Aida Muleneh UNESCO

Aida Muluneh’s 2016 photograph “The Departure” featured on the cover of the UNESCO Re|Shaping Cultural Policies Report

Ethiopian photographer Aida Muluneh’s The Departure serves as an arresting cover for UNESCO’s 2018 report Re|Shaping Cultural Policies. Muleneh created the image as part of her 2016 series ‘The World in 9’—about which she wrote (here)

In this world, we are idealists seeking perfection but living in a reality which does not afford us that balance. Life is unpredictable and imperfect – we must conquer these challenges with strength and endurance because the world within us and the world knocking on our door, bears the unknown future.—Aida Muluneh

The gateway to Muluneh’s site opens with the tagline “Photographer / Artist / Cultural entrepreneur” (here).  While the idea of the “cultural entrepreneur” is increasingly familiar to those who work as and with artists, the idea deserves far more awareness, especially among those who consume cultural production—which is to say “everyone” in today’s digital world. Indeed, this gets to the heart of UNESCO’s new report.

First, a brief history lesson. In 2005 UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) created the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. Think of it as in international treaty on the importance of diversity in human culture. The document starts with the establishment of 21 guiding principles, the first four of which are:

  • Affirming that cultural diversity is a defining characteristic of humanity,
  • Conscious that cultural diversity forms a common heritage of humanity and should be cherished and preserved for the benefit of all,
  • Being aware that cultural diversity creates a rich and varied world, which increases the range of choices and nurtures human capacities and values, and therefore is a mainspring for sustainable development for communities, peoples and nations,
  • Recalling that cultural diversity, flourishing within a framework of democracy, tolerance, social justice and mutual respect between peoples and cultures, is indispensable for peace and security at the local, national and international levels…

The text of the convention (which you can read in full via this PDF) continues to establish an international protocol for the recognition and protection of cultural producers.

The four goals of the convention are:

  • Support sustainable systems of governance for culture
  • Achieve a balanced flow of cultural goods and services and increase the mobility of artists and cultural professionals
  • Integrate culture in sustainable development frameworks
  • Promote human rights and fundamental freedoms

Between 2005 and 2017, over 140 sovereign jurisdictions signed on to the convention, including a few that signed with conditions (source). While one can understand that the culturally myopic former and current Republican administrations would not join the international community of signatories, it should be noted that the United States did not ratify the convention during the Obama administration either. To be clear, I remain disappointed that my homeland remains one of the few non-signatories to this international effort. (For an alphabetical list of signatories, click here.)

Jumping to the present, UNESCO’s 2018 global report is a detailed consideration of progress made and challenges faced in the achievement of the objectives cited in the 2005 convention. Given the breadth and depth of important issues related to cultural diversity, the full report is more than 250 pages long. Fortunately it is punctuated with beautiful illustrations and helpful infographics. You can download a summary PDF of the report or a full PDF of the report. [The reports are also available in French here.]

As a taste, I present the key findings for each of the ten chapters below. Among the findings that I find most interesting are:

  • The cultural value chain is rapidly being transformed from a pipeline-like configuration to a network model – and few countries have a strategy in place to deal with these changes. (Chapter 3)
  • While the global North provides the main market destinations for artists and cultural practitioners from the global South, access to these destinations is becoming increasingly difficult in the current global security climate. (Chapter 5)
  • Across the board, the environmental impact of cultural production and artistic practice is not yet sufficiently taken into account. (Chapter 8)
  • The number of cities providing safe havens for artists at risk has continued to grow, reaching over 80 across the world. (Chapter 10)

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The latest edition of my Resources for Student Photographers includes over 190 online resources. As shown below, it is a curated list of hyperlinks organized into 21 categories:

  • Analog (Non-Digital) Info & Groups
  • Analog (Non-Digital) Supplies
  • Camera Gear & Supplies
  • Camera Gear Rental
  • Color Management
  • Copyright
  • Festivals & Events
  • Magazines & Journals (Print)
  • Magazines (Online) / Showcases For Photography
  • Miscellaneous
  • Online Learning / Courses (Paid)
  • Online Learning / General Topics (Free)
  • Organizations (Art-oriented)
  • Organizations & Events (Commercial & Editorial)
  • Photo Book Publishers
  • Photo Printing (Fine Art)
  • Photo Printing (including Books, Cards, Calendars…)
  • Portfolio Reviews
  • Web Photo Sharing & Storage Services
  • Web Portfolio Hosting Services
  • Workshops

You can download the PDF here > Photo Student Resources List by Syl Arena rev 171011


Animated loop of floppy disk from 1997 Sony Mavica digital camera being loaded into vintage laptop computer.
^ Do you remember the days when digital cameras used…floppy disks?

Twenty years ago, the most popular digital cameras had almost half-a-megabyte of resolution and used floppy disks for image storage. Truly. Watch this fun video from ‘The 8-Bit Guy’ on YouTube. He presents a great history lesson in the state of digital photography circa 1997.

Looking forward, I can’t imagine how archaic our current DSLRs and iPhones will look to photographers in 2037. Will they even call it digital photography then?

