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Ben Curtis

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A potentially catastrophic food crisis in the Sahel region of West and Central Africa could affect as many as one million children. The food and nutrition crisis resulting from a severe drought, threatens the survival of an entire generation of children. Those children in eight countries - Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, Cameroon, Nigeria and Senegal - are at risk of severe acute malnutrition. Sparse rainfall, poor harvests and rising food prices have left many vulnerable and weak, seeking medical attention. Sahel is one of the poorest regions in the world where children already face daunting odds of survival. The current crisis makes their survival even more tenuous. Associated Press photographer, Ben Curtis, documented the conditions in the region. -- Paula Nelson (EDITORS NOTE: We will not be posting Monday, May 14) (32 photos total)
A woman carries her child amidst dusty winds in the desert near Mondo, a village in the Sahel belt of Chad, April 19, 2012. UNICEF estimates that 127,000 children under the age of 5 in Chad's Sahel belt will require lifesaving treatment for severe acute malnutrition this year, with an estimated 1 million expected throughout the wider Sahel region of West and Central Africa in the countries of Niger, Nigeria, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Senegal and Mauritania. (Ben Curtis/Associated Press)

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It's time once more for a look into the animal kingdom and our interactions with the countless other species that share our planet. Today's photos include researchers dressed in panda costumes, a massage given by an African snail, a 39-pound cat named Meow, a Japanese macaque with hay fever, and orangutans having a playdate using FaceTime on an iPad. These images and many others are part of this roundup of animals in the news from recent weeks, seen from the perspectives of their human observers, companions, captors, and caretakers, part of an ongoing series on animals in the news. [41 photos]

Polar bear cub Anori explores the outdoor enclosure at the zoo in Wuppertal, Germany, on Monday, April 23, 2012. Anori was born on January 4 and is becoming a visitor's highlight. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

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Any "best of" list must surely be subjective. This one is no different. Choosing the best photographs of the year is an enormously difficult task, with many terrific photographs slipping through the cracks. But with major news events as a guide, and with single images I fell in love with throughout the year forcing their way into the edit, I look at my favorite pictures from the first four months of the year. Two main stories dominated headlines in the first part of the year: the Japan earthquake and tsunami, and the rising of the Arab Spring. The protests in the Middle East would spread to Greece, Spain, and eventually inspire the Occupy movement in Western nations. Other stories included a historic wave of tornados in the U.S., a Royal wedding in London, and the creation of the world's newest nation in South Sudan. Images from the rest of the year will follow in posts later this week. -- Lane Turner (36 photos total)
A wave caused by a tsunami flows into the city of Miyako from the Heigawa estuary in Iwate Prefecture after a magnitude 8.9 earthquake struck Japan March 11, 2011. (Mainichi Shimbun /Reuters)

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2011 was a year of global tumult, marked by widespread social and political uprisings, economic crises, and a great deal more. We saw the fall of multiple dictators, welcomed a new country (South Sudan), witnessed our planet's population grow to 7 billion, and watched in horror as Japan was struck by a devastating earthquake, a tsunami, and a nuclear disaster. From the Arab Spring to Los Indignados to Occupy Wall Street, citizens around the world took to the streets in massive numbers, protesting against governments and financial institutions, risking arrest, injury, and in some cases their lives. Collected here is Part 1 of a three-part photo summary of the last year, covering 2011's first several months. Be sure to also see Part 2, and Part 3 of the series - totaling 120 images in all. [40 photos + 1 more]

A wave approaches Miyako City from the Heigawa estuary in Iwate Prefecture after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck the area March 11, 2011. The earthquake, the most powerful ever known to have hit Japan, combined with the massive tsunami, claimed more than 15,800 lives, devastated many eastern coastline communities, and triggered a nuclear catastrophe at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station. (Reuters/Mainichi Shimbun)

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In his new book, the filmmaker investigates the mysteries behind some of photography’s most famous news images. Here, Morris walks TIME through five of his fascinating case studies:

TIME: In your first case study, the Crimean cannonball photos (slides 9 and 10), you write about how we can often make certain assumptions about a photographer’s intent that can misdirect us from the truth. How did that play out in these two pictures?

First off I want to say that I don’t think photographs are true or false. I always associate truth and falsity with language, rather than images, photographic and otherwise. People become endlessly confused because they think that some photographs are more true or less true than others, and they get trapped in a strange set of arguments that I believe lead nowhere. If one photograph is more true than another, then you ask yourself, are there things I can do to guarantee the truth of a photograph or to make it more truthful.

