Photographers' Blog

Searching for Circassians

Sochi, Russia

By Tom Peter

It is not easy to find Circassians in historical Circassia, a densely vegetated land of rolling hills and mountain slopes soaring to snowy heights along the northeastern coast of the Black Sea. The region of Greater Sochi used to be the homeland of the Circassian people before their expulsion by the Russian army in the 19th century. Modern Sochi has an ethnic make-up of staggering diversity; besides Russians, there are people from numerous other Caucasus nations, as well as Armenians, Georgians, Cossacks, Jews and Ukrainians.

But the people who resisted Russia’s expansion into the land of their fathers for some forty years are largely gone. The last Circassian forces surrendered to the Russian army in 1864 on a glade in the mountains above Sochi, later named Krasnaya Polyana. In a matter of weeks it will be the site where athletes compete for Olympic gold in the skiing events.

The highlanders’ defeat heralded a campaign of forced eviction on a massive scale. “Perhaps as many as 300,000 Circassians died from hunger, violence, drowning and disease when Russia expelled them from their lands,” writes journalist and author Oliver Bullough in his book about the Caucasus, “Let Our Fame Be Great”. Circassian groups have called for the killings to be recognized as genocide.

The majority of the Circassian nation was sent on ships to the Ottoman Empire. Only a scattering was allowed to stay in Russia on the condition that they relocate to the lowlands north of the mountains. Most Circassians live today beyond Russia’s borders, mainly in the Middle East, with smaller communities dotted across Europe and North America.

When Russia was awarded the right to host the 2014 Winter Games, an outcry went through many in the Circassian diaspora. They demanded the Games be moved unless Moscow apologized for the death of their ancestors. Some Circassians even compared the Sochi Games to hosting a sporting competition on the grounds of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz. The closest that Russia has come to apologizing for the killings was in the 1990s, when former President Boris Yeltsin acknowledged that resistance to tsarist violence was justified.

The practice of breast-ironing

Douala, Cameroon

By Joe Penney

Every Friday afternoon, Julie Ndjessa, 28, invites the teenage girls in her neighborhood in Douala over to her house on a dirt road where she lives with her mother, father and cousin. Giggling, they play clapping games and chat loudly with each other about the week’s escapades. Then Julie got down to business: educating the young women in her community about the many dangers they face before reaching adulthood.

Over the past few years, one of the main topics she discusses is called “breast-ironing,” a practice used by some mothers in Cameroon to flatten their pubescent daughters’ growing breasts. Done with the goal of protecting young women from early pregnancy by making them less attractive to men, breast ironing is extremely painful and has dangerous long-term health consequences.

There are few people more qualified to speak to young women about this practice than Julie, whose mother Genevieve took a hot stone to her chest when she was 16. She said she harbors no bad feelings toward her mother, who she said did it to try to protect her from the prying eyes of men as she became a woman.

Chicago’s doctor to the homeless

Chicago, Illinois

By Jim Young


“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” —Dalai Lama

“What size boots do you wear?” Dr. Patrick Angelo asks a homeless man as he looks down at his worn sneakers. “Here, take my boots, I will give you mine,” and proceeds to give him the boots off his feet, right then and there, in 5 degree Fahrenheit weather to a complete stranger under an overpass in downtown Chicago.

Angelo is an oral surgeon by day in the Chicago area, and drives into the city several nights a week to help the homeless. A successful physician with a house in the suburbs and children of his own, he says it came to him like a flash that he could do this and make a difference. So he packed up, though not sure where to go and what to do, and off he went. That was 13 years ago, and he has been doing it ever since.

Timelapse: Golden Globes red carpet

Los Angeles, California 

By Mario Anzuoni

This year for the Awards’ season opener, the Golden Globe Awards, I decided to set up my gopro to document arrivals from my position. This is the first big award show of the season, generally the precursor of what the Oscar winners might be, so all the major A-listers are usually nominated and expected.

I decided to approach this using a light, easy setup, so I attached my gopro to a joby mini tripod which I laid directly in front of me on one of the hedges. It was ready in minutes, barely noticeable and with a wider perspective of my position. Arrivals begin at 2:30 for a 5 o’ clock show, but the floodgates really open from 4:15 to about 4:45. My set up was aimed at documenting the incredible flow of celebrities who arrive in such a short timeframe to crowd the Beverly Hilton hotel ballroom.

Let the award season begin…

 

Keeping the faith

Manila, Philippines

By Bobby Ranoco

Covering the grand procession of the Jesus of the Black Nazarene is not easy, even though I do it annually. Every year on January 9, millions of devotees crowd the streets as a life-sized, dark, wooden sculpture of Jesus Christ carrying the cross is brought through Manila’s old city.

