Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

So Long New York Times, It Was Nice Knowing You!

Look what just showed up in my email box.

Dear New York Times Reader,

Today marks a significant transition for The New York Times as we introduce digital subscriptions. It’s an important step that we hope you will see as an investment in The Times, one that will strengthen our ability to provide high-quality journalism to readers around the world and on any platform. The change will primarily affect those who are heavy consumers of the content on our Web site and on mobile applications.

This change comes in two stages. Today, we are rolling out digital subscriptions to our readers in Canada, which will enable us to fine-tune the customer experience before our global launch. On March 28, we will begin offering digital subscriptions in the U.S. and the rest of the world.

If you are a home delivery subscriber of The New York Times, you will continue to have full and free access to our news, information, opinion and the rest of our rich offerings on your computer, smartphone and tablet. International Herald Tribune subscribers will also receive free access to NYTimes.com.

If you are not a home delivery subscriber, you will have free access up to a defined reading limit. If you exceed that limit, you will be asked to become a digital subscriber.

This is how it will work, and what it means for you:

On NYTimes.com, you can view 20 articles each month at no charge (including slide shows, videos and other features). After 20 articles, we will ask you to become a digital subscriber, with full access to our site.

On our smartphone and tablet apps, the Top News section will remain free of charge. For access to all other sections within the apps, we will ask you to become a digital subscriber.

The Times is offering three digital subscription packages that allow you to choose from a variety of devices (computer, smartphone, tablet). More information about these plans is available at nytimes.com/access.

Again, all New York Times home delivery subscribers will receive free access to NYTimes.com and to all content on our apps. If you are a home delivery subscriber, go to homedelivery.nytimes.com to sign up for free access.

Readers who come to Times articles through links from search, blogs and social media like Facebook and Twitter will be able to read those articles, even if they have reached their monthly reading limit. For some search engines, users will have a daily limit of free links to Times articles.

The home page at NYTimes.com and all section fronts will remain free to browse for all users at all times.
For more information, go to nytimes.com/digitalfaq.

Thank you for reading The New York Times, in all its forms.

Sincerely,

Arthur Sulzberger Jr.
Publisher, The New York Times
Chairman, The New York Times Company

What a Sad, Weak, Pathetic, Cop Out Response by Yahoo Over Censoring Hossam el-Hamalawy’s Flickr Photos of Egyptian Secret Police

I just read what appears to be an official Yahoo response over the Flickr censorship of Hossam el-Hamalawy, aka Arabawy’s photos. I blogged about Arabawy’s plight over the weekend here and also wrote an open letter to Carol Bartz over the censorship here. TechCrunch also reported on the censorship here.

The response was written by Yahoo’s Director of Business & Human Rights Program, Ebele Okobi-Harris.

There are so many problems with Yahoo’s poor justification for this censorship in this post that I don’t even know where to begin.

I will quote some of their rationalizations for the censorship and try and refute some of their primary points.

Don’t upload anything that isn’t yours.

This includes other people’s photos, video, and/or stuff you’ve copied or collected from around the Internet. Accounts that consist primarily of such collections may be deleted at any time.

This rule applies regardless of content, or of the purpose of the post. The reasoning for this is not only about copyright—and in this case, it’s not a copyright issue. It’s an issue of community: Flickr is meant to be a place where photographers, amateur and professional, can share their own work. Flickr, as a community, does not want to be a photo-hosting site, and anyone signing up for Flickr agrees to those rules, which apply whether one is a proud grandmother or a human rights activist.

This still seems to be the main justification point by Yahoo for removing Arabawy’s photos. The photos he posted weren’t his Yahoo says.

As I pointed out before, Flickr is so chock full of people violating that rule that it’s laughable. Flickr’s *OWN STAFFERS* routinely violate this rule. Flickr’s Co-Founders who still maintain accounts on the site break this rule. Thousands of people on Flickr, literally, break this rule.

Ironically, the *VERY FLICKR ACCOUNT* linked on this Yahoo blog’s page as belonging to the Yahoo! Business & Human Rights Program’s is CLEARLY posting work that is identified as not belonging to the account owner. A clear violation of Flickr’s rules by the very same blogger justifying the rule in the first place.

Are there times when this rule should be applied? Sure. Like, you know, possibly when there is a REAL copyright dispute (which this blog post already has said was not the case here), but again, not the case for Arabawy.

Are there other times when it should be ignored? Sure. Would Flickr remove a photo of co-founder Stewart Butterfield that another photographer had taken of him (and probably gave him permission to post) that he posted to his flickrstream in clear violation of this rule? Of course they wouldn’t. Nor should they. That would be stupid.

I have heard from some activists who believe that Flickr applies the rule unevenly; they have pointed out other photographs, including others from Mr. El Hamalawy’s account, that also appear to be photographs that were not taken by Mr. El Hamalawy. Here’s the thing: with millions and millions of photographs and Flickr accounts, Flickr does not have the ability to proactively moderate for photographs that were not taken by Flickr users. Flickr reactively responds to reports from Flickr community members.

