Photographers' Blog

The quiet of a nuclear beach

Iwaki, Japan

By Issei Kato

“I have to arrive at the beach before it starts raining.” This is what I was thinking as I drove up to the Fukushima coast, less than 35 km (21 miles) from the crippled nuclear plant. Because the weather forecast said it was going to rain in the region, I had packed a waterproof kit for my camera and beach gear so I could be ready to photograph the beach.

Iwaki city, located just 40 km (24 miles) south of the plant, had declared nearby Yotsukura beach open to the public this summer, the first time since a massive earthquake and tsunami triggered a nuclear crisis at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. But, during the period between July 15 and August 18, when the beach was open to the public, the operator of the plant admitted that contaminated water was leaking out to the ocean. Government officials said 300 tonnes of radioactive water was probably flowing out to the sea every day.

Most of Japan’s beaches are controlled by the local government, which holds official opening ceremonies during the summer months and assigns lifeguards to patrol the beach. Residents and visitors can go to the beach during the off-season too, but it is usually less crowded. I went to the beach just after the open season had ended, thinking there would still be about 100 residents enjoying the sun, even though it was weekday, because the summer holiday season had still not ended.

As soon as I arrived there was a blue sky, beautiful white sand and a calm, ebbing ocean. What struck me, though, was that I couldn’t find a single beachgoer. All I could find were abandoned beach balls, barbeque kits, a beach parasol and some trash. It was silent and abandoned except for the sounds of the ocean surf and noise from a construction site nearby.

After two hours, I finally came across a man on the beach. Takeshi Takaki, a 71-year old resident, was walking his dog Marron on the beach as part of their daily routine. Takaki told me he lives in Hisanohama, around 30 kilometers (18 miles) south of the plant and he had traveled by car to walk on the beach with his dog. He said his family survived the 2011 tsunami by climbing to the second floor of his house when the water flowed into his house.

The most wanted photograph in China

Jinan, China

By Carlos Barria

As the morning approached, reporters, photographers and cameramen from national and foreign media organizations gathered outside the Jinan Intermediate People’s Court to cover the final chapter in the trial of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai.

The stage for this story was Jinan, in the northeastern coastal province of Shandong. This story had all the elements of a great thriller: power, corruption, romance and murder. With no access to the courtroom itself, the foreign media and the general public relied on images provided by the court for glimpses of the trial. Also, for the first time China’s judicial system provided court transcripts, published on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.

The opportunities for photographing Bo Xilai stood at about zero. Authorities only allowed media to stake out the courthouse from a fenced area across the street, and even there we had to go through a security scan to get in. Some journalists complained that during the first morning of the trial police denied them movement in and out of this area to cover protests that were going on nearby.

An underground photography mission

Gaza-Egypt border in the southern Gaza Strip

By Mohammed Salem

It was not easy to get in to the tunnels’ area on the Gaza-Egypt border. I had to make an enormous effort to obtain a permit from the Hamas-run interior ministry because there is a ban on photography in this area for apparent security reasons. Once I had the permit, I headed straight to the area where I was stopped at several police checkpoints before finally getting to one of the smuggling tunnels. It took me a few minutes to take in the area and see the real situation with my own eyes, not as it is described by others. Hundreds of tunnel entrances were covered by tents in an attempt to hide the location and Egyptian army tanks were close by, guarding the border.

One of the tunnel workers, Abu Mohammed, offered to let me see his tunnel. At the entrance, his colleagues were sleeping and having a rest after some hard work while the other shifts were working underground. Abu Mohammed decided to accompany me to help me while I was photographing inside the tunnel. I was surprised and a bit frightened to see a 20 meter-deep hole, and wasn’t so happy about going down into the dark. Abu Mohammed encouraged me, saying that you descend on a rope operated by an electric generator, assuring me that the rope was strong enough to carry heavy construction materials. I tied my cameras around my body and the adventure began.

I had a very weird feeling while going down, but it was interesting. When I arrived underground, two of the tunnel’s workers shouted a warm welcome as they saw me as a guest. They were very happy to see a new face. Cautiously I began walking inside the underground passage, which runs about one kilometer (0.6 miles) to the Egyptian side. For my part, it was like a trip to another planet or a completely different world. The workers continued their work and I managed to document them while they were repairing their damaged tunnel and resting. I could hear some murmurings and sounds coming from a neighboring tunnel that was separated from us only by a wall of sand. I almost got lost and started to enter another tunnel run by other people, but the workers notified me. It was not an easy hour. It was very hot and humid, and shooting pictures was very difficult due to the weak light. Even breathing was not as easy as I thought.

The marketing of Miley

New York City, New York

By Lucas Jackson

Does anyone remember what happened during the MTV Video Music Awards in 2012? How about 2011? I would wager that the last thing you remember from any MTV video related anything would be when Kanye West walked up and snagged the microphone away from poor Taylor Swift in 2009.

Guess what, someone was counting on that this year. I haven’t a clue who, it might be MTV or Robin Thicke or most likely Miley Cyrus but someone was counting on creating one of these exciting “moments” for people to talk about the next day and boy did they hit the ball out of the park. I cover a fair amount of live music. I am not a concert photographer and I don’t go to every music festival but I cover enough to know when I see a performer putting on a good show. Lady Gaga almost always does it, she has the theatrics down.

A lot of groups who use large stage set-ups know that the show itself can be as important as the music but it would appear that the world is yet to catch up to the genius that is Miley Cyrus.