A Manual of Photography 4th Ed Robert Hunt 1854

Fig. 1 – Frontispiece and title page to 1854 (4th) edition of Robert Hunt’s A Manual of Photography. This book was contributed to by Ryerson University.

Students of photography can read iconic works from the earliest years of photography on This is a huge resource for anyone looking for old formulas or to research the arc of approaches to photography over time. As an example, I’ve posted the Table of Contents from Robert Hunt’s 1854 edition of A Manual to Photography just below (which I found here on When you consider that this book (it’s fourth edition!) was published just 15 years after the first practical discoveries of photographic processes, I think you will agree that this approach provides historic insights that cannot be gleaned from second- and third-generation histories of photography.

Figs. 2-5 – Table of Contents from 1854 (4th) edition of Robert Hunt’s A Manual of Photography. is an amazing resource provides free access to millions of titles and other types of media from collections around the world. Older books, those either out of copyright or published before the era of copyright, are available for download as a PDF (see below) and in formats specific to many eReaders. More recent titles, especially those from the mid-20th century on, can be “checked out” via download for 14 days without charge.

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I remain confident that most people want to do right in any given moment. Sometimes however, in the absence of enough information, we must call upon intent as our guiding star.

During a recent walk along the uncrowded beach near my home, I came upon a 6-inch turtle at the surf’s edge. I’ve walked hundreds of miles on this beach and have never heard of anyone coming upon a turtle. Yet, there it was in the beautiful golden hour light. Another passerby stated that it must be a baby sea turtle. I’m always open to witnessing a miracle, so I stayed to see a bit of nature unfold.

The little turtle seemed very focused on swimming out to sea. Yet, again and again the wind-blown waves pushed the creature back onto the sand. Occasionally the surf beached the turtle on its back—which required the luck of another few waves to flip it right side up.

Thinking that I was being a good turtle Samaritan, I eventually waded out into the 54º water and gently tossed the turtle beyond the near-shore breakers. Much to my dismay, it washed back ashore several minutes later—still determined to get off the beach and into the ocean.

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Something was clearly wrong here. So I phoned a nearby friend who teaches high school biology. No answer. As the turtle kept heading out into the waves and washing back onto the sand, I searched my phone for info on turtles on the central coast of California.

There was an article on a leatherback that spent some time in the area a few years ago. But the kayaker’s photo of the sea turtle showed that it had long, curved fins. My turtle had webbed legs with claws. Slowly an idea emerged…that this was a freshwater turtle and not a baby sea turtle.

The web eventually pointed me to local chapter of the California Turtle and Tortoise Club (yes, there are clubs for everything!). I proposed my quandary to the fellow who answered the rescue line. After a few texted photos, I was advised that indeed this struggling turtle was a southwestern pond turtle that likely had washed to sea from a local creek. Pond turtles, while not yet endangered, are considered a threatened species in coastal California.

Following the rescue line’s instructions, I carried the turtle up the coastline to the mouth of the creek and then inland a quarter-mile or so from the surf. In contrast to its vigor on the beach, the turtle stayed hidden within its shell after I set in on a gravel bar next to the water. Then, after five quiet minutes, the turtle slowly stuck out its neck. After another long minute, it extended its legs and walked into creek. With the vigor that I had witnessed on the beach, it swam to the bottom of the deep pool and stayed there.

I continue to think about how we respond to subtle clues. In hindsight, the facts that this turtle had claws and was so buoyant in saltwater that it could not dive under waves, seem like obvious telltales that it did not belong in the ocean. Yet, the context of the moment and the rarity of seeing a turtle on the beach provided plenty of distraction.

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^ Click this photo for more info on the RMSP flash photography workshop.

The passage of April into May is exciting for many reasons. Among the foremost is that the summer photo workshop season will soon be upon us.

For the fourth summer in a row, I will be teaching an introductory class on flash photography at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography in Missoula, Montana. I love heading to Missoula and completely understand why they say that “Montana is Big Sky Country.”

If you’ve been frustrated trying to learn flash techniques on your own, consider joining us. The week-long workshop starts with the fundamentals and then gently moves on to a variety of creative techniques. We use models as our primary subjects, but the techniques apply equally well to other types of photography (nature, food, product, etc.) As you can see in the photos below, we shoot every day on a range of locations — both indoors and outside.

This is the only flash workshop that I’ll be teaching this summer. Beyond the workshop, Missoula is a treasure-trove of great restaurants and a center for outdoor activities like whitewater rafting, fly fishing, horseback riding, mountain biking, etc. Glacier National Park is a couple of hours to the north. If you’re on the east coast, don’t worry about getting to Missoula. There are several major airlines (including Alaska, Delta, and United) that fly in.

Have a question about the workshop? Just ask via the comment form.

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I’ve taken the past six months off from social media—no Tweeting, blogging, etc. (although I did occasionally post a noteworthy #Crocs&sox photo on Instagram). There is so much noise on the web (the electoral noise may be over, but the consumerist noise will continue to rise). I’m thinking about how not to contribute to the din of it all.

I recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of my brain aneurysm. Of course, it’s not the aneurysm that I celebrated, but my 1-in-10 survival. Today is the day that I came home from Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara, still in need of tremendous healing, but able to join my family around the Thanksgiving table. A year later, I’m doing fine. There seem to be no long term disabilities.

Understandably, I think a lot about the spaces in my mind. The following are several self-metaphorical photographs that I created in my studio this fall. They are part of the work that I’ve been doing for my MFA (which I’ll write about soon). Contrary to the suspicion that everything is digitally manipulated these days, they are straight photographs created with a 4×5 camera and a vintage BetterLight scanning back. They represent where I’ve headed with my trichroic lighting since I first wrote about it here.


Syl_Arena_BL_161009__022, 10/9/16, 4:35 PM, 16C, 9000x12000 (0+0), 150%, Custom, 1/25 s, R47.6, G30.0, B54.3

Fig. 1: Syl Arena, Ela, Chromogenic print, 2016.

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Fig. 2: Syl Arena, Loak, Chromogenic print, 2016.

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Fig. 3: Syl Arena, Prin, Chromogenic print, 2016.

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Fig. 4: Syl Arena, Venk, Chromogenic print, 2016.

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Fig. 5: Syl Arena, Schen, Chromogenic print, 2016.

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Fig. 1: Syl Arena, Color Ribbon 9775, Digital C print, 24″ x 36″, 2016.

I am very proud to announce that my Color Ribbon 9775 will be exhibited this summer in New York as part of the Aperture Foundation’s “Summer Open 2016.” CR 9775 is part of my trichroic series in which I use separate red, green, and blue light sources to illuminate common materials. For a behind-the-scenes look at my early trichroic work, check out this post from February, 2015. For peek at recent trichroic work, click on the photo below to hop to an online gallery.

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Fig. 2 – Click through ^ to see recent works in my Trichroic series.

Charlotte Cotton served as curator for the show.  Charlotte is the Curator In Residence at the International Center for Photography in New York. The theme the Aperture show, “Photography Is Magic,” ties in with the title of Charlotte’s recent book by the same name. The exhibition includes the work of 50 photographers. It opens on July 14 and runs to August 11, 2016 at Aperture’s gallery in Chelsea. For details, click here.

My Artist Statement for the Aperture Summer Open

Visual ambiguity creates the magic in my ‘Color Ribbon’ series. These images play with the viewer’s perception of spatial organization. Questions of what is truly in front and what is behind reveal themselves slowly in these images.

In photographs, we interpret depth largely through clues provided by perspective and shadow. My slight-of-hand in this series is that I use three separate light sources in pure red, green, and blue. The merger of these three primary colors creates the secondary colors (yellow, cyan, and magenta). The separation of the sources and the resulting mergers of colored light cast multiple shadows that are often visually disconnected from the illuminated surface.

To create just a bit more visual magic, I use small, irregularly shaped mirrors to reflect light back onto the cut paper. For instance, redirecting red light coming from behind onto a green surface facing the lens creates a patch of yellow that distracts the viewer, thereby enhancing the illusion of the photograph’s spatial organization.

Of course there are small tells in each image—small clues that reward the viewer’s attention to detail. Bumps along the cut edges of the paper, in places, reveal that I have indeed photographed a sheet of paper that I cut into strips and rearranged as a jumbled bow. There are also spots where the paper’s texture becomes apparent through a highlight. Rather than hide these tells through digital manipulation, I leave them in plain sight to honor the sense of magic that is photography.



On the outside, the new 600EX II-RT Speedlite looks like the original 600EX-RT.

Canon recently announced an upgrade to its flagship Speedlite: the 600EX II-RT replaces the original 600EX-RT. My initial impression is that the new model is well-suited for power shooters who need faster recycle times. While the 600EX II-RT maintains the external layout of the 600EX-RT, the internal heat resistance has been improved to allow for longer runs of continuous shooting. For the fastest recycle times, you’ll want to pair the 600EX II-RT with the new CP-E4N battery pack.


Canon’s new CP-E4N battery pack provides the fastest recycle times when used with the 600EX II-RT Speedlite.

Rapid-fire shooters also will be glad to know that the “Quick Flash” feature (which fires the flash when only partially recharged) can now be used when the camera is set to Continuous drive. Also, when the 600EX II-RT is used as a radio master, off-camera Speedlites that are recycled will fire when others are not yet fully recycled. Previously, the system would not fire any off-camera Speedlites until all had checked in as ready-to-go.

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Art Camera Google Cultural Institute

Google’s Cultural Institute is providing their Art Camera to museums around the globe. The camera brings the gigapixel zoomability of the Google Earth experience to paintings and drawings. The detail of brushstrokes is amazing…better than sticking your nose up close and having a guard tap you on the shoulder. Plus, you can hop from museum to museum with just a few clicks.

Check the Art Camera out here on Mashable.

Click here to see the collection of Art Camera pix on the Google Cultural Institute site.

Google Art Cam example

Above: an example of the brushwork that can be seen in Cezanne’s painting Quarry at Bibémus.