Photographers' Blog

Reasoning amid riots

Fortaleza, Brazil

By Paulo Whitaker

If the FIFA Confederations Cup is supposed to be about soccer, the latest edition in Brazil was really about so much else. Brazilians are passionate about the sport, but with all the public spending on stadiums for that and the 2014 World Cup, the people inaugurated the Confederations Cup with protests against poor public schools, hospitals and transportation. The protests began over a sudden increase in bus fares, but that was only the catalyst for a wave of protests that swept the country, especially near the stadiums where the world was watching soccer.

They were ten days of steady protests and riots, leading up to the semi-final between Spain and Italy in Fortaleza. I had the information that protests were planned near the stadium, and because of past experience covering I went earlier this time with colleague Kai Pfaffenbach to the stadium. But police had kept the demonstrations far from the stadium in a slum area dangerous to walk in with photo gear.

After leaving the hotel we passed in front of a university where some 300 students were already barricading the main road to the stadium. It was clear that clashes would be inevitable that day.

Police had set up four separate control points to stop the protesters from approaching the stadium, so we chose the one to which the students were heading. The atmosphere became tense when the students arrived carrying bottles and stones. It was their way of announcing violence.

Protesters arrived at the police barricade screaming slogans, and the police prepared for possible confrontations. Kai and I were working close, but then it made sense to search for a different position. I found a house with a terrace that offered a different angle.

One winner at the Palio

Siena, Italy

By Stefano Rellandini

Count only who gets up the “Nerbo!” Nerbo is the traditional riding whip used by jockeys at the Palio of Siena during the three laps around the square that will crown the lady of Siena until the next Palio. The Palio of Siena is an absolutely atypical race from everything that one can imagine. Horses must do three laps of the main square and the animal who arrives first with or without a jockey wins. There is no second nor third place, no podium.

I spent two days in the parish. To best understand the meaning behind Palio you have to live in the parish for all three days of the event. The two days before the race are used by jockeys to ride bareback doing trials. Horses are assigned through a raffle drawn in Piazza del Campo then each parish must recruit the best jockey around.

In the evening each parish’s alleys are filled with tables set up for dinner. All the people who belong to a parish take part. The only subject of conversation that you can hear between the tables refers to what will happen on race day. Each horse is cared for in the stable of his own parish by a groom who stays with the animal night and day without leaving, even for a minute. It’s forbidden to walk near the stable, where the horse is not to disturb.

Musical recovery

Caracas, Venezuela

By Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Crisvan Reyes suffers a type of bone cancer and has undergone unimaginable medical treatment at his young age of 11, including the amputation of his right arm. In spite of that, smiling and laughing, he makes jokes and teases other kids as he plays the drums during a rehearsal of the orchestra sponsored by the Alma Llanera Hospital Care Program. This is the last rehearsal before the program’s first anniversary concert.

The Alma Llanera Program is one of the most recent initiatives of Venezuela’s musical education program known as El Sistema, whose most famous alumnus is Gustavo Dudamel.

Barely a year old, the Alma Llanera Program is specifically for children who are going through medical treatment and are hospital-bound. It teaches them to play a musical instrument for the length of their stay, and allows them to continue afterward at one of El Sistema’s regular orchestras.

Chicago’s season of wins

Chicago, Illinois

By Jim Young

16 wins: that’s how many victories it takes for a team in the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs to hoist the “Cup”, the oldest trophy in North American sports.

I remember playing hockey all-year-round growing up in Canada, from the rinks and ponds in winter to the side roads in summer. I have photographed hundreds of NHL games but there is nothing better than the race for the Cup. With the Chicago Blackhawks setting a record by starting the shortened NHL season by going 24 games without a regulation time loss, there was some great anticipation on their post-season hopes.

They got through the first round against the Minnesota Wild in a relatively easy five games. In round two, they needed a huge comeback against Detroit after being down 3-1 to finally win in seven games, and the Kings were done in five. During the regular season and in the first round of the playoffs, I would self-edit the images for our wire but once we got to the Conference semi-final, we switch to using our remote editing software so our editors and processors across North America can push out pictures to our clients after every big play throughout the period.

Back to the pinhole future

Velenje, Slovenia

By Srdjan Zivulovic

I haven’t been this excited and concerned about a story for a long time. I was about to photograph a young designer and his wooden pin hole camera. Photographing in a pristine way, without a lens and on film is a really amazing experience. Working for a long time with digital photography, I got used to the ease and speed of shooting, editing and transmitting the captured material to Reuters clients. Now, I had to remember all the procedures and loopholes involved in capturing and processing on the Leica film format.

That’s why I am grateful to the young and ever-cheerful designer and photographer Elvis Halilović for continuing the idea and development of pinhole cameras.

Elvis got his education at the Academy of fine arts and design in Ljubljana and has been developing his camera ever since. The idea of a pinhole camera came as a counterweight to the quick thinking ways of today’s digital camera manufacturers. The camera was made for long-term use and as a designer object which can be handed down as a family heirloom for generations. He has even noticed that young people wish to use their acquired knowledge and their own handywork to develop printed photographs.

Kiev’s workout paradise

Kiev, Ukraine

By Gleb Garanich

Let me introduce you to the famous open-air “Sweat Gym” composed of around 200 work-out machines assembled from scrap iron to train all muscles. It is laid out on an island in the Dnieper river off Kiev.

I am not a sports fan, only learning about this place by accident. I thought it could make an interesting story and so I went to take pictures of the “Sweat Gym”. I was so struck by the uncanny scene that unfolded in front of me, that for the first half an hour I slowly roamed and looked around as if examining rare exhibits in a museum. Unknown gear, machines, intricate contraptions, old chains, wheels and tires, parts of caterpillar tracks and simple chunks of rusty metal – with humans swarming amid it all.

