Photographers' Blog

Between “Jogo bonito” and riots on the streets

Salvador, Brazil

By Kai Pfaffenbach

Football is the sport I most like to photograph.

Almost everybody in Reuters knows that. When I was assigned to head to Brazil to cover the FIFA Confederations Cup one of my dreams came a little closer: covering a soccer match at Rio’s famous Maracana stadium. After almost two weeks of following the tournament’s group stage matches I haven’t seen the Maracana (that only happens for the final). But I have had the pleasure of traveling in a team of three with my colleagues Jorge Silva and Paulo Whitaker from Brasilia to Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza and Salvador. The stadiums look great, they are ready for the big event next year, the spectators are as enthusiastic as expected and so far we have seen good games with an outstanding Brazilian superstar Neymar and spectacular overhead kicks from Hulk.

But I have to admit that my attention has been taken away from the stadiums, organization and the games by the huge demonstrations across Brazil. It is very obvious that the people are not happy about how things are happening here and it seems solidarity for the cause is rising.

Some of these protests unfortunately turned into riots and violence. Being quite experienced with this and even used to rough police enforcement for the last few days I found myself outside the stadiums to cover the street fights before heading back in to cover the matches. The situation develops very quickly here. Most of the protesters were calm, only shouting slogans and holding up placards and flags but some of them were ready for trouble. Stones flew everywhere, barricades were set on fire and it turned into proper civil unrest.

The reaction of the police varied. In Fortaleza they threatened the media with fire arms. That was one of the most scary situations I have ever faced as a photographer. This didn’t happen to me in any war zone I have covered the past ten years but in Fortaleza a police officer pointed his pistol towards an AP colleague and myself to prevent us from taking pictures as police and national guard faced off against the protesters.

Police in Salvador reacted completely differently. They let the media move around and work without disturbing us at all despite the riots being a lot more violent. Police withstood a hail of stones and fired tear gas with their shotguns to block the protesters from marching to the stadium.

Where in Hong Kong is Mr. Snowden?

Hong Kong

By Bobby Yip

Hong Kong became the focus of the world’s media this week after Edward Snowden, a former contractor at the National Security Agency (NSA) who leaked classified NSA information, gave The Guardian newspaper an exclusive interview and then went to ground somewhere in the financial hub – a town more used to a focus on money-making matters.

With more than 6,000 people living in every square kilometer, Hong Kong is one of the most crowded cities in the world. After checking out of the Mira Hotel where he first stayed, the public has no idea where Snowden’s current “safe house” is. One magazine article even suggested Snowden head ‘offshore’ and hide on one of the island’s iconic “junks”.

After The Guardian’s world scoop, there were failed attempts to chase after Snowden or chase after the few journalists who had met him. As the media chased after images, still photos and TV footage of Snowden (The Guardian released a few of their own to the media) have bombarded citizens here: on the front pages of newspapers and magazines, on local websites supporting him, on banners displayed on the streets, in the hands of protesters, on transportation, in shopping malls, and outside the famous Chung King Mansion.

Last days in a Siberian prison

Outside Krasnoyarsk, Russia

By Ilya Naymushin

Boris Kovalyov is not my hero – not at all. I have never understood such people, the way they think, the way they live. But journalists work with all kinds of people, and to me, people in extreme circumstances have always been of particular interest. And so Kovalyov, a non-hero, became the hero of my photo story, which might be called “The Last Ten Days in a Siberian Prison Camp.”

Boris is 32 years old. He was first jailed for theft, and was sent to a prison camp near Krasnoyarsk. After a few years he was granted early release, with the understanding that he had learned his lesson. Under Russian law, a relapse into crime means the convict serves the time he was spared by early release, and is often sent to a higher-security prison.

Boris was not out long before he was arrested again, for drug trafficking, and sentenced to eight years in a high-security prison camp. He was sent to a prison near the village of Ariysk where most of the inmates are recidivists. After two and a half years he was moved to an even stricter camp north of Krasnoyarsk.

Poolside floods

Germany

By Thomas Peter

It was a sunny and calm Monday afternoon when I flew in a German army transport helicopter above a flooded region north of Magdeburg, the capital of the federal state of Saxony-Anhalt. The Elbe river had swollen to over seven meters (yards) above its normal levels and broken its banks and a dyke near the village of Fischbeck. Farmlands, forests and whole villages were inundated by its waters. Hundreds of people had to flee their homes.

Strapped to a bucket seat I sat beside the helicopter’s open sliding door and surveyed the water landscape below me: sunken buildings, tree tops and the tops of abandoned cars dotted the glistening, caramel-colored surface of the deluge. Here and there a street or a pristinely groomed hedge rose above the water as a reminder of the human order that had been submerged by the force of nature.

One week earlier I had waded through flooded villages upstream. Up to my waist in water I photographed the efforts of rescue teams and volunteers trying to contain the rising river and evacuate trapped inhabitants. When covering a natural disaster of this kind you have to be in the middle of it to capture the emotional dimension of the tragedy.

Scraping by as a French pensioner

Nice, France

By Eric Gaillard

One evening while returning home I came upon a scene that I had never imagined in a country as rich as France – people rummaging through supermarket trash bins looking for food.

In spite of the difficulties I would encounter, I decided to go ahead and meet these people head-on. That day I saw an elderly man waiting on a public bench. Quickly I understood that he was waiting for the trash container from a nearby neighborhood supermarket. I approached him, with my camera on my shoulder, and started a conversation, which stopped abruptly with a curt, “Leave me alone, don’t take my photo”.

