Photographers' Blog

Beware of Englishmen in Civvies

Novi Sad, Serbia

By Marko Djurica

At the Exit Festival in Serbia’s second city Novi Sad, you won’t find any signs pointing the way to the closest place to egress, but only signs for “emergency escape.” It is intentional so that concertgoers don’t get confused that the party continues outside the fence, but I came to see it as a hidden message.

The festival is held on the grounds of Petrovaradin, a medieval fortress on the banks of the Danube River, and has been drawing crowds from the region and from Europe for over 14 years. The original festival grew out of a post-war student protest movement against the regime of former Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic. The name was meant to be a clear call for the Milosevic regime to step down and for society to leave the consequences of a terrible dark decade behind. The festival climaxed in the mid 2000s when it was recognized as one of Europe’s top ten festivals. Since then, it has all been downhill.

This year the very existence of the festival came into question because the past few years have been less successful and the fact that the festival is financed, in part, by the Serbian Ministry of Culture. But really, if you are one of the best European festivals for years, how can you need financial assistance from the government? The organizers justify the high ticket prices as necessary for attracting big stars to perform, which other than Atoms for Peace and David Guetta, I didn’t see or hear about.

So what’s necessary now for the Exit Festival to find its own retreat from the sorry direction it has taken? It has major advantages in relation to the region’s festivals — spectacular location at the fortress, a camp sandwiched five minutes from the city center on one side and five minutes from the city beach on the other side. But if you ask the foreign visitors, 90 percent of whom seem to be from the UK, for their impressions, they tell you only, mouths still agape, that they are astonished how cheap everything is. Of course, they are speaking of the food and drink. Or maybe it is connected to what Wikluh Sky, frontman of Bad Copy, a Belgrade band known for its sarcastic and parodical lyrics, said at the end of his concert: ‘Beware of Englishmen in civvies.’ He was simultaneously riffing on the preponderance of Brits and warning concert-goers about the plainclothes policemen at the festival. Embedded in his admonition is the widely-held sentiment that the festival has lost most of its rebellious spirit both because of the foreigners and the highly organized and fairly heavily policed area.

When you enter the fortress grounds, there are about fifteen stages with various themes trying to attract your attention. Other than the main stage, the dance arena, and the ‘Fusion’ stage, which showcases so-so musical acts, the rest of the stages are more or less empty. To be clear, whoever wants to hear random people sing Rihanna or Dino Merlin on the karaoke stage, or listen to trance on the trance stage or at the so-called “Latino” stage where they teach you dances like at a cheap hotel on the Mediterranean. You know the kind where the waitress brings you breakfast and at night there is a program for kids at the same time as the aerobics class for pensioners. It seems to me that offering these various stupidities just brings attention to the point that there are fewer people at the concert because the musical acts are weak.

Slumdog gringos

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

By Pilar Olivares

One day I decided to check out rumors that there were gringos living in the famous but feared “favelas” of Rio. I went to the Vidigal favela and asked residents if they knew any foreigners living there, and they confirmed, “This place has been invaded by gringos. Look around a while and you’ll see a parade of them, even Peruvians, Ecuadorians, from everywhere.”

Although the term gringo was originally coined in Mexico to refer to Americans, here it refers to any foreigner, even myself, a gringa from Peru.

GALLERY: FOREIGNERS IN FAVELAS

There in Vidigal I met Ekaterina, an attorney from Russia who is living in the favela with her Chilean boyfriend, Marcos. Spending a day with them was like training myself to be a translator – Ekaterina doesn’t speak Spanish and is only just learning Portuguese, so her best language of communication here is English. Between photographing and interviewing, I often ended up in the middle of the couple and their language problems.

Piercing gaze after a dangerous crossing

Marsamxett Harbour, Malta

By Darrin Zammit Lupi

I don’t know his name. He’s just another guy sitting on a police bus looking out of the window. It was the same sort of scene I’ve photographed on countless occasions over the past decade or so. But this chap was looking intently and intensely, straight at me, through my camera lens and into my mind’s eye. His piercing, haunting gaze was burrowing itself deeper into the innermost recesses of my psyche as I keep looking back at the photo.

I didn’t think much of it at the time. I knew it was an image I would probably include in my edit but it wasn’t until I was looking at the photo on my computer screen that his eyes, his expression, the texture on the dirty windows, really got to me.

GALLERY: DANGEROUS CROSSING

Sixty-eight African would-be immigrants had just disembarked from the Armed Forces of Malta patrol boat that rescued them 70 nautical miles south of the tiny island of Malta bang in the center of the Mediterranean. Many were ill, injured, exhausted and barely able to stand.

My day with the Naked Cowboy

New York City, NY

By Darren Ornitz

Having lived in New York for eight years, Times Square is nowhere near the top of my list of places to photograph. In fact, it’s probably close to dead last. Just the other day however, I got an assignment to roam the chaotic streets trying to find a feature story. Walking through the revolving doors of the Thomson Reuters building, I wondered where I would even begin. While something exciting could happen at any moment, the chances of running into Elmo