Photographers' Blog

All aboard North Korea’s ship of weapons

Colon City, Panama

By Carlos Jasso

I received a call from a colleague late at night saying there were rumors that a shipment of missiles from Cuba had been found on a North Korean-flagged ship at the entrance of the Canal in Colon.
At that point I stopped what I was doing and started calling my contacts in the security services, colleagues and scanning Twitter to confirm the time and place where the ship had been intercepted.

I got word that the captain of the ship had tried to commit suicide when police boarded the vessel and that there were indeed arms on the ship. I left the house in less than 15 minutes and caught a ride to the port with a colleague from a local newspaper. The port is an hour and a half away from the city and it was pitch black. There was little chance to see anything, so we decided to sit it out until dawn; maybe we would get a chance to see the ship. We got ready for a long night, three photographers perched in the car with lots of gear and a family of annoying mosquitoes that kept us company throughout the night.

The first rays of light brought reporters, photographers and cameramen and we all stormed out trying to catch a glimpse of the ship. It was pretty far away but luckily it was close enough to get by with, as a start. Interest in the story was mounting, especially after Panama’s President Ricardo Martinelli tweeted a picture of what seemed to be a missile on board the ship. But there was no access and we kept being told “later, later.”

Finally, after waiting for endless hours, the president himself arrived at the port to inspect the ship and we were allowed to come along. When he stepped onboard he congratulated the officers in charge of the operation and started wandering around. There was too much press, too many people in general and I decided to quietly separate myself from the group as I wanted to explore a bit more on my own.

The first thing I saw were portraits of the late North Korean leaders Kim Jong-il and Kim il-Sung. As it turned out they were in every cabin and in every hallway. I wondered if they had been told to put up the images or was it because their love and admiration for them was so huge that that they wanted to see them everywhere and at all times.

The gunfighters

Aldergrove, Canada

By Andy Clark

The hot mid-day sun beat down as the fellow nervously checked his Ruger Blackhawk single action revolver. Spinning the chamber and checking the hammer mechanism several times he then slipped the gun smoothly in and out of his holster sitting low on his hips. Adjusting his Stetson he looked up and said “I may be nervous, but I am ready”. Stepping into position he slightly bent his knees and placed his partially open right hand over the holster, while his flattened left hand crossed over his stomach and balanced just above the hammer of the gun. Only yards away his opponent stepped into his position and took a similar stance. A split second later there was a deafening and almost simultaneous boom as both guns spit fire, creating a large cloud of blue smoke that hung in the air. It was over. There lying on the ground was not some poor soul but rather the tattered remains of two yellow balloons, both gunfighters checked their guns, holstered them and prepared for the next round.

As you have gathered this was not some scene from the late 19th century in a dusty town of the American wild west but rather, a modern day competition, taking place at the annual Canadian Open Fast Draw Championships in Aldergrove, about an hour east of Vancouver, British Columbia.

The present day Fast Draw competition was born from the Hollywood myth of the western gunfighter. The terms “gunfighter” or “gun slinger” are actually movie and literary terms of the 20th century and were not used in the old west. In the 1950s and early 1960s TV westerns were very popular with large audiences and the Hollywood studios began promoting some of their stars as the fastest guns. One actor, Hugh O’Brien, who portrayed Wyatt Earp in a television series even hired a coach and challenged other Hollywood actors. The beginnings of today’s modern competition are credited to a stuntman, a trick shooter named Dee Woolem who designed a timer to measure the quick draws and in 1954 the first Fast Draw competition was held.

Fresh food on Paris rooftops

Paris, France

By Philippe Wojazer

Have you ever eaten vegetables grown in central Paris? I have.

“What about growing some carrots in our house’s courtyard or radishes on the balcony?” asked one of my daughters. She said she had heard engineer Nicolas Bel’s interview on the subject. So I called him. As with all those with passions, he could speak about his studies for hours and make you suddenly feel part of it.

“Many Parisians who have a flat roof or a large balcony are thinking to produce their own vegetables. There are many technical constraints to build a rooftop vegetable garden such as weight, depth for the substrate (a minimum of 20 centimeters), wind, sun, water. We are now at the live study stage. We want to be able to build a vegetable garden capable of self-sufficient production. We are recuperating biological waste from people, companies and are growing vegetable in trays. We are testing different combinations, all with no fertilizers or any kind of chemicals. Our fertilizers are produced by worms. The project is: Are we able to grow vegetables on a base of organic waste we can find in urban and peri-urban environments such as wood, compost or cardboard,” Bel explained. “My dream is to have a rooftop garden capable on being financially sufficient. I even work with a chef who is growing some vegetables he uses in his kitchen on the rooftop of his restaurant”. “We are conducting pollution tests on our production and the results are really good”, added Bel, who is in charge of the roof of the AgroParistech institute in Paris and is the founder of Topager company where he uses his knowledge to install rooftop vegetable gardens in schools, restaurants, companies and individuals.

