Photographers' Blog

Witnessing the Nairobi mall massacre

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

Nairobi, Kenya

By Goran Tomasevic

(Editor’s Note: Goran Tomasevic is a veteran war photographer, covering conflict for over 20 years in countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Egypt and Syria. As Reuters chief photographer for East Africa, Goran is now based in Nairobi, Kenya. This is his story of the attack on the Westgate shopping center on September 21, 2013.)

I was at home when I heard from a friend about something happening, but we weren’t sure what it was. I went to the Westgate mall and saw some bodies lying in the car park and realized it was serious. I saw some police so I hid behind the cars to take cover and slowly got closer to the gate.

An injured child was being pushed in a supermarket trolley. The woman said to me, “Please, take this child”. But the police jumped in and helped her. I took some pictures and then saw a couple of plainclothes and regular police. I asked when they would be moving and they said they were going to try and enter the shopping mall from the top. I went with them.

In the parking lot there were a lot of dead bodies and a lot of injured people with blood everywhere. There were people hiding and screaming and asking for help. I tried to help but I couldn’t do much because the ambulance was arriving and I wasn’t sure exactly what to do.

I saw this younger guy who was hit by shrapnel. His leg was broken, but he wasn’t bleeding that heavily. I didn’t want to move him and make it worse. If I started helping, I could do something wrong. I am not a doctor. I just tried to calm him down. I said, “The medics are coming. You will be alright. You are okay.”

Gaining Ben Johnson’s trust

(Editor’s note: Gary Hershorn, now Global Editor, Sports Pictures, for Reuters, has covered sport for 35 years. A Canadian, he gained the trust of compatriot Ben Johnson in the run-up to the 1988 Seoul Olympics and had special access to the sprinter’s training. Here, Hershorn, looks back at that time and at Johnson’s downfall.)

By Gary Hershorn

Standing shirtless on the training track, Ben Johnson looked at me, then dropped his running shorts. He stared at me, apparently willing me to take a picture and prove I was just another paparazzo desperate to get a sensational shot of the world’s most famous athlete ahead of the Seoul Olympics.

I stared back but did not put my camera to my face. Training over, Johnson told me everything was fine and I could come back and watch him train as often as I liked. I had, it seemed, passed the test and won his trust. Johnson, who generally distrusted the media, completely opened up that July, telling me what time he would train each day, showing up on time and taking me inside his private world, to the weight room and massage room.

Beachside at Blackpool

Blackpool, Northern England

By Phil Noble

I can remember vividly as a child trailing after several suitcases pulled by my parents or trying to squeeze into my uncle’s luggage-laden car as my brother and I began the journey to our annual family holiday by the beach.

This was the late 1970s or early 1980s, and foreign holidays were out of the reach of the Noble household at that point, so the bright lights of a British resort such as Llandudno or Blackpool was our usual destination.

Over the years these seaside resorts and others like them have undergone a rollercoaster ride (excuse the pun), seemingly lurching from popularity to poverty and back again.

Summer in NYC

New York City, New York

By Gary Hershorn

I think it can be said, all of us can look back at ourselves and recall specific moments that shaped the direction our lives went in. For me I can remember two such moments that even now, years later, seem like they happened just yesterday.

The first was as a nine-year-old when I attended my first NHL hockey game in Toronto. I will never forget entering the temple of hockey called Maple Leaf Gardens, walking along corridors that were lined with large photographs of all the great players and then down a darkened hallway towards a bright light that opened up into the bowl of the arena and the view of the ice surface. I remember thinking this has to be the brightest place on earth as the TV lights shone on the white ice and my heroes, the players, as they warmed up for the game.

Looking back I can only think this one moment has, in some way, subconsciously influenced me in the choice I made for a career, that being, a professional photographer for the past 35 years.

The ghost town of Goussainville

Goussainville-Vieux Pays, France

By Charles Platiau

Once upon a time there was a small French village called Goussainville, situated 20 kms (12 miles) north of Paris, with its town hall, its church, its 19th century manor, and only seven small streets. Early in the 20th century the only sounds to be heard came from the church bell, farm animals and the roar of thunder from a passing summer storm. Then came the Great War with the noise of canons. In May 1915 local resident Auguste Denis was killed, in November his brother Henri was killed. This followed in 1916 with the death of his brother Alfred and then in 1917 their brother Julien. A war monument was built with the four brothers’ names among the 32 soldiers from the village who lost their lives. Calm returned until the bombings of World War II. After the Liberation, German prisoners of war worked the fields and life quietly moved along until in June 1973 a Tupolev 144, performing at Le Bourget Air Show, crashed in the village, destroying fifteen homes and a school. A second sound was heard.

