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Christianity is on the edge of extinction in its birthplace, the Middle East.
Escaping sectarian violence, kidnappings, religious fatwas, economic hardship and severe persecution, the oldest Christian communities in the world are leaving the region.
Nowadays there are more Iraqi, Turkish and Palestinian Christians living in the Diaspora in Europe, the US or South America than in their native countries, while the current events in Egypt and Syria indicate a similar fate for its Christian population.

With the current speed of this Christian Exodus continuing, out of 12 million Christians in the middle East only 6 million will be left in the year 2020. It’s a real probability that within one generation Christianity, as a live religion and culture, will have vanished from the Middle East. I want to document this vanishing people and culture and record a historic process with severe political, economic and cultural consequences for the Middle East.

Christians have always been part of the intellectual and economic elite of Middle Eastern societies and their migration leads to a brain-drain, sided with the withdrew of financial assets and, equally important, cultural and intellectual force. This lack of resources will only accelerate the problems Middle East as a whole is facing and fuel the vicious circle of poverty, ill-education and extremist violence in the Region.

Working on the project since early 2011, I have repeatedly been to Turkey, Iraq, Egypt, Israel, Gaza and Palestine. During this time I established a network of different NGOs, local churches and individuals that have helped me setting up contacts and logistics needed for this project.
To complete the project, thus to further depict the complexity of the phenomenon and to deepen its understanding, I will need to visit the Christian communities in the remaining countries of the Levant: Jordan, Lebanon, Syria.

 

Bio

Andy Spyra, born 1984 in Germany, is a freelance photographer currently based in Germany. He worked one year as a staff photographer for the local newspaper in his hometown before he became a freelance photographer. He’s working on assignments and personal longtermprojects in the Balkans and more recently in the middle East.

His Projects include a documentation of the ongoing conflict in Kashmir as well a four year long visual engagement with the aftermath of the genocide in Bosnia. Since 2011 he’s been working on a longtermproject about the christian exodus from the Middle East.

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Original author: 
Richard Conway

For a man who worked professionally for barely more than ten years, Sergio Larrain, who died in 2012, had a disproportionately large impact on photography. The author of four books, he is widely considered Chile’s finest lensman, though he became something of a recluse later in life.

Born in Santiago into a well-to-do family, he ditched a possible career in forestry for a life behind the camera, and saved up for his first Leica by working in a cafe. The son of an architect father, his love of photography grew when he later traveled the Middle East and Europe, lens in tow. His real break came in 1958, though, when he bagged a British Council bursary that allowed him photograph cities throughout the U.K.

The images that emerged – chiefly of London – were captivating shots of the everyday, and caught the eye of Henri Cartier-Bresson. The Frenchman later invited Larrian to Paris and the Chilean soon joined Cartier-Bresson’s Magnum agency as an associate in 1959 (and became a full member in 1961).

MAGNUM

MAGNUM

Sergio Larrain

His was a career filled with disparate subject matters, tied together with his famous compassion for those he photographed. Larrain’s style is immediately recognizable: he made use of vertical frames, was a fan of low angle shots and was wholly unafraid of experimentation. Much of his work was concerned with street children, and his some of his earliest pictures – those from a 1957 series in Chile, for example – are certainly his most powerful. Though he was no stranger to architectural photography, having shot fellow countryman and diplomat Pablo Neruda’s house.

Indeed, his portraiture is as humanistic as it is environmental. One of his most captivating images, taken as part of the later Valparaiso series in the port city of Valparaiso, Chile, perfectly combines both. The piece shows two young girls going down a staircase, their delicate frames contrasting with the solid, modernist-seeming gray concrete surrounding them. It is a picture as much about its subjects as it is about the context in which see them; and with their backs turned to us, is as much about what we see as what we don’t.

“He is very different, very intense,” says Agnès Sire, director of the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation, and curator of an upcoming retrospective of Larrain’s work at Les Rencontres d’Arles, “for me, he is [often] interested in what you don’t see.”

Larrain stopped taking pictures professionally in the 1970s and retreated to the Chilean countryside for a life of calm meditation (though he continued to take some pieces in the 1980s, they were photographs of objects, usually in his house, which he would send to friends in the mail). It is said that he withdrew because he, ever the humanitarian, became disillusioned with the often harsh world he was photographing, and felt powerless to help.

“He stopped his career. It was not bringing him what he [thought] it would bring to him,” explains Sire. “[He felt] the fact he photographed those kids will not change the fact that there will always be kids abandoned. Photography will not help save the planet.”

