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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Blogging Backwards & No Fly Lists

© Nina Buesing Corvallo

My trip to Sweden & the Artic Circle was A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. - as my friend and sometime editor Tim would say. Like Emily, I have never been good with "projects", but oh my, photographing all of Sapmi could be one for me.
I loved it there and it was all I imagined it would be. Remarkable since it was a trip that I wanted to take since childhood and now being an adult, I was fully prepared for this trip to not live up to my childhood expectations -- but Sapmi delivered.
I had such a good time that I am reluctant to share too much about the trip here, I kinda want to keep the experience to myself a little longer. Like the secret of a newly blossomed love. Seriously.
So I decided to blog backwards. I will start out with the end of my trip.

The very last part of my trip was not so good.
We flew back from Stockholm to New York. And at the airport I confirmed what I have had been worried about for some time. My name is or was flagged by the TSA.
I did a little online research on this and believe that while I am not on the notorious "no-fly" list, I am however on a (permanent) selectee list (or so I think).
A list that cautions airline security to scrutinize me more than others and potentially could lead to me being denied boarding or to be perhaps even arrested.
AGAIN: I understand completely that this is the world we now live in and believe me I want to be safe and understand that extra precautions must be taken.
However I can tell you this is disconcerting experience to go through.
To make a long story short, in addition to the usual extensive questioning before boarding a direct flight to the US , we had to undergo additional screening. We were 'grilled' extensively and had to produce evidence of were we had travelled and explain over and over again why we had decided to travel to Sweden and the Artic Circle.
We were passed on from one airline employee to another.
I really became concerned when airline employee number one stepped away from his computer terminal and I could see a yellow warning sign next to my name on his computer screen. That was a terrible feeling.
I have been unable to pre-print boarding passes , but usually I am only ask a few additional questions and my IDiss verified at the airport and then I am given my boarding pass.
My husband asked the second airline employee why we were being asked extra questions and what prompted them to be concerned about us. D. did so in a calm manner, but that was enough to escalate things. Airline employee number two said: "I tried to do this the nice way, but sine you can't do that we have to do it a different way. And if you want to fly you better change your attitude."
Seriously. Like out of a bad TV show.
At this point I had to calm down my husband and myself too. Because how freakin' un-American is that? You can't ask a question?! One's name is a on a list for no reason? Was this Europe 60 years ago?!
But as anyone knows, your best bet with authorities is to remain polite and accommodating as long as you can.
Our bags were unpacked and x-rayed and searched in a separate room by a third airline security employee.
We of course made it through the screening with flying colors (pun intended), because we are of course as harmless as one can be. All they found were moon boots, Swedish liquorice and lots of long underwear.
We then were allowed to check our bags. Our bags were given a special sticker that said something about stand-by.
D. asked what that was all about and airline employee number 4 replied that this is normal procedure. Sure it is.
All this took over an hour. Luckily we had arrived early at the airport.
We made it through regular screening and passport control to our gate. Border control did not seem concerned with us (neither did they on the US side upon arrival in Newark).
I purchased some souvenirs in a duty free shop for friends and family and we proceeded to the gate.
Boarding began almost immediately. But not for us. Once again airline employee number one appeared. Pulled us aside and we had to once more unpack all of our carry-on luggage and it was x-rayed again. Including my film, which of course is what you want to avoid as much as possible as an analog photographer.
Our persons were also screened additionally (no same sex screener for me btw) and pretty much at the very last minute we were allowed to board.
While we were boarding we heard some guy screaming in front of the gate area. We are not sure what was going on but we believe he was denied boarding.
Conclusion to all this:
The US remains on high alert. New York remains the number one target.
And I am concerned about how all this will affect me traveling. My family(& framily) is spread around the globe and I travel for my work all the time. I am OK to submit myself for extra screening, I don't even have a problem with coming early to the airport. HOWEVER I am very concerned that one cannot ask questions as this happens to you, that it seems like their is no proper due process and I worry about this escalating further.
If you google "no fly lists" you can find plenty of horror stories and warnings about what might happen to you if dare to travel to far away places.
Still I believe in America, otherwise I certainly would not be blogging about my experience. I have nothing to hide. As my husband likes to say: you take pictures of pretty horses and blog about orange juice. I am not edgy or even interesting.
But I do feel a duty to speak up.
I know like us you are wondering why I am on that list. I don't know. I am truly a benign person. (Much like 5-year old Sam Adams).
However as I said, I travel a lot. In 2007 I travelled to Indonesia. It says so in my biometric passport. Of course it does not say that I travelled there to attend one of my dearest friends wedding in Bali. My hometown is Hamburg, Germany and I travel home every year. Probably also something that could raise a flag with an algorithm. I travel to Belize up to three times a year as show the entry visas in my passport. It does not say in my passport that my parents in law retired there to spend their golden years in a warmer climate. I changed my name when D. and I married, probably another factor.
I like emergency row exit seats because they give you more legroom, so I always request them.
I graduated from the UN School and thus have a very diverse group of friends from many countries. I spent time as a kid in the Middle East when my dad was working there as an engineer.
I blog. About horses, photography and orange juice packaging. I always travel with a lot of (mostly analog) cameras.
I am self-employed because I am a freelance photographer, artist & art consultant. I speak three languages and I am in my mid-thirties, married but have no children. I think Prop 8 is discrimination.
I guess these days that means I am veering too much from the norm.
There must be a better way.
When I travelled to Bali, all the Balinese I met were so excited that we came from America. Indonesians were so friendly and happy to have us visit. But what really shocked me was that people in Northern Sweden where surprised to have us visit from North America. Several people told us that we were the first people from the US they had met -- ever.
I hope we made a good impression and functioned as good ambassadors, because I think America has a PR problem. I certainly can tell you that the Swedish employees of the US airline we flew with did not have a good impression of America -- and not because of us. And I am not kidding that these Swedish airline employees were visibly shacking in their boots as they searched us. Who knows what they have been told a warning sign next to a name indicates.

As my parents always say: There are nice people everywhere. And as my mother-in-law always says: once you experience the new it is not scary anymore.
So I say stretch your legs, meet one another, see new places and learn that we are all in the same boat.

Note: I know about DHS TRIP and I will inquire with them.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Okie Dokie

Ok, back to blogging and all that:

Allerton, 2006 © Maria Passarotti

First off my friend Maria "Motorina" Passarotti has an opening tonight in Dumbo at Safe-T-Gallery. Maria's work is also up for auction with Daniel Cooney at igavel.com currently.
An auction beautifully curated by Dan that also features work by another friend and Nymphoto cohort: Jane Tam. As well as a timeless image by the fabulous Ellen Rennard and a keenly observed image by my blog buddy Susana Raab.
I also much like Satomi Shirai's work in this auction and am tickeled by Laurie Sermos' "Flamingos in Berlin" image. If you are interested in Satomi Shirai's work, don't forget to check out Jane's interview with Kanako Sasaki over at the Nymphoto Blog, I bet you will like Kanako's work if you like Satomi Shirai's work.
But back to the auction: I was happy to see work by my fellow NYU/ICP alumn Aram Jibilian included, aswell as Palmer Davis' image "Two Swimmers" -- which ignited my 'Wanderlust'.

from "asleep at sea" ©Jane Tam

All the work in the auction can also be viewed at the gallery and it is a great time to go, because through April 18 the Francesca Romeo & Tema Stauffer exhibit is up at the gallery as well.