Untrue.

Yahoo seems to be saying that they basically ignore the rules of their site unless someone is reported for breaking the rules and then they take action. There are many accounts on flickr who have broken the rule of not posting your own work AND have been reported but that have not been censored.

The fact of the matter is that being reported on Flickr doesn’t automatically result in flickr enforcing the rules. It merely flags the account and allows flickr to make a decision as to whether or not they will act. Although I do not have access to all reported account issues on Flickr, I can guarantee you that there are other times when Flickr has chosen not to enforce the “not your work” rule. I have firsthand knowledge of some of these cases in fact.

What about the stated purpose of a community or semi-public space? Flickr was created specifically to allow photographers to share their work.

Yeah? then why is the blogger’s own linked flickr account on the very page justifying the censoreship showing work by OTHER PEOPLE as shown above and as a CLEAR VIOLATION OF FLICKR’S RULES? The hypocrisy doesn’t get much richer than this folks.

I am a passionate supporter of free expression as a fundamental human right, and I believe strongly in the idea that technology and social media provide incredible opportunities to create social change. I also know that millions of people use Yahoo! products, including Flickr, to create their version of the change they wish to see in the world. That’s a tremendous privilege, and a huge responsibility.

While it is admirable of Yahoo to try and put a human spin on this bad PR story and try to justify what they did here after the fact by using an employee who probably is in fact dedicated to human rights, the fact remains that what Yahoo and Flickr did does NOT support free expression as a fundamental human right. It does NOT support the idea that technology and more specifically Flickr should be used to create social change.

The decision to censor Arabawy’s photos of alleged TORTURERS was a bad one all the way around. It was bad from a human rights perspective. It was bad from a freedom of speech perspective. It was bad simply from a pure business perspective as I outlined in my letter to Carol on Sunday.

Rather than Yahoo trying to offer a completely lame cop out corporate rationalization for this act of censorship, they should own up to it, apologize for it, reinstate Arabawy’s photos and say that they will try to do better in the future.

Amicable Settlement With the World Erotic Art Museum

Recently I posted a large number of photographs of works of art housed at the World Erotic Art Museum in Miami Beach. I also posted blog entries accusing the World Erotic Art Museum of fraud in defensively responding to my unauthorized posting of the photographs. After discussions with the World Erotic Art Museum, I have decided to remove all of the posted photographs and to retract all of my prior blog entries that may have caused World Erotic Art Museum and its owner Naomi Wilzig embarrassment. I commend the World Erotic Art Museum for the collection it has compiled over the past many years. Its efforts have resulted in a collection that will hopefully be available for enjoyment by generations to come and I encourage everyone to visit World Erotic Art Museum and discover it for themselves. I took the photographs for my own private use and posted them as an individual without authorization. I was not asked by the World Erotic Art Museum to take the photographs or to post them on its behalf nor was I authorized by World Erotic Art Museum or any representative of World Erotic Art Museum to do so. I formally retract all of my prior posted blog entries related to World Erotic Art Museum and accusing them of fraud. I sincerely apologize to the World Erotic Art Museum and its owner Naomi Wilzig for any embarrassment, negative light or bad press that my posting of the photos or blog entries may have caused them.

All Systems Go

All Systems Go

What the World Needs Now

What the World Needs Now

Bus

Bus

It’s Only a Broken Heart, Plate 2

It's Only a Broken Heart, Plate 2

The Initiation

The Initiation

Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere

I saw Sofia Coppola’s latest film Somewhere on Christmas. The film was playing in limited release in Los Angeles and other cities. The film chronicles a few weeks in the life of fictional actor/celebrity Johnny Marco played by Stephen Dorff. Opposite Dorff is Elle Fanning, who convincingly plays Marco’s 11 year old daughter Cleo.

The film centers around Cleo being left with Johnny after her mother unexplainably needs to “get away.” Johnny fumbles his way through full time father the best he can while his clumsily deals with the other women in his life, a seemingly non-stop troupe of shallow sexual relationships with the attractive women who seem to be both drawn and repulsed by him everywhere he turns.

Johnny and Cleo’s relationship is both sweet and tender. You can tell that he has a genuine love for his daughter and feels his only real connection on this planet with her. Tea parties underwater in a hotel swimming pool, ice cream in bed at an Italian luxury hotel, her tired head on his shoulder as a waiter at the Chateau Marmont serenades them with a gentle acoustic rendition of Elivs Presley’s “Teddy Bear,” — these moments portray a soft authentic human Johnny Marco who seems to relish the brief moments of human connection he can find with his daughter.

