This scarf can make you invisible in photographs

Nick Jonas wearing his ISHU scarf.
In their fight against paparazzi, 28-year-old Saif Siddiqui is giving celebrities a shot at privacy in public.

Siddiqui created the ISHU scarf—a marriage between technology and fashion— that allows the wearer to block flash photography. “I came up with it when a few friends took a picture of me on a bike in Amsterdam,” Siddiqui told Quartz. “The reflector on the bike semi-ruined a picture and this is where I thought of creating a product, which you could wear or hold, which could ruin pictures completely.”

Soon after, Siddiqui put together a team of experts, who dug into the science of light and reflection, and created this invisibility cloak of sorts, which disrupts flash to make everything in the image go dark. It also works on video cameras. The anti-paparazzi scarf was in development for around six years before its launch in October 2015.

Actress Cameron Diaz, rapper DMX, singer Nick Jonas, and Daily Show host Trevor Noah are among the many stars who’ve used the product so far. Siddiqui says getting the word out has been very organic and most purchases have come through the product’s website. The scarf is available to anyone willing to shell out for it: All Access Brands retails the scarf for upwards of £289 ($388).

On Friday (July 1), Siddiqui is launching ISHU iPhone cases that will serve the same function. The website also sells ties and pocket squares with the same technology.

The name ISHU is a combination of “issue” and “shh”—an ode to silencing the paparazzi that try to document celebrities’ lives at all times.

With the rise of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms, people have to worry about unwanted photos ending up online. “Sometimes people don’t want to be seen,” Siddiqui said. “I want to give people the right back to their privacy.”

Next, he hopes to create frames for museums and art galleries, and work with the entertainment industry for events and venues where flash photography is prohibited. He expressed interest in working with the government on privacy sensitive matters eventually, too.

“The business goes beyond fashion as the tech itself can be applied across various industries,” Siddiqui told Quartz.

The Benefits of Doing Nothing

I wanted to write you this letter about some thoughts I have on “doing nothing”; not feeling like we always need to be “productive”, that we don’t always need to be producing, and how calmness, peace, and tranquility might be the key to what we’re searching for in life.

First of all, I’m kind of a self professed “self help” junkie. Ever since I was young, I was always trying to improve myself, my life, and my environment. I got into working out (because I no longer wanted to be a scrawny Asian kid). I played Starcraft for hours and pored over tons of strategy to become the best. I mastered combos on Tekken to beat my friends.

In college, I was voracious for knowledge. I had a feeling like everyone (else) in the world was deluded for thirsting for money, power, prestige, big homes, and expensive cars. I felt like studying Sociology (the study of society) gave me some of the mental tools to better understand the world around me.

Of course at the end of the day, I just wanted to be “happy.” I thought the answer was in being more efficient productive and knowledgeable about the world around me.

I saw a lot of my old friends and family members who were sloth-like, lazy, and never did anything. I think from my personal experiences, I saw not working hard to be the ills of most people in society.

From middle school (more and less up until now) I’ve never been able to stand still. I was always trying to shove more extracurricular activities into my schedule, spend more time with my friends, and do more.

However in the last year or so, I’ve become a bit burnt out. Reading a lot of philosophy and meditating on the purpose of my life has given me a lot of insight.

I’m starting to learn that the more I learn in life, photography, and society… ironically enough I get more confused and more dissatisfied with my life. Sometimes I take my own life too seriously, and I’ve been working hard to “chill” and “do nothing more”, without an ounce of guilt.

One thing I learned about working out is that “more” is not necessarily more. For example, if I do the same exercise everyday (let’s say pushups) I never give my body a chance to recover. Therefore I start getting injuries in my shoulder and elbows. Apparently modern exercise theory tells us that our muscles grow when we rest and recover, not when we’re actually exercising.

I also recently listened on a podcast that one author’s strategy to writing novels is to intentionally make himself bored as possible, and then he becomes inspired to write a novel.

Similarly, I remember being a child and being bored all the time. But that boredom is what forced me to be creative. My mom could never afford new toys for me, so in being bored, I made them for myself. I remember making my own army men out of paper, and using plastic bags and cutting a hole on the top for a parachute. I feel so bad for the kids nowadays constantly plugged into their devices and constantly stimulated and distracted. How can they ever be truly creative without a healthy dose of boredom and “doing nothing”?

I feel that in photography, we shouldn’t always force ourselves to make photographs. Just like a field, we need to let the crops replenish, and the soil replenish it’s nutrients. We can’t always force the same field to bear fruit. The ancients figured out “crop rotation” and not always planting the same fruit, in order to maximize the production from the earth.

Even now it’s been a while since I wrote my last article (lessons learned photographing my own wedding). Even before getting married, I haven’t had an opportunity to read, write, or meditate much.

After getting married, I enjoyed my week honeymoon in Mexico City with Cindy, where we did a whole lot of “nothing” except eat amazing food, drink, talk to locals, and sleep. And time in our airbnb where we watched about 4 Miyazaki films (Howls moving castle, Castle in the sky, The wind also rises, and Princess Mononoke).

I feel that the seeds of creativity often take a long time to root, and can’t be forced to grow quicker (than what is natural). Of course we need to work hard when necessary, but we also need to “relax hard” when necessary as well.

When we’re doing “nothing”, I don’t necessarily mean just sit on your couch and mindlessly watch TV. I mean don’t always feel like you need to be “productive” and doing “work.”

That can mean using your time to read, write, go on a walk, and take photos (without feeling forced to when you don’t want to).

I think all of us want to escape misery, dissatisfaction, and frustration in our lives.

