The hidden African history captured by one maverick photographer

In 2011, a box of old photographs changed my life. I spend every summer in South Africa but this particular one was difficult because I experienced a lot of violence, including a carjacking which caused damage to one eye.

People in New York wanted me to come home but I knew from experience that something good usually happens in the last week of every visit. I had bought a stack of photographs in Cape Town and my friend’s daughter said,“You know what? I have this collection of negatives I should give you.”

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They’d been sitting in a garage for 15, 20 years. I pulled out a few, held them up to the light and started freaking out. They were so strong, even in that form.… Read the rest

There Are No Polite Canadians When it Comes to Grape-Stomping Glory

Wine in Oliver, B.C.

As the grapes squish between my toes, I feel two things: slightly cold and very sticky. But mostly, I’m worried about the clock.

This is not exactly old-school winemaking, in which stompers tread slowly and carefully to avoid crushing the seeds, which can ruin the taste of the finished wine. It’s more like an episode of I Love Lucy.

I’m well past my ankles in a barrel of grapes, to be sure, but not at a winery. I’m on an outdoor stage in Oliver, Canada, with an orange feather boa wrapped around my neck as I stomp for glory, racing against time. The challenge? To coax as much juice from these grapes as possible in five raucous minutes, alternating with two … Read the rest

The Life and Legend of India’s Bandit Queen

On a chill February day in 1983, a 20-year-old young woman known as Phoolan Devi—literally, Flower Goddess—walked out of the forested ravines of the Chambal River valley and handed over her gun. She bowed to images of Gandhi and the goddess Durga and surrendered herself to the Chief Minister and Chief of Police of Madhya Pradesh state in central India. The cheering crowd of 8,000 people gathered that day—journalists; politicians; some 300 cops; and others from across the dry, impoverished center of the world’s largest democracy—knew Phoolan Devi as a hero, a bandit, a murderess, and a goddess long before they saw her in the flesh. Phoolan Devi, India’s celebrated Bandit Queen, was not a woman, but a legend.

Born to a low-caste household in … Read the rest

Global Warming Really Did Make Hurricane Harvey More Likely

Think of the Earth’s climate system as a pair of dice. You never know exactly how a roll will end. But some outcomes, like rolling a seven, are much more likely than others, like snake eyes. But when we warm the globe, we essentially load the dice to favor extreme outcomes, including some of the most unpleasant weather possible in the United States.

A new study, rapidly conducted in September and published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds that the dice are increasingly likely to roll some very unpleasant weather indeed. Global warming may not have caused Hurricane Harvey, which ravaged Houston over the course of a week earlier this year, but it made it much more likely.

The … Read the rest

Seeing the Beautiful Intelligence of Microbes

Intelligence is not a quality to attribute lightly to microbes. There is no reason to think that bacteria, slime molds and similar single-cell forms of life have awareness, understanding or other capacities implicit in real intellect. But particularly when these cells commune in great numbers, their startling collective talents for solving problems and controlling their environment emerge. Those behaviors may be genetically encoded into these cells by billions of years of evolution, but in that sense the cells are not so different from robots programmed to respond in sophisticated ways to their environment. If we can speak of artificial intelligence for the latter, perhaps it’s not too outrageous to refer to the underappreciated cellular intelligence of the former.

Under the microscope, the incredible exercise of the … Read the rest