Your question was about the intent of a photographer. One of the things that people are most concerned about is the intention to deceive, to trick us, to lead us astray. Well, this pair of photographs, taken in 1855 by Roger Fention, is one of the very first war photographs. A barren landscape bisected by a road littered with cannonballs. The photographs are identical except that in one there are cannonballs on the road and in the other, there are not.

And it leads people to speculate, without even knowing they were speculating, about the order of the photographs, why there are cannonballs on the road in one and not in the other. And I used this as a way to examine our attitudes towards photographs, how we often read things into them things which weren’t there in the first place.

And at one point I even suggest that by thinking about this pair of photographs, we are really examining the nature of photography in general. So I ask a reader to go on an excursion with me. I like to think of them as little mysteries. To try to look at photographs, to try to think about what our assumptions are about them and to accompany me on an investigation into what we’re really looking at.

TIME: In writing about documentary photographs, you say that, in essence, every shot is posed because the photographer always chooses what and what not to include in the frame. I don’t think the average viewer—whether they are seeing a picture in a newspaper or a magazine or a museum exhibition—ever thinks about the fact that each photograph involved a decision of what not to include as much as it did what do include.

Photography is in part how I make my living, and I think about photography and photographs all the time. When you’re creating an image—and most of the images I create are in truth aren’t still images but motion picture images—but when you create an image, I often think about what I’m not including as well as what I am including. Images in part derive their power from the fact that we are excluding so much of the world. They’re focusing our attention in a way they it might not be focused otherwise. I can’t remember my exact wording, but somewhere in the book I talk about how photographs are ripped from the fabric of reality. I like the idea that they are torn out of reality. And we look at them and we don’t see above or below or to the left or to the right, we just see what’s inside the frame. And that’s easy to forget about.

TIME: Something that was apparent to me in your next case study was that sometimes the people who should be skeptical about photographs aren’t. I’m talking about the hooded man photo. The New York Times ran a story that identified a man as the person in that famous photo (slide 8), but it wasn’t him.

It’s probably the iconic photograph of the Iraq war. Photographs become iconic because they resonate with people for all kinds of reasons. And that photograph has been seen by hundreds of millions of people. A number of people said to me, “Well why do you care who’s under the hood? Does it really make any difference? After all, the photograph is not about who’s under the hood, it’s about torture, or it’s about these crimes committed at Abu Ghraib in 2003. Why do you care about the specific details of who it was?” And I would say that I care about both. I care about how photographs are received and viewed by people, but I also really care about their connection to the underlying world. It’s part of the mystery for me. What is it that I’m looking at? Yes, there are well-received beliefs about this photograph, but what really are we looking at? And usually you can’t determine that from just looking at the photograph itself. Usually you have to investigate. Usually you have to look further. And part of what interested me about the Abu Ghraib photographs is that a lot of people were aware of them in this country and abroad, people had views about them, and they made people very very angry for many different reasons, but no one had seemingly bothered to actually try to contextualize them, to try to investigate what it was that we were looking at, as if it was obvious.

And I have an expression that I’m fond of, which is that nothing is so obvious that it’s obvious. It’s usually when we think things are obvious that it’s time to actually look further and to try to look at our underlying assumptions. And by the way, you can investigate and you can come up short. You’re not guaranteed to solve every mystery that you set out to solve. We tried so very very hard to find the guy, the real guy, and came up short.

TIME: With the Sabrina Harmon photos (slides 6 and 7), we first saw them and saw her smiling over this dead body and that smile implied guilt even though it turns out she didn’t do anything—she didn’t abuse the prisoner, she didn’t kill him and she’s not genuinely smiling. But we automatically think that this woman helped beat this guy up and kill him.

We have problems with ambiguity and unresolved mysteries. We also have problems with complexity. Often there’s a need to see people as heroes or as villains rather than in some gray area in between. It’s easier to navigate through life that way. I was criticized for defending Sabrina Harmon. After all, what these bad apples did was terrible. A disgrace. And I am seemingly an apologist for what they did at Abu Ghraib. And I would beg to differ. Take this photograph of Sabrina Harmon and the corpse of Al Jamadi—I was trying to contextualize that image, to put it back into history, and I learned some very surprising things.

In the case of Sabrina. She took a whole range of photographs of that corpse, many of which were to document what she thought was a crime. This man had been beaten to death, presumably by a CIA operative. She had not been involved in any way. She had merely recorded the aftermath of this crime. And she, as indicated in her letters to her girlfriend she felt there was a cover-up going on and that she was going to expose it.