A lot of photographers are dissatisfied and frustrated with themselves because they’re not always “inspired” to take photos. The same happens with writers; they feel frustrated that they aren’t inspired to write everyday.

But why do we “need” to take photos everyday or write everyday?

I think many of us are miserable because we listen to what society tells us: always be productive, always be working, or else you are a useless human being. We no longer know how to sit still and don’t do anything.

I know I vilify TV and other forms of passive entertainment. However if you get true pleasure and joy from whatever entertainment source in your life, don’t feel so guilty. As long as you have peace in your heart, that is the most important thing.

Also at the end of our lives, the quality of our lives will count, not the quantity. Furthermore, as an artist, if we can even create one great work in our lifetimes, we have done our task as a human being. We don’t need to create hundreds or thousands of works.

I’m currently reading the Iliad by Homer. That and The Odyssey are his two great works. And they have lasted millenia, and are still widely read today.

Compare that with an author who has written thousands of works, but none has lasted today. Once again, strive for quality over quantity.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have many days when I’m dissatisfied with my work. I feel like I haven’t done enough to help others, and I feel like it I’m not always producing useful things for others, I’m being idle and useless.

I sometimes even feel guilty for reading for days on end, without “producing” anything “useful.”

But once again, in strange ways, all the dots connect themselves (sooner or later).

Keep feeding your curiosity with all artistic mediums, and never stop exploring. Know that it’s also okay to be idle and “do nothing.” Warren Buffett, one of the richest and most successful men in the world, isn’t a day trader. He sits on his stocks for decades and spends most of his time reading and “doing nothing.”

I think there is great wisdom in doing nothing. But when doing nothing, do something personally meaningful to you.


Casual Sex Project

Part research project, part society devoted to titillation, the Casual Sex Project reminds us that hookups aren't just for college students. ILLUSTRATION BY WREN MCDONALD
Zhana Vrangalova had hit a problem. On a blustery day in early spring, sitting in a small coffee shop near the campus of New York University, where she is an adjunct professor of psychology, she was unable to load onto her laptop the Web site that we had met to discuss. This was not a technical malfunction on her end; rather, the site had been blocked. Vrangalova, who is thirty-four, with a dynamic face framed by thick-rimmed glasses, has spent the past decade researching human sexuality, and, in particular, the kinds of sexual encounters that occur outside the norms of committed relationships. The Web site she started in 2014,, began as a small endeavor fuelled by personal referrals, but has since grown to approximately five thousand visitors a day, most of whom arrive at the site through organic Internet searches or referrals through articles and social media. To date, there have been some twenty-two hundred submissions, about evenly split between genders, each detailing the kinds of habits that, when spelled out, can occasionally alert Internet security filters. The Web site was designed to open up the discussion of one-night stands and other less-than-traditional sexual behaviors. What makes us engage in casual sex? Do we enjoy it? Does it benefit us in any way—or, perhaps, might it harm us? And who, exactly, is “us,” anyway?

Up to eighty per cent of college students report engaging in sexual acts outside committed relationships—a figure that is usually cast as the result of increasingly lax social mores, a proliferation of alcohol-fuelled parties, and a potentially violent frat culture. Critics see the high rates of casual sex as an “epidemic” of sorts that is taking over society as a whole. Hookup culture, we hear, isdemeaning women and wreaking havoc on our ability to establish stable, fulfilling relationships.

These alarms have sounded before. Writing in 1957, the author Nora Johnson raised an eyebrow at promiscuity on college campuses, noting that “sleeping around is a risky business, emotionally, physically, and morally.” Since then, the critiques of casual sexual behavior have only proliferated, even as society has ostensibly become more socially liberal. Last year, the anthropologist Peter Wood went so far as to call the rise of casual sex “an assault on human nature,” arguing in an article in the conservative Weekly Standard that even the most meaningless-seeming sex comes with a problematic power imbalance.

Others have embraced the commonness of casual sex as a sign of social progress. In a widely read Atlantic article from 2012, “Boys on the Side,” Hanna Rosin urged women to avoid serious suitors so that they could focus on their own needs and careers. And yet, despite her apparent belief in the value of casual sex as a tool of exploration and feminist thinking, Rosin, too, seemed to conclude that casual sex cannot be a meaningful end goal. “Ultimately, the desire for a deeper human connection always wins out, for both men and women,” she wrote.

The Casual Sex Project was born of Vrangalova’s frustration with this and other prevalent narratives about casual sex. “One thing that was bothering me is the lack of diversity in discussions of casual sex,” Vrangalova told me in the café. “It’s always portrayed as something college students do. And it’s almost always seen in a negative light, as something that harms women.”

It was not the first time Vrangalova had wanted to broaden a limited conversation. As an undergraduate, in Macedonia, where she studied the psychology of sexuality, she was drawn to challenge cultural taboos, writing a senior thesis on the development of lesbian and gay sexual attitudes. In the late nineties, Vrangalova started her research on casual sex in Cornell’s developmental-psychology program. One study followed a group of six hundred and sixty-six freshmen over the course of a year, to see how engaging in various casual sexual activities affected markers of mental health: namely, depression, anxiety, life satisfaction, and self-esteem. Another looked at more than eight hundred undergraduates to see whether individuals who engaged in casual sex felt more victimized by others, or were more socially isolated. (The results: yes to the first, no to the second.) The studies were intriguing enough that Vrangalova was offered an appointment at N.Y.U., where she remains, to further explore some of the issues surrounding the effects of nontraditional sexual behaviors on the individuals who engage in them.

