Photographers' Blog

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…?

Snow. Looks good on those Christmas cards, doesn’t it? Fun for small children. Even nice for penguins in the zoo. But photographers covering soccer? Brrrrrrrrrr. Not really.

Let’s get one thing straight. We Brits go on about the weather like a stuck record, but when it comes to it, we can’t cope with it. That’s why we live in Britain.

We whinge when the mercury drops to -3 (26 degrees Fahrenheit). A colleague of mine in Canada will point out that’s not cold. Cold, proper cold, can’t feel your fingers, just walked into a fridge cold, is -25 (-13 degrees Fahrenheit).

So when the Met Office started predicting heavy snowfalls on the night of the Aston Villa v Liverpool game, I did my best boy scout impression, packed my shovel and set off four hours early, you know, in case of snowdrifts the size of elephants.

There weren’t any.

It was the sort of game where you could find yourself nodding off, a dull, tactical, stand-off between two Premiership sides fighting to finish in the top four to get a Champions League place.

Choking back the horror

Five years have passed and I still find it hard to talk about the tsunami. When the subject comes up my throat still constricts, choking back the horror and raw pain that I saw and more shockingly, the way the rest of the world seemed to carry-on with daily life. Relief came – sometimes too much of it, but nothing prepares a photographer for the shock of returning to normality from a disaster zone.

I was in Phuket the day before Christmas, dodging the bullet perhaps as my ground floor room would certainly have become my tomb. Back in Singapore the news broke and I flew to Sri Lanka, arriving at the center of the destruction 24 hours after the waves. My first stop was a hospital outside Galle. Hundreds of bodies lay on the damp concrete floor, children in fetal positions next to what rescuers assumed were their parents. Some of them had bandages and IV’s telling the story of the pathetic struggle to save them, others just looked like they were asleep, still in pajamas but slowly bloating.

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Blood and bodily fluid and the stark stench of decomposition. I worked the scene like a vulture, the lenses my shield; my shock at the scene my helmet; technical adjustments on the cameras my distraction from the horror. I edited on the fly, transmitting a few images via satphone and moving onto more death. It is only that night as I look through my day’s take that the tears come, as the reality of what I saw hits me – there is no lens now. Only the hard truth in 2 megabyte files on a dusty laptop screen.

The 2004 tsunami: A Singapore perspective

“Where were you when the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami hit?”

For me, it is a day I will always remember. I had barely been working as a picture sub-editor on the Asia Desk for a month. I remember being asked to come in early to work that Sunday morning because “an earthquake had hit and it seems quite bad”.

Reaching the office, I watched my television colleagues collect their gear, make phonecalls and fly off on the next flight to Aceh, one of the places reported as being badly hit. The newsgathering process was still very new to me, so I watched with fascination as photographers were alerted, flights were arranged and notes were made to keep track of where each shooter was.

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A man reacts next to a building that was destroyed when a tsunami hit in Cuddalore, 180 km (112 miles) south of the southern Indian city of Madras December 27, 2004.  REUTERS/Arko Datta

Reliving the tsunami

Today I returned to Aceh, determined to take pictures of the same locations my team and I had photographed five years ago, when the capital Banda Aceh was completely devastated by a tsunami. At the time, I was with two Reuters journalists from the Jakarta bureau.

We landed at Aceh’s Sultan Iskandar Muda airport on December 27, 2004 – one day after the giant waves paralyzed the city, previously unaware of what a tsunami could do to a city. Information from Banda Aceh in the first few days after the disaster was very limited. It dawned on us later that the lack of news from Banda Aceh was because all of the communication facilities had been damaged.

The airport was oddly quiet. A few wounded victims were waiting for flights to take them out of Aceh. The car park was empty and we couldn’t find cars or taxis. We spotted an ambulance parked outside, so we asked the driver to take us to the city.

Bank picture ballet

Singapore can be a strange place to make pictures sometimes. As someone who’s lived here for nearly 5 years, on occasion my job as a photographer is affected in unusual ways.

