August 17, 2011 2:57 PM EDT

Associated Press photographer Rodrigo Abd recently traveled to Coban, Guatemala to document the women competing to become this year’s National Indigenous Queen of Guatemala.

In a country where about 40 percent of people self identify as indigenous, the contest carries great prestige, especially as rapid globalization threatens to sweep aside Mayan traditions. The women, who ranged in age from 14 to 26, went through multiple rounds of competition and were expected to give speeches in both Spanish and their native tongue. Twenty-three-year-old Rosa Lidia Aguare Castro of Santa Lucia La Reforma was this year’s winner. Meanwhile, Abd was doing his own part to uphold tradition by using a 19th century style wooden box camera he had bought in Afghanistan.

As if anything could be worse than being called the "iron frau," former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi called her an "unf**kable lard-ass."
When the legendary television journalist was hospitalized after bad fall, blogs said she was "still bossy from bed," and a spokesman from ABC News said she was "alert (and telling everyone what to to), which we all take as a very positive sign." As rumors swirl about Walter's possible retirement, TMZ's headline read "Barbara Walters Bitches About Retirement Plans."
Kim wins. That is the unsurprising outcome of North Korea's first legislative election under the leadership of its third generation dictator, Kim Jong Un. State media report that nearly 100% of eligible North Koreans voted in Sunday's poll, and 100% cast votes in favor of the status quo. This is only partly as ridiculous as it sounds: voting is mandatory and there is one option on the ballot. Indeed, when North Korea votes, it votes. When exactly 100% of eligible North Korean set out to cast votes 100% in favor of pre-determined politicians, they were carried forth on "billows of emotion and happiness,” state media reported. And nowhere were they happier — or more billowy, presumably — that in Kim Jong Un's district, Mount Paektu, the Korean peninsula's highest peak. The group that voted at the storied site were so moved by the exercise that they spontaneously burst into song, state media said. It is easy to chuckle at the thought of the country's khaki-clad officials being overcome by the joy of casting a ballot. (If only the U.S. primaries could be such fun.) But as much as the elections are a sham, they are a sham worth studying. This stranger-than-fiction display gives us a better sense of how the country is run. The once-every-five-year vote is an important exercise in political propaganda. Take Kim Jong Un's district. Mount Paektu is North Korea's Holy land. It was here that Kim Jong Un's grandfather, Kim Il Song, and a small group of his associates are said to have repelled the Japanese. It was here that Kim Il Song's son and successor, Kim Jong Il, is said to have been born. Kim Jong Un's right to rule is based on his link to the "Paektu Bloodline" — and to the mythology of the mountain itself. The vote also serves practical purposes. Forcing 100% of eligible North Koreans to vote every five years is a way for the government to keep tabs on the population. North Korean defectors report that vote acts as an informal census, with neighborhood committees, called inminban, closely monitoring who shows up and who doesn't. Since a single person's absence could cast suspicion on an entire clan, people working, say, near or across the Chinese border, make a point of returning to their hometowns to cast their votes. The polls also no doubt gave Kim Jong Un a chance to shape the parliament. Though it is largely a symbolic body (it generally meets once a year), North Korea-watchers will be studying the poll to glean information about how power is being distributed under the young dictator. Since coming to power, Kim Jong Un has purged several of his father's allies and promoted younger cadres. Will he continue to bolster this next generation of leaders? It seems so. Kim Jong Un used election day to give his sister, Kim Yo Jong, some air time. Yo Jong, who is believed to be 26, was filmed accompanying her brother to vote. Though she has been seen in public before, most notably at Kim Jong Il's funeral, this was a relatively high-profile outing. Conspicuously absent, meanwhile, was Kim Kyong-hui, sister to Kim Jong Il, aunt to Kim Jong Un, and wife of ousted official Jang Song Thaek. She has not been seen since her husband's execution. Given the tightly-scripted nature of North Korean political theater, the optics are probably not an accident. For those not distracted by the song and dance, the message is clear: There is a new sister on the scene. And Mount Paektu's third generation is now running the show.
The once-every-five-year vote is an important exercise in political propaganda.

Meanwhile, Abd was doing his own part to uphold tradition by using a 19th century style wooden box camera he had bought in Afghanistan.

The women had to hold still for up to two minutes as the Abd exposed the images straight onto photo paper. After dunking the paper into developer and fixer liquid inside the camera body, he got a negative image of his sitters. He later photographed these negatives to produce the positive versions seen here. With the lengthy exposure times, “you can’t make any real big gestures,” Abd said. “You are in front of a box camera. You need to be quiet and you need to be frozen…I really like the idea of doing these portraits in this way because I’m going back to the idea of photography without iPhones or that sort of modern technology,” Abd said. “It’s about having this connection with people I’m portraying because they have to be totally quiet and spend some time only with me, looking at me with my camera.”

Produced By Myles Little

Rodrigo Abd, of Buenos Aires, Argentina, is a staff photographer for the AP based in Guatemala. He has also worked in Afghanistan, Bolivia, Haiti and Libya. He won third place in the 2005 World Press Photo Award for his explicitly violent images on gangs in Guatemala and the 2010 Feature Photography Award from the Overseas Press Club of America for his pictures of an emergency room at a Guatemala hospital.

Contact us at letters@time.com.

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