Photographers' Blog

Michelle Obama’s unscripted moment

Washington, D.C.

By Jason Reed

“Never work with children or animals” is a famous show business adage once attributed to the comedian W. C. Fields. Those words may well have crossed the mind of U.S. first lady Michelle Obama this week during an unscripted moment at the White House.

Hosting the annual unveiling of the White House Holiday decorations, the first lady was the center of attention, as she is any time that she is in public view. At this time of year all of the historical rooms on the ground floor of the White House are decorated with trees, tinsel and a gingerbread house, which all become fodder for the press cameras as we are led on a carefully stage-managed guided tour of the “State Floor” by staff and volunteers. It is something that the regular White House press corps mark on their calendars long in advance so that we don’t miss it and the resulting pictures are usually pretty.

In the last moments of this year’s event, Michelle Obama introduced to the young children of U.S. military service members the Obama family’s new pet Sunny, a female Portuguese Water dog. With the combination of children, animals and a world-recognized public figure now set, it was just a matter of time before an unscripted moment presented itself, a split second where little Ashtyn Gardner, all of two years old, lost her balance over another child’s walker and fell to the floor. Dozens of camera shutters fired at up to 10 frames per second, capturing a moment so far off script that the first lady’s facial expression said it all. To her credit the little girl popped right back up, didn’t shed a tear and carried on.

At the end of the event Michelle Obama and Ashtyn shared a little embrace.

It is the unscripted and unexpected moments that we as independent press photographers not working for the government capture that show our readers and viewers a human element in otherwise carefully stage managed White House events. If those moments make good pictures we put them out without hesitation. They round out our picture file and are often the images which are published most around the world.

Wildlife of Farne

Farne Islands

By Nigel Roddis

The Farne Islands, a cluster of rocky outcrops in the windswept ocean off the northeastern English coast, might not sound like a particularly welcoming destination. But although they are a harsh environment for humans, they are a haven for wildlife, from grey seals to some 23 types of seabird.

I had been to the islands many times before to go diving, but this time I wanted to shoot an extended story about the many species that live there. Over the course of the project, which ran from May to November 2013, I spent seven days both on the islands themselves and under the sea that surrounds them, photographing the teeming wildlife.

This was a fascinating year to document one of the Farne Islands’ most distinctive inhabitants: puffins. Every five years, UK conservation charity the National Trust conducts a census of this strange-looking seabird, with its black-and-white body and colorful bill. The latest one began in May this year.

Dreaming of the next Messi

Bariloche, Argentina

By Chiwi Gianbirtone

When I went to see Claudio Nancufil, he looked like any other 8-year old kid, keen to play with his friends but not very communicative. Before playing a match they did a training session, kicking the ball to the coach and Claudio was waiting patiently for his turn without saying much.

Finally, they started playing and during the match he was constantly going for the ball and shots on goal. He dribbled swiftly past bigger boys, kicked the ball with his left and passed accurately. He kept on asking secretly for the ball so his opponents wouldn’t notice. He played well, like a grown-up player. He was quiet but went directly to the referee if some of the other players kicked him. At the end of the match it came down to penalties. Claudio always got the ball into the goal but the goalie was not bad either.

GALLERY: THE NEXT MESSI

They played on a dirt pitch in windy conditions with remnants of volcanic ash everywhere. I found myself wondering how much better he would fare on a real grass field.

Fishing and firearms on Lake Turkana

Lake Turkana, Kenya

By Siegfried Modola

When Simon Choko goes out fishing on Kenya’s lake Turkana, he brings a gun as well as a net.

In the drought-stricken corner of northwestern Kenya, the native Turkana community to which Choko belongs is involved in deadly conflict with rivals from across the border in neighboring Ethiopia, as the poor populations compete for dwindling food.

“I have been a fisherman since I was a boy and I have never experienced such a tense and dangerous period as the one we are living now. Everyone has a gun these days to protect themselves against attacks,” said Choko.

A day in the Millenium Gaming House

Marseille, France

By Jean-Paul Pelissier

Call of Duty, Warcraft, League of Legends, Starcraft II or even FIFA… I had already heard of these video games, mostly when shopping for Christmas presents for my teenage nephew, but I never could have guessed the different universe that I would discover behind these titles.

I walked into the Holiest of Holies, The Millenium Gaming House in the center of Marseille, to find around fifteen gamers – their eyes glued to their screens.

These gamers are superstars. Revered in the video game galaxy, they are role-models for every obsessive teenager. Aged from 18 to 25, these professional gamers compete in all the major tournaments organized by tech industry giants, with some prize funds worth several million dollars.