Over time, Vrangalova came to realize that there was a gap in her knowledge, and, indeed, in the field as a whole. Casual sex has been much explored inpsychological literature, but most of the data captured by her research team—and most of the other experimental research she had encountered—had been taken from college students. (This is a common problem in psychological research: students are a convenient population for researchers.) There has been the occasional nationally representative survey, but rigorous data on other subsets of the population is sparse. Even the largest national study of sexual attitudes in the United States, which surveyed a nationally representative sample of close to six thousand men and women between the ages of fourteen and ninety-four, neglected to ask respondents how many of the encounters they engaged in could be deemed “casual.”

From its beginnings, sex research has been limited by a social stigma. The field’s pioneer, Alfred Kinsey, spent decades interviewing people about their sexual behaviors. His books sold, but he was widely criticized for not having an objective perspective: like Freud before him, he believed that repressed sexuality was at the root of much of social behavior, and he often came to judgments that supported that view—even when his conclusions were based on less-than-representative surveys. He, too, used convenient sample groups, such as prisoners, as well as volunteers, who were necessarily comfortable talking about their sexual practices.

In the fifties, William Masters and Virginia Johnson went further, inquiring openly into sexual habits and even observing people in the midst of sexual acts. Their data, too, was questioned: Could the sort of person who volunteers to have sex in a lab tell us anything about the average American? More troubling still, Masters and Johnson sought to “cure” homosexuality, revealing a bias that could easily have colored their findings.

Indeed, one of the things you quickly notice when looking for data on casual sex is that, for numbers on anyone who is not a college student, you must, for the most part, look at studies conducted outside academia. When OkCupid surveye  its user base, it found that between 10.3 and 15.5 per cent of users were looking for casual sex rather than a committed relationship. In the 2014 British Sex Survey, conducted by the Guardian, approximately half of all respondents reported that they had engaged in a one-night stand (fifty-five per cent of men, and forty-three per cent of women), with homosexuals (sixty-six per cent) more likely to do so than heterosexuals (forty-eight per cent). A fifth of people said they’d slept with someone whose name they didn’t know.

With the Casual Sex Project, Vrangalova is trying to build a user base of stories that she hopes will, one day, provide the raw data for academic study. For now, she is listening: letting people come to the site, answer questions, leave replies. Ritch Savin-Williams, who taught Vrangalova at Cornell, told me that he was especially impressed by Vrangalova’s willingness “to challenge traditional concepts and research designs with objective approaches that allow individuals to give honest, thoughtful responses.”

The result is what is perhaps the largest-ever repository of information about casual-sex habits in the world—not that it has many competitors. The people who share stories range from teens to retirees (Vrangalova’s oldest participants are in their seventies), and include city dwellers and suburbanites, graduate-level-educated professionals (about a quarter of the sample) and people who never finished high school (another quarter). The majority of participants aren’t particularly religious, although a little under a third do identify as at least “somewhat” religious. Most are white, though there are also blacks, Latinos, and other racial and ethnic groups. Initially, contributions were about sixty-per-cent female, but now they’re seventy-per-cent male. (This is in line with norms; men are “supposed” to brag more about sexual exploits than women.) Anyone can submit a story, along with personal details that reflect his or her demographics, emotions, personality traits, social attitudes, and behavioral patterns, such as alcohol intake. The setup for data collection is standardized, with drop-down menus and rating scales.

Still, the site is far from clinical. The home page is a colorful mosaic of squares, color-coded according to the category of sexual experience (blue: “one-night stand”; purple: “group sex”; gray: the mysterious-sounding “first of many”; and so on). Pull quotes are highlighted for each category (“Ladies if you haven’t had a hot, young Latino stud you should go get one!”). Many responses seem to boast, provoke, or exaggerate for rhetorical purposes. Reading it, I felt less a part of a research project than a member of a society devoted to titillation.

Vrangalova is the first to admit that the Casual Sex Project is not what you would call an objective, scientific approach to data collection. There is no random assignment, no controls, no experimental conditions; the data is not representative of the general population. The participants are self-selecting, which inevitably colors the results: if you’re taking the time to write, you are more likely to write about positive experiences. You are also more likely to have the sort of personality that comes with wanting to share details of your flings with the public. There is another problem with the Casual Sex Project that is endemic in much social-science research: absent external behavioral validation, how do we know that respondents are reporting the truth, rather than what they want us to hear or think we want them to say?

And yet, for all these flaws, the Casual Sex Project provides a fascinating window into the sexual habits of a particular swath of the population. It may not be enough to draw new conclusions, but it can lend nuance to assumptions, expanding, for instance, ideas about who engages in casual sex or how it makes them feel. As I browsed through the entries after my meeting with Vrangalova, I came upon the words of a man who learned something new about his own sexuality during a casual encounter in his seventies: “before this I always said no one can get me of on a bj alone, I was taught better,” he writes. As a reflection of the age and demographic groups represented, the Casual Sex Project undermines the popular narrative that casual sex is the product of changing mores among the young alone. If that were the case, we would expect there to be a reluctance to engage in casual sex among the older generations, which grew up in the pre-“hookup culture” era. Such reluctance is not evident.

The reminder that people of all ages engage in casual sex might lead us to imagine three possible narratives. First, that perhaps what we see as the rise of a culture of hooking up isn’t actually new. When norms related to dating and free love shifted, in the sixties, they never fully shifted back. Seventy-year-olds are engaging in casual encounters because that attitude is part of their culture, too.

There’s another, nearly opposite explanation: casual sex isn’t the norm now, and wasn’t before. There are simply always individuals, in any generation, who seek sexual satisfaction in nontraditional confines.

