Stop and Frisk

At a rate of every minute every day, the New York Police Department stops a person, questions them, asks for identification, and frisks them, sometimes at gunpoint, sometimes slapped against a wall. The number one reason for the stop, according to NYPD statistics, is that the person made a “furtive” look. The number two reason is “other.” Most of the time that person is black or Latino and most of the time they are living in the city’s poorest communities. A very small percentage of these “stop and frisks” result in arrest or the seizure of any kind of contraband. Since 2002, the number of stop and frisks has increased from 149, 000 to approaching 700,000 this year. The NYPD claims that “stop and frisk” is an effective policing strategy but its own statistics paint a different picture.

A dedicated group of activists, along with author and professor Cornel West , stood in front of a police precinct in Harlem last October and got arrested in protest against Stop and Frisk. They are now on trial and face up to 15 days in prison if convicted. I got to know many of these activists over the past few months and photographed them as they try to put an end to police violence and intimidation. When police gunned down an unarmed teenager , Ramarley Graham, from the Bronx, wanted for no crime, these activists were there, at the wake, at vigils in front of the 46th Bronx police precinct. They have handed out thousands of buttons and distributed literature. They patrol neighborhoods to watch and video tape police activities. They are some of the most dedicated people I have met. Here are a few images.

All photos ©Nina Berman All Rights Reserved

In memoriam Goksin Sipahioglu

Goksin Sipahioglu , a photojournalist, and the founder of the Paris based Sipa Press, died this week, at age 84.

He was a legend , one of the few western journalists in Cuba during the Missile Crisis. His photo of a young Cuban woman in a skirt and high heels standing with a gun is a knock-out . He gave me, and thousands of other photographers their start, like the great, Maggie Steber, Alexandra Boulat, Luc Delahaye, Olivier Jobard, Reza, Abbas, and Alfred. Brilliant photo editors and managers worked there such as: Sue Brisk, Jim Colton, and Ayperi Karabuda Ecer. For me, in the 1980 and 1990’s it was wild place, full of drama and dysfunction, but also great excitement and promise. Goksin was the king of it all. A tall, elegant, striking man with huge hands, who loved photos and loved women even more. He once asked if a superstar photographer who he adored and had left him, (they always did) would return if he bought her a Mercedes. That was Goksin. A figure from another time. He will be deeply missed. Condolences to all who knew him. Below, a photo from the first story I ever shot for them. Baby Raymond. 1987. Born at 16 pounds. They sold it like mad.
©Nina Berman 1987, All rights reserved

FBI tips on how to spot a jihadi

I’m enjoying this new graphic the FBI is using to train its counterterrorism agents on how to spot jihadis. According to a story on Wired’s Danger Room , agents in Quantico are being told that the more devout a Muslim is, the more likely he is to become violent and militant. How about that for narrowing it down. The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) is not happy. See their statement and below, an example of FBI training material.

Sounds of Silence

Why I stayed home on September 11, 2011….

Because I couldn’t stand to see another American flag, to hear another story about our sacrifice, our heroism, our strength, to watch George Bush, the purveyor of so much death and destruction, given legitimacy one more time, to watch the thousands of news cameras and reporters seeking profundity in 30 second bites, to watch us, the USA, ignore over and over and over again, the brutal truth that September 11, a horrible, painful, unforgettable day, was used to unleash violence and death on a scale so enormous and ongoing, to make the towers’ demise seem almost small by comparison.

For those who lost loved ones on September 11, their grief will never be assuaged. They are forever bonded with millions of others around the world who suffer the enduring pain of war and violence.

But America never tells the story of the rest of the world. I realized this more clearly than ever before, after viewing the special magazine issues, the special TV reports, all with their focus on individual tales of resurrection, that there is no place in the USA today, except in the deepest margins, for another story to be told.

As I stayed home, away from downtown Manhattan, I considered all the veterans I have met who lost their limbs, their brains, their marriages, their future, who are still sick, poisoned, with little help and few answers, some who are in jail, or homeless, who were sent to attack/befriend (explain that configuration) a country that caused us no harm. Yet we were told again and again that Iraq was somehow responsible, that we were a target, that war was inevitable. Where are you now Judith Miller and company? Are you there at Ground Zero?

I think of the Iraqis, the millions in Syria and in Jordan, the thousands struggling in the USA dislocated forever. Where is their anniversary, where is their commemoration? I think of Salee Allawe who lost her brother and her legs to a US missile. Where is her day of mourning?

