Photographers' Blog

Living as a Muslim in Paris

Paris, France

By Youssef Boudlal

Photographing the daily life of Muslims in Paris is a challenge. I discovered this by throwing myself into the project, which rapidly became a story of failed encounters, rejection and disappointment. Among the people I met, the fear of prejudice towards the Muslim world was intense, as was the worry that cliches about the community could be fueled or spread by images.

I met a good number of people as part of my investigation. The first few were in the suburbs of Paris, home to a large Muslim community. In Vitry-sur-Seine, I met four twenty-somethings of North African origin sitting outside a church. I explained my project to them and their suspicions were quickly aroused. I was asked about my job, the reasons for my project and why I was interested in them. They worried about how my images would be used. One of them took me for a spy.

Another encounter, this time at Mantes-la-Jolie, among Paris’s western suburbs. Here, a young woman in a headscarf was buying fruit and vegetables at the Val Fourre market and I decided to approach her. I explained my project in detail, and asked if she wanted to take part. She displayed no enthusiasm but no scepticism either, to the point where she asked permission from her father, a butcher she was helping for the season. I was already picturing images of this contrast. But he refused, without explanation. My arguments couldn’t sway him.

A contact put me in touch with a Salafist – a follower of a strict kind of Sunni Islam – who prayed with others in a garage at Mantes-la-Jolie. The originality of the place cried out to me. I met him, we talked through a week of long negotiations and he said the project was possible. But that was before the end of June, when the arrest of six suspected Islamists in the Ile-de-France region made the meeting difficult. In the end, I wasn’t allowed to photograph either the people or the place.

Another contact put me in touch with Chehrazad, 36, a Muslim woman of Moroccan origin, who is employed at a public notary’s office and normally wears a headscarf, but is now forced to remove it due to a law banning headscarves in the civil service. Her French husband agreed that I could follow her life for a day. I went with her to the market, to her work and home. For her, covering her head was a case of individual choice: “Wearing the veil is a personal desire to protect my modesty,” she told me.

Commemorating Operation Pedestal

Valletta, Malta

By Darrin Zammit Lupi

In ever dwindling numbers, elderly war veterans keep their annual mid-August appointment in Valletta’s Grand Harbour to take part in a commemorative service marking the anniversary of Operation Pedestal. Known to the Maltese as the Santa Marija convoy (as it had reached the island on the feast day of Our Lady of the Assumption, an important day in Malta’s religious calendar), Pedestal was a desperate attempt by the Allied forces to get much-needed supplies of food, fuel and ammunition to the bomb-battered island of Malta in August 1942, at the height of the war in the Mediterranean.

Malta, a British air and naval base at the time, was on the brink of starvation and close to surrendering to the Axis powers that surrounded it on all sides. The operation’s success, albeit with heavy losses, has gone down in military history as one of the most important British strategic victories of World War Two, even though it was in many ways a tactical disaster.

To commemorate the 60th anniversary 11 years ago an old school friend of mine, Simon Cusens, took it upon himself to make contact with survivors of the convoy and arrange to bring them to Malta to mark the anniversary. 105 convoy veterans attended that year, including three former enemies, watching a highly emotional re-enactment of the August 15, 1942, arrival to the beleaguered island of the tanker SS Ohio, the ship that carried the most crucial supply of fuel and is, to this day, considered to be the island’s savior.

Gear for a gecko portrait shoot

Rochester, New York

By Adam Fenster

When I got a call from one of the publicists in University Communications a couple of weeks ago asking whether we should try to find stock art or make our own photos to illustrate a recent paper by University of Rochester PhD student Daniel Scantlebury, I immediately jumped at the chance. I had read that the paper, which describes a slowdown in the rate at which species form on Madagascar, involved obscure gecko species and, as an occasional photographer of frogs and other critters, I thought it would be a great opportunity to make some interesting studio photographs, push my photography skills and at the same time help to publicize a critical scientific study.

GALLERY: MADAGASCAR GECKOS

I emailed Dan, explaining what I wanted to try and emphasizing that the comfort and safety of his geckos was critical. I had been told he had a collection containing some of the animals in the study but was distressed to learn upon meeting him in his office later that he had given them away. Fortunately, as someone with close ties to Rochester’s “gecko community”, he was able to put me in touch with Thomas Wood, a local expert and aquarium store owner who possesses a large collection of the same leaf tailed gecko species that were part of the study.