So we look at the photograph and think we’re seeing perhaps a murderer gloating over their crime. And, in fact, what we’re see is something very different.

TIME: At one point, you write the following: “While the technology may have changed, the underlying issues remain constant: When does a photograph document reality? When is it propaganda? When is it art? Can a single photograph be all three? That’s you writing about the Rothstein cow skull photo (slides 1-3). What’s the story there?

The Roosevelt administration had created the FSA, the Farm Security Administration, and they in turn hired photographers who were to become the most famous in history—Walker Evans, Arthur Rothstein, Dorothea Lange. These are among the great American photographers of Depression-era America. And they took literally thousands of photographs under the auspices of the government. And Rothstein was sent to the Dakotas to document the drought. And he took a photograph of a cow skull in what looked like to be a close to desert landscape. And this photograph was published in newspapers around the country as an example of how bad the drought had become in the Dakotas.

Well Rothstein did something—you could call it a mistake—he did something that created almost instant controversy when they found out about it. He had moved the cow skull to five or six different locations and photographed it. Now when people became aware there was more than one cow skull photograph and that he had moved them, for artistic purposes is what he argued, he was trying to get a really good shot with the right shadows of the cow skull. Then people say, “Well why that picture and not this one, and what were you doing, were you moving the cow skull? Were you manipulating the photograph to trick people?”

Well here’s the central irony. Here’s one of the ironies. You look at the photographs and you think, ooh, there was a drought. And guess what? There was a drought! Did the fact that he moved the cow skull suddenly invalidate that photograph? Well, you have to know something about the circumstances under which it was taken. And I did try to investigate that issue.

TIME: Finally, let’s talk about these Mickey Mouse in Palestine photos. You have a wire photographer, you have this picture of Mickey outside a bombed out apartment complex in Lebanon (slides 11 and 12). There are questions of agenda, of whether the photographer moved the mouse there, of whether the selection alone implied a bias.

These toy photographs, there was a whole collection of them that came out of Lebanon. And the claim was that pro-Palestinian, pro-Hamas photographers are, the way I imagined it, was that they were appearing in the war zone with a big bag of toys and distributing them and taking pictures of them with the intention of misleading people. One way to look at it is that Israelis are killing Palestinian children.

One of the well-known photographs of a toy taken in Lebanon, in southern Lebanon was taken by this Associated Press photographer Ben Curtis. Another irony. That we think we know how that photograph is going to be used, but it was used in just the opposite way in a newspaper than I would have thought, in an anti-Palestinian op-ed. It shows how photographs can, the meaning of them, or what we take to be the meaning of them, can be so easily changed by the context that we place around them, the new story we place around them—the caption that we put under them can change everything.

Believing is Seeing was published by Penguin Press

Gilbert Cruz is a senior editor at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @gilbertcruz. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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People observe a moment of silence during ceremonies at the World Trade Center site for the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001 in New York City. New York City and the nation are commemorating the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on lower Manhattan which resulted in the deaths of 2,753 people when two hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center. Security has been heightened in both New York City and Washington D.C. following a terrorist threat about a car bomb.

A P-51 Mustang airplane crashes into the edge of the grandstands at the Reno Air show on Friday, Sept. 16, 2011 in Reno Nevada. The World War II-era fighter plane flown by a veteran Hollywood stunt pilot Jimmy Leeward plunged Friday into the edge of the grandstands during the popular air race creating a horrific scene strewn with smoking debris.

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People observe a moment of silence during ceremonies at the World Trade Center site for the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001 in New York City. New York City and the nation are commemorating the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on lower Manhattan which resulted in the deaths of 2,753 people when two hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center. Security has been heightened in both New York City and Washington D.C. following a terrorist threat about a car bomb. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images) #

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The Tribute in Light rises over the Brooklyn Bridge and lower Manhattan, Monday, Sept. 12, 2011, in New York. A day earlier the city held a memorial at Ground Zero for the 10th anniversary of the attacks on the United States. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) #

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In this Monday, Sept. 12, 2011 image taken from video, a group of people tilt a burning BMW up to free Brandon Wright, on his back on the ground, who was pinned underneath after he collided with the car while riding his motorcycle on U.S. 89 in Logan, Utah. Authorities said Wright was riding his motorcycle near the Utah State University campus in Logan when the 21-year-old collided with the BMW that was pulling out of a parking lot. Tire and skid marks on the highway indicate that Wright laid the bike down and slid along the road before colliding with the car, Assistant Police Chief Jeff Curtis said. (AP Photo/Chris Garff) #

