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Castaways of the Marshall Islands | Exhibition October 19 to November 11 in Saint Brieuc

The Photoreporter Festival in Saint Brieuc, France is exhibiting the new work of 15 selected photographers. My project, “Castaways of the Marshall Islands,” focuses on Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean where the lives of the Marshallese people have been upended by decades of U.S. nuclear bomb experiments and ongoing ballistic missile tests.

October 19 to November 11

Galerie du Point Virgule
Langueux, Saint Brieuc

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For more upcoming events, please check my latest newsletter.

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Events and Exhibition in July in New York and San Francisco

There are two events linked to the U.S. release of “Behind the Curtains” in July:

‘Behind the Curtains’ exhibition

July 25 – August 31, 2012
Artist’s Reception: Thursday, July 26, 2012, 6:30pm – 9pm
VII Gallery
28 Jay Street, Dumbo – Brooklyn
2 blocks west of York Street station (F train)
New York

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‘Behind the Curtains’ book signing and artist talk

July 5th, 6pm – 8:30pm
Gallery Carte Blanche
973 Valencia Street
San Francisco


VII Photographers in London for Frontline’s Photo Week seminar

Join us —  VII Photographers —  May 22 at the Royal Institution of Great Britain for Frontline’s Photo Week seminar where you will find opportunities to ask questions and learn more about our work and the state of modern photojournalism.

9:00 Keynote address by Director and Founder of the Frontline Club Vaughan Smith

9:30 The Creation of VII Photo – The role of photojournalism in the 21st century

With Ron HavivGary KnightSeamus Murphy and John Stanmeyer.

11:00 Photographic Education: Finding your way

With Ashley GilbertsonRon Haviv and Anastasia Taylor-Lind. Moderated by Paul Lowe.

12:30 The New Economy: How to fund your projects

With Venetia DeardenEd KashiTomas van Houtryve and Donald Weber. Moderated by Stephen Mayes.

**I’ll explain how my latest personal project, Borderline: North Korea, was financed with the participation of the Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund, individual backers, and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.**

14:00 Book signing of Questions Without Answers – The World in Pictures by the Photographers of VII, Behind the Curtains 0f 21st Century Communism by Tomas van Houtryve, and other new and recent books by VII members.

Behind Communism’s Curtain talk at the Oslo Freedom Forum (video and transcript)

I had the opportunity to deliver a presentation about the subject of my book, “Behind the Curtains of 21st Century Communism” at the 2012 Oslo Freedom Forum. The forum brings together an exceptional group of human rights icons, high-level dissidents, artists, journalists and activists (such as modern slavery abolitionists) for several days of talks and meetings. Below you’ll find the video of my 11-minute speech and the full transcript.

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Two decades ago, the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War ended. Communism, was declared dead.

And many of you will remember that on November 9, 2009 Europe threw a huge party at the Brandenburg gate. World leaders were there, including Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy, Hillary Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachev. There were fireworks and one thousand giant dominoes were knocked down to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

On that very same day, I was in a dusty Chinese mountain town known as Yan’an. I watched as dozens of young Chinese actors in historical uniforms reenacted a battle between Maoist revolutionaries and the Kuomintang. In this display, it was the communist forces who were victorious.

Here, a world apart from the events in Berlin, the birth of communism was being celebrated, not its death.

Over the past seven years, I’ve been exploring this world apart with my camera.

It turns out that the areas of our planet where the Communist Party has managed to survive and adapt to the 21st century are far more vast and varied than most of us imagine.

Let’s put it in numbers:

Since the end of the Cold War, the Communist Party has managed to hold power in seven countries across three continents.That’s a total population of 1.47 billion people, with a majority living in China. Or, to put it another way: 1 in 5 people on this planet currently live under Communist Party rule.

And when I sought to take photographs of Maoist revolutionaries during the 21st century, I didn’t need to settle for a historical reenactment.

In Nepal, communist guerrillas following Mao Zedong’s playbook lead a bloody revolution which toppled the country’s monarchy in 2008. 13,000 people were killed in the brutal civil war between the Maoists and the Royal Nepal Army. Thousands of others were disappeared in the middle of the night.

Much of the fighting was a cruel game of cat-and-mouse which played out in remote villages. And it was unsuspecting civilians who bore the brunt of the violence.