That was my link between this new bio-city agriculture and a story to tell.

So we went in the early morning to the 6th floor of the Mutualite building in central Paris to meet Sibylle, a bio-agronomy student who is in charge of this vegetable garden. She was collecting yellow zucchinis from Orgeval, beans, parsley and chives to give to chef Eric Castandet who cooks in the “Terroir Parisien” on the ground-floor of the same building. Today’s special was: Stuffed yellow zucchinis. Sous-chef Nicolas Bouchard started cutting the zucchinis and the rest of vegetables to prepare the recipe. At noon, the restaurant opened. Thirty reservations to start and after an hour, the daily specials were gone. Castandet had put one aside for me and said I had to leave my cameras in the kitchen and taste his cooking. Resisting would have been impossible. The zucchinis were absolutely delicious. Chef Castandet told me that the taste of the tomatoes he grows, like all the vegetables on his roof top, with no chemicals is incomparable to what you could find elsewhere. After the bees on the rooftop of the famous Tour d’Argent restaurant, sheep in a green space owned by the French capital archives service, what will the future hold and what will be the impact of this phenomenon of urban agriculture in France? Is it just a trend or a new way to learn about food production?

Rich and poor in the Philippines

Manila, Philippines

By Erik De Castro

Taking photos of poor people is nothing unusual for me, as the poor comprise more than a fourth of the Philippine population of nearly 97 million. They are also the most vulnerable during disasters such as typhoons, landslides and fires that frequently dominate the headlines in the country.

Late last month, the Secretary General of the state agency National Statistical Coordination Board wrote in an article that the gap between the country’s rich and poor is widening, with the country’s strong growth, the fastest in Asia so far this year, benefiting high-income earners more than those from the middle- and low-income classes. The article said the rich were enjoying significantly faster growth in incomes compared with people from lower income classes.

That helped me build the idea to juxtapose the lifestyles of the rich and poor in the country through images. I thought in the beginning that it was easy to document the rich and poor divide, but I found out as I was doing my picture story that it was a complex matter. I spent more than three weeks doing a picture story concentrating on two families with similar age brackets but from different income classes. I followed each of the two families as they went about doing their daily activities, spending lots of time with them even during ungodly hours of the day.

The Labor Pains of Royal Photography

London, England

By Suzanne Plunkett

The last occasion I spent any amount of time at St Mary’s hospital in London, I was giving birth to my own child. And I can honestly say that experience was a lot less painful than covering the arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s newborn son.

A photocall for a baby might not seem like that tough an assignment — and for many of the endless days of waiting in the run up to the birth, the only challenge was boredom — but when the time came, the physical and mental stress gave even the most severe labor contractions a run for their money.

GALLERY: ROYAL BABY BOY

First there was the planning — far more meticulous than for a birth when most couples simply have to pack an overnight bag, work out the quickest way to hospital and, for reasons we will never truly understand, prepare a relaxing CD of whale sounds. For the photographers, this was more of a forensic exercise in which every detail was scrutinized minutely and agonized over.

A Hollywood timelapse

Hollywood, California

By Mario Anzuoni

The timelapse: One GoPro, one magic arm, one plate, one phone GoPro app.

During my usual coverage of entertainment events, I come across a few that are a little bit more unique. Whether that may be the unveiling of a star on the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, a celebrity leaving hand and footprints in cement for eternity, or the world premiere of a blockbuster movie. Events such as these are hyped by the fans, attract large crowds and hundreds of members of the media and are often held in the heart of Hollywood.

My idea for this project was to give a much wider look of the whole scene before, during and after. Therefore not focusing solely on the celebrity but instead placing it into context and giving the viewer a closer idea to exactly what happens during big entertainment events such as these.

I knew that my GoPro camera would be ideal; it was wide enough, it offered me minimal set-up (practically anywhere a magic arm could be attached), just like I did for the Backstreet Boys star where I ended up latching it onto a pipe by the sidewalk.

