White House propaganda


When Bashar al-Assad joined Instagram last week, US media waged an intifada lambasting the embattled Syrian president for his “propaganda” effort.

“Instagram becomes latest propaganda tool for Syria’s embattled president,” read the headline in the Washington Post.

“This Is What It Looks Like When A Brutal Dictator Starts Using Instagram,” said BuzzFeed.

“Syrian President Assad’s Desperate Instagram Feed,” wrote the Daily Beast.

“Syrian president recruits Instagram in ongoing propaganda war,” said The Verge.

“Bashar Assad’s Instagram Is Every Bit The Propaganda You’d Expect From The Syrian President’s Social Media Minions,” said the always elaborate Huffington Post.


Around that same time White House photographer Pete Souza, a former photojournalist with Chicago newspapers hired by the president in 2009, also joined Instagram.

Here’s how some of those headlines read:

“White House photographer debuts Instagram account,” said the Washington Post.

“White House Photographer Joins Instagram And It’s Amazing,” said BuzzFeed.

“Turning Politics to Art: WH Photog Launches Instagram Account,” said Time magazine, which was lucky to land an interview with Souza soon after.

But Time didn’t ask the former news photographer how he feels now that he’s surrendered all independence and is getting paid to disseminate images of the president that the US government wants us to see. Instead Souza was asked about Bo, the White House dog.

“The Instagrams of Bo are excellent – how is he as a subject?”

Followed by this hard-hitting question:

“Are you going to do any selfies?”

There’s a very simple explanation for why we’re not going to see Obama signing his secret weekly kill lists or operating drones over civilian areas in Pakistan, just as we’re not going to see images of Assad  shelling homes in Aleppo or the underground detention centers where opposition activists are held. Both men (and their respective staffs) control what is allowed to be published on these social media platforms.

I don’t disagree that Assad’s Instagram account is propaganda, it clearly is. But let’s not kid ourselves that Obama’s account is anything different. So why aren’t US media calling it that?

A cold day in Chicago

The high was 30 degrees (-1 C) in Chicago today, but the brisk wind made it feel much cooler. Office smokers put on their heavy coats to go outside for the 3-4 minutes it took to get their nicotine fix. Even pigeons looked miserable as they huddled behind bus stops and other wind-blocking barriers on sidewalks knowing it was too cold for any children to chase after them. A perfect day, I thought, to test out my new Fuji X-pro1 camera. Unlike my other Canon DSLRs, the Fuji and its lenses are small and discreet. It’s easy to travel with and doesn’t make me feel like I’m some overcompensating Harley-rider in need of a massive camera around my neck just to take a few pics. Earlier as I strolled around the Loop, Chicago’s downtown, I didn’t feel like I drew much attention to myself, which I like when doing street photography. The results are above.

“Day of Departure”

Hundreds of thousands again came out to the “Day of “Departure” protest at Cairo’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square to call for the ouster of the US-backed regime of Hosni Mubarak. At the day’s end, Mubarak had yet to depart. But with non-stop protests continuing not only in Cairo but across Egypt, the dictator’s real day of departure will come soon.

(matthew cassel)

A man holds a donkey with 'Mubarak' written on it in Arabic (matthew cassel)

A woman walks by an area near Tahrir where clashes have happened between pro-democracy protesters and Mubarark's thugs who have tried to invade the square (matthew cassel)

A couple of revolutionary soldiers take a lunch break. For the past few days, they have fought and thrown stones at Mubarak's thugs who tried to invade Tahrir Square. When asked why he was in the streets, one told me: because we're tired and we want to work, we want to eat, we want to live. (matthew cassel)

Tahrir at sunset (matthew cassel)

And this is a banner hanging from a building at Tahrir listing protesters’ demands, you can find them translated below (thanks Hicham):

(matthew cassel)

1) Bringing down the President
2) Dissolution of both houses of parliament
3) Immediate end to state of emergency
4) Formation of a transitional government of national unity
5) Elected parliament to undertake constitutional amendments to hold presidential elections
6) Immediate trials of those responsible for the murder of the revolution’s martyrs
7) Expedient trials of the corrupt and thieves of the country’s wealth

And this is a video (not shot by me) from tonight that shows protesters singing some of the chants from the past week. The chorus is, “All of us are one hand, and we have one demand: Leave! Leave! Leave!”

Football in the Baddawi refugee camp

image: matthew cassel

Do you know why I love photography? Let me tell you.

While I was organizing my hard drive tonight I came across some images from a couple years ago. I saw one unnamed folder and opened it to take a quick peek inside assuming that whatever was in there wouldn’t be that interesting. I picked a random image to inspect when it hit me. It flew right off the screen and up against my face: Football in the Baddawi refugee camp.

This is why I take photographs. They have an ability to reach out to a viewer like no other medium. Film? Film you have to be prepared for. However it’s presented, you can’t open a film and be immediately struck by it like a photograph. Not to knock film, I love it. And I think it has the ability to reach out to tell a much fuller story than one image, one frame can. Text? As a photographer intent on telling a story I will never present my images without text. It’s needed to give context to an image, because without context what have you got? How would you know that the footballers (and yes, apologies to my friends from the US but I have moved on to the international word for “soccer”) are third generation Palestinian refugees born in exile? Or that these teams were from the neighboring refugee camp that was just completely destroyed in a battle that had nothing to do with them? Back to text — while on its own text can sometimes be nice especially when reading fiction, it can never have the same impact as an image.

An image’s power lies in its accessibility. Just sit back and take it in from afar or get up close and inspect its every detail, it’s up to you. However you want to view an image it’s there for you. Now it’s on my website, another image is in a a magazine, on a wall, or on your phone even. The point is that it’s there, begging to tell you a quick (or long if you so choose) story.

The only problem is how do we get better images into more accessible places?


These images are all from one day when I went to the Baddawi refugee camp in the north of Lebanon in September 2007. The people in the photographs are almost all from the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp who were forced to seek refuge in the nearby Baddawi refugee camp while their homes were destroyed during a war between the Lebanese army and an extremist group called Fatah al-Islam. For those old enough to have lived through 1948, when they were initially made refugees, as well as subsequent wars over the decades, this was not the first time to lose their homes. I’ve met Palestinian refugees in Lebanon who have had to flee their “home” up to five or six times. It’s shocking but true. Palestinian refugees are the largest refugee population in the world today and it’s been more than 60 years that they’ve been denied their most fundamental right.

It’s hard to imagine how spirits could still be high in such a situation. The below might help explain why that is.

image: matthew cassel

image: matthew cassel

image: matthew cassel

image: matthew cassel

See also: Lebanon: Nahr al-Bared refugee camp


It’s incredible that scenes like this still exist in an age where I can photograph them with a camera on my mobile phone.

A building in Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp was destroyed in 2007 -- picture taken December 2009. (image: matthew cassel)