A day on the lobster boat

In waters off Cape Elizabeth, Maine

By Brian Snyder

The instructions were: “Meet my sternman, and friend, Rob at 4:45am at the fish pier in Portland, Maine. From there, you two will catch a ride on another boat out to join me on the Wild Irish Rose, somewhere among the islands off coast.”

Lobsterman Steve Train owns the the Wild Irish Rose, and had some engine problems that morning. Rob was running late. But Steve guided me to his brother’s boat at a different pier. We picked up Rob and were out to the Wild Irish Rose soon enough.

Steve Train started lobstering with his brother when they were kids, then worked on a variety of boats throughout high school and college. In 1989, while he was still in college, he bought his first boat. He jokingly calls lobstering a “disease.” His father lobstered into the 1960′s, stopped, but started again in the 1990′s. Steve’s brother bought his first boat in 1992, his first year out of college. Both of Steve’s daughters, twelve and sixteen years old, have lobstered with him, the elder daughter all summer until field hockey started.

Maribel’s hands-on attitude to life

Tegucigalpa, Honduras

By Jorge Cabrera

One ordinary day in 2008, Maribel Murillo was at home preparing the dough to make tortillas for sale, the activity that she had done all her life. Her husband, who was in a known relationship with another woman, appeared and began to argue with her about his plans to sell their house. Maribel was opposed to the idea of losing what she had worked so hard to acquire.

Enraged, he accused her of having a lover herself, and with a machete hacked off both her hands and struck her three times in the head.

I met brave Maribel on one of my many visits to La Nueva Australia slum, one of Tegucigalpa’s most dangerous districts. As she told me her story, I watched her use the stump of her forearm to wipe away a tear on her cheek.

Riding the Moscow metro

Moscow, Russia

By Lucy Nicholson

London has the world’s oldest underground rail system; Tokyo’s metro has employees to push people into packed trains; New York’s subway is an ethnic melting pot. Hidden beneath the streets of Moscow is something completely different. To step onto the Moscow metro is to step back in time and immerse yourself in a museum rich in architecture and history.

Opened in 1935, it is an extravagant gallery of Communist design, full of Soviet artworks, Art Deco styling, statues, chandeliers, marble columns and ceiling mosaics.

GALLERY: INSIDE THE METRO

Built under Stalin by some of the best Soviet artists and architects, the metro transports 7-9 million people a day, more than London and New York combined. It costs 30 Rubles, around $1, for a single ride. We were given metro passes with our credentials when we arrived to cover the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Moscow. On the first day, I caught the metro back to our hotel with a group of Reuters photographers, when we missed the last media bus.

Fighting fire with photos

Ketchum, Idaho

By Jim Urquhart

Fire in the west has always been part of my experience. In the summer months I often find the blue skies replaced with a dark orange glow of smoke. With my chosen career path these smoke-filled skies can mean a busy time of year but they seem to have started later in the summer than usual.

I keep a complete fire kit (nomex shirt, nomex pants, emergency fire shelter, leather boots, leather gloves, helmet and goggles) in my truck from the time the snow melts in the spring to until several inches of snow have returned in the fall. I found you always have to be ready to go and nimble because in the heat of the west all it takes is one errant cigarette butt, one hot car engine parked in the dry grass or one well-placed powerful lightning bolt to be called to work.

GALLERY: IDAHO WILDFIRE

The year’s fires began to take shape for me last week. During a camping trip bolts of lighting had started several fires that were visible on the way home. These fires for the most part were in unpopulated areas. Then an afternoon looking at photos with friends was interrupted with the news of fire breaking out east of Park City, Utah, of the hills above the Rockport Reservoir. I monitored the growth from afar through the night but when it was determined that it had begun to take homes I struck out to cover it in the morning.

The immigrant behind the eyes

Safi, Malta

By Darrin Zammit Lupi

“Go get 13i38 from warehouse 2,” barks the army NCO to his subordinates. We know his name now, but the military personnel providing security in the detention center continue to refer to him, as with all detainees, by the reference number given to him when he arrived here.

He is Mohammed Ilmi Adam, a 17-year-old, from Mogadishu, Somalia. The piercing gaze which made him an iconic figure is gone; he’s just like so many other teenagers of his age, eyes flicking from side to side, rarely making eye contact. Slouching on a chair in a small office at the army’s Safi barracks detention center, he looks dejected, submissive, sullen, lost, and indifferent to our presence.

Mohammed arrived in Malta in the early hours of July 10, after being rescued from a tightly-packed rubber dinghy along with 67 other, mostly Somali, immigrants. He arrived hours after a political storm blew up when the Maltese government threatened to deport a group of new arrivals without giving them the opportunity to apply for asylum, only backing down at the eleventh hour when the European Court of Human Rights issued an urgent injunction to block the action.

Revisiting the Waldo Canyon fire

Colorado Springs, Colorado

By Rick Wilking

Covering natural disasters is a strange thing. You get there all in a huff, as fast as you can after the tragedy, and then try to seek out the major damage. You document all that, often busting hump for very long days, for a week or more depending on how bad it is.

Then inevitably the first weekend after the storm or fire comes and the story falls off the radar. Your editor sends you home to lick your wounds and wait for the next “big one.”

As I wrote this, another tropical storm cooked up off the coast of Africa, heading west. “It might be here in a week,” I thought. (Yes, people who cover hurricanes monitor such things.)