After we set up a time to meet at Tom’s house I tried to figure out how I wanted to photograph these animals. I had long been inspired by the work of National Geographic contributor Joel Sartore, particularly this photo. But when I saw the stunning gecko photos of Shikhei Goh I knew exactly what I wanted to try (minus the kung fu part). I sourced a piece of black plexiglass from a local plastics company, then made some test shots in our office combining the plexiglass on a small table with a black backdrop and two lights: a Paul C Buff Einstein with 35” gridded octobox, placed camera left and another Einstein with a grid spot at upper back right. Gridding a light source minimizes light spill and maximizes directionality, which was important in getting everything to go solid black to create contrast to set off the unique features of the geckos. If I were to do this again I’d use even smaller light sources as there was still a bit of spill, or I’d move the backdrop a little farther back. I triggered the lights using the newer Pocket Wizards (radio transmitters) that allow for power adjustment on the fly with a little gadget that clicks into the camera’s hot shoe. This proved helpful as some animals frequently changed their distance to the lights in addition to having various hues that required more or less light to photograph suitably. The results were about what I had hoped for so I packed everything back up and waited for our shoot day.

Entering “Reborn Baby” paradise

La Louviere, Belgium

By Yves Herman

“I would like to adopt please,” “I would like to buy a life-like baby”, or “I would love to adopt Mathilda or Stefy” are sentences you hear from clients entering the workshop of Belgian artist Beatrice Van Landeghem in La Louviere in the south of Belgium. “La nurserie des Tis Lous De Bea”, which can be translated as “The nursery of Bea’s babies” (Bea for Beatrice) is a very atypical store, situated in the small town, a 45 minute drive from Brussels. Welcome to the Belgian “Reborn Baby” paradise.

Everybody can buy a “Reborn Baby”-kit and try to make their own life-like baby but not all of us have the skills to make them appear real. Belgian artist Beatrice Van Landeghem knows how to make her customers fall in love with a beautifully made doll. You have to see it with your own eyes. It’s hard to believe how realistic it can be. Lying in his cradle, “Loan”, a one month-old baby doll, carefully crafted in vinyl and wonderfully hand-painted by the artist looks as if he is far away and sleeping.

“Let’s adopt him, he is ours!” The customers seem to think as if preparing themselves to become virtual parents.

The parents left behind

Warsaw, Poland

By Peter Andrews

I remember my mother taking me to the airport on June 10, 1981. In theory, everyone knew I was leaving for three weeks, but both of us really knew that I would not be coming back. I was nineteen at the time and wanted to see a different world, a world outside the so called Iron Curtain.

My mother didn’t show sadness but I could see tears in her eyes when she said good bye to me. I saw her twice in ten years. Once after four years, when she visited my new home, Canada, and later in Germany when the Berlin Wall was coming down. Our contact was scarce. In those days, it was very difficult to call out of Poland, especially after martial law was introduced. Later, when martial law was lifted, it was a bit easier, but still there were only land lines. No mobile phones, no Internet, no Skype – only written letters put inside envelopes, with a postage stamp and sent from the post office. It was only when the Soviet Union collapsed and the so-called evil empire ceased to exist that I was able to see her freely. It is only when you are not able to see your parents often that one notices how age works on people.

At the time when I was leaving Poland no one knew that ten years down the road the world’s geo-political situation would change and that eastern European countries would join NATO and later, in 2004, the European Union would allow many young people to travel freely, without any restrictions or prosecution.

Five days with my North Korean minders

Pyongyang, North Korea

By Jason Lee

From stepping on to the Air Koryo flight to Pyongyang on the evening of July 24th until my return on the 29th, I didn’t stop taking pictures. Our group from Reuters, visiting the secretive state of North Korea for its celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, often found ourselves with no time to eat. It was only in the taxi on the way home from Beijing airport that I had time to think back on my trip.

GALLERY: INSIDE NORTH KOREA

It was the experience of a lifetime, a nation of 22 million people showing a depression and weakness of spirit that I tried my best to interpret through my cameras.

But it can also be seen through my experience with the closest North Korean people to me during the trip – the minders, the name we gave to the “guides” deployed by the government to accompany foreign media.

Swimming by Seatrac

Alepochori, Greece

By Yorgos Karahalis

In Greece, with its hundreds of islands, one of the longest coastlines in the world and a great climate, people are lucky enough to enjoy the beach for nearly half the year. Swimming in the sea is a way of life for many Greeks and a habit they’ve grown used to from their earliest years. With tourism being the country’s biggest industry, almost all visitors plan at least one “touch” with the sea during their holiday.

But for some, things are not so simple. Those with kinetic disabilities have always had to ask for help to enjoy the simple pleasure of swimming in the sea as wheelchairs cannot be driven on the sand or over pebbles. Unfortunately, this isn’t unusual in a country where access facilities for the disabled are in general very poor, even at the most basic level. A lack of infrastructure by the state and hostile behavior by many locals is a cocktail poisoning the daily life of those who depend on wheelchairs to get around.