Reflecting on Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

By Gary Cameron

He arrived on the evening train from Washington, accompanied by two secretaries, three members of his Cabinet, and several foreign officials. During the train trip, he commented that he felt weak and dizzy. During the speech, it was noted that he face had ‘a ghastly color.’ After the speech, he boarded a train back to the nation’s capital and was feverish and had a bad headache. An extended illness continued, and the President appeared to be in the throes of smallpox when he delivered the Gettysburg Address at the Gettysburg National Cemetery dedication.

Throw in the fact that Abraham Lincoln, in November of 1863, was attempting to save and re-unite a nation in the middle of a Civil War, free a people who came to the U.S. shores in chains and committed to a life of servitude and bondage, dealing with the loss of his young son Willie in 1862, (of the three Lincoln children, only one survived in adulthood), and married to a woman who possessed incredible mood swings, a fierce temper, and depression.

If you look at an actual photograph of Abraham Lincoln in 1863 at age 54, the physical effects of the mental weight and strains he carried are quite evident. Deep set lines and creases, fatigue, and sadness cover his expression even with an attempt to look pleasant. The man easily looks fifteen years older than his actual age.

Defiant smokers of London

London, England

By Olivia Harris

Smokers in dressing gowns and slippers, some in wheelchairs or with drips, are a common site gathered outside hospitals in Britain.

The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is proposing to ‘end this terrible spectacle’ and ban smoking and smoking shelters from hospital grounds. For patients determined to smoke, this means moving further away from the hospital.

The defiant women I met yesterday smoking outside the hospital blamed the doctors and nurses. “They’d say an ingrown toenail was due to my smoking, if it suited them,” insisted one woman who wouldn’t be photographed but who was in hospital for a smoking-related disease. Her friend Margaret, who’s smoked for 40 years, whispered to me that her voice box will be removed in a fortnight. She said sadly that she’s having an awful time and just wants to enjoy her cigarettes in peace.

The last theater in town

Powell River, Canada

By Andy Clark

As far back as I can remember, history has always fascinated me. Though my specialty as an amateur historian has been military history, just about anything that occurred prior to my birth has had my undivided attention. Recently while having a coffee with a friend, he mentioned he had been to a town north of Vancouver called Powell River and had happened to visit a local movie theater. He went on to say matter of factly, that the theater had been continuously running since it was built many years ago.

“Stop right there,” I said. “Did you take any pictures of the place?” Yes, he had and he pulled out his laptop to show me.

Powell River is a small community on the British Columbia Sunshine Coast and accessible only by water. To get there requires about two hours travel by car and a couple of hours crossing on two different ferries from Vancouver. The town was born around 1910 after a pulp and paper mill was built beginning in 1908. At one time the Powell River Company Mill was the largest of its kind in the world supplying paper to one out of every 25 newspapers in the world. In 1913, a small wooden theater was built to offer the locals entertainment that included silent movies, vaudeville shows and even local boxing matches. The town’s people decided to have a naming contest for the theater leaving their suggestions in a ballot box at the company store. A very popular public figure in Canada at the time was Princess Patricia of Connaught, the granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Princess Patricia was living in Canada at the time while her father The Duke of Connaught served as Governor General in Ottawa, Canada’s capital. Thus, the new theater was named the Patricia.

Birthing in family

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

Sao Paulo, Brazil

By Nacho Doce

It was a night like any other, until my phone rang at 1:30 am. I reached to answer it without turning on the light. A woman on the other end said, “My water broke.”

“Manu?” I asked. Manuela, or Manu, said that I should come over to her house right away. I hung up and walked over to my sofa and looked at the cameras and lenses, without knowing if I had even charged the battery.

The phone rang again and it was Andre, Manu’s husband. I answered it with a question. “Damn, did she already give birth?” Andre said no, but asked in how long I would be arriving so he could tell the doorman. I took a quick shower, grabbed my gear, drank coffee, and in half an hour I was on my way along empty streets.

Courage in the face of brutality

San Salvador, El Salvador

By Ulises Rodriguez

The clock on the wall marked four in the morning. It was a cold and wet Saturday in July, but I was sitting in the warm offices of El Salvador’s Red Cross. Suddenly, the relative calm and silence in the emergency unit was interrupted when the phone rang. The loud noise made me jump. The phone operator said: “What is your name? If you don’t identify yourself, we can’t help you.”

I went to the operator and asked him what was happening. He said that there had been a report of a woman who had been beaten, raped several times and then left for dead in a ditch. He said that they would take her to hospital because of the severity of her injuries and I asked to go along.

When I got to where she had been found, I saw a woman dressed in a baby blue dress that was dirty all over, with a face disfigured by the blows she had received. She was disoriented and her gaze seemed lost in a void. She kept on repeating that her name was Claudia.

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