And then there’s the third option, the one that is most consistent with the narrative that our culture of casual sex begins with college hookups: that people are casually hooking up for different reasons. Some young people have casual sex because they feel they can’t afford not to, or because they are surrounded by a culture that says they should want to. (Vrangalova’s preliminary analysis of the data on her site suggests that alcohol is much more likely to be involved in the casual-sex experiences of the young than the old.) And the old—well, the old no longer care what society thinks. For some, this sense of ease might come in their thirties; for others, their forties or fifties; for others, never, or not entirely.

This last theory relates to another of Vrangalova’s findings—one that, she confesses, came as a surprise when she first encountered it. Not all of the casual-sex experiences recorded on the site were positive, even among what is surely a heavily biased sample. Women and younger participants are especially likely to report feelings of shame. (“I was on top of him at one point and he can’t have forced me to so I must have consented . . . I’m not sure,” an eighteen-year-old writes, reporting that the hookup was unsatisfying, and describing feeling “stressed, anxious, guilt and disgust” the day after.) There is an entire thread tagged “no orgasm,” which includes other occasionally disturbing and emotional tales. “My view has gotten a lot more balanced over time,” Vrangalova said. “I come from a very sex-positive perspective, surrounded by people who really benefitted from sexual exploration and experiences, for the most part. By studying it, I’ve learned to see both sides of the coin.”

Part of the negativity, to be sure, does originate in legitimate causes: casual sex increases the risk of pregnancy, disease, and, more often than in a committed relationship, physical coercion. But many negative casual-sex experiences come instead from a sense of social convention. “We’ve seen that both genders felt they were discriminated against because of sex,” Vrangalova told me. Men often feel judged by other men if they don’t have casual sex, and social expectations can detract from the experiences they do have, while women feel judged for engaging in casual experiences, rendering those they pursue less pleasurable.

Perhaps this should come as no surprise: the very fact that Vrangalova and others are seeking explanations for casual-sex behaviors suggests that our society views it as worthy of note—something aberrant, rather than ordinary. No one writes about why people feel the need to drink water or go to the bathroom, why eating dinner with friends is “a thing” or study groups are “on the rise.”

It is that sense of shame, ultimately, that Vrangalova hopes her project may help to address. As one respondent to a survey Vrangalova sent to users put it, “This has helped me feel okay about myself for wanting casual sex, and not feel ashamed or that what I do is wrong.” The psychologist James Pennebaker has found over several decades of work that writing about emotional experiences can act as an effective form of therapy, in a way that talking about those experiences may not. (I’m less convinced that there are benefits for those who use the site as a way to boast about their own experiences.) “Often there’s no outlet for that unless you’re starting your own blog,” Vrangalova points out. “I wanted to offer a space for people to share.”

That may well end up the Casual Sex Project’s real contribution: not to tell us something we didn’t already know, or at least suspect, but to make such nonjudgmental, intimate conversations possible. The dirty little secret of casual sex today is not that we’re having it but that we’re not sharing our experiences of it in the best way.


Maria Konnikova is a contributing writer, she writes about psychology and science. She is the author of the Times best-seller “Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes,” which was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction, and “The Confidence Game,” about the psychology of the con. She has also worked as a producer for “Charlie Rose” and has contributed numerous articles and essays to the Times, Scientific American Mind, and the Web sites of The Atlanticand The New Republic, among other publications.

Bill Cunningham, Legendary Times Fashion Photographer, Dies at 87

Bill Cunningham, who turned fashion photography into his own branch of cultural anthropology on the streets of New York, chronicling an era’s ever-changing social scene for The New York Times by training his busily observant lens on what people wore — stylishly, flamboyantly or just plain sensibly — died on Saturday in Manhattan. He was 87.

His death was confirmed by The Times. He had been hospitalized recently after having a stroke.

Mr. Cunningham was such a singular presence in the city that, in 2009, he was designated a living landmark. And he was an easy one to spot, riding his bicycle through Midtown, where he did most of his field work: his bony-thin frame draped in his utilitarian blue French worker’s jacket, khaki pants and black sneakers (he himself was no one’s idea of a fashion plate), with his 35-millimeter camera slung around his neck, ever at the ready for the next fashion statement to come around the corner.

Nothing escaped his notice: not the fanny packs, not the Birkin bags, not the gingham shirts, not the fluorescent biker shorts.

In his nearly 40 years working for The Times, Mr. Cunningham snapped away at changing dress habits to chart the broader shift away from formality and toward something more diffuse and individualistic.

At the Pierre hotel on the East Side of Manhattan, he pointed his camera at tweed-wearing blue-blood New Yorkers with names like Rockefeller and Vanderbilt. Downtown, by the piers, he clicked away at crop-top-wearing Voguers. Up in Harlem, he jumped off his bicycle — he rode more than 30 over the years, replacing one after another as they were wrecked or stolen — for B-boys in low-slung jeans.

In the process, he turned into something of a celebrity himself.

In 2008, Mr. Cunningham went to Paris, where the French government bestowed him with the Legion of Honor. In New York, he was celebrated at Bergdorf Goodman, where a life-size mannequin of him was installed in the window.

It was the New York Landmarks Conservancy that made him a living landmark in 2009, the same year The New Yorker, in a profile, described his On the Street and Evening Hours columns as the city’s unofficial yearbook: “an exuberant, sometimes retroactively embarrassing chronicle of the way we looked.”

In 2010, a documentary, “Bill Cunningham New York,” premiered at the Museum of Modern Art to glowing reviews.

Yet Mr. Cunningham told nearly anyone who asked about it that the attendant publicity was a total hassle, a reason for strangers to approach and bother him.