Contrasted with Johnny’s tender moments with Cleo is the cliche of being a Hollywood celebrity and the ultimate emptiness that all the money and fame can bring — accented, as one might expect, by plenty of booze, cigarettes, pills and then there are those women again. The women are non-stop, like a drug for Johnny, but a drug that ultimately never satisfies and leaves a string of disappointment and resentment behind in its wake. Anonymous hateful text messages litter the movie on Johnny’s cell phone from what one would imagine are the series of shallow sexual relationships that he quickly moves in and out of.

Johnny is both awkward and distrustful with his celebrity status. He quickly gets out of a conversation with a new actor at a party who tries to engage him about method acting. He looks like a deer in headlights as he’s bombarded at a press conference about his latest film, barely able to offer any substantive answers at all — the last question in the press conference seems to be the hardest and most direct for Johnny and we are left hanging without an answer. “Who *is* Johnny Marco”?

The answer is, even Johnny doesn’t know who Johnny Marco is. At his best he is a flawed but well meaning father. At his weakest an empty shell of man who has been manufactured into yet another quality Tinsletown superstar product — his only little moments of self pride seem to be around things like the fact that he does his own stunts (and has injured his arm to prove it). Johnny is more or less a celebrity shuffled around by Hollywood’s money machine, his sense of individuality limited to the logo t-shirts that he wears to express his own sense of style and taste in contrast to the polished marketed Hollywood world around him. It’s nice to see Black Flag get a shout out.

It’s the relationship between alienation and time that Coppola does best. Long drawn out uncomfortable scenes that highlight the boredom of loneliness. Johnny sits in hotel room smoking a cigarette from start to finish. You hear every drag and the quiet popping of the tobacco burning as he inhales. He picks up his beer and you hear every single sound, the beer bottle leaving the glass table the sound as the liquid as it goes down his throat, the elevator moving outside the hallway.

In another scene, a mask is cast for Johnny out of plaster and he keeps the plaster on his face for a half hour and Coppola spends what feels like an eternity focusing on Johnny as a solitary figure with two small nose holes cut in his mask for him to breath. Each inhale, each exhale, each swallow amplified in the emptiness of the rest of the scene and with the time that it drags on. We watch, in an almost uncomfortable sense of voyeurism and pity mixed with a touch of claustrophobia. The payoff in the end of that scene is seeing Johnny completely in mask as a 70 year old version of himself.

Somewhere as a whole is a beautiful story, put together one touching scene at a time — but really it’s strength is not the plot in totality which on its own is quite thin. Rather, like its predecessor Lost in Translation, Somewhere is best viewed as a series of lighter interconnected scenes — each almost a sort of short film in and of itself. It’s the strength of the individual scenes rather than the scenes sewn together as a whole that the ultimate success of the film rests on.

In fact so much of the film feels in so many ways very similar to Lost in Translation, and undoubtedly and inevitably begs comparison. There is the relationship between celebrity and the international’s quirky television media (Japan in LIT, Italy in Somewhere). This time Johnny and Cleo play Guitar hero Reminiscent of the karaoke scene between Bob and Charlotte in LIT.

At their deepest level both films deal with the alienation of their central characters and both offer companionship as some sort of redemption, never quite fulfilled in the end though as this thing we call life so often seems the insurmountable true barrier between real connectedness.

It would be remiss not to mention another successful element of the film, the music. For those of you who loved the soundtrack to LIT, you will love the soundtrack to Somewhere just as much. Scored by the band Phoenix, the music goes perfectly with the beautiful artistic cinematographic scenes Coppola has constructed. Music takes a central role with many of the scenes played almost as entire songs, less as background more as foreground. Dialog is minimized as Coppola more or less uses long strong scenes around the dominating music. Nowhere is this more prominent than in Stroke’s frontman Julian Casablanca’s stripped down gentle demo version of “I’ll Try Anything Once.” The song is played in it’s entirety in the film over scenes of a loving father daughter relationship.

All in all, Somewhere is a strong effort and result by Sophia Coppola. Lost in Translation fans will undoubtedly enjoy a very similar film. While the film in some ways feels less daring than you might like, Coppola has a unique voice as a filmmaker and it is nice seeing something that tries a little bit harder to achieve an artistic sensation than the average Hollywood blockbuster these days. If you love big budget Hollywood action films, you’ll probably hate Somewhere. But that’s ok. The world needs more films like this.

View From the 61st Floor of The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas

Woke Up in Vegas

On the weekend of November 20-21, 2010, I was invited to photograph the new Cosmopolitan Las Vegas prior to their opening December 15, 2010 in Las Vegas NV.

This set of images represents my efforts that weekend to showcase this newest resort property opening up on the Las Vegas Strip. Thanks to David Scherer from The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas for showing me around, to Miiko Mentz at Katalyst Films for helping to arrange the shoot, and to my wife for modeling for me.

To learn more about The Cosmpolitan Las Vegas, check out their website here or their Facebook page here.

I’ll be adding many more photos to this set in the next few days and following up with a more detailed blog post on shooting this property as well.