I began to prepare days before the procession and sought permission to get a vantage point on the rooftop of the Quirino Grandstand at Luneta Park, where the procession begins, and on top of other buildings surrounding the route, to produce photographs from a bird’s eye view. It was my first time photographing from the rooftop of the Quirino Grandstand. I had to do my research on how my photographs would turn out at such an angle.

As I did all this, I was praying hard for guidance from the Jesus of the Black Nazarene that all my requests would be approved. He heeded my prayers: everything was approved and ran smoothly with time to spare.

Welcome to Chiberia

Chicago, Illinois

By Jim Young

It was dubbed “Chiberia” here in Chicago: record low temperatures with a wind chill in the -40 Celsius range (-40 Fahrenheit).

I knew it was coming. I had been dodging the bullet for two winters in Chicago and eventually “real cold” had to arrive here sooner or later. I had survived 30+ years of Canadian winters and lived through a -50C (-58F) wind chill in Ottawa, but I have had two of the nicest winters in my life in the Windy City. In February 2012 it was 80F and I was walking around in flip flops, but certainly not this week.

It started at sunrise on Monday morning. While driving along Lake Michigan to downtown I could see a “fog-like” haze over the water – it was arctic sea smoke caused by bitter cold air moving over the warm lake water. I parked down by the beach. It was a beautiful sunny morning and a balmy -42F. The biggest problem I had was with my fingers. Working with cameras even while wearing the warmest gloves is a challenge. I would take them off for just a few seconds but it would get incredibly painful, like needles stabbing into your hands. It would take 10 to 15 minutes back in the gloves just to get the pain to subside. I remembered hearing on the radio the early warning signs of hypothermia such as shallow breathing, drowsiness, shaking and stumbling…check, check, and check. The batteries in my cameras died so I tried to shoot an Instagram, but even though my iPhone was inside several layers of clothing, it was frozen like a brick and wouldn’t even boot up.

An acrobatic nurse

Sofia, Bulgaria

By Stoyan Nenov

A woman with heavy make-up, wearing leotards steps into a taxi.

“To the hospital” she says. The driver looks suspiciously at her but starts the car.

Leonsiya Dokuzova, a 42-year-old Bulgarian, can tell many stories like this one.

She works as a nurse in one of the biggest hospitals in Sofia, the Balkan country’s capital, and is also an acrobat, performing stunts in movies, TV shows and the circus.

Making ice cider

Frelighsburg, Quebec

By Christine Muschi

Gilles Drille knocks an apple against a white plastic container so the snow falls off. He wants no water to dilute the concentration when he presses them for Ice Cider, or Apple Ice Wine, as it is also known in the United States.

Gallery: How to make ice cider

Gilles is the grove manager for Domaine Pinnacle, an apple orchard in Frelighsburg, Quebec, an Eastern Townships municipality just minutes from the border with Vermont. He has been picking the apples of up to two trees per day for the last two months and pressing them for cider using a cryoextraction method. Apples are left on the trees and picked when the temperature hovers around -8 to -15 degrees Celsius (17 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit). They are then pressed and left to cold ferment for their Signature Reserve, which is a two year production cycle of fermentation and maturation in oak casks. Hundreds of trees and thousands of apples have been picked by this one man in a season.

Today the temperature has dropped below -10 C (14 F), and the apples Gilles knocks against the container sound like rocks as they hit the plastic. The colder the temperature, the higher the natural concentration of sugar will be. When he cuts the apple open later, you can see the deep amber color, and it smells like caramel. Courtland apples seem to work best as they stay on the trees longer, but there are a few varieties that will be included in the mix.

Ukraine Euromaidan

Kiev, Ukraine

By Marko Djurica

Slava Ukraini, Heroyam Slava!

At the beginning I didn’t understand what they were chanting.

The speaker at the podium repeated, “Slava Ukraini” and a mass of people responded in one voice: “Heroyam Slava!”

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“Glory to Ukraine!  Glory to its heroes!” was the answer I got from a girl wrapped in a blue and yellow flag.

Who are these heroes they are cheering? This time I resolved to find out the answer for myself.

Mandela and my son

South Africa

By Mike Hutchings

Balancing the dual roles of photojournalist and parent can be challenging at times – unpredictable hours and long assignments can be disruptive to family life.

But being the son of a photojournalist has its perks. My son Daniel had the chance to meet former South African President Nelson Mandela three times while accompanying me on stories.

On the first occasion, he was only six weeks old. I had been waiting for Mandela to arrive at a function in Cape Town’s Waterfront district when my partner Shannon called and asked where I was.