Wednesday, January 26, 2005
The unit that I am with controls Abu sharp section of Baghdad. Its not a nice part of the city and its full of insurgents. People seem to be used to seeing American tanks and Bradleys come around. Even when the soldiers line up to take on a house people just hang around to watch as if the bullets will not hit them.
Getting the kind of photos I wanted is hard. We patrol the same streets and the same areas. Its not very dense. Most homes are one story tall. So far I would tell people to be VERY SPECIFIC about which unit and where they want to embed. Sometimes I feel bored, like today!
There are mortars that hits the camp all the time. The security is tight since Mosul mess hall bombing.
So far embedding in a camp this big seems to be a suffocating thing.
Ramin Talaie - Baghdad, Iraq
Thursday, January 20, 2005
I started packing with essentials first:
Thuraya hand-held sat-phone
R-BGAN Satellite for sending data/images
Level 3A with level 4 ceramic plates (front and back) bulletproof vest.
Kevlar Army issued helmet
Army issued goggles
Sleeping bag capable of sleeping outdoors
2 Nikon D1x bodies
One 17-35 mm and one 80-200 mm lenses
5 flash cards capable of capturing over 1000 images in total
5 D1 batteries
One Holga with Polaroid back
7 packs of 3000 b&w Polaroid film
Sony Vaio laptop
SMC wireless cards
Universal electricity converter
Power strip cord
USB, Firewire, you name it wire
CD-R and CD-RWs to burn images to back up
iPod for the fun of it
About $1,000 in cash plus American Express and Master Card
After packing the above then I got to start packing my clothing! I packed only 2 pairs of pants, one pair of trek shoes and the above jungle-boots and whole bunch of t-s.
After two comfortable flights on KLM from JFK to Amsterdam to Kuwait, I am now sitting in one of the two 24 Starbucks in Kuwait City Airport. Local time is close to 6 am (10 pm in NYC) . Around 11:00 am I will meet with a military public information officer to make my way to APOD. APOD is the section of Kuwait City Airport used by the United States for its operations in the Iraqi theater. I think flight time is 1:15 pm which was kept secret from me till I called in around midnight.
Azoon, the call to prayer, is being chanted in the lobby while a tall Arab man in a nice gray and white local garb is purchasing a grande latte. When I first got here, around midnight mind you, there was a constant five or six lined people purchasing coffee. I heard the word grande a lot! Not sure if anywhere else in the world people would be drinking this much coffee so late into the night. One thing that I am forgetting is that, this is a Muslim nation and people do not drink alcohol in public. So there are no bars in the airport. Nevertheless the western influence is in full force. From where I am sitting I can see a Burger King, a KFC and a 31 Flavors ice-cream shop. All the usual names such as Hertz and Four Season signage is also visible from my seat. The Starbucks here, just like the ones in New York City have fast wireless connection. So I purchased one-hour session for $5 and yes they also play Sinatra in the Starbucks in Kuwait City. I have to comeback during Christmas to see if the play any holiday tunes! I am logging off till I get inside Iraq.
Ramin Talaie – Kuwait City, Kuwait
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
Today the White House officially announced that the search for Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq has ended without finding any evidence of such stockpiles. In a not related announcement, O.J. Simpson has announced ending his search for the killer of his ex-wife and mother of his two children without success.
Ramin Talaie – Brooklyn, NY
Monday, January 10, 2005
Level IIIA bulletproof vest with Level IV ceramic plates: $1,200
R-BGAN satellite phone to transmit images: $500
Seeing Iraq first hand: priceless
In the next few days, I will finalize my plans for a month or so stint in Iraq. I will be embedding with the US forces entering Iraq from Kuwait. I will cover the Iraqi election, security, and the occupation issues.
Ramin Talaie – Brooklyn, NY
Sunday, January 09, 2005
Last week The New York Sun sent out a hastily prepared contract to all of its freelance photographers. The contract contained some of the most aggressive and unnecessary language I have ever read. It takes the entire copyrights away from photographers and transfers everything to the paper.