Consider the case of this man, Sundar Chaudary, who I photographed in the casualty ward of the Nepalgunj hospital in 2004.

Chaudary spent the first 30 years of his life as a slave. Like his father and grandfather, and one of the other speakers at this forum, Urmila Chaudary, he was born indentured to a high-caste landlord, and he was forced to work 18-hour days.

After years of pressure, Nepal’s government finally acted to ban bonded labor. Eventually Chaudary and thousands of other families were freed of their inherited debts.

He had the chance to start a normal life. He built a modest, thatched-roof home for his family and began to work his own land.

Then one night, a band of Maoist rebels planted a communist flag on Chaudary’s land.

Early in the morning, a patrol of Royal Army troops passed by.

They demanded that he remove the flag. The flag pole was rigged to a mine, and it exploded in his face.

The Maoists considered Nepal’s horribly unjust pecking order as their call to arms. Yet so often their tactics, like building roads with forced labor and conscripting child soldiers, were as harmful as the injustices that they were fighting against.

The communist regimes that I visited during this project revealed time and again how their original pursuit of equality could be abandoned—or maintained as a mere façade—leaving power as an end in itself.

And we should never forget the consequences of totalitarian power. Experts estimate that 20th century communist dictators—including Mao, Stalin and Pol Pot—killed over 85 million people with a legacy of famines, purges and gulags.

North Korea’s Kim dynasty has carried forward their ideology, and its devastating results into the 21st century.

Chillingly, North Korea has managed to do so behind a curtain of total secrecy. When famines struck the Horn of Africa, the international media was filled with images of hungry people and appeals from air organizations.

Yet when famine killed a million people in North Korea, no images made it to the outside world. And North Korean officials kept aid organizations at arm’s length.

North Korea has also managed to keep the world in the dark about its vast system of forced labor camps, which are estimated to hold up to 200,000 people.

In addition to hiding the truth about its human rights abuses, North Korea inundates its own population with hate-filled xenophobic propaganda and paints a god-like image of its leaders.

In North Korea, neighbors and family members are encouraged to spy and snitch on each other to prove their loyalty. The result is a paranoid, militarized society an astounding cult of personality, and the formal absence or any individualism.

By keeping people in the dark about the true nature of totalitarian communist rule the ideology has retained an uncanny popularity over the years.

And many compassionate intellectuals, artists and normal people have cheered on the Communist Party, from Pablo Picasso and Charlie Chaplin to Jean-Paul Sartre and Ernest Hemingway.

For many people exploited by the injustices of capitalism, it has been hard to imagine or remember that another system could be worse.

In 2001, a majority of voters brought the Communist Party back in power through democratic elections in the former Soviet republic of Moldova.

The small landlocked country, which borders the European Union, had struggled to find its footing in the volatile world of global capitalism. Nostalgia for the stability and super-power status of the Soviet Union ran high.

The spell lasted all the way until April 2009, when the Communist Party won another round of elections, although this time they were accused of electoral fraud. Students stormed the parliament in disgust, and they destroyed symbols of the Communist Party.

Fresh elections were organized, followed by period of political instability, until eventually a coalition of pro-European Union parties gained power.

Cuba’s leaders seem equally nostalgic for the past era of Soviet power, and they remain doggedly attached to its model for a centrally planned economy. Despite the poor performance record of this economic model everywhere else in the world, Cuba’s leadership skillfully relies on the stubborn, long-running U.S. embargo as the ideal pretext for deflecting any and all scrutiny and criticism away from the Communist Party’s policies.

But the model that is far more common today is the new breed of state-sponsored capitalism which was perfected by China and adopted by Vietnam and Laos. These countries have embraced the free market, but not in a way that was predicted. High-level Communist Party officials and powerful businesses work together hand-in-glove. The CEO’s of all of China’s big companies in strategic sectors are members of the Communist Party, hand-picked by top officials for their loyalty.

And those capitalist businesses which are boosted with authoritarian steroids perform very well on the global stage, often with the willing participation of foreign investors.

At home, the destructive excesses and inequalities of capitalism now flourish, and without the counterbalances of a free press and independent labor unions. Vocal critics of industrial pollution, mining projects and unfair working conditions are often treated in the same harsh manner as political dissidents by authorities.

