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LightBox presents an exclusive look at an interactive, narrative documentary about gang violence in Guatemala told through the story of Alma, a young former gang member.

“In an isolated house, there was a girl older than me. Blond, begging to be spared…my whole body was telling me not to, but in the end I killed her. I knew I would get killed myself is I did not obey.” —Alma

Alma was only 15 years old the first time she took a life. As a member of one of the most violent gangs in Guatemala, the Mara 18, Alma spent eight years of her young life in a world ruled by violence. After a brutal beating caused her to suffer a miscarriage, Alma had enough, but her effort to leave the gang was met with an assassination attempt that left her a paraplegic. Today, at 26, Alma hopes to help stop the kind of violence that ruled her life for so long.

Gang violence is an enormous problem in Guatemala—a country of just 14 million people with one of the highest murder rates in the world. Alma’s story is indicative of a pattern that has affected a generation of disenfranchised youth in her country. She grew up in a cardboard and plastic shack in one of the most dangerous slums in Guatemala City. With a largely absent mother and an alcoholic father, gang life appealed to a 15-year-old girl looking for protection and comfort.

“I feel I have never received love from anyone,” Alma said. “I looked for another family in a gang, in which all members were like me, undergoing lack of love…for the first time in my life I felt loved and respected. ”

Miquel Dewever-Plana—Agence VU

At the age of 22, Alma told her “homies” (the members of her gang) that she wanted to leave. The retaliation came on the same day when two of them attempted to murder her. She survived, but is now paraplegic.

In 2008, Alma met photographer Miquel Dewever-Plana, who has been photographing the violence in Guatemala since 2007. Intrigued by Alma’s beauty and candor, amid such a cruel environment, Plana stayed in touch with the young woman, eventually realizing her story could be a powerful way-in to explain the larger tale of violence in Guatemala.

“I became convinced that her intelligence and forceful nature made her the icon I was looking for,” Plana said in an interview with Le Pelerin weekly’s Catherine Lalanne. “She was the key to understanding the most secretive twists and turns of the gang phenomenon.”

After a year-and-a-half of consideration, Alma agreed to collaborate with Plana and writer Isabelle Fougere. Her story is at the center of a new, multi-platform project centered around an interactive web documentary that presents Alma’s narration in a straight-forward confessional format. Plana’s photographs of her Guatemalan neighborhood and its gangs help to visualize the violent world in which she lived and powerful drawings by Hugues Micol illustrate troubling scenes from Alma’s life.

Working with a team of designers at the French creative studio Upian, Plana and Fougere, say they intended to create a final product—with a sensitive and innovative approach to a narrative— that would be interactive and accessible. The final product, which took two years to develop, is incredibly in-depth—allowing its audience to explore the story through the innovative web piece, two books and a film, all available in four languages. Supplemental materials were also designed for classroom use.

“This combination of media communicates Alma’s reality in the most effective way,” Plana said. “The web documentary was designed to inform young people about the dangers of gang life. That was my ultimate goal.”

Plana and Fougere recognize the confusing emotions that came as their relationship with Alma developed. “I see Alma as a friend,” Plana said. “But I never forget what she did, and it is impossible for me to justify her deeds.”

Plana has worked and studied in Guatemala’s since 1995 and has documented the country’s gang violence since 2007. It was this experience—which included extensive interviews with mareros in prison—that prepared him to understand and contextualize Alma’s situation.

Despite the risk of exposure and the discomfort of reliving such painful experiences, for Alma, the project was an opportunity to bear witness to her past and to attempt to prevent other youth from choosing the same fate.

“It was very painful for Alma to talk without feeling judged, to empty her haunted conscience of all these gruesome memories and guilt,” Fougere said. “This web-documentary is her path to redemption.”