I personally find this contract unwarranted and a slap in the face. I had my first cover photograph with the Sun in the summer of 2002. Since then, our relationship has grown to shooting regularly. I have contributed to the paper from all over the world including coverage from the 2004 Presidential election and the fall of Aristide in Haiti.
I am not sure what motivates a managing editor to conceive such a contract without consulting the photographers. Perhaps they think that anyone with a camera can take pictures? That might be true with the New York Post; however, the Sun gives our photographs nice play. We all enjoy seeing nice sized color photos both on the cover and on the inside.
The photographers have joined forces and are going to fight this. I am confidant that the Sun will make suitable changes and eventually things will be normal again. Nevertheless, this should make the corporate lawyers happy, as they will bill more hours during the contract negotiation. Without a doubt we are now forming a new relationship with management going forward. What is lost is trust and that handshake agreement. What has replaced that trust are 3 pages of lawyerly and business language, none of which are ever used at the photo-desk.
Ramin Talaie – Brooklyn, NY
Saturday, January 08, 2005
Stingy or Not?
On December 27th the White House announced its support for the tsunami disaster relief in South Asia by donating $15 million. The day after the announcement, while the world was still coming to grips with the extent of the disaster, a frustrated United Nation official Jan Egeland called the United States announcement “stingy”. Egeland’s statement, a Norwegian who heads the United Nations' humanitarian-aid activities, marks the ongoing tensions between the White House and the UN, which played itself out in yet another worldwide issue.
What followed that statement was a rebuttal by the White House while the U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powel met with Kofi Annon in New York for damage control a few days later. Within two days, the donation pledged was more than doubled to $35 million. However, the amount still did not justify the images of heartache and shocking vacation videos played on television screens during the nightly news.
The pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer Inc. which had just suffered a blow from a recent Food and Drug Administration report on its pain relief drug Celebrex, jumped on the opportunity for some good public relation maneuvering. Pfizer offered $25 million for the relief effort and encouraged its employees to do the same with a matching gift program. Regardless of the reasoning behind Pfizer’s announcement, they single handedly challenged the United States of America on taking the lead on contributing money and help in South Asia.
Eventually, the American people pitched in to the extent which the outpouring of donations of food, medicine and money out paced the distribution channels in the region. Currently Doctors Without Borders urges donors to contribute to its general fund to help with their other ongoing projects globally as they have been well supported in South Asia. On a much smaller scale, I covered an assignment for the Associate Press in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn on December 31st. Approximately a dozen children with dosomething.org, a non-profit organization baked cookies, brownies and cupcakes to sell door to door to raise funds for children in the tsunami hit areas. I was touched by the generosity of this poor neighborhood of Brooklyn. It seemed as if they were waiting for somebody to show up so they could shower them with whatever change they had in their pockets.
As we speak, the United States Marines and Navy are in full force, taking the lead in relief work, dropping food, and transporting the sick in the hardest hit areas. Colin Powel has personally visited the region and the victims. The money and help is coming in the way that is expected of America and Americans.
The issue is not that the White House is or was “stingy”. The issue is foreign policy and people who advise the President on such matters. The issue is proper assessment of the situation and rushing to announce ill-fated communication. This is the same administration who insisted on the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. This is the same White House with false intelligence on almost everything in Iraq. This is the same group of advisers around President Bush who are responsible for the death of over 1,300 American service men and women and God only knows how many thousands and thousands of Iraqis.
The issue is that we are the wealthiest and the most capable of all nations in the world, yet President Bush can not obtain proper briefing on the magnitude of the largest natural disaster in the world. This is no different than Iraq when it comes to intelligence gathering prior to start of the war.
So far, the legacy is ‘bad data in bad data out’.
Thursday, January 06, 2005
Here goes nothing. The start of a blog, diary, and journal of my daily photo related activities filled with commentary on the state of the world as I cover it. My commentary could be about yet another boring news conference or a spot news during my daily life. I will be blogging from my current base in New York City or in far far away places on assignment. In any case, it will be the truth.
The blog will be objective yet opinionated and of course fair. I may also use this forum to sound off frustrations about the news gathering and reporting practices and related issues. Watch out Fox News!
Thank you for reading my blog and participating in seeking the truth.
Ramin Talaie - Brooklyn, NY