When these countries started down the path of economic openness, most commentators predicted that political reforms and progress on human rights would follow.

Those predictions haven’t come true.

Nowhere is that as evident as it is in Laos.

The country’s first stock exchange, which you see here, opened up in the capital last year. A string of glitzy casinos can now be seen near the banks of the Mekong river. But deep in the jungles of Laos, it is as if the Cold War never ended.

There, ethnic Hmong people are living in hiding, constantly in fear of attacks by the Lao People’s Army. Why? Because the Hmong collaborated with French and then American forces during the Vietnam War. After the U.S. was defeated and communist forces took over Laos in 1975, they continued to hunt down the Hmong, a practice which endures to this day.

The Hmong eek out their existence by scavenging for roots in the jungle. They move their makeshift camps every few weeks to avoid detection. When army patrols discover them and open fire, it is often the slowest and the weakest who are gunned down before they can flee into the brush.

For these ethnic Hmong, who still live in the cross hairs of a Communist regime, it would never cross their minds to tell you that communism is dead.

© Tomas van Houtryve 2012. All rights reserved. Do not copy, publish, re-post or archive without the author’s permission.

Events in May for “Behind the Curtains” in Oslo, Paris and London

As the launch date approaches for my forthcoming book, “Behind the Curtains of 21st Century Communism,” there are three big events planned in Oslo, London and Paris that I’ll be participating in. Full details are available at the links below:

Oslo Freedom Forum

“Behind Communism’s Curtain” talk at the Oslo Freedom Forum

Tuesday, May 8 2012

Oslo, Norway

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La lutte continue

La lutte continue – Behind the Curtains book signing and reception

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Paris, France

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VII Photo seminar Frontline

Frontline Club – VII Photo Seminar and book signing

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Royal Institution of Great Britain in London

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Three Photo Exhibitions Starting in November

Three photo exhibitions on diverse themes of my work are starting this month in Wales, Quebec and Tuscany. Details below:

Behind the Curtains of XXI Century Communism

Behind the Curtains of 21st Century Communism

Solo Exhibition

19 November, 2011 to 8 January, 2012
Opening night: 18 November, 7:00PM

Third Floor Gallery
Cardiff, Wales

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VII Looks East

VII Looks East

Featuring Nepal Revolution by Tomas van Houtryve

Group Exhibition with VII Photographers

19 November 2011 to 29 January 2012

Lucca Photo Fest
Lucca, Italy

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Aid and Abet

Aid and Abet

Featuring Niger Food Crisis by Tomas van Houtryve

Group Exhibition with VII Photographers

2 November to 27 November, 2011
Opening Night: Thursday 3 November, 7:00PM

Zoom Photo Festival
Saguenay, Quebec

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Leica Oskar Barnack Award – slideshow – the winners and finalists

The winners and finalists of the 2011 Leica Oskar Barnack Award were projected at the Arles Photo festival in July. You can see the presentation in the video below. My subject, “21st Century Communism,” is shown third, starting at 3:27 in the 18:00 minute clip.

“Laos | Open Secret” goes public with books, Paris screening and VII feature

Thanks to the support of 140+ project backers on, my story about Laos is going public.

• You can now find it featured on the VII Photo website:

VII feature: Laos | Open Secret

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• A softcover mini-book is now available for purchase directly from Blurb:

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• There is also a hardcover collector’s version of the book, which is limited to 100 signed and numbered copies. Please contact me directly for price and availability.

Laos | Open Secret

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• If you are in the Paris area on Monday, June 20, the new photos from Laos will be included in a screening of “Behind the Curtains of 21st Century Communism” as part of the Slideluck Potshow Paris II. The event includes projections of more than 30 other photographers and takes place from 7:00 PM to 11:45 PM at Le BAL, 6 impasse de la défense, 75018 Paris.

Award of Excellence from POYi and an Honorable Mention from the Photography Book Now Competition

One of my photos from the floods in Pakistan has earned a Pictures of the Year Award in the General News category.

POYi Award of Excellence, Storm in the Swat Valley

Admitedly, it feels less dramatic than winning the top prize last year. The names of the 2011 winning photographers will not be listed on the POYi website until after Feb. 22, when the judging for all categories is completed. However it looks like PDN has managed to uncloak the identities of other winners and is listing Damon Winter as Newspaper Photographer of the Year and Andrees Latif as Freelance Photographer of the Year. Huge congratulations to both of them!