Sire adds that Larrain even rejected the idea of retrospectives for most of his later life, because they might force him out of his self-imposed retreat, and that his career was meteoric for a reason: he was a man who would only, and could only, follow his instincts. “He was unique,” she says, “he was really a free man.”

A retrospective of Sergio Larrain’s work forms part of Les Rencontres d’Arles 2013, which runs from July 1 through Sept. 22, 2013.

Richard Conway is a member of TIME.com’s photo staff. He’s previously written for LightBox on Erwin Olaf, Gary Winogrand, Ezra Stoller and Pete Hujar.

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Aryn Baker

Presidential elections are always a time for hope. Nowhere is that more clear than in Iran, where a fervent desire for change is tempered by fears that the people’s voice might not be heard, or, worse yet, altered through fraud and manipulation. Still, Iranians thronged the election rallies, vibrant and noisy affairs that took place in gymnasiums and sports stadiums across the country. As Election Day loomed, candidates, get-out-the-vote volunteers and Iran’s own Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei exhorted citizens to vote, and they did, in record numbers. Polling station hours were extended late into the evening of June 14th, and, unlike the elections of 2009, when the results were announced almost immediately, the count took an agonizing 24 hours.

But on Saturday evening, hope blossomed into joy. Hassan Rouhani, the sole moderate on the ballot, exceeded all expectations to sweep a field made up of five other candidates, winning 51% of the vote and narrowly avoiding a runoff.  Iranians celebrated in the streets with dancing and music, an infectious jubilation that led even the White House to grudgingly admit that despite expectations for fraud, the Iranian people finally had their say.

Newsha Tavakolian is based in Tehran. LightBox previously featured Tavakolian’s portrait series, Look.

Aryn Baker is the Middle East bureau chief for TIME. Follow her on Twitter @arynebaker.

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Original author: 
Ken Lyons

A tornado touches down near El Reno, Okla., Friday, May 31, 2013, causing damage to structures and injuring travelers on Interstate 40. Another series of deadly tornados swept across Oklahoma injuring hundreds and causing multiple fatalities including a team of storm chasers. Smoke rises from the International Red Cross building after a gun battle between [...]

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Aryn Baker

With its vast oil wealth, Saudi Arabia has one of the highest concentrations of super rich households in the world. But an estimated 20 percent of the population, if not more, lives in crippling poverty. Beggars panhandle in the shadows of Riyadh’s luxury shopping malls, and just a few kilometers away families struggle to get by in the capital’s southern slums. While the government has finally acknowledged that poverty is a problem in the kingdom, the world of the Saudi poor is largely hidden from sight (to read more, see the new article on Saudi Arabia in the international edition of TIME, available to subscribers here).

Accessing this world is a difficult undertaking for foreign journalists, granted only with the assistance of a few dedicated social workers who risk government opprobrium to expose the realities of life lived on the margins. The Saudi state offers free health care and education, but little in the way of income assistance or food stamps. Many poor Saudi families rely on handouts from private citizens instead. Muslims are expected to give a portion of their annual income to charity, and many go beyond the bare minimum. Prince Al Waleed bin Talal, Saudi Arabia’s richest investor, estimates that he has given several billions of dollars in charity over the past 30 years, much of it wired directly to the accounts of petitioners who apply to his office for assistance with paying back loans, buying a car or getting married. It’s not necessary, but most of those supplicants visit the prince in person as part of a weekly ritual dating back to the early days of the al Saud dynasty. They line up to deliver their requests. Several pause to recite poems in praise of his generosity. The government has pledged to eradicate poverty, but it is a difficult and long-term undertaking made all the more complex by a rapidly growing population and a paucity of jobs.

Lynsey Addario is a photographer based in London and a frequent contributor to TIME.

Aryn Baker is the Middle East bureau chief for TIME. Follow her on Twitter @arynebaker.

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(author unknown)

The 25th annual National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest is under way, and entries will be accepted for another six weeks, until June 30, 2013. First prize winner will receive a 10-day Galapagos expedition for two. National Geographic was once more kind enough to allow me to share some of the early entries with you here, gathered from four categories: Travel Portraits, Outdoor Scenes, Sense of Place, and Spontaneous Moments. Photos and captions by the photographers. [42 photos]

A fennec fox walks against the wind in Morocco. The fennec, or desert fox, is a small nocturnal fox found in the Sahara Desert in North Africa. (© Francisco Mingorance/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest)    

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Original author: 
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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Azadeh Moaveni

In 1999, Iranian students took the streets of Tehran in the fiercest unrest the country had seen since the 1979 Islamic revolution. The protests started out in response to the closure of a reformist newspaper, but after authorities raided a dormitory, setting fire to rooms and forcing students to jump from balconies, the violence spiraled into a week of full scale street warfare. We print reporters covering the story did our best, but it was the photographs that commanded the world’s attention: powerful, searing images that captured all those Iranian students’ anguish and bravery. As I cowered in back alleys and shop doorsteps — riot police and hard-line vigilantes patrolled the streets — I couldn’t imagine who was managing to take those extraordinary photos.