Watching Alma speak on screen, it is difficult to connect the words with the woman. Soft-spoken, with long black hair and soft features, Alma slowly describes in brutal detail taking the life of another woman and enduring beatings at the hands of her “homies.” But it is precisely in this disconnect that the power of this project lies—it emphasizes that Guatemala’s gang violence is not the result of a few crazed individuals, but a tragic consequence of social problems so endemic that they can turn a young girl into a brutal criminal.

“Alma’s extremely violent story seemed emblematic of the desperation of youths from shanty town, totally abandoned by a society rife with corruption and impunity,” said Fougere. “[she is] Both victim and perpetrator of this endemic violence.”

Today, Alma lives a quiet life. Confined to a wheelchair, she works as a gift-wrapper  in a shop and lives with her boyfriend, Wilson, in a rented room. Further retaliation from her former gang is a constant threat, but she focuses on her dream of going to college to study psychology.

“I hope that [one]day I have the means to help these young people fascinated by the world of gangs,” she said. “And to finally break this chain of violence which only leads to a certain death.”

Miquel Dewever-Plana is a photographer represented by VU’. See more of his work here.

Isabelle Fougere is a French journalist, writer and director focused on human rights.

Alma: A Tale of Violence was released on arte.tv on Oct. 25, 2012. It was produced by Upian, a French creative studio that has won numerous awards for their web documentaries including First Prize in World Press Photo 2011.

All quotes by Miquel Dewever-Plana and Isabelle Fougere are from an interview with Le Pelerin weekly’s Catherine Lalanne, which is a component of the Alma project.

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Sixty years ago my grandfather, Joe Laub, urged his dear friend Lee Morrone to open up a summer camp. An overnight camp for children with special needs – a remarkable proposition at a time when people didn’t so much care for but deal with such children, often hiding them away in institutions. Camp Lee Mar would be different.  And throughout the years, I was told stories about just how different. Today, children come from all over the United States, Canada, Europe and the Middle East for seven weeks every summer in Lackawaxen, Pa. Lee, they say, is a miracle worker.

Finally, two years ago, I went with my parents to visit Lee at camp.  I knew of the history and Lee’s vision; I grew up hearing the uplifting camp stories. But to be honest, I was afraid. I expected sadness – how could you feel anything else witnessing all the limitations of disabled children struggling in a setting known for fun and frivolity?

I remember we arrived in the early evening and Lee escorted us to the dining room, where the children were having dinner. You’ve never seen such well-behaved, mannered children! Lee pointed out a child who came to camp having never eaten with utensils of any kind, and there he was, happily eating with fork and knife in hand. Lee walked by each table to say hello, checking in as the kids greeted her with bright smiles and loving eyes. “Don’t chew with your mouth open,” she’d say. “Sit up straight.” Nearly every child came to camp with a resume of what they couldn’t do. Lee would quickly recount this resume, remembering the list of “don’ts” and “can’ts.” Then, she’d invariably point the child out and say, with this boundless pride, and just a hint of indignation, “And now look at them!” Sure enough, they’d be doing what others said they’d never be able to do.

This wasn’t a place of sadness; there was love and acceptance everywhere. This wasn’t a place of humiliation; every camper had a story of extraordinary achievement. The only limitations, I learned, were the expectations I had brought with me. Lee’s biggest miracle was the camp itself. And with Ari Segal, her co-director of twenty years, and a staff of devoted counselors, she has inspired a new generation of professionals dedicated to people with special needs.  When I learned that this year Camp Lee Mar would be celebrating its 60th anniversary (as well as Lee’s 85th birthday), I knew I wanted to document it. It’s not often, after all, that you get a chance to be so close to so much miracle-making.

Gillian Laub is a photographer based in New York and a frequent contributor to TIME. See more of her work here

For more information on Camp Lee Mar, visit LeeMar.com.

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Take a look back at the best photos from the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Sort by category and click on images to enlarge and read captions.

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OIL FIELDS #27

Bakersfield, California, USA, 2004

Photo: Edward Burtynsky

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There’s no doubt that Edward Burtynsky’s photos from his Oil series are best viewed as enormous prints on a gallery wall. Known as one of the preeminent projects about the industrial age, the photos rely on scale to deliver their message about how oil has changed both the earth and human kind in profound and lasting ways.

