FaithWorld

from Photographers' Blog:

Mud-covered devotion despite downpours

As Tropical Storm Meari dumped heavy rains on the Philippine capital Manila, causing the cancellation of domestic flights and residents to flee their houses near rivers and low-lying areas, I traveled in the wee hours of June 24 hoping that the rains would not spoil this year’s “Taong Putik” (Mud People) Festival.

The trip to Aliaga town in Nueva Ecija province, north of Manila took an hour longer than usual due to rising flood waters in Manila and surrounding areas. I arrived in the barangay of Bibiclat before 5am, allowing me enough time to talk to residents and ask for directions to where devotees, called “Taong Putik” or literally Mud People, start their preparations as part of a yearly festival honoring the village's patron saint, John the Baptist. In other parts of the largely Roman Catholic Philippines, people use St. John the Baptist’s feast day to engage in revelry that includes dousing water on unknowing passersby.

One resident pointed me to the rice fields where devotees apply mud to their faces or whole bodies to show humility. Luckily, I arrived while the devotees were just starting their yearly ritual, also called Pagsa-San Juan. Apart from putting mud all over their bodies, the devotees wear costumes made from vines, dried grass and leaves.

The Taong Putik Festival has been observed in Aliaga for decades, with its exact origins unknown. Some say an image of St. John the Baptist was brought to Bibiclat, meaning snake in the northern Ilocano dialect, by early settlers, which helped drive away poisonous snakes from the village. According to another legend, Japanese soldiers during World War II changed their mind about executing all the men in the village in retaliation for the death of 13 fellow soldiers after it rained so hard. Residents believed the Japanese soldiers’ change of heart was a miracle of St. John the Baptist, and they promised to pay homage to him on his feast day.

I interviewed one of the devotees, Mario Guda, 55, who said he has been taking part in the festival as a Taong Putik since he was a teenager. He prays to St. John the Baptist for forgiveness for all his sins, including his uncontrollable temper when he is drunk.

from Photographers' Blog:

Srebrenica: The story that will never end

I've been to more than one hundred mass graves, mass funerals and witnessed the long, exhaustive process of victim identification. I took pictures of bones found in caves and rivers, taken from mud, recovered from woods and mines or just left by the road.

Most of these terrible assignments were around the small, used to be forgotten at-the-end-of-the-road town called Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia.

The international criminal court said the most terrible crimes of genocide were committed in Srebrenica area when the Bosnian Serb forces massacred thousands of Muslims after the enclave, ironically under U.N. protection as a safe heaven, was overrun by an army led by its ruthless commander.

from Photographers' Blog:

How I became a pilgrim

I grew up in a country with deep Catholic traditions. I was just a year old in 1978 when Polish cardinal Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II. It was a huge surprise in the then‐communist country, a satellite of the Soviet Union, that a son of Polish soil could become the head of the Catholic Church - which was painfully divided by the Iron Curtain.

Over the years, it became a natural feeling that the pope was Polish. The words ‘pope’ and ‘Pole’ becoming synonyms in my mind. John Paul II visited Poland eight times as the pontiff but I only had one chance to see him live when his papa‐mobile passed my home in 1991. I was 14 years old and took a picture of the event.

Unfortunately, during my professional career I never took a picture of Pope John Paul II. My first such assignment came only after the late pope passed away and I was sent to Rome for his funeral. It was a really hard time with no sleep, no time for eating or bathing. I just wandered about taking pictures of thousands of pilgrims sleeping along the Vatican streets and waiting for several days to attend the funeral ceremony. The air was full of grief. I also queued for hours to get to the St.Peter’s Basilica following an endless stream of people who wanted to honor John Paul II and to take a picture of his body exhibited to the public.

from Photographers' Blog:

Utah gets Holi, Photographer gets dirty

People throw colored powder during Holi, the festival of colors, at the Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, Utah March 26, 2011.   REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

By Jim Urquhart

The Holi Color Festival is a yearly event in Utah that for years I have known of but never attended myself. I would be reminded of it after the fact when seeing it in images by other photojournalist friends. It is rooted in a Hindu tradition of celebrating the end of winter and beginning of Spring and takes place at the Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, Utah.

What makes this festival so amazing is not just the crowds of people and the color but also that it is taking place in Utah County. The same county as the LDS Church's Brigham Young University. In my mind, Utah County is not known as a mecca of culture and was really only a melting pot of white bread, sugar and milk. I was about to have my stereotype blown away.

Revellers cover their faces as they stand in a midst of coloured powders during Holi, the festival of colors, at Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, Utah March 26, 2011.   REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

It has always puzzled me and in the days before the event I was asked to speak to communication students at BYU. I asked the professor of the class, who is also a good friend, why it is that so many Mormon youth and young adults attend the event. It is not part of my picture of white Utah county. He explained that the event draws the students and families from the area because not only is it an experience in another culture's traditions but it also a safe fun outlet for them.

from Photographers' Blog:

Feast of the Black Nazarene

Downtown Manila’s “Feast of the Black Nazarene” is an annual event that everyone anticipates. It has become a routine because everything happens as expected – millions of people jockeying to get near and touch the image of the Black Nazarene or at least the rope that pulls the carriage for the religious procession. Some people faint, a few unfortunate ones get trampled to death or suffer heart attacks, petty thieves take advantage of the situation to pick pockets and bags, and so on.