He wanted to find subjects, not be the subject. He wanted to observe, rather than be observed. Asceticism was a hallmark of his brand.

He didn’t go to the movies. He didn’t own a television. He ate breakfast nearly every day at the Stage Star Deli on West 55th Street, where a cup of coffee and a sausage, egg and cheese could be had, until very recently, for under $3. He lived until 2010 in a studio above Carnegie Hall amid rows and rows of file cabinets, where he kept all of his negatives. He slept on a single-size cot, showered in a shared bathroom and, when he was asked why he spent years ripping up checks from magazines like Details (which he helped Annie Flanders launch in 1982), he said: “Money’s the cheapest thing. Liberty and freedom is the most expensive.”

10 Rookie Travel Mistakes, And How To Avoid Them

Even the most seasoned travelers can encounter unexpected snafus, from flight delays and inclement weather to lost passports. But while you can’t do much to prevent those mishaps, there are certain things you can do to make sure you’re as prepared as possible if and when they happen.

Ahead, 10 rookie mistakes travelers make — along with advice on how to avoid them. These tips will save you time, money, and more than a few headaches. After all, you worked hard to plan (and pay for) your vacation. You deserve to enjoy every minute.

High fives to you for having a valid passport. (And if you need to renew yours, give yourself plenty of time to do so.) Still, just because you have a valid passport doesn’t mean it’ll get you where you need to go. Some countries, including Russia and China, require that a passport be valid for six months past the date of your return flight. Additionally, 26 European nations require passports be valid three months past your departure.

It’s also key to make sure your final destination doesn’t require a visa, which presents a whole different set of red tape and paperwork that will need to be sorted out well before you go. In other words, do your research and don’t risk finding out at the airport that you can’t board your flight.

The world may be much more connected than it was 20 or even 10 years ago, but one thing that hasn’t quite caught up is the high cost of using your phone abroad. Before you take your phone off airplane mode, be sure to verify with you carrier that your phone is operable and find out if coverage is available in in your destination.

Try to determine how much data you’ll need based on past bills and usage, then estimate your international data consumption according to the length of your trip. You might even want to consider switching to a temporary international calling or data plan; in some countries, you can also swap out your SIM card to avoid expensive roaming fees.

How many times have you gotten off a plane, seen a currency exchange window, and forked over $200 “just in case,” without even knowing whether you’ll need it immediately? Well, that’s a huge mistake. Exchange rates at airports are infamously steep and paying them is an amateur move.

Instead, place an order with your bank or credit union for foreign currency before you go or look for in-network ATMs for withdrawing day-to-day funds. Confirm foreign transaction fees with your bank in advance. If you have a credit card with no foreign transaction fees, even better.
Some airlines will let you make ticket changes within 24 hours of booking, while others will charge a smaller penalty if you make a change 60 days out. Before you book your ticket, familiarize yourself with your airline’s policies so you don’t get stuck paying exorbitant prices due to an unexpected change in plans. Also, if you do have to change a ticket, it’s almost always cheaper to rebook your flight on the same day as your original departure if at all possible.

With checked bag fees so high to begin with, nobody ever wants to hear, “Your bag is overweight.” Avoid this awkward (and expensive) situation by packing smart and really thinking about what you’ll need and use during your trip.

I’m a diehard carry-on only kind of flyer. If I can’t schlep it, it doesn’t come with me. Pack versatile clothing and streamline your skin-care and cosmetics routine when on the road. When it comes to travel, less is generally more.

We’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again: No matter how careful or vigilant you may be, sometimes things go wrong. Loss, theft, or any number of other mishaps can turn your perfect vacay into a nightmare faster than you think.

Be sure to pack photocopies of your passport, visa, credit cards, and other important documents — and leave copies with a trusted friend or family member at home just in case. It can’t hurt to pack (and stash!) an extra set of copies, as well. Hopefully, you won’t need them, but if you do, you’ll be very glad you did.

I’m very much a think-big kind of person. When it comes to life, I don’t want to miss a thing. But when it comes to travel, I’ve learned that it’s crucial to practice some restraint.

It’s rarely possible to “do it all” in any single trip. Setting unrealistic expectations will leave you exhausted and disappointed. You don’t have to do/see/sip/bite it all at once. You can always go back. Chances are, you’ll enjoy the activities you make time for a lot more if you really take the time to experience them, instead of focusing on how quickly you can move to the next thing.

If you want to get a handle on the local scene, you can’t just rely on Yelp or the concierge at your hotel. You need to mingle with the locals.

Cozy up to the nearest non-hotel bar or café and start chatting. Be friendly while exploring and you’ll be surprised at what kind of insider intel you might glean from the people who really know the area. Their insights are 100 times more valuable than whatever guidebook you packed.

Please, pretty please, don’t be that tourist. Do yourself a favor and do your homework before you ever step on a plane bound for a foreign country. Whether it’s picking up a few polite phrases in the local language or wearing appropriate attire when visiting religious sites, it’s important to be respectful of the local culture and etiquette. What’s normal in your city might be viewed as wildly offensive in another. Making assumptions can not only be embarrassing, but even downright dangerous.

By: Charyn Pfeuffer
United Photo Press

The mysterious kidnapping of Bi Kidude, the world's oldest pop star

A new film explores the disappearance of this fierce centenarian who was a leading figure in East African taraab music.

Aged 102, Bi Kidude, the gravel-voiced singer known her raucous sense of humour and her love of cigarettes, suddenly vanished from her home.