Later, when the photographer Newsha Tavakolian became my friend, I learned she had spent a week scaling trees and perching above with a zoom lens, bearing unique witness to an event that is a watershed in Iran’s history. She was disarmingly young in those days, girlish and funny in a way that made you forget she had already become one of the most intrepid and influential photojournalists in the country, and of her generation.

We went on to cover many of the same stories in the years that followed, sometimes working together, and I remember being struck by the sheer emotional intelligence of her work. Her eye for gestures, scenes, and moments that captured aspects of the modern Iranian experience that were hard to even formulate in words: the conflicted identities of young women caught between tradition and dreams of independence, the unspeakable betrayal of mothers of war martyrs, the suffocation felt by a generation of bright, talented Iranians increasingly cut of from the world and any real opportunity. Having grown up in that Iran, none of this was foreign or exotic to her, and in her images were often stories, saturated in an intense sympathy and understanding.

“I used to think that photographers should travel to wars and earthquakes to capture suffering, but its much harder to portray the atmosphere of those suffering in their normal lives,” she says. “When my heart hurts for someone, even my sister or neighbor, I want to tell their story.”

As her profile and portfolio grew more distinguished, more and more young photographers in Iran sought her out. She was emblematic of what was possible, and made working with these young photographers a part of her life, incorporating them into her vision for a better Iran. She saw that they had drive but lacked the resources and guidance they needed — she likens Iran in this way to “an island cut off from the world” to train their outlook — to develop their own creative, visual language. Even today she remains in this role, encouraging young photographers to focus on angles or stories, and most importantly, to see working in Iran as an opportunity and not a restriction: “I tell them they can take their best pictures in Iran, because they live here and it’s their story and their concerns. Ultimately they’ll find more here that they have meaningful things to say about.”

The aftermath of Iran’s 2009 post-election uprising changed many things in Iran, not least among them the climate for photojournalism. The authorities used press photos to hunt down and arrest protesters, many of whom later suffered torture and rape at detention centers. Iranians, Tavakolian says, “developed a phobia toward having their picture taken, they were simply very scared.” That reluctance, together with her own fear about inadvertently endangering someone by taking their picture, propelled Tavakolian down a new path, toward a more artistic form of photography with a strong base in social documentary.

The shift marks a deepening and aesthetic maturing in her work, which has been shown by the British Museum and acquired by modern collections such as London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. She says this new approach reflects a turn away from demystifying Iran for the West, and toward a different audience as her interlocutor. She’s no longer moved to capture various forms of hijab or veiling, and sees young Iranians’ vibrant presence on social media as capable of presenting their own voice to the world.

“When we’re stuck on getting the West to understand Iran, our work remains on the surface,” she says. “I want to tell Iranians’ story to Iranians themselves, this is where I can challenge myself and go deeper into the more complicated layers.”

Her new exhibition, Look, which recently debuted in New York at the Thomas Erben Gallery, illustrates this change in tactics. The series of portraits of inhabitants of her own apartment building in Tehran, all taken at a twilight hour seemingly suspended between night and day, conveys all the deep anxieties and fears that middle-class young people in Iran have about the future. “They were all scared or anxious, and I saw that despite how much access they had to technology, despite not being at the edge of poverty, they were still lonely, perplexed,” she says. “I wanted to capture such a moment in their lives.”

Look is a devastating portrait of a middle-class in decline, squeezed by economic pressure at home, and dwindling access to the world, a generation of young people whose lives are not reduced to the twilight hour of melancholy that Tavakolian captures, but marred by it. In this mode, she is still the storyteller, but now in more command of the tale, relaying the truths that are closest to home.

Newsha Tavakolian is based in Tehran. Her work debuted at the Thomas Erben Gallery in New York on April 11. Tavakolian served as the secretary of the 2013 Sheed Awards, a prize awarded for Iranian Social Documentary photography.

Azadeh Moaveni is a TIME contributing writer on Iran and the Middle East. Moaveni recently reported on The Aftermath of an Acid Attack for LightBox. She is the author of Lipstick Jihad and co-author of Iran Awakening.

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