I sat down beside him, changed the direction of our conversation, in the hopes of building trust. I knew that what I was asking him was difficult to accept. We spoke of other things when suddenly he opened up giving me his name, Eugene and his age, 87, and that he first rummaged for food during the war when he was twelve. “Times were difficult,” he told me, sighing. Eugene revealed that the money he saved from rummaging for food allowed him to pay for a flight to Thailand once a year to see his “girlfriend”.

Meeting Pakistan’s female Top Gun

Sargodha, Pakistan

By Zohra Bensemra

I first came up with the idea of covering Pakistani female pilots after reading an article online that ranked four of them among the country’s 100 most powerful women. But I could not approach any of the 19 female pilots without getting permission from the military, which ended up taking six months. After nearly giving up hope on the story, the spokesman for the air force approved our request with one of the pilots. It turned out to be Ayesha Farooq, the first war-ready female fighter pilot for the nuclear-armed nation.

A month later, the day finally came to meet Farooq. I left Islamabad at 5:30 a.m., impatient to arrive after waiting so long for the approval and anxious to meet her. A few hours later, I arrived at the Mushaf Air Base in Sargodha in northern Pakistan.

GALLERY: PAKISTAN’S FEMALE TOP GUN

They took us first to the historic hall of the air force, where we were offered coffee and tea. But we soon grew impatient, asking “Where is Ayesha? We want to meet her.” Twenty-minutes later, a smiling young woman, veiled in an olive green head scarf that matched her uniform entered the room. I was disappointed to hear that Farooq could not fly for us because of a sprained ankle.

From Madrid to heaven

By Sergio Perez

There is a local proverb which goes, “De Madrid al Cielo” (From Madrid to heaven). Coinciding with efforts to illustrate a story on energy reform, I thought I’d try to show the phrase is actually quite true. For weeks we solicited access to four of the Spanish capital’s tallest skyscrapers at a business complex known as “Four Towers” (“Cuatro Torres”) which includes the the PwC (Price Waterhouse Coopers) Tower.

The PwC Tower, named after the company that rents most of the office space in a building owned by Spanish construction company Sacyr, is the third tallest skyscraper in Madrid and it is the sixth tallest in Europe with 58 floors soaring to 236 meters (774 feet) high.

We were finally given access to photograph from the 53rd floor, the highest floor in public use as the final five floors house equipment such as air conditioning and heating systems as well as other operational material. The building is home to a five-star hotel and the headquarters of the well known audit firm.

That sinking feeling

Kiribati, In the middle of the Pacific

By David Gray

The first sign you see of the equator-hugging central Pacific island nation of Kiribati (pronounced Kir-i-bas), is a small patch of green that breaks the seemingly endless monotony of blue that is the Pacific Ocean. Tropical storm clouds fill the sky, rising so high you feel uncomfortably small. Descending, the tiny atolls that reach just a few meters above sea-level at their highest point and make up this small island nation, come into focus, and even from this height, it is obvious that land is an extremely precious commodity out here in the vastness of an ocean that is cut by the International Date Line.

The immigration check once you are inside the quaint arrival hall is made up of just two small palm-leaf stands marked “Visitors” and “Residents.” The rental car, which should be called a “borrow” car, is waiting for me in the dusty car lot out the front, with the key handover no more than an acknowledgment that I am staying at the motel I have named. Showing some identification, let alone a driver’s license, is not even a thought – just a welcoming smile and a handshake will suffice. I think it best to ask how to find the motel and I am told: “Well, just keep heading down the one road we have on the island, and you won’t miss it.”

Upon arriving at the motel, I meet up with David Lambourne, a well-informed local who moved to Kiribati’s capital Tarawa some 18 years ago from Australia, to discuss the problems facing the nation. Including the possible catastrophic scenario that one day Kiribati could possibly become uninhabitable under the weight of its own population and an ever encroaching sea. David tells me this is a real possibility, especially for the small group of atolls that make up South Tarawa.

Taksim Square: One woman’s protest

Istanbul, Turkey

By Murad Sezer

Anti-government protests have gripped Turkey for almost two weeks, and Istanbul’s famous Taksim Square and adjoining Gezi Park have become a center of the demonstrations, with thousands flocking there to voice their opposition to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling AK party.

Ayse Diskaya is one of them. She is a 48-year-old housewife, an active member of the left-wing cultural organisation Halkevleri, a women’s rights activist – and now a Gezi Park protester. Riot police cleared the square early on Wednesday but Ayse says she will return to Gezi Park later in the day.

Ayse lives in an apartment building in Okmeydani, a poor neighborhood of Istanbul, along with her husband and two sons. Until two weeks ago, her daily routine consisted of taking care of the house and working to promote women’s education. Since then it has involved heading down to Gezi Park to protest against the government and helping out with a stand that Halkevleri set up there.

Closing the chapter on the space shuttle

Cape Canaveral, Florida

By Joe Skipper

The decades-long assignment started with covering the first space shuttle launch, Columbia, on April 12, 1981. A recent visit to Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39A wrapped up the story for me. Often we cover assignments not knowing how long it will take, and my part in coverage of NASA’s space shuttle program seemed as if it would last forever. With the landing of the shuttle Atlantis on July 21, 2011, however, we thought the assignment was over.

But it wasn’t complete yet. With the shuttles headed for public display, the assignment continued a bit longer in order to cover the preparation and their ultimate departure from the space center.

Longtime members of our Reuters shuttle photo team, Pierre DuCharme and Scott Audette, joined me for a final look at the historic pad before it would be demolished to be reconfigured for the next U.S. manned spaceflight program. We were hosted by NASA Photo Editor Ken Thornsley and our longtime NASA media escort and friend, Charlie Parker, a retired NASA engineer.