The Santa Barbara International Film Festival

Santa Barbara’s annual film festival just kicked off and I’ll be covering the events again, as I have for the past eight years. The annual film fest turns 30 this year. It’s become one of the major events of its kind, in no small part because of its proximity to Hollywood and fortuitous timing—right in the middle of award season—when actors, directors, producers and other industry insiders are hitting the Oscar trail. This year the festival runs a full 12 days and features a jam-packed schedule of screenings, tributes, panels, award presentations and other events. And plenty of celebrity appearances. I love the event and see it as something of a working vacation. Please stay tuned, as I’ll be adding lots more photos here over the next several days.

Photos from Burning Man 2014

Burning Man 2014 photos by Scott London

2014 marked my eleventh consecutive year at Burning Man. It was as wonderful and enchanting as ever, complete with big art, beautiful people, dear friends, stellar performances, and—of course—wild infernos.

Burning Man 2014 coincided with the publication of our new coffee-table book, Burning Man: Art on Fire, with writer Jennifer Raiser and fellow photographer Sidney Erthal. So in addition to the usual festivities, there were a lot of interviews, signings, and other book-related activities—which seems crazy because the dusty Black Rock Desert is the last place you would want to bring a book!

This year Burning Man started off with an intense thunderstorm, one that actually shut down the event for almost 24 hours. It offered up a perspective of the playa I had never seen before — open desert, stormy skies, and a playground of large-scale art installations completely devoid of people. Thankfully, the weather improved by midweek and was nearly perfect for the remainer of the event.

It turned out to be a great year for photography, if not a great year for me personally (due to an ill-timed kidney stone).

It was my third year covering Burning Man for RollingStone.com. You can view the Rolling Stone set online under the title, “Burning Man 2014’s Trippiest Photos.” I’m not sure how “trippy” they are. (Frankly, I think other photographers do “trippy” better than me.) But I did try to capture some of what the editors describe as “the desert festival’s coolest cars, happiest campers and most mind-blowing art installations.”

I’ve gathered a set of 100 personal favorites from this year’s festivities here on my own site: Burning Man 2014

Solstice Celebration

Each year at the end of June, Santa Barbara, California, officially kicks off summer with a three-day Solstice Celebration. The highlight of the event is a parade famous for its whimsical floats, colorful stiltwalkers, goofy performance artists, Brazilian drummers, and giggling kids donning masks, costumes, and painted faces — to say nothing of the amazing samba dancers wearing feathers and sequins and not much else. The annual event got its start in 1974 and now attracts upward of 100,000 visitors and some 1,000 participants from near and far.

For more photos, check out the complete set from Solstice 2014.

You can also view images from previous years here:

Art Cars

In addition to ephemeral art installations, Burning Man is famous for its art cars and tricked out “mutant vehicles.” These are often wildly creative contraptions designed as much to impress and amaze as to have a rockin’ good time. Think party platforms, stripper poles, flamethrowers, full service bars, disco balls and flashing lights, cushioned interiors covered in velvet and faux fur, obnoxiously loud sound systems and pretty much anything else you can think of. The bigger and more outlandish the better. The only rule is that the vehicle shouldn’t look too much like a vehicle.

MSN has gathered a collection of 48 of my photos in a slideshow that captures some of the best and most brilliant art cars from the last ten years. You can view it here or click on the photo below.

MSN Slideshow

 

Nobel Peace Prize for 2013

The routine is the same every year. The Norwegian Nobel Committee calls a press conference on the second Friday of October at the Nobel Institute in Oslo. At 11:00 a.m. sharp, the chairman enters the room, greets the international press corps, and announces the committee’s choice for the annual Nobel Peace Prize. The announcement typically consists of a short written statement, read first in English and then in Norwegian. The chairman then takes a few questions from the press, whereupon everyone rushes off to file their news reports.