Amid an explosion of intrigue and speculation, friends and fans on the island of Zanzibar, where she had lived all her life, scrabbled to find out what had happened to this doyenne of East African taraab music, who had become a national treasure and leading exponent of contemporary Swahili culture.

Then, a couple of days later, an unknown man claiming to be her nephew popped up on national TV. He said he had kidnapped her to protect her from “being exploited” by her musical collaborators, and that he would stop her from ever performing again.

The frantic search for Kidude is now the subject of a new documentary which explores her remarkable life story, spanning humble beginnings in the N’gambo slums in Zanzibar through to sellout performances across the globe. 

Maryam Hamdani, one of Kidude’s oldest friends who was partly responsible for her re-discovery in the 1980s, recalls: “The first time I saw her was maybe 1985 or 1986. Everyone made fun of her because of the way she was singing and the way she was dressed. But I admired the way she sang and thought this woman has a golden voice but nobody sees it.”

Under Hamdani’s tutelage, Kidude joined Mohammed Ilyas and the Twinkling Stars as their lead singer, and her career enjoyed a staggering upturn, with international audiences transfixed by her fearless performance style.

Her sudden fame led to countless awards, including the 2005 Womex world music prize, which saw her hailed as “a cultural mediator and advisor of the younger generations… a proper symbol of world music’s emancipatory, liberating and strengthening power.”

But according to Yusuf Mahmoud, her de facto manager, it wasn’t until later “that Zanzibar finally woke up to the fact that this treasure was on the island.”

This awakening brought its own difficulties. Mahmoud remembers meeting Kidude at her home in Stone Town, Zanzibar’s capital, in 2004. “She had $3-4,000 [on her person], and lots of people came knocking on her door with lots of emergencies that needed to be addressed. Within ten days, she was penniless.”

Kidude when she was found in Baraka’s village home, where she had been held hostage. Photograph: Andy Jones

Film-maker Andy Jones, who first made a documentary about Kidude in 2006, had lost contact with the singer when, in 2012, he was contacted by friends on the island who told him of her disappearance.

He immediately picked up his camera and returned to Zanzibar to document the search to find her. The resulting film, I Shot Bi Kidude, follows the trail of her kidnapper, eventually leading to a man called Baraka, her “nephew”, who had been keeping Kidude hostage in a house where she was clearly in a state of distress.

Bi Kidude obituary

Though the veracity of Baraka’s claims of financial exploitation and abuse are never entirely clarified in the film, it’s clear that Kidude had, in her old age, been sucked into a murky world of hangers-on, who had looked to her for financial help.

Amid the whispers of exploitation, one thing shines clear: music was Kidude’s lifeblood. A poignant declaration, made during one of her final interviews, proved prophetic: “Music is my life. If I stop singing, how do they expect me to survive?”

She died just a few months later.

I Shot Bi Kidude is screening as part of the East End film festival on the 3 July

UNITED PHOTO PRESS Top Compact Camera for Travelers

Fujifilm X-T1

Pick for Travelers: Classy, retro styling in the form of a 1970s film SLR. But instead of optics, the camera uses a pentaprism, which holds one of the best electronic viewfinders yet. This camera is quick—its autofocus is quick, its image review is quick, and it shoots tons of pictures in a row without hanging up. The small size of the camera and lenses means that, even if you decide to carry the whole system with you on your travels, your bag will be less than half the size of a standard DSLR's.

Pro Tip: Fujifilm cameras have very nice film-emulation modes for their in-camera JPEGS. Try shooting in JPEG + RAW with the camera set to Classic Chrome. These JPEGs have a wonderful color palette that looks like old Kodachrome slides. If you don’t like the color, you always have the RAW file to process however you like. —Dan Westergren, contributing photographer for Nat Geo Travel

Get It:

Sensor: APS-C 16MP

Features: Interchangeable lens, Wi-Fi, electronic viewfinder, high-speed electronic shutter with speeds up to 1/32000 sec, HD video

What Hiking Does To The Brain Is Pretty Amazing

The great outdoors might just be greater than you think. There are plenty of us who love to spend as many hours of the day outdoors as we can, and hiking is obviously quite healthy for the body, but few of us ever give a lot of thought to how hiking could benefit our mental health as well. It turns out that hiking might just be your ticket to a brand-new brain, whether you’re passionate about the outdoors, or just force yourself to take a stroll around your local park.

Recent studies about the effects of hiking and nature have been directed at understanding just how this recreational activity affects both the physiological and mental aspects of our brains. One of the main reasons for this glut of research is because we’re spending so much less time outdoors, overall. The average American child now spends half as much time outside as compared to only 20 years ago. HALF. Only 6% of children will play outside on their own in a typical week. Conversely, kids are now spending almost 8 hours per day watching television, playing video games, or using a computer, tablet, or phone for recreational purposes. That number actually jumps up to 10 hours if you count doing two things at once! Overall, Americans now spend 93% of their time inside a building or vehicle.

So, what does this mean for human beings? Well, unless we get a little more proactive about embracing fresh air and dirt under our feet, the prognosis is pretty grim. The bright side is, as with all great medicine, when it comes to the outdoors, a little goes a long way.

According to a study published last July in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a 90-minute walk through a natural environment had a huge positive impact on participants. In a survey taken afterwards, those people who took the natural walk showed far lower levels of brooding, or obsessive worry. The control group who spent that 90 minutes walking through a city reported no such difference. Not only that, but the scientists went a step further and did brain scans of the subjects. They found that there was decreased blood flow to the subgenual prefrontal cortex. What in the world does that mean? Well, increased blood flow to this region of the brain is associated with bad moods. Everything from feeling sad about something, to worrying, to major depression seem to be tied to this brain region. Hiking deactivates it.