That’s why we were skeptical when we heard he was releasing a new iPad version of the project’s book, which was originally published in 2009. How would these prints translate to a backlit viewing platform smaller than a sheet of office paper?

With app in hand, we were able to confirm the obvious — the iPad will never replace a print on the wall or a well-designed photo book. But that said, what we lost in scale and tactility was made up at least in part by the other features we’ve all come to love about the iPad.

Case-in-point are the short interviews with Burtynsky that accompany 24 of the photos. I enjoy a piece of art more when I know something about it and hearing Burtynsky explain things that you wouldn’t find in a normal caption — like why he composed certain photos in very particular ways — enriched the experience.

Other features on the app include three videos of Burtynsky speaking about his work and maps that show the location of the photos. There are also nine new images from the Gulf oil spill.

What tips the scales in favor of the app is the price. The Oil book sells for $128 on the publisher’s website. We can just imagine how much a Burtynsky print sells for. So at $9.99 there’s not much room to complain. If you enjoy Burtynsky’s work, it’s a drop in the bucket to experience a project that will only get more important as time goes on.

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Image: Webmonkey

HTML5′s native audio and video tools promise to eventually make it possible to create sophisticated audio and video editing apps that run in the browser. Unfortunately much of that promise has thus far been marred by a battle over audio and video codecs. Right now what works in one browser on one operating system will not necessarily work on another.

Until the codec battle plays itself out, developers looking to build native HTML audio apps are in a bit of a bind. One way around the problem is to bypass the browser and provide your own decoder.

That’s exactly what the developers at Official.fm Labs have been hard at work doing. The latest impressive release is FLAC.js, a FLAC audio decoder written in pure JavaScript. FLAC.js joins the group’s earlier efforts, which include decoders for MP3, AAC and ALAC.

Used in conjunction with the nascent Web Audio API, the new FLAC decoder means you could serve up high-quality, lossless audio to browsers that support HTML5 audio. But beyond just playback the Web Audio API opens the door to a whole new range of audio applications in the browser — think GarageBand on the web or DJ applications.

To that end Official.fm Labs has been working a framework it calls Aurora.js (CoffeeScript) to help make it easier to build audio applications for the web.

If you’d like to experiment with Aurora.js or check out the new FLAC decoder, head on over to Official.fm’s GitHub account where you’ll find all the code available under an MIT license.

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The high-resolution web is coming. Photo: Ariel Zambelich/Wired

Given enough time, all simple, already solved problems of the web eventually rear their ugly heads again.

Remember when limited bandwidth was a huge problem? Then bandwidth was infinite. Now it’s a problem again. And that means serving up images is once again a complex problem with no elegant solution. Its seems simple. Websites should serve the right image to the right screen, high-resolution images to high-resolution devices and low res to the rest. But of course it’s not that simple. Factors like bandwidth as well as screen size and orientation complicate the matter considerably.

Arguably the best solution right now is to send low-res images to every device. Sure, your images might look terrible on high-res screens, but at least you aren’t wasting people’s time or worse, costing them money.

While that’s the safest solution for now, the web doesn’t get better if no one takes any risks. Fortunately, until some standard or best practice emerges, we’ll likely continue to see developers pushing the boundaries and discovering new ways to handle the seemingly simple task of serving the appropriate image to the appropriate device.

The latest image cleverness we’ve seen is Adam Bradley’s Foresight.js. Foresight.js is designed to make it easy to serve up high-resolution images to devices like the new iPad, but what sets foresight.js apart from half a dozen other solutions that do the same thing is that it not only checks for a hi-res screen, but also checks to see if the device currently has a fast enough network connection for larger images. If, and only if, your visitor has both a device capable of displaying high-res images and a network connection fast enough to handle the larger file size, are larger images served.