This year was no different, except that word got out about an hour before the announcement that the winner was the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the U.N. watchdog group. NRK, Norway’s leading news organization, had leaked the information ahead of the announcement and it spread like wildfire, thanks in no small part to the social media rumor mill—Twitter, in particular.

It wasn’t exactly an exciting choice, especially for those of us gathered at the Nobel Institute hoping for a big win for, say, Malala Yusoufzai—the global favorite this year—or Russian human rights activists like Svetlana Gannushkina and Lyudmila Alexeyeva, or the great American peace scholar Gene Sharp, whom I’ve been pulling for in recent years.

The leak meant that by the time Thorbjørn Jagland, the committee chairman, stepped up to the microphone, the announcement seemed like more of a formality than a riveting news event.

It goes without saying that the OPCW is a worthy recipient. Over the last decade and a half, the organization has been working to dismantle and destroy chemical weapons, to prevent the creation of new ones, and to help countries protect themselves against chemical attacks.The organization has been especially busy in recent months working to eliminate Syria’s stocks of chemical arms under a deal brokered by the U.S. and Russia.

This award follows in a long tradition of Nobel Peace Prizes to individuals and groups working for disarmament. This work is as vital as ever and a crucial part of the international peace effort.

But I was disappointed to see the Peace Prize go to an organization for the second year in a row. The best awards are those given to individuals, not organizations. Both the international recognition and the money mean far more to an individual laureate than to an impersonal institution or association.

I have spoken with individuals who were part of organizations that won the Nobel Peace Prize. Some will tell you, without batting an eye, that receiving the award and being under the global media spotlight distracted them from their mission and created organizational challenges that set their work back.

It’s worth noting that Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor who founded the prize, did not intend for it to be given to organizations. He wanted to support men and women who were “champions of peace.” For him, that term implied a passionate activism and idealism. He saw his prize as a kind of development grant, like the “Genius” awards given out by the MacArthur Foundation, that would have no strings attached and could free a laureate to pursue his or her highest calling.

In a curious twist, Nobel’s intentions were ignored after his will was probated. In drafting the statutes of the foundation established to oversee the awards, Nobel’s heirs and their lawyers insisted on a more open-ended interpretation of the founder’s wishes—presumably to avoid any possible corruption of the prizes. That has freed the Nobel committee to give the award to individuals and organizations alike.

This year I reported on the Nobel Peace Prize for the CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). In the reports and interviews following the announcement, the question on everyone’s mind revolved around Malala. Why didn’t she win the prize? Would it have been too heavy a burden to place on a 16-year-old girl? Will she perhaps win next year?

Who knows? She certainly would have been a risky choice for the Norwegian Nobel Committee. She’s still a child, after all, and there is no telling how a prestigious award of this magnitude could change the direction of her life. She has already been targeted and nearly killed by the Taliban for her campaign to promote education for girls in Pakistan.

As I mentioned in an AFP interview the other day, Malala would also have been a controversial choice for the committee in the wake of several unfortunate awards, including those to President Obama and the European Union.

There’s a growing chorus of critics around the world saying that the prize has become overly politicized, that laureates are chosen less on merit and more on their perceived publicity value, and that the committee has, in some profound way, deviated from the original charter of the prize. Those criticisms would almost certainly have grown louder had Malala been chosen this year.

Malala said herself that she hasn’t done enough to deserve a Nobel Peace Prize. I agree. But she’s still young and she will no doubt go on to do even greater things. And she may yet win the prize in coming years.

As I made my way back to the hotel last night, I walked past Oslo’s City Hall. At the top of both towers, a large-scale projection with the words “Because I am a girl” marked the International Day of the Girl. It seemed fitting that for all the talk about advancing peace and doing away with chemical weapons, at the end of the day the conversation came back around to that Pakistani schoolgirl, the one who has captured the world’s imagination and emerged as one of its most compelling symbols of freedom and courage.

Here I am (in the front row with a gray jacket) at the Nobel Institute in Oslo