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A visitor poses in front of a beluga swimming inside an aquarium at the Laohutan Ocean Park in Dalian, in northeast China's Liaoning province, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011. (AP Photo/Andy Wong) #

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A woman at the National September 11 Memorial, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011, mourns the loss of her son who died during during attacks at the World Trade Center, Sept. 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Carolyn Cole, Pool) #

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Robert Peraza, who lost his son Robert David Peraza in the attacks at the World Trade Center, pauses at his son's name at the North Pool of the 9/11 Memorial before the 10th anniversary ceremony at the site, Sunday Sept. 11, 2011, in New York. (AP Photo/Justin Lane, Pool) #

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A man walks among nearly 3,000 flags set up as part of a remembrance on 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson) #

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A rose is placed on an inscribed name along the North Pool of the 9/11 Memorial during the tenth anniversary ceremonies of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center site, September 11, 2011 in New York City. New York City and the nation are commemorating the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks which resulted in the deaths of nearly 3,000 people after two hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia and one crash landed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Lane-Pool/Getty Images) #

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The Tribute in Light shines above Lower Manhattan, marking the 10th anniversary of the attacks at the World Trade Center site, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011, in New York. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) #

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In this Friday, Sept. 16, 2011 photo, a P-51 Mustang airplane approaches the ground right before crashing during an air show in Reno, Nev. The vintage World War II-era fighter plane piloted by Jimmy Leeward plunged into the grandstands during the popular annual air show. (AP Photo/Garret Woodman) #

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A P-51 Mustang airplane crashes into the edge of the grandstands at the Reno Air show on Friday, Sept. 16, 2011 in Reno Nevada. The World War II-era fighter plane flown by a veteran Hollywood stunt pilot Jimmy Leeward plunged Friday into the edge of the grandstands during the popular air race creating a horrific scene strewn with smoking debris. (AP Photo/Ward Howes) #

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A single engine T-28 from the six-plane Trojan Horsemen Demonstration Flight Team crashes and explodes during a performance at the Thunder Over the Blue Ridge Open House and Air Show, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011 at the 167th Airlift Wing in Martinsburg, W.Va. (AP Photo/Journal Newspaper, Ron Agnir) #

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A firefighter places an American flag on a memorial display while preparing for 9/11 ceremonies at FDNY Ladder 20 Engine 13 on September 9, 2011 in New York City. Ladder 20 lost seven firefighters on September 11, 2001. New York City and the nation are preparing for the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on lower Manhattan, which resulted in the deaths of 2,753 people at the World Trade Center(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) #

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Las Vegas firefighter Capt. Eric Littmann walks in a parade commemorating the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011, in Las Vegas. ( AP Photo/Julie Jacobson) #

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A general view shows a crowded beer tent during the opening day of the Oktoberfest 2011 beer festival at Theresienwiese on September 17, 2011 in Munich, Germany. The world's biggest beer festival starts September 17 and runs until October 3, 2011. (Photo by Alexandra Beier/Getty Images) #

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Floyd Mayweather Jr., left, watches as referee Joe Cortez gives Victor Ortiz Floyd a ten count after he was knocked down by Mayweather during their WBC welterweight title fight Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson) #

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The street circuit of the Formula One night race is illuminated during a light testing seen from Swissotel The Stamford at dusk on Monday, Sept. 19, 2011 in Singapore which will be the host city for the SingTel Singapore Grand Prix from Sept. 23-25. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E) #

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Palestinian children gather near the beach in Deir Al Balah, central Gaza Strip, Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue) #

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2nd Lt. Andrew Ferrara, 23, of Torrance, Calif., with the U.S. Army's Bravo Company of the 25th Infantry Division, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Battalion 27th Infantry Regiment, based in Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, turns from the rotor wash of a landing Blackhawk helicopter during a mission for a key leader engagement at the Shigal district center Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011 in Kunar province, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/David Goldman) #

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Air Force One, with President Barack Obama aboard, arrives at Raleigh Durham International Airport in Morrisville, N.C., Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2011, where President Obama will speak about the American Jobs Act. (AP Photo/Jim R. Bounds) #

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Firefighters try to put out a wildfire at a national reserve in Brasilia, Brazil, Monday, Sept. 9, 2011. Drought, high temperatures and low humidity have caused wildfires at several places around Brasilia, according to officials. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres) #

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Joseph Mwangi, 34, sits in a state of shock after discovering the charred remains of two of his children, one aged 6 the other of unknown age, at the scene of a fuel explosion in Nairobi, Kenya, Monday, Sept. 12, 2011. A leaking gasoline pipeline in Kenya's capital exploded on Monday, turning part of a slum into an inferno in which scores of people were killed and more than 100 hurt. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis) #