Psychologists Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Strayer found in their 2012 study that after a four-day-long hike in the wilderness, with no access to technology, participants scored a whopping 50% higher on a test known as RAT, or Remote Associates Test. It’s a simple way of measuring the creative potential in people. A series of three words are given, for instance, “same, tennis, and head.” The test-taker has to find a fourth word that connects the first three. In this case, the answer is “match.” A 50% increase is a huge leap up in performance by research standards. Problem-solving skills like this are thought to originate in the same area of the brain that we also use for selective attention and threat detection, meaning our ability to think creatively is being overwhelmed by the constant stimulus of digital, indoor living.

We mentioned selective attention in the previous section but this is bigger than that. Anyone who has ADHD or has raised a child who has been diagnosed with the disorder can tell you, it’s a daily struggle to maintain grades, work performance, even relationships with friends and family. Medication can help alleviate the symptoms, but often ADHD persists into adulthood and that daily habit of popping stimulants can take its toll on your health and your wallet. Well, what about a good hike? A 2004 study came to the pretty obvious conclusion that getting outdoors and doing something active can reduce the symptoms of ADHD. More than that, it can do so for anyone, regardless of age, health, or other characteristics that can change the effect of medication.

Hiking is a pretty solid aerobic exercise that burns around 400-700 calories per hour. This is great on its own, but aerobic exercise also has a really positive effect on your brain: it improves your memory. It’s even being studied as a way to help seniors fight off dementia, because it doesn’t just increase your ability to store information, it also reduces memory loss. Outdoor activity has also been shown to improve grades, so it’s a pretty solid choice all around for juicing your grey matter.

According to a 2010 report in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, even getting out into nature for five minutes at a stretch is enough to give your self-esteem a substantial upgrade. Spending the entire day outdoors results in a second jump upwards! Walking near water seemed to have the biggest effect, so when planning your next hike, be sure to seek out a location with some great streams, rivers, or lakes.

Is hiking the solution to all of life’s woes? Probably not. But what science is showing is that it’s actually a pretty solid candidate for making everyone’s lives a lot better, with very little input. If you already hike, good for you! If you’d like to start, find yourself a sturdy, comfortable pair of shoes or boots and head to a website like EveryTrail, which can help you find your way to the nearest nature.

Be sure to SHARE this story with your friends and family!

United Photo Press 2016

The shame of acceptance around asking artists to work for free

Sainsbury’s made a big error last week. The supermarket put out an ad asking for an artist to
volunteer their skills to refurbish and upgrade their new canteen in London’s Camden Town store.

The ad copy ran like this: “Sainsbury’s is giving you the one opportunity to build your career and build your reputation. Your work will contribute to our success. Share your gift. Leave your mark by doing what you love and do best.”

It was written without a hint of shame that an artist should work for free to get exposure. The underpinning message from this big supermarket is that we would rather not pay you but will give you space to get seen so maybe someone else will pay you at some future time. The lucky artist who gets this commission would be able to leave their mark and do what they love, but not get paid. This is from a company with an annual £26b turnover.

What does this say about how we value art in our culture? At a time when art and creative studies are facing cuts from education and are being dropped from school timetables, it’s time for us to start understanding what art means in our culture and establishing more respect for the artistic process. We need to put money where our mouth is in regard to supporting art and artists. We have got really good at spending money on endless manufactured products, but when it comes to spending on art and artists there seems to be cultural block and an assumption that artists can and should work for free.

Photographers I know are regularly being asked to shoot for free — it’s a regular pattern. It’s something seen to be done for love but not for money and how do you gently tell someone you do expect to be paid for the work that you do even if it is “artistic”. Writers have the same conversations. It’s regular practice for magazines to ask freelance writers to do full page features for free to get their words read and their name exposed. New writers coming through will never make a living if this continues and the craft of writing is set back to the status of “not a proper job”. Most of the excellent writers I know have to supplement their regular writing work with other paid jobs. With the explosion of bloggers and thousands of platforms and content spaces to fill, it gets harder and only the top percentile of good writers can earn a living this way. Philip Pullman resigned from his post as patron of the Oxford Literary festival pointing out that at most of the book festivals the only people who don’t get paid are the authors themselves. It is the authors that people come to see and yet they are asked to do it for free with “exposure” as the return.

My friend Fin Dac is a highly-regarded international urban artist. His work appears regularly on the front cover of art magazines and pops up in prestigious locations all over the world.

He was recently contacted by a powerful hotel chain in New York and asked to do an urban art piece for this new multi-million pound hotel. The art project planned is for the outside of the new building. The only snag is that in this multi-million project, there is no financial support for the art project appearing at the center.

Here’s a copy of the pitch sent by the hotel group to a number of well known artists:

“I am the Marketing Director, not an art curator. I love the energy and spirit of street art, and happened to have this vision and idea of creating a bridge between the energy and spirit of street artists and the hotel. I don’t get paid by running this art project at the hotel, FYI. But I value this project a lot more than money. I am certain that our guests and local New Yorkers in this neighborhood would appreciate the bridge of celebrating the energy and spirit of street art/artists.”

The offer for the artists taking part in the project is to be exposed to the A-list clientele, art collectors and media.

That’s nice. So these highly talented artists (and the hotel would only allow the best ones) could spend a great deal of time and creativity as well as materials and paints to create a massive art piece for the hotel to get “great exposure” but without an appropriate share — or in most cases any share at all — of the significant investment being spent on the project. When the artist contacted them to clarify this, they didn’t reply.

It’s time we call for proper payment of artists, writers and musicians. We have to value artistry in our culture or we are poor in mind and spirit.