Singapore is a place where  rent-a-cops often don’t know the rules, other than “you’re wrong”. They’re really good at overstepping the bounds of their legal authority, and even though you know for a fact they are wrong and should just let you go about your work, no amount of reason or logical argument means anything to them. They are like the daleks in Doctor Who, out to exterminate photographers. Their authority as gatekeepers is final.

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Every few months, this results in something I like to call the “Bank Picture Ballet”, where usually 2-3 security guards and myself get involved in a ridiculous dance around each other as I try to make a perfectly legitimate picture to match an economic story.

Sheltering mental patients

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At an Indonesian center for mental patients run by the Galuh Foundation, I found Totok.  A patient who had just taken his morning shower and shaved. Totok used to be a thug in a market, and was feared for his habit of beating up vendors. One day, the vendors’ anger peaked and they beat Totok  up, leaving him with physical injuries and mental damage.

I read about the foundation in a local newspaper, in an article about a wedding between a  female patient and an employee of the foundation. The foundation was set up in 1982 by Gendu Mulatif in Bekasi, on the outskirts of Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta. Mulatif used his money to build a compound to take care of homeless patients who had been taken in from the streets. Once admitted, he treated them with medicinal herbals and changed their diet to vegetarian.

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Head nurse Suharyono (L) and Suharyoso (R) bring in a man suffering from mental illness (C) shortly after finding him at a street in East Bekasi, outskirt of Jakarta November 5, 2009.  REUTERS/Beawiharta

On top of the world with a sinking heart

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Nepal’s cabinet meets at the Gorakshep base camp region of Mount Everest December 4, 2009. The cabinet began a meeting close to the base camp to send a message on the impact of global warming on the Himalayas, days before global climate talks start in Copenhagen. REUTERS/Gopal Chitrakar

Covering a Nepalese cabinet meeting at 17,000 ft was an exciting assignment, but challenging as well. Mountaineering teams, expeditions and trekkers normally take 10 days to reach that height to avoid altitude sickness. I was given just two days to achieve it, carrying oxygen bottles along with appropriate shoes and warm clothes!

From Kathmandu I flew in a small twin otter aircraft to Lukla,  gateway to Mt. Everest, the landing a challenge for even experienced pilots as it’s a tiny airstrip. After a night in Lukla, it was a short helicopter ride the next day to Shyamgboche, situated at some 14,000 ft. A night at a luxurious hilltop tourist hotel there provided the chance to shoot some beautiful moonlit pictures of the Everest region.

Close quarters with a cannibal

Iain Williams is a freelance Wildlife and Nature Photographer based out of Hobart, Australia.  His exclusive photos of a polar bear eating a cub were published as a slideshow on www.reuters.com. Below, Iain recounts how he came to take the photographs. The opinions expressed are his own.

Michael Perry, our chief correspondent in Australia, added a caption that referenced a vast global study in 2008. That study, published here, said that human-generated climate  change had  turned some polar bears into cannibals

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A male polar bear carries the head of a polar bear cub it killed and cannibalized in an area about 300 km (186 miles) north of the Canadian town of Churchill November 20, 2009.

Being a bird

South Korea’s Armed Forces Day is an annual event held on October 1.

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The country’s military puts on a variety of displays that include performances by military bands, drills by honor guard contingents and martial arts displays by special warfare units. There are also air shows with helicopters and fighting planes. One of the highlights of the event is a skydiving performance by South Korea’s Special Warfare Command soldiers.

The South Korean Defence Ministry invited the media for an opportunity to cover the airdrop exercise from their helicopters. I was one of the pool photographers. I’ve covered these type of helicopter missions several times before, but I was still excited albeit with some tension.

On September 29, 2009, two days before Armed Forced Day, Special Warfare Command parachuting team members prepared for their airdrop exercise.

Exclusive photos: Polar bear turns cannibal

(Updated at 9.30 ET on Dec 9, 2009)

Some pictures need little introduction. They stop you in your tracks. These are exclusive pictures to Reuters of a Canadian polar bear eating a cub that it killed and cannibalized.

A global study released in 2008 suggests that climate change has turned some polar bears into cannibals. However, a local Inuit leader told journalists that a male polar bear eating a cub is a normal occurrence.

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