Photographers' Blog

Body shop, or chop shop

Caracas, Venezuela

By Carlos Garcia Rawlins

I thought I’d heard it all, but I was wrong.

“Doctor, a friend of mine got them and they looked great. I want to look beautiful too…”

“Doctor, when my husband turned to look at another woman I knew if I got them he would look at me…”

“I lost weight and they started to sag…”

“Doctor, I was tricked, they told me they were injections of expanding cells that would be absorbed…”

“I never researched much, but they always talked about them in the beauty salon and I got them done too…”

“Doctor, I did know what they were, but I never thought they could be so bad, I just wanted to surprise my husband…”

Sochi’s struggling locals

Sochi, Russia

By Tom Peter

“We meant to do better, but it came out as always.”

Everyone in Russia knows this phrase, unintentionally coined by the late prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and applicable to an abundance of situations in this country, where official pronouncements of intent are often so far removed from reality that you could cry. Though instead of crying, Russians ruefully utter this aphorism and smile.

In Sochi you hear it often these days. With less than 100 days left before the start of the 2014 Winter Olympics, the city has entered the finishing straight to complete the venues for an extravaganza that is to showcase a new Russia. A Russia that has shed its shabby post-Soviet coat to welcome the world to Sochi, where the “sea meets the mountains”, where everything that is adorable about Russia will flourish in a sparkling new summer and winter holidaying resort, as official publicity has it.

This aspiration comes at a high cost.

There is of course the $50-billion prize tag, which makes the Sochi Olympics the most expensive Games in history. Some Russians say this money should have been spent on schools, roads or the public health system, all of which are in great need of repairs.

A torch in space

Zhezkazgan, central Kazakhstan

By Shamil Zhumatov

PART ONE: LAUNCH

During more than a decade of covering Russia’s space exploration program, I have seen pretty unusual missions. I have taken pictures of an investor heading for the International Space Station, as well as those of a clown and programmers flying into orbit. But the most recent space launch and landing have probably become the most unforgettable – the torch of the forthcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia’s Sochi reached space and then returned to Earth. Now, as I play back this hectic flurry of events, it is still hard to believe how closely these two things are entwined – the Olympics and space. The Olympic Games had been aimed by the authorities to strengthen Russia’s image. Given this ambitious task set by Moscow, Russia’s space program – a symbol of national pride, albeit marred by several botched unmanned launches – simply couldn’t stand aloof. Space was doomed to become part of this bright political show.

A few months earlier, when I learnt about the future mission of the torch, the only question that haunted my friends was – how will it burn in space? Their avid interest was heated by the torch itself, whose flame had gone out several times since the Olympic relay across Russia began last month. One of my colleagues even joked that while in space the torch would need “a man with a lighter”, recalling the image of a resourceful plainclothes security agent who saved the day, reigniting the torch with a cigarette lighter when the flame went out right at the start of the relay in the Kremlin on October 6. But as the launch date of November 7 drew nearer, there was a general sigh of relief – the torch would not be lit aboard the space station for safety reasons, and it simply would not be able to burn in outer space due to the laws of nature.

The show began on November 5 at 0700 sharp. The gates of a giant hangar at Russia’s Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan opened, and at the sound of a whistle a locomotive slowly rolled out a Soyuz rocket, whose normally white-and-grey body was now decorated with Sochi Olympics trademark snowflake patterns. A quick glance at a large number of armed policemen, their armor and helicopters hovering overhead left no one in doubt that the upcoming launch was of paramount importance to Moscow.

At Duxford Airfield, Spitfires still rule the skies

Duxford, England

By Neil Hall

Propellers whirring, a group of Spitfire aircraft zooms in formation across the sky over Duxford Airfield, one of the first stations of Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF).

It could be a scene straight from the 1940 Battle of Britain, when British and German fighter planes vied for control of the skies in one of the key clashes of the Second World War. But this is 2013, and the shapes streaking over the landscape are models that have been worked on by the Aircraft Restoration Company, a firm dedicated to repairing historic planes, mostly for private owners.

Since there are no longer any factory parts available for the old crafts, this involves building the new elements by hand.

From paradise to inferno

Novo Progresso, Brazil

By Nacho Doce

The Amazon? Nobody can truly understand what it is without spending months or years immersed in it, to see the forest and witness the destruction. Spectacular and heartrending at the same time, it is the focus of great controversy that affects the world as much as it does Brazil.

It took us five trips spread over the past year to achieve a better understanding, but what I have recorded is just a brief moment in this immensity of rainforest and deforested land, with the forces working to annihilate what’s left.

GALLERY: INSIDE THE AMAZON

It was time to show the crime being committed against the Amazon.

The only way to begin was to make contacts. I met environmentalist Juan Doblas while visiting a hydroelectric dam on the Tapajós River. Through Juan I met a sociologist named Cirino, and through Cirino I met a farmer named Derivaldo. Cirino and Derivaldo are not their real names; they asked to remain anonymous because both live under constant threat. The word is that there is a $20,000 bounty for Derivaldo’s head, offered by Amazon loggers who want him dead for protecting the forest.