Part of what makes Foresight.js appealing is its use of the proposed CSS image-set() function, one possible solution to the problem of serving up the right image at the right time. The image-set() function, which works in WebKit nightly builds and is under consideration by the W3C, looks like this:

myselector {
    background: image-set(url(foo-lowres.png) 1x, url(foo-highres.png) 2x) center;
}

Foresight.js takes the image-set() proposal and uses an ingenious hack to make it work in other browsers: the font-family property. Yes, it sounds crazy. But it works and remains technically valid CSS because font-family allows for arbitrary strings (to handle font names). That means browsers have no problem with a rule like this:

myselector {
    font-family: ' image-set( url(/images/foo.png), url(/images/foo_2x.png) 2x high-bandwidth ) ';
}

It’s a hack to be sure, but it’s our favorite kind of hack: clever and functional. Because browsers successfully parse the font-family rule (even if they can’t apply it) the value is added to the DOM and JavaScript has no problem accessing it, which is exactly what foresight.js does.

For more on foresight.js, head over to the GitHub page which as links to plenty of examples uses and copious documentation on the script’s many tricks. Also be sure to read through Bradley’s Challenges for High Resolution Images, which offers some background on foresight.js and the design decisions he made.

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Jessie Hoagland, 14, of Duff, Indiana, practices goat tying. The photo is from a story about Hoagland as the reigning Indiana Junior Rodeo Association Cowgirl of the Year.

Photo: Krista Hall

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“Where the hell is Dubois County and what the hell is The Herald?” you might ask, flipping through the 2012 newspaper picture editing winners from the prestigious Picture of the Year International awards.

Located in the town of Jasper in rural southern Indiana, among rolling hills and Amish communities, The Herald pops out in a list of papers you might actually expect to see — The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, etc. Shirking expectations of both its size and location, the paper has produced some of the country’s best documentary photography and most thoughtful presentations since the late ’70s.

“We’ve farmed dozens and dozens of great stories out of the community,” says Justin Rumbach, the current managing editor and the fourth generation of Rumbachs to run and own the paper. “And it proves that if a photographer can do it in Dubois county, you can do it anywhere.”

The paper, a tabloid instead of a broadsheet, has created a following mostly because of its now-famous Saturday photo stories, which combine thoughtful reporting and powerful photography. They’re run ad-free and take up the entire front page plus five additional pages inside, sometimes more.

“It all started in 1978 when my dad John went to a Flying Short [photography] Course in Bloomington,” says Rumbach.

Since 1946, The Herald has been a six-day-a-week afternoon paper — there is no Sunday edition. While the afternoon schedule facilitated a unique style of news gathering, it also meant that because of weekend schedules readers oftentimes weren’t getting to the Saturday paper until Sunday morning. By then, the front page was old news. The Saturday features came about, Rumbach says, because his dad John, the paper’s editor at the time, was looking for a solution to that problem.

“They wanted something with a longer shelf-life,” Rumbach says.

At the Flying Short Course, John came across a twice-weekly paper in California that kept its front page fresh by using a more magazine-like cover story that relied heavily on photos.

A writer by trade who also shot photos, John immediately liked the idea and brought it back to The Herald. In the process, he ended up creating not only a new way of laying out the Saturday paper but also a new way of thinking about photography.

“At many other newspapers the photography department is treated like a service department. The word side comes up with an idea and then it gets handed to the photo department,” Rumbach says.

But not at The Herald.

Because the new Saturday cover features were driven by photography, it was often the photographers who were out finding the stories instead of the other way around. This earned them a newfound respect that has since trickled down.

Today, photographers not only have a real voice in the Saturday features but also in the entire news cycle, bucking a trend of second-class citizenship that still plagues other photojournalists across the country.

“We now expect our reporters, when they are coming up with their ideas, to pitch them to a photo editor,” Rumbach says. “We are not going to put a photographer on an assignment that won’t produce a good picture.”

A tradition of smart, efficient, and thoughtful photo editing has also taken hold.