Most importantly, we will have missed the point of the magic of human creativity. The value of art in society is bigger than all of us and has a much greater impact on our health, wellbeing, society and education than we give credit. To imagine a world without art, is to imagine a body without a heart.

Art and culture illuminates who we are and powers up our emotional world, teaching us compassion and tolerance. A life without art isn’t living.

Let’s hope this whack ad from Sainsbury’s will get the debate under the spotlight for increased respect and payment for our artists all over the world.

Susie Pearl

United Photo Press 2016

ISIS Uses Dogs to Execute Its Members

The ISIS used dogs in a new violent method of punishing 
its members as it has recently executed several leaders 
by giving them to dogs to be eaten to death.
AhlulBayt News Agency - The ISIS used dogs in a new violent method of punishing its members as it has recently executed several leaders by giving them to dogs to be eaten to death. 

A Peshmerga commander on Gwer frontline said that IS has recently executed a number of its leaders on charges of failing to accomplish their chief duties. 

Hasan Khala Hasan, the Peshmerga commander, said that IS has reportedly tied the leaders to trees and used dogs to maul them to death. 

IS used this violent method of executing its members to frighten other members to strictly follow the rules and commands. 

Dler Ahmed, a Kurdish sociologist, explained that IS employs frightening methods as a principle of the organization to achieve its aims. 

"IS uses any members who are thought to be of no use, for the organization to frighten other members” 

Thr frightening method affects only the members of the organization and it will leave no effect on anti-IS forces, he added.

Desert Trip Details Announced: Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, More to Play Coachella Venue

Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Roger Waters and The Who to play Empire Polo Field in Indio, CA, October 7-9.

t’s confirmed. Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Roger Waters and The Who are set to play the Empire Polo Field in Indio, CA, October 7-9. If this location sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the same venue that the Coachella Music & Arts Festival has been held for 17 years. Goldenvoice and AEG Live, producers of Coachella, are behind this massive classic rock event.

Desert Trip is the first-of-its kind, headliners-only multi-night concert featuring six Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees.

The three night concert kicks off Friday night, October 7 with The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan and His Band, followed on Saturday night, October 8 by Paul McCartney and Neil Young + Promise of the Real, with the weekend coming to a close on Sunday night, October 9 with Roger Waters and The Who.

The bill consists of two acts per night with no supporting artists.

Tickets will go on sale Monday, May 9 at 10:00am PT via Similar to Stagecoach the giant country music festival held at the same location. But unlike Coachella and Stagecoach, single day tickets are available. Also different from the other two multi-stage festivals, Desert Trip will feature a single massive stage with grandstand seating.

Ticket prices are as follows:
3 Day Passes
General admission – $399
Reserved floor – $699, $999, $1,599,
Reserved grandstand – $999, $1599
Standing pit – $1,599

Single Day Passes
General admission – $199

Hotel packages, premium seating, RV and tent camping will be available. The weekend will feature an all-star lineup of world renowned chefs and 40 of the best restaurants from Los Angeles to New York.

A Bygone Time Captured Through the Lens of Walker Evans

The most comprehensive show of work by the photographer Walker Evans since the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s retrospective in 2000 will open at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta in June. While the photographer’s work has been exhibited widely and often, the South has not “been exposed to an Evans show of this scope and caliber,” said Brett Abbott, the High’s curator of photography. The High will be the show’s only stop in the United States — something of a coup for a regional museum.

The show, “Depth of Field,” originated last year at the Josef Albers Museum Quadrat in Bottrop, Germany, with the participation of John T. Hill, executor of the Evans estate, as the lead consulting curator, in collaboration with Heinz Liesbrock, director of the Josef Albers Museum, and Mr. Abbott.

A sizable number of photographs that Evans took in the 1930s in the South on assignment for the Farm Security Administration will be shown, along with his well-known photographs of tenant farmers and their families in Hale County, Ala., published in the 1941 book “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,” which Evans wrote with James Agee.

The curators wanted to place the Farm Security Administration material in the context of Evans’s career, assembling, as well, work he made on the streets of New York and Cuba in the 1930s, his work for Fortune magazine in the ’40s and ’50s, and his color images from late in life. Included, too, are rarely seen portraits of his accomplished friends and colleagues, such as Lincoln Kirstein and Berenice Abbott, as well as his self-portraits. Evans claimed Eugène Atget and August Sander as his major influences, and examples of their photographs from the High’s permanent collection will be in the show.

Given the ever-morphing dimensions of contemporary photography — ranging from constructed narrative scenes made in the studio to ideologically-based assemblages of found Internet imagery — much of the work being shown in galleries today is positioned at a century-arm’s length from Evans’s straightforward, black-and-white documentation of the reality-based world. It’s not hard to imagine, then, a modern urban artivore rolling his eyes at the seemingly retrograde Evans show.

Asked why this show has relevance, Mr. Abbott laughed. “There’s probably no question that Evans is one of the great artists of the 20th century,” he said. “That’s always a good enough reason for me.”

Evans was also very influential; he was the first photographer to have a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, in 1938, and his work was important to consequential photographers like Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, Stephen Shore, William Eggleston, Bernd and Hilla Becher, and Paul Graham, to name only a few.

Throughout the 20th century, photography as proof, or documentation, of the physical world was a defining principle of the medium’s art-making practice. Evans’s simple, forthright approach, his clean compositional geometry, and the optical clarity of his pictures underscore the camera’s potential to record and describe the world with a starkness that is, at times, astonishing. As Garry Winogrand famously said, “There is nothing as mysterious as a fact clearly described.”