I think of the thousands of Muslims who were forced to line up at the federal building in NYC after September 11 to register, like Japanese Americans in World War 2. I remember the terror in the eyes of those on that line, the fear that once inside the building, they might never be let out. People did disappear. Neighborhoods in Brooklyn disappeared. I think of the Metropolitan Detention Center where detainees were held in the most horrible conditions, a preview of Guantanamo. I think of Guantanamo. I think of a man I met in Washington D.C. proudly wearing an orange golf shirt with Club Gitmo stitched above his heart, as though there is something funny about torture. I think of Abu Ghraib.

If only the USA was capable of discussing its own war crimes, of reviewing its own history, of realizing that our madness for global military dominance has destroyed and impoverished this nation and so many others, I would have joined the thousands at Ground Zero, cried for those who died, for a city violently attacked, but the corruption of that day, kept me away, and made me want to hide.

Instead, last night, I watched the towers of light, beautiful blue creations, not the blue of the American flag, a blue of a different hue, a gentle, elegant, poetic and astonishing image of life and beauty reaching far higher then the trade center towers ever reached. I thought of the creativity and artistic daring of Philippe Petit who tip toed across the towers in such a brazen act of ecstasy, and I cried while listening to Paul Simon , appearing so modest, quietly strumming an acoustic guitar to the Sounds of Silence.

©Photograph Nina Berman, 2011

Guernica Magazine: Seeing Double: Matt Black and Natalie Abbassi

Work by Matt Black and Natalie Abbassi, two inspiring photographers working at opposite ends of the documentary spectrum were the subjects of my guest Arts Editor piece in this month’s Guernica Magazine. I hope you find their work as exciting as I do.
Photo ©Natalie Abbassi

Gonzo Barbie – Empire of Illusion

Reading Chris Hedges, Empire of Illusion, Chapter 2, illusion of love, an investigation into the gonzo pornography world and one of the most disturbing pieces of journalism I’ve ever read. Gang bangs, torture, debasement of the most sickening kind. But hey, it’s just business. The Taliban stone women, we act outraged, spend billions trying to destroy them. And here in the land of the free? We dress girls up, shove shit in their mouths, make them plead for more, smile while they’re being tortured, gang bang them with multiple partners in multiple entry points, infect them, drug them, then dress them up with fake tits and travel them on the convention (prostitution) circuit. Annual US sales $10 billion. Worldwide porn industry sales are more than Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft combined. Leading money makers in the US, get this, AT & T and GM through their internet operations. The chapter led me to website with a page of porn stars who have killed themselves, the latest one on April 13. There they were, young blonds, blue eyes, and shiny skin, looking whacked. In the middle of this, I hear a strange sound from my daughter’s room. She comes to me with a Barbie in her hand, given to her by a friend earlier in the day. This Barbie has a key in her back. Turn it and a pink heart lights up in her chest and she chimes. Touch her left hand and she sings, “I feel connected, protected,” and on and on. She’s wearing a pink dress off the shoulder. Her breasts are typical Barbie – grossly out of proportion. Her eyes are blue, with yellow glitter and heavy make up. She’s smiling, her lips slightly parted. She looks like the dead porn girls. I don’t want her in my apartment. How do you tell a 7 year old that she can’t have this toy? She relinquishes the doll. Later that day, I do what most girls end up doing to Barbies, pulling their clothes off. I set her on a green plastic chair and made these pictures. All photos ©Nina Berman 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Weatherspoon Art Museum, Greensboro, NC

I’m giving a public lecture at the Weatherspoon Art Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina tonight, March 18 at 6pm, hosted by the Art Department at UNC Greensboro and photography patron Maggie Triplette. The Weatherspoon recently acquired the print, Randall Clunen, from the Purple Hearts series. If you make it to Greensboro, try and visit the Elsewhere Collective, a Warhol Foundation sponsored project, and a place like no other.

Censorship and war reporting – Mike Kamber and Bag News Notes

“I think that there has to be an accurate, visual record of the war, and I think it’s going to be a much bloodier, a much harder visual record than the one we’ve been seeing.” So begins photographer Mike Kamber’s piece on military censorship in Iraq.

The piece was produced for BagNewsNotes and recently won Pictures of the Year prize. A contract photographer for the New York Times, Kamber has covered Iraq since 2003. Ironically, or predictably, the U.S. military working hand in hand with the Iraqi government officially and effectively limited coverage of so many different categories of events that by the time Kamber made this piece with producer Sandra Roa in 2010, nearly every action except the most mundane was off limits. “At first the car bombs were off limits. And then we couldn’t photograph hospitals and then the morgues were off limits. And then we couldn’t photograph prisoners and then we couldn’t photograph wounded soldiers.” The result, a war scrubbed clean to fit a narrative that demanded a happy ending. One of the most cynical bits recounted in the Kamber piece comes at .53 seconds when he describes the military policy forbidding the photographing of detainees: Tie people up, bag them, march them out of their homes, but photograph them, well that would be a violation of their rights.