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Gulzhana (surname withheld) sells pirated DVDs from a sidewalk stand in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. “We sell videos for 70 som [US $1.85] for each one. Every day I sell about fifteen. We buy them for 50 som [US $1.32]. Gulzhana sells films in Russian, Kyrgyz and Uzbek. Each DVD typically contains eight to ten movies. "There are no legal DVDs sold in Kyrgyzstan," says my friend Buajar Bekova, "just good illegal copies and bad illegal copies."
As a photographer, I think a lot about copyright. By putting my photos up online, I am aware that anyone could take them and use them without credit. It is a risk I am willing to take.

However, the film industry clearly has reason to be worried: consider US $18.2 billion in losses from piracy in 2005. Anyone with a high-speed internet connection can download films for next to nothing. While I’m sympathetic to the MPAA, and they've done a lot of work on enforcement, their outreach efforts strike me as ridiculous.

Their educational campaigns (“You can click but you can’t hide”)

and recruitment efforts (theater employees can win $300 if they take an anti-camcorder quiz)
5. True or False: If you spot illegal movie recording in your theater, you should do whatever is necessary, including using force, to stop the suspect.

are not going to stem this tide of DVD vendors on every street corner.

What would work? Perhaps undermining the illegal market by making legal copies available at affordable prices? Perhaps creating a micro-enterprise distribution system that could get legal film copies to vendors like Gulzhana in Bishkek?

I spoke with Drew Sullivan, an expert on human trafficking based in Sarajevo. Admittedly, I will lose more sleep over sex slaves than cheap movies, but the principles are similar. Drew told me, “the traffickers are always three steps ahead of the governments. To disrupt the trade, we need to make it so the business is no longer financially lucrative.”


seeing the light

Calling all photographers:

For the last six months I've been reading the excellent strobist blog run by David Hobby, a Baltimore Sun photographer. It's essentially an ongoing, online lighting seminar, with an associated flickr discussion group.

Some of the material offers a good basic introduction to lighting and some of it is more complex (but still understandable!) His On Assignment section has some interesting demos of how he lit his shots. I get new ideas every time I read it, and there are always great discussions about technique with pros and amateurs. Frankly, I've been humbled by some of the great work that hobbyists are putting up there. (For instance, here is a recent fave.)

This week, David is starting a Lighting 102 seminar. Check it out.


Buddha and the beasts

Buddhist meditation at Tamgaly Tas.
Two thousand years ago, before the Mongols, before the Russians, Kazakhstan was a Buddhist land. Today only a few signs remain from this period.

Tamgaly Tas is an archaeological site with Buddhist petroglyphs, on cliffs beside the Ili river. The barren spot downstream from Lake Kapchagai is frequented mostly by fishermen, picnickers and rock climbers, all of whom leave an enormous amount of garbage in their wake.

So today I followed a group of 35 Kazakhstanis and foreigners who participated in a trash cleanup at Tamgaly Tas. The group was wildly diverse -- a local Buddhist monk, an intern for Halliburton, an archaeologist, a fashion designer, representatives from assorted embassies and Kazakhstan's one-man Green Party. During the cleanup, organized by climatologist Renato Sala of the Laboratory of Geoarchaeology, the volunteers filled a truck with bags of garbage and took part in a ceremony honoring the birthday of Buddha (May 24 this year by the Chinese calendar).

Some additional photos: (back by popular demand!)

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