Inside the connected food bank web

Manchester, New Hampshire

By Brian Snyder

It’s all connected. The New Hampshire Food Bank serves food to people who need meals. The people getting the meals need job and life skills to get to the point that they don’t need meals assistance. Someone needs to make the meals. Enter the culinary job training program at the Food Bank. In addition to learning kitchen skills, the students produce meals for three of the agencies of the New Hampshire Food Bank. In 2012, the kitchen produced a staggering 97,823 meals.

For course teacher and chef Jayson McCarter, whose credentials include cooking at the White House under two different administrations, it’s about giving chances and opening doors. Along with an assistant chef and other staff, he has done that for over 250 people who have come through the program since it started in May 2008.

It’s all connected. Take apples as an example. The program received a huge bin of apples — 735 pounds, equaling about 625 pounds after coring by the students (a lot of chances to practice their newly learned knife skills, essential in any kitchen job). Add about 55 pounds of water, honey and cinnamon to get to 680 pounds, or 75 gallons, of cooked applesauce which is about 2400 half cup servings of applesauce for next year’s summer feeding program.

Where do you even find 4,000 pillows?

Chicago, Illinois

By Jim Young

An attempt to break the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest pillow fight was scheduled for 1 a.m., promoted by a DJ dance duo — and at a rave no less. I was a little skeptical. Originally I thought it was an afternoon event when the organizers said it would be around 1 o’clock but needed clarification when I found out it was attached to a Halloween-themed concert and was told that the effort to break the current record of 3,706 participants set in 2008 would be attempted after midnight.

As I arrived a couple of hours before the event at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, there were hundreds of people lined up around the building waiting to get in, all dressed up for Halloween. The promoters told me they were almost at their capacity of 4,800 and it was clear that there was going to be a lot of people who were not going to get in.

It was a crazy scene: a sea of people, the music thumping and the laser light show was at full throttle. Organizers brought in dozens of huge garbage bags full of pillows and threw them out into the crowd. After a couple of hours of waiting, there was a break in the music and a representative from Guinness took to the microphone to read out the rules. Basically, all they had to do was keep the pillows in their hands and fight for a full minute. The music was cranked up and the pillows became a blur. The bass from the music was so heavy, it felt like an earthquake. My whole body was shaking. As quickly as it began, it was over.

Living with “werewolf syndrome”

Dolkha District, Nepal

By Navesh Chitrakar

People have always had a certain fascination with the unknown – a fascination that has been experienced by Devi Budhathoki and three of her children, who all suffer from a rare genetic condition that causes large amounts of thick hair to grow on their bodies.

There is no medical solution available for Devi’s condition, which is known as Congenital Hypertrichosis Lanuginosa, but its symptoms can be reduced by laser hair removal. Dermatologist Dr. Dharmendra Karn has been giving this treatment to 38-year-old Devi, along with her two daughters Manjura, who is 14, Mandira, who is 7, and her son Niraj, who is 12. Dr Karn’s care has helped the family, but they need multiple sessions for it to be effective and even after finishing a course of hair removal, they need to keep returning because the hair grows back again.

The Dhulikhel hospital has been treating Devi and her children for free since its management heard from locals, the media and social workers that Devi came from a poor family. Devi is married to Nara Bahadur Budhathoki and for 23 years they have been living in their home that has one kitchen, a shared bedroom and no lavatory. The house sits on a hill in Kharay, some 190km (118 miles) from Nepal’s capital Kathmandu.

Colombian yellow is back

Barranquilla, Colombia

By Jose Miguel Gomez

An entire stadium with over 40,000 fans dressed in yellow awaited the key match between Colombia and Chile. Only a couple of thousand wore Chilean red. We photographers arrived early to set up on the field in the 40C (104F) heat and 80% humidity. Every slight movement in the sun caused a burst of sweat.

Colombia only needed a draw to qualify for Brazil 2014. It was 16 years since we last qualified for the World Cup, and the fans inside the stadium and out were in a state of triumphal optimism. This was a whole new generation of players, and those who played for European clubs carried the biggest burden of setting the stage for a nationwide fiesta.

Chile, on the other hand, did play in the last World Cup. Commentators claimed that Chile is a dangerous team, but no one imagined what would happen later.

France’s boy bullfighters

Nimes, south of France

By Jean-Paul Pelissier

Ask a young boy what he wants to be when he gets older and the reply is the usual “a fireman, soccer player, doctor or astronaut”. However, ask two young boys from southern France, Solal, aged 12 and Nimo, aged 10, and you’ll hear, “a bullfighter”.

At the start of the story, bullfighting was familiar to me, but full of unknowns. Familiar because living in southern France, the traditional Ferias of Nimes and Arles are well-known yearly popular festivals, attracting revellers for two or three days to the Roman arenas and parades with many dressed in local costumes. On occasion I attended bullfights with friends, followed by partying in the streets at the outdoor bars or “bodegas”.

Following the two boys I learned the language of the bullfighter, mostly Spanish in origin, that the “aficionados”, the dedicated fans use. The studied cape movements by the toreador, and the charges by the fighting bull, make for a charged confrontation between man and animal where spectators react with animated emotions.

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