of his subjects — “these are people I’m just bumping into every time I go out.” Often, they would go out of their way to accommodate Israel, posing patiently, introducing him to family and friends, pointing to new vistas for his camera. In one scene, a pair of Arab workers who had intended to go to work choose instead to hang out with Israel and share their breakfast with him. “These episodes of human courtesy happened again and again,” says Israel. “For me, these small things tell another kind of political story.”

The man on the white donkey, a Palestinian farmer, was no different. In 45 degrees Celsius heat, he agreed without hesitation to participate in Israel’s project, desperately trying to keep his steed still until an image became clear.

Yaakov Israel is a Jerusalem-based photographer. See more of his work here.

The Quest for the Man on the White Donkey will be available in the U.S. this fall. The project recently won the PhotoEspaña Descubrimientos (PHE12 Discoveries) 2012 Award.

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Tyler Hicks was on assignment in Syria with the correspondent Anthony Shadid when Mr. Shadid died after interviewing Syrian resistance fighters. Mr. Hicks recounts the journey for Sunday's paper.

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Whether it’s a time of happiness or sadness, celebration or condolence, pictures capture the essence of a moment in time and preserve it, so we can look back and recall — if only for a second — how that moment made us feel.

For this reason, photographs tend to elicit strong reactions. And for the picture-holder, these mementos are also deeply personal, representing a life left behind, a new beginning, or a rest stop in our fast-paced lives.

Here, LightBox curates a crop of images that give us a glimpse into others’ memories. These are photos of photos — a nostalgic, if not somewhat contemplative look into a world within a world, where blissful instants are lost among a sea of uncertainty, and moments from the past are frozen in the present, stark in the contrast between then and now.

Some of the most emblematic photos of photos from the past year came from Japan, as family portraits smiled up from among the post-tsunami dust and debris. The photographs pictured are reminiscent of lives that were lost — either by death or through the sheer magnitude of this disaster — with only the vast unknown remaining.

In Libya, photos of burning, destructed images of Muammar Gaddafi diverged from framed pictures of the fallen dictator that were constantly brandished by his supporters. Back in the U.S., photos of lost loved ones were posted alongside their names at the 9/11 Memorial, in New York City, in a tribute to people who will never be forgotten. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, mourners paid their respects to actress Elizabeth Taylor by surrounding her picture with flowers on her Hollywood Walk of Fame Star.

These photos of photos leave us reminiscing about those pictured, and what their lives must have been like before everything changed. But even the tattered remains of photographs can’t erase what lies in the mind, where memories flourish undisturbed and these moments are never forgotten. —Erin Skarda


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