A child’s autistic world

Havana, Cuba

By Enrique de la Osa

When I arrived early at the Dora Alonso School, Julio came over, shook my hand and gave me the latest weather report. He did it with such precision that I didn’t know what to say. Julio is 24 years old and a die-hard meteorology aficionado. But instead of working as an expert predictor of the weather, he was making a living sweeping the school’s patios. Julio is also a patient at the school – he suffers from autism.

The Dora Alonso School specializes in treating children who suffer from autism spectrum disorders. The building housing the school was a military facility before the Revolution, and it was inaugurated as a school for children with special needs ten years ago by Cuba’s former President Fidel Castro. The school is surrounded by a lush green garden and there is no outside noise. It is extremely peaceful. More than 40 children, ranging from the age of four to six spend their days at the school with a group of therapists, doctors, physiotherapists and psychologists who not only work with the children but prepare parents and teachers as well.

The disorders can range from severe mental retardation with a profound inability to communicate, to relatively mild symptoms combined with some high levels of function such as those seen in people with Asperger’s. When I saw the students I found they looked physically normal, but seemed apathetic. They live in a world different from others. In Cuba we are used to children running around, laughing, crying, and doing everything with lots of noise and bravado; they wear their emotions on their sleeves. But these children were quiet and detached. They were completely unfazed by my presence and the camera, showing no curiosity.

Commuting from the West Bank

By Ammar Awad

There are two ways for Palestinian workers to cross into Israel every day. Those with work permits can pass through a military checkpoint. Those without a permit have to find a way through the controversial Israeli barrier, and sneak across the border. Both ways are time consuming. Neither is pleasant.

Gallery: Commuting from the West Bank

“I have no other choice,” said Tayser Sherif Abu Khader, a 57-year-old Palestinian from Qalqiliya who for two decades has been making the commute. “If I don’t work in Israel, I will die from hunger.” I met Abu Khader in line with hundreds of other Palestinians who were waiting to cross through the Eyal checkpoint in the northern West Bank. He told me that about 7,000 Palestinians cross daily through the checkpoint. He had gotten there before dawn to make sure he would be at the front of the line and make it to his job on time. You can never tell how long the wait will be, he said. There are fingerprint scans, x-ray machines for their bags, and sometimes workers are delayed for additional questioning. But the hassle is, at the end of the day, worth it. The work opportunities are better in Israel than in the West Bank, where the economy is struggling.

Abu Khader works in construction in the area of Tel Aviv and was one of the few willing to talk to me. He is considered one of the veterans of the group and is in charge of a small group of volunteers who every morning make sure people stay in line. It is common for workers to try to cut the line, and that could quickly cause a scuffle. When things go well, Abu Khader returns home at night with 300 shekels. That’s at least four times the average salary in the West Bank, Abu Khader said. But if there are delays, or if for some reason he misses his ride to the construction site, he loses a day’s pay.

Flying with man’s best friend

Salt Lake City, Utah

By Jim Urquhart

Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz once said, “All his life he tried to be a good person. Many times, however, he failed. For after all, he was only human. He wasn’t a dog.”

For me there is a simple truth in that statement. I have many failings and weaknesses that I am continually trying to learn from. Some I am just learning to accept, new ones get pointed out daily by others. That is just me. But I have the privilege of owning and caring for a dog.

GALLERY: FLYING DOG

Spending time with most dogs you will probably find they want nothing more than to be close to you and be at your side as you experience the world. Food, water and loving attention is all you need to provide to win a dog’s heart. It is a simple price. But the admission into their hearts is worth more than their weight in gold.

Kids in camo

By Pichi Chuang

The Albert kindergarten and day care center in the central Taiwan city of Taichung is as joyful and vibrant as any other, with its colorful plastic slides and trampolines, but what makes it different is the children. From five to nine years old wearing camouflage uniforms they practice crawling and handstands on foam cushions in the front yard, copying the training of army special forces frogmen.

Principal Fong Yun said “I think most Taiwanese children lack confidence compared with kids from other countries.” Inspired by U.S. physical therapist Glenn Doman’s theories, 15 years ago she created a series of exercises that combine military drills and gymnastics, believing that they would help children develop physical and mental strength.

“All our children have had a hard time practicing the exercises. When they encounter obstacles in the course of their life, such as college entrance exams, job hunting, or even marriage, the experience they gain here by practicing very hard and finding a way to do it perfectly is very helpful,” said Fong, adding that the exercises help develop digestive systems and the brain’s language center as well as courage and strength.