Then technicians installed speakers and turned up the sound, to demonstrate to the village residents what to expect with the opening of the future international airport, Roissy-Charles de Gaulle. Too much noise with the runways only 3 kms (2 miles) from the village, added to the fear of potential air crashes. Many residents moved away to a new village, bearing the same name, Goussainville, with a new cemetery. They called the village, “Le Vieux Pays” (Old Settlement), the houses were boarded up, the church closed its doors, the bells silenced, the cemetery would no longer see funerals, and only the rare visitors. Practically a ghost town, frozen in time, where only several die-hards, continue to live. Among them a book store owner, the only shop doing business in the village.

In 1997 the village tried to reawaken, to transform itself into a village of books and crafts, but today Nicolas Mahieu remains the only bookseller, no one came to join in his adventure. Often a day goes by without a single customer in his shop, although business goes on via the internet.

Destroying the heart of the village

Geste, France

By Stephane Mahe

The villages of rural France are faced with decreasing numbers of residents. In addition to the closure of bakeries and shops, they are seeing rising costs to maintain the religious and social heart of these communities, the local church. The village of Gesté and its church, Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens, has witnessed this first-hand.

Local media reported the final phase of the “deconstruction” of a neo-Gothic church in the village of Gesté, and its 2,600 residents. The municipal council was unable to allocate the funds, some 3 million euros ($4.05 million) in 2007, needed for repairs and upkeep. With some research I discovered that since 2000, more than twenty village churches had faced the demolition ball. Apparently 250 churches in France are threatened with the same fate as municipalities are faced with extremely high costs to repair and maintain them, costs that are higher than the cost of tearing them down.

I appeared on site to discover the Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens church, built between 1854 and 1864, with workmen and cranes tearing down the walls of the church, leaving the bell tower and the crypt intact. People stopped to gather behind barriers to watch as heavy machines partially brought down the church.

Harvest Moon rising

London, England

By Toby Melville

“Moon, Daddy!” exclaimed my two year old daughter excitedly from the rear seat as I drove her back home from a day with the childminder. “Where’s the moon?” I inquired as I concentrated on navigating through the evening rush hour on the busy roads of west London. “Over there: moon!” she repeated.

I knew it was a full and so-called Harvest Moon that night. I had a 500mm lens and decent enough 2 x converter in the trunk of the car as the every-ready back up emergency news set up. But the afternoon had been grotty and drizzly so not for the first time I had pretty much abandoned ideas for ‘full moon’ shots for another month.

But she was right: as I sat at the traffic lights in an interminable line, I could just catch a glimpse of the huge glowing orb peeping between clouds and houses. So, now the dilemma again of plenty a photographer when features and news just don’t happen between pre-determined working hours or ‘on-shift’. Continue home and then do the cherished fun evening routine of bedtime stories for Junior, followed by wee glass of wine and dinner? Or go moon chasing?

Behind the Costa Concordia timelapse

Giglio harbor, Italy

By Tony Gentile

I have always been keen on cinema and documentary video. I study and create multimedia projects and like telling stories using still photos, video and audio.

After receiving the assignment to cover the Costa Concordia “parbuckling”, I had the idea to create a timelapse. Definitely not an original idea because in Giglio, there were more cameras shooting timelapses than there are island residents.

A timelapse is a cinematographic technique used to shorten the action. It allows us to see very slow actions or natural events that we cannot see naturally using the technique of shooting pictures at regular intervals. Then we edit to create a video of about 24 or 25 frames per second. In this way you can see the action accelerate.

Squatting in Brussels

Brussels, Belgium

By Yves Herman

Once a church and convent, the “Gesu squat” is a huge building which has long been home to an eclectic group of residents.

But now, if a project by a Swiss developer gets the green light, it may be turned into a hotel and luxury apartments, and its inhabitants will face expulsion. At first, Gesu was occupied by artists, who organized events and exhibitions between 2009 and 2012. They had to leave, however, after clashes with newcomers – mainly people in precarious situations looking for a place to live.

Some 160 residents, including 60 children, have lived at the Gesu squat for more than three years. But over the past few months, the number of inhabitants has grown so large that authorities have become worried about them bothering neighboring communities.

Abortion: After the decision

New York City, New York

By Allison Joyce

I had been trying to think how to tell the story of abortion in photos for a while. Over the past few years the U.S. has seen new laws limiting abortions enacted and politicians speaking out for and against abortion.

Unless it’s on a political level, it’s still taboo in our society to discuss abortion. I was surprised when I started talking openly with my friends and colleagues about abortion how many of them had had one themselves. I hadn’t known that 40 percent of American women will have an abortion during their lifetimes. While it’s a personal and private experience, there are 45 million women in America who share in it, and it shouldn’t be a shameful secret. The silence creates a stigma that prevents a meaningful discussion and understanding in the national debate and dialogue.

These women are your mothers, sisters, friends, wives, neighbors, grandmothers, colleagues and daughters. These are real people, not an abstract issue.