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And in another contest, one of my pre-production book prototypes, titled Behind the Curtains, won an Honorable Mention in the 2010 Photography Book Now Competition. Although my 21st Century Communism project is ongoing, this helps bring it on step closer to completion. Onwards comrades, to the final victory…


Behind the Curtains (pre-production book prototype)

Behind the Curtains - pre-production prototype (and a Zorki from Cuba for scale)

Exhibitions in Perpignan and Los Angeles

Visa pour l’image, the international photojournalism festival held annually in Perpignan, France, will feature an exhibition of my long-term project:

Behind the Curtains: Stories from the Last Communist Holdouts

At the end of the Cold War, most states under communist rule shed their Marxist principles and scrambled to join a new international order. A few did not. Whether due to the steel fist of totalitarianism, unaddressed class inequality or selective nostalgia, these places continue to hold out against the tides of history. Documenting contemporary Moldova, North Korea, Cuba, China, Nepal, Vietnam and Laos, the exhibition explores communism holding on, mutating and adapting to the 21st century.

Along with shows by William Albert Allard, Cedric Gerbehaye, Stephanie Sinclair, Gali Tibbon, Munem Wasif, and others, the prints will be on display from 28 August to 17 September. All exhibitions are free and open to the public.

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Additionally, the Pictures of the Year International (POYi) exhibition will be held at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles, California and feature several of my images in print and multimedia formats.

The show will run from 24 June to August, 2010
Wednesday – Sunday, 11:00 am – 6:00 pm

Photographer of the Year, First Place at the POYi Awards

Rick Shaw, director of Pictures of the Year International, called me last night to inform me that I had won the Photographer of the Year Award. My portfolio of 50 winning images can been seen on the POYi website here.

The work includes four single images and photo essays from China, Moldova and Cuba. Most of the pictures are part of my ongoing project about 21st century communism.

In 2008, I was the runner-up for this award. The first place prize that year went to John Moore (my former boss when we both shot for The Associated Press).

The POYi awards have been given annually since 1944. Past winners of this honor include Alfred Eisenstaedt, Larry Burrows, Eddie Adams, David Alan Harvey, David Burnett, James Brandenburg, James Nachtwey, Steve McCurry, James Stanfield, Eugene Richards, Christopher Morris, Anthony Suau, Yunghi Kim, Chien-Chi Chang, John Stanmeyer, Jon Lowenstein, Marcus Bleasdale and Christopher Anderson.

The judges this year reviewed more than 42,000 images. The awards ceremony will be held at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles in June, 2010.

*UPDATE, March 1: Photo District News posted an article with more information and winners in the other POYi categories.

Lecture and Slideshow about Nepal in New York City on 1 Oct. 2009

**UPDATE: This event is now overbooked. You can be added to the waiting list through the RSVP link.**

I will present and discuss a selection of photographs from my series on the Maoist revolution in Nepal at NYU’s Institute for Public Knowledge on October 1st.


The photos date from 2004 through 2008, chronicling the end of the monarchy and the rise to power of the Maoists.

The discussion will be moderated by Mira Kamdar, Senior Fellow World Policy Institute and author Planet India: The Turbulent Rise of the Largest Democracy and the Future of Our World.

Photos from this presentation will also be part of the Moving Walls 16 exhibition. The exhibition will open on September 29, 2009 at the Open Society Institute’s New York City office.

A reception with refreshments with follow the presentation.

This event is free and open to the public with photo ID, but space is limited, so RSVP is strongly recommended to secure a seat.

This event is co-sponsored by the World Policy Institute and Asia Society.

Full event details are available here.

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Exhibition in Paris: “Nepal | Rituels et Revolution”

“Népal | Rituels et Révolution”

This exhibition traces the story of contemporary Nepal and the struggle between the rigidly traditional monarchy and the repeated attempts of the people to create a lasting revolution.

Opening reception from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm on Thursday, 26 February 2009
Exhibition runs from 27 February to 5 April 2009

In My Room. Gallery
32 rue Rodier
75009 Paris
tel. 01 42 00 23 59


Protected: Slideshow at FFYE: “The Secret Nation”

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