Even after spending three days there, I still did not have a clear idea of how some of the work-out gear worked and what some others were for. Supported by enthusiasts, this “workout paradise” appeared in the 1970s when the Soviet Union existed and has survived through the hard times that followed its collapse. Indeed, what comes to mind when you look at all this is an old newsreel featuring the Soviet-era industrialization drive – all these giant pieces of equipment and details cast in rough iron and tiny humans, completing the picture as small screws. Here, there are both professional sportsmen and amateurs, youths and pensioners and parents with children.

Surviving as a garment worker

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

By Damir Sagolj

Like a true professional, Maen Sopeak sings to the audience of seven people who sit on the bare floor of her room in a Phnom Penh suburb. Her singing is soft, at moments almost a whisper, but her beautiful voice is clear. In a country even slightly richer than devastated, impoverished Cambodia, she could be a star. She could perform to packed halls, wearing only the best clothes.

Maen Sopeak is, however, just a poor garment worker. There will be no sell-out crowds or fancy dresses for her anytime soon. She shares a single, hole-in-the-wall room with six other women, who all work at a nearby garment factory producing clothes for Western brands.

The song is excruciatingly sad. It tells the story of a girl forced into marriage with an older man, not the one she loves. Maen makes the grim song sound somehow joyful, although suicidal thoughts would be more appropriate. The abject conditions where she lives and works are a natural setting for this tragic ballad. Here, misery invites yet more misery. Just like in my home country of Bosnia, another devastated post-genocide country where its sevdah music is just a natural extension of everyday hardship.

A return to the land in Spain

Murcia, Spain

By Susana Vera

The silence of a sleepy town and the flickering light of the street lamps greet Jorge Ibanez as he leaves his home before the crack of dawn in Pozo Estrecho, in the southeastern Spanish region of Cartagena, Murcia. With his baseball hat on and a cooler in his hand, he approaches a couple of men on a corner. They exchange timid hellos and engage in conversation as they wait for the car that will drive them to a potato field ready to be harvested.

Ibanez is a 20-year-old Spanish day laborer. A pair of rotten gloves and his baseball hat are his work uniform, a group of Moroccan men his work companions. Together they set out every morning to collect thousands of pounds of potatoes that will end up in the kitchens of northern Europe.

Different fields every day, but always the same sight: row after row of round yellow potatoes waiting to be picked up. Tractors work at night unearthing the tubers so that the day laborers can start collecting them as soon as the sun rises. Extreme heat is not good for potatoes, so the workers have to rush to finish before midday, when the sun is at its peak and the heat starts becoming unbearable, both for them and the spuds.

Gettysburg, 150 years on

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

By Mark Makela

For the past year, I embraced a fervor of the 1860’s that threaded itself from the 149th through to the 150th Gettysburg reenactments. I traversed thousands of miles across the country, documenting a sub-culture of “hardcore authentics,” Civil War re-enactors who honor the importance of the living history as though the war still rages. They took me in, enlightened me as to what once was, and allowed me to experience the mid-19th century world, set amid a contemporary landscape but transformed by a strict semblance of history.

Even before commencing this long term project, it was clear that all paths pointed towards the Gettysburg 150th anniversary. Thus, I loved the opportunity to cover the finale of the Blue Gray Alliance reenactment for Reuters. As my camera got waterlogged by the rain on Saturday night, I was down to one for Sunday, ultimately making the day that much more memorable. Often I find it’s a boon shooting with only one body. One must at least attempt to envision more of what the situation may be and make many decisions beforehand so as not to be changing lenses during opportune photographic moments. “If I could tell the story in words, I wouldn’t need to lug around a camera,” Lewis Hine famously quipped, but only having one does save wear and tear on your shoulder.

I have always been inspired by the beauty, stillness, and haunting quality of Civil War era wet plate photography, namely that of Alex Gardner, Timothy O’Sullivan, and Mathew Brady. It’s a fascinating, reflective phenomenon to be documenting the enduring Civil War culture via living historians not only as a tribute to our American past, but also to the birthplace of documentary photography. A further parallel is that these 1860s photographs are the very imagery and documentary source material which has inspired the “hardcore” practice of honoring the past and instilling the importance of the Civil War to future generations.

Tightening Croatia’s borders

Along the Croatia border

By Antonio Bronic

Two months ago, I started working on a story about Croatia’s border police preparing for the country’s EU accession and trying to prevent illegal migrants from crossing into Croatia. For a media person, it is indeed rare to hang out with the police for 24 hours and I was afraid they would be stiff and uncooperative. How wrong I was. They were friendly and nice and, in the end, even took pity on my efforts to capture something dramatic on camera.

I visited three border crossings, two in the south, with Bosnia and Montenegro, and one in the east, with Serbia. I was mostly interested in finding out who were the people trying to cross the border illegally. They were mostly poor and unemployed citizens of Afghanistan, Syria and Albania, who wanted to reach rich European countries through Croatia, in hopes of finding salvation there.

From talking with the police who have been patrolling the borders for years, I found out that some illegal migrants travel for two months from Afghanistan and are really starving, thirsty, exhausted and poorly clad once they are caught. In some cases they surrender voluntarily to the police, just to get some food. Those who are captured are returned to the country from which they crossed into Croatia but that often does not stop them from trying again. There have been cases of illegal migrants who have tried to cross the border for ten days in a row. One of the most interesting and amusing stories I heard while hanging out with the border patrol was that once illegal migrants mistakenly entered a police van, thinking it was their arranged transport that would take them to another country.