Devotees clamber onto a carriage to touch the statue of the Black Nazarene during an annual religious procession in Manila January 9, 2011.    REUTERS/Erik de Castro

Yes, it has become predictable and routine but it never ceases to amaze me every time I see the outpouring of emotions and enthusiasm of the people to be part of the event. Last January 9, I was at the Qurino Grandstand in Manila as early as 5 a.m. The procession didn’t start until 7 a.m. after a Holy Mass but I had to make sure I would get the best possible position to capture good images of the crowd. That position was at the rooftop of the grandstand.

A man is carried by fellow devotees after touching the statue of the Black Nazarene during an annual religious procession in Manila January 9, 2011.   REUTERS/Erik de Castro

This year, police estimated two million devotees participated in the procession that took the image of the Black Nazarene to the streets of Quiapo district in Manila. It was just more or less a five-kilometer stretch but it took 17 hours for the image to reach the final destination - the Quiapo Church.

from Photographers' Blog:

A job to do on the Srinagar streets

After offering special Eid prayers to mark the end of Ramadan, I got myself ready to cover the large Eid prayer congregation at Eid Gah in downtown Srinagar where senior separatist leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, was scheduled to address thousands of Muslims.

Kashmiris attend an anti-India protest in Srinagar September 11, 2010.  REUTERS/Danish Ismail

Soon after the end of Eid prayers, Farooq called for a protest march to Lal Chowk, the heart of Srinagar. Continually shooting pictures I followed the tens of thousands of demonstrators shouting "we want freedom". When they reached Lal Chowk, the shouts turned to violence and I saw protesters damaging the clock tower. Again Farooq addressed the people calling for anti-India protests. I ran to the office nearby to file the pictures.

A protester holds an Islamic flag on Kashmir's clock tower as he shouts anti-India slogans during an anti-India protest in Srinagar September 11, 2010.   REUTERS/Danish Ismail

As I finished filing I received a call from Sheikh Mushtaq, Reuters Kashmir correspondent, he told me protesters had set fire to police and government buildings. I rushed out to take more pictures. By the time I finished transmitting them I had worked 14 hours straight and, having fasted all day, was extremely hungry.

from Photographers' Blog:

The Devil on the loose in Haiti

The incessant drone of the motorcycle under me becomes distant as my mind creates images from the words of an elderly woman in the camp I just visited. “The Devil is on the loose in Haiti. He turns into a dog, a pig or a hen, to move unnoticed in the camps and devour life. Last night he appeared as a dog and took the life of a child.” In the camp everyone knows and speaks of the death, and the strange disappearance of the boy’s mother.

Every form that I have ever imagined devilish beings to take are banished from my mind when this Devil appears. He has become a 7-day diarrhea that “devoured” the life of the child. Is it easier to explain death in the hands of a demon instead of looking around and thinking that it might have been the lack of water, hygiene and food that snatched the life?

A Haitian man takes a bath on a destroyed street at Port-au-Prince February 14, 2010. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

The destitution of the Haitian people hits me everywhere I turn. In none of the camps I visited is there a face that doesn’t show the mark of poverty. “The city looks like it was bombed,” says the security expert who accompanies me daily. There is no building, house or street that doesn’t show the effects of nature’s strength. They really were bombed - bombarded by political violence, illiteracy, unemployment, AIDS and extreme poverty. The quake did nothing more than expose to the world the indigence of an entire nation.

from Our Take on Your Take:

All about Eid

This week, both the Reuters Pictures wire and the submissions to Your View were dominated by pictures of the Muslim festival of sacrifice, Eid al-Adha. This photo from Saad Shahriar in Bangladesh clearly captures the desperation some people feel to get home to celebrate the festival with friends and family. Saad used a slow shutter speed to add a hurried sense to the chaotic scene.

View this week's Your View showcase here.

from Photographers' Blog:

Those left behind: The legacy of Arlington’s Section 60

Larry Downing is a Reuters senior staff photographer assigned to the White House. He shares that duty with three other staff photographers. He has lived in Washington since 1977 and has been assigned to cover the White House, since 1978. President Barack Obama is the sixth president Larry has photographed.

“People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”  George Orwell

Veteran’s Day is a time to remember “All gave some....Some gave all.”

Before reaching the new gravestones in Arlington National Cemetery’s ‘Section 60’ it’s easy to recognize why a simple, quilted, patch of green grass and white stones buried alongside the quiet banks of the Potomac River troubles the heart.

from Photographers' Blog:

Recurring images of Afghan women

Sometimes we Afghan photographers joke that an Afghanistan without burqas, would mean no more good images.
I was with Yannis Behrakis when he shot his version (top). It was the day after the Northern Alliance took over Kabul and the Taliban fled the city. Yannis wanted to shoot some images which could show a change after the fall of the Taliban. We came across a number of women who were waiting to receive some alms from a rich local businessman. Yannis stopped to take some pictures.

For my version (below), I went to cover President Hamid Karzai's election rally in the south of the country on August 4. There were thousands of men but some females who were mostly covered in burqas, as usual. I wanted to show the women's participation in this mainly male-run country.

One could draw the conclusion that years after the fall of the Taliban, women are still under burqas and pictures look the same. This is because the situation of women may have changed in the cities but not across the country. The reason is not that international communities failed to help women liberate but it is because that is how they live. The life style in most parts of Afghanistan is a unique one, it is an Afghan one. It is clear from the start that men work outside and women work inside the house, that is how centuries past by. This is how they choose to live, one can not just take their burqas off, put them in jeans or short skirts, tell them to go out and work and then say your situation has improved. With all due respect to the Western media, they are painting the wrong picture on the situation of women here. Let's leave the Taliban era out of this, this is now eight years of "Operation Enduring Freedom".