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Survivors use flotsam Saturday, Sept 10, 2011, after an overcrowded ship sank in deep sea between mainland Tanzania and Pemba Island at about 1 a.m. Saturday with about 600 people onboard. The numbers involved are unclear as the ferry, M.V. Spice Islanders, is thought to have been heavily overloaded and some potential passengers refused to board when it was leaving the mainland port of Dar es Salaam, said survivor Abdullah Saied. About 230 people have been rescued and 40 bodies recovered but about 370 people are still reported missing, said Mohamed Aboud, minister for the Vice President's Office. (AP Photo/Capt Neil van Ejik Whirlwind Aviation) #

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A German soldier lifts weights at his combat outpost in Char Darah, outisde Kunduz, Afghanistan, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus) #

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A man sets himself on fire outside a branch of Piraeus bank in the northern port city of Thessaloniki, Greece, Friday Sept. 16, 2011. It was a third attempted self-immolation by the former small business owner, who says he was ruined after taking a series of bank loans. The 56-year-old was hospitalized with non life-threatening chest burns. (AP Photo/Nontas Stlianidis) #

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A girl runs across a flooded road as water recedes in Puri district, about 55 kilometers (34 miles) from the eastern Indian city of Bhubaneshwar, Friday, Sept. 16, 2011. Aerial food drops were suspended after five days Friday as flood waters began to recede in the Mahanadi delta in Orissa state. At least 26 people died and 12 others went missing during the devastating floods which affected people in 19 districts of the state, official sources said. (AP Photo/Biswaranjan Rout) #

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Soyuz TMA-21 space capsule lands with Expedition 28 Commander Andrei Borisenko, and Flight Engineers Ron Garan, and Alexander Samokutyayev in a remote area outside of the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, on Friday, Sept. 16, 2011. NASA Astronaut Garan, Russian Cosmonauts Borisenko and Samokutyaev are returning from more than five months onboard the International Space Station where they served as members of the Expedition 27 and 28 crews. (AP Photo/Sergei Ilnitsky, Pool) #

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NASA Astronaut Ron Garan, left, Russian cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyayev, center, and Andrei Borisenko, right, are seen inside Russian Soyuz TMA-21 space capsule after its landing about 150 kilometers (94 miles) southeast of the Kazakh town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, on Friday, Sept. 16, 2011. NASA Astronaut Garan, Russian Cosmonauts Borisenko and Samokutyayev are returning from more than five months onboard the International Space Station where they served as members of the Expedition 27 and 28 crews. (AP Photo/Sergei Remezov, Pool) #

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Nepalese women remove bricks of the damaged house to make way for pedestrians after an earthquake of magnitude 6.9 shook northeastern India on Sunday night, in Katmandu, Nepal, Monday, Sept. 19, 2011. Rescue workers used shovels and their bare hands to pull bodies from the debris of collapsed buildings Monday, as the death toll from an earthquake that hit northeast India, Nepal and Tibet rises. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha) #

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An anti-government demonstrator weeps with joy upon hearing the news of the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011 in Cairo, Egypt. After 18 days of widespread protests, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has now left Cairo for his home in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheik, announced that he would [...]

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Features and Essays - Phillip Toledano : Days With My Father | article (Guardian: May 2010) Toledano’s Twitter

Articles / Tutorials – Lightstalkers: Advice for first-time embeds to Afghanistan (LS: May 2010)

Features and Essays – Dominique Tarlé: The Rolling Stones at Villa Nellcôte (Guardian: May 2010)

Features and Essays - Lourdes Segade: Hard Times for Spanish Farm Workers (NYT: May 2010)

Photographers – Ben Curtis : website : blog

Articles – Boston Globe: Photography review: Framing lives in war or peace (Boston Globe: May 2010) “Susan Meiselas: In History,’’ at Dartmouth College’s Hood Museum of Art through June 20

Interviews - Marc Garanger (NYPH: May 2010)

Blogs - Paul Melcher: In No Time (Thoughts of a Bohamian blog: 2010) “What is going ? I ‘ll tell you what is going on : Recently, Time, inc, the biggest publisher of magazines in the world has made an agreement with AP, Reuters and Getty Images to license any and all non-exclusive images for a flat rate of $50.00, regardless of size or placement . Magazines like Time, or Fortune, or Sports Illustrated, that used to easily pay $200.00 for a 1/4 page will now have the same images for $50.”

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