In such a difficult environment, a team of university students and professors developed a solar-powered device which enables autonomous access to the beach for people with kinetic disabilities: the “Seatrac”, an innovative project covered by European and U.S. patents but faced with Greek reality.

Woodstock 2013

Kostrzyn-upon-Odra River, Poland

By Tom Peter

It was a sweltering hot day and already late in the afternoon when I reached the small Polish border town of Kostrzyn-nad-Odra, home to the Woodstock Station rock festival. As I made my way along a forest road towards a military base on its outskirts, I passed scores of bare-chested men who lay dotted around in the shade, having clearly succumbed to a mixture of heat and hard liqueur. I approached the throbbing roar of guitars beyond the forest with some apprehension, believing I was in for a night of testosterone-induced aggression. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

When I stepped out into the clearing I found myself at the edge of a mud mosh pit the size of a tennis court, with a few dozen boys and girls in swim suits going absolutely bonkers to the sound of a Polish punk band. Beyond it there was the main stage towering over a billowing cloud of dust thrown up by thousands of dancing metal-heads who were going equally off the rails.

Those in front of me chased one another through the knee-deep murky water, tipping each other over (girls were the preferred targets), and rolling around in the sludge in what looked like Mad Max fighting scenes. Every so often groups would be overcome by a communal fit of exercise mania and organize themselves in circles to do push-ups or crawl, military style, across the pit.

Derby days

Augusta, New Jersey

By Mike Segar

When I was growing up I remember each summer looking forward to visiting the Barnstable County fair in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where my family spent the summer. A tradition from coast to coast, the summer county fair is a purely American event and my family never missed it.

GALLERY: JERSEY’S DEMOLITION DERBY

What I also remember fondly from the fair after the cotton candy, rides and games was going to see the evening demolition derby races – watching as groups of salvaged and homemade cars called “beaters” or “wrecks” slammed into each other over and over on a dirt track until the last car still moving was declared the winner. It was always a fun event with lots of laughs.

As a Reuters staff photographer based in New York I am always looking out for quirky, uniquely American events and stories which can bring with them their own set of characters and atmosphere that make for interesting images and the opportunity for visual storytelling. Demolition Derby is certainly one of these events. When I found out that the Nation-Wide Demolition-Derby company was holding a two-day competition, one of the largest on the east coast, I knew I wanted to shoot it.

Little angel Niuniu

Shanghai, China

By Aly Song

“Mom, can I touch the stuffed steamed bun? I won’t eat it, just touch.” Four-year-old Wang JiachengNiuniu, nicknamed Niuniu, said to his mother while desperately eager for a bite of the steamed bun stuffed with meat in front of him. Half a year ago, Niuniu was diagnosed with late stage neuroblastoma. Since then, he has undergone chemotherapy treatments which cause him to vomit constantly and make it almost impossible to eat anything, especially meat. Yan Hongyu, Niuniu’s mother, cast a bitter smile at her son’s naive request. She was still struggling to believe that her boy had to suffer such a great deal in his childhood.

GALLERY: A CHILD’S STRUGGLE

I came across Niuniu’s story while doing research to find a family for an in-depth picture story on China’s healthcare policy. Before I met them, I did some searches and found out there weren’t many treatments available in China for neuroblastoma, which is a neuroendocrine tumor arising from any neural crest element of the sympathetic nervous system. This cancer has a more successful treatment rate if the patient is less than two-years-old. But in Niuniu’s case, the risk is much higher. Nonetheless, Niuniu had surgery to remove the tumor. After that, he would have to completely rely on chemotherapy to kill the cancer cells.

Knowing the chances were slim, Niuniu’s parents committed to the treatment with 100% faith. Yan quit her job in Yancheng, Jiangsu province, and took her son to Shanghai for better medical services in early 2013. They rented a 10-square-meter small apartment near the hospital, and since then have been rushing between the two places. Niuniu’s father, who used to own a small company in Yancheng, recently sold the company in order to pay the bills. He was still taking some jobs in their hometown to make ends meet, but whenever he had a chance he would go to Shanghai to help his wife. “Nowadays, people just cannot afford to get sick” Yan said as she chatted with other patients’ relatives in the hospital. Before Niuniu fell ill, they were a happy upper-middle class family. But now the estimated cost for the entire treatment is over 300,000 yuan (48,991 USD), and the insurance can only cover as much as 80,000 yuan (13,064 USD). A huge financial burden, restless nights while taking care of Niuniu and mental anguish – none of this matters to Yan. “Nothing is worse than seeing my son suffer everyday,” Yan said. “I would rather myself being sick.”