“We spend a lot of time editing the picture and picking pictures that make a point,” says Rumbach. “Every picture we run we want to run it with a purpose. Just because we have a lot of space doesn’t mean we run a ton of photos.”

The rise of photography and the Saturday features have also had an effect on the rest of The Herald. Unlike other small papers that only have time to react to that day’s news, The Herald has implemented a much more structured planning system.

Rumbach says they ideally try to work about four months out on the Saturday features. Sometimes it takes even longer than that.

“We don’t want to put a deadline on [the features],” Justin says. “We let [the photographers and reporters] tell the story until it’s done.”

Over the course of 30-plus years, the photographers who’ve passed through The Herald have taken all this freedom and responsibility seriously, telling stories about love, tragedy, family and everything in between with an intimacy that’s unheard of at papers with an 11,300 circulation.

“Our readers have a history with us and there is that built-in trust, we don’t have to sell people on letting us photograph them,” Rumbach says. “They know what we want to do and they are open to it.”

It’s not all rosy. The paper has felt the financial crunch effecting the rest of the journalism industry and revenues are down. But a strong local readership and the family structure of the paper have prevented a precipitous decline. Rumbach says the paper has had no layoffs and has given the staff a raise each year.

Like the rest of the media world, the paper is still trying to figure out how to fully harness the power of the internet. With an emphasis of visuals, The Herald is perfectly positioned to join the world of multimedia, but Rumbach says they’ve intentionally stayed away.

“I’m a fan of multimedia and if they gave me a full-time position to just work on just that it would be great,” he says. “But I don’t want to saddle our photographers with multimedia because making pictures and doing it correctly is hard enough.”

Ultimately, Rumbach says the paper’s plan for the future is still pretty simple.

“We want to continue our history of storytelling and continue to print it on newspaper for as long as possible,” he says.

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You can’t help but root for Arthur Hitchcock in the new short documentary Hitchcock Walks. The film follows the then-19-year-old’s trek by foot across the United States and takes you into the heart and mind of a young man reeling from the death of his mom.

“The minute that she passed something in my brain told me that this would be a way to honor the memory of both my parents,” says Hitchcock, who lost his dad when he was two. “And I felt like it would be a good escape. I felt like running away.”

Hitchcock originally had the idea to walk across the country as a way to build his budding photography portfolio. But after he lost his mom to breast cancer on Oct. 6, 2010, he suddenly had a new reason to set out.

Shot principally by Hitchcock (with the help of a tripod) as he walked, the film was edited by Adam Sjöberg and was just released a little more than a week ago. Since being posted on the Vimeo Staff Pick website, it’s been viewed by more than 44,000 people.

For 16 closely edited minutes, viewers get a glimpse of someone who has reason to check out from the world but instead takes it head on, walking his sadness and frustration away through the mountains of California, the deserts of Utah and the chilled nights of the Northeast.

What could have been a syrupy flop turns into an earnest exploration of Hitchcock’s life and insight into how people deal with loss. This is partly due to Sjöberg’s skills as an editor, partly due to Hitchcock and his story.

“I don’t think [the viewers] are connecting with anything I’ve done,” Sjöberg says. “I really think it’s Arthur, who he is as a person.”

In a matter of weeks after his mom passed, Hitchcock had sold most of his possession from his home in Long Beach, California, bought a Ford pickup, and convinced his best friend Anthony Felix to follow him in the truck as support.

“I was just sitting with Anthony one day and I was like, ‘You know what, how would you feel about coming with me?’” Hitchcock says. “We have been best friends since elementary school and like I expected, Anthony was completely supportive.”

Hitchcock, who ran cross-country in high school, started training by leaving his car at home and doing all his errands on foot while carrying a heavy pack. Before he left he was regularly walking 15 to 20 miles a day.

To finance the trip he wrote letters and e-mails asking for sponsorships. He wanted to raise awareness of breast cancer so he contacted The Breast Cancer Society, which agreed to give him information packets to pass out and $100 each week for food and supplies. America’s Tire Company gave him a new set of tires. Brooks gave him $700 worth of running gear and Osprey gave him two backpacks.

On May 11, 2011 he and Felix started their trip.

Hitchcock had spent weeks researching and mapping a route, but his plan went out the window as soon as he figured out how difficult it was to try and follow a complicated set of directions on America’s back roads.

“I just started thinking in highways and freeways,” he says.

Meanwhile, Felix either waited for Hitchcock at their starting point or ending point each day, carrying supplies in the truck. At night they would set up camp in a tent, sleep in the truck or crash with people they found on couchsurfing.org.

Initially, Hitchcock followed Highway 1 to San Francisco and then turned east on I-80. The highway patrol was not too happy with his decision to walk along the freeway. One day the police stopped him four times. Twice it was the same cop.

“He was livid,” Hitchcock says.

In addition to police threats, other perils of highway travel included a number of sexual propositions from truckers, violent thunderstorms and scorching heat. In Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats, Hitchcock ran out of water and was stranded in 100-degree weather, unable to reach Felix via cell. Felix would often misplace his phone in the camper shell or forget to charge it.

“It happened so many times and I was like, really?!” Hitchcock says, laughing. “Go A Team.” Luckily on this occasion, a driver stopped to give Arthur a five-gallon jug of water, which got him through.

“That was just one of many good stories that helped me restore my faith in humanity,” he says. “I couldn’t have done this trip without the kindness of strangers.”

The contents of Hitchcock's backpack.

Normally, Hitchcock walked about 25 to 40 miles a day. He challenged himself to add a little more distance over time and one day ended up covering 62 miles along I-80 in Wyoming. To do it he had to get up at 3:30 a.m. and walk for more than 21 hours.

“I wanted to walk until I couldn’t walk anymore,” Hitchcock says. “I wanted to find my limit, and I found it.”

During the 14 hours or so that Hitchcock spent walking each day (he did take days off), he said that he meditated on his own life and tried to overcome the anger and sadness he had when he set out.

“It’s hard to articulate the perspective it gave me, but it completely changed my life,” he says. “I do a better job of putting myself in other people’s shoes, I’m more compassionate, I’m a better listener…. There is no way that I was not transformed.”

Hitchcock originally started filming the trip with a Canon 5D Mark II. He had no idea how he was going to put the footage together but wanted to have it nonetheless.

He met Sjöberg during a stop in New York. Sjöberg, who was a friend of a friend, wanted to edit the footage into a documentary and film Hitchcock when he arrived at his final stop in Augusta, Maine.

“I connected with the story immediately when I met him,” Sjöberg says. “There was a lot of stuff that gave him a reason to feel alone and angry or that some injustice had been done to him, but he still has a grace and a love for people.”

With Sjöberg in tow, Hitchcock’s final day came on Nov. 2, 2011 — 175 days, nearly six months, after Hitchcock and Felix left Long Beach.

Partly out of excitement and partly because he miscalculated the number of miles he had to go that day, Hitchcock ended up running 32 miles to his final landing spot at the Maine State House.

“First off, I was dead tired and I was so happy that I got to stop running,” Hitchcock says about the journey’s final moments. “There was a huge sense of accomplishment and my parents were the first people I thought of.”

After celebrating, it took only five days for Hitchcock and Felix to drive back to California.

Today Hitchcock is living in Oregon with his fiancée, who he proposed to almost immediately after getting back from his trip — an idea he came up with during the journey. They plan on getting married in July.

He’s trying to build his photography business and purposefully enjoying the more mundane life of staying at home.

“It’s been a nice change of pace,” he says.

Photos and video courtesy of Arthur Hitchcock and Adam Sjöberg.

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As an Israeli and a resident of “ultra” secular Tel Aviv for most of my adult life, Purim -- the celebration of the Jews' salvation from genocide in ancient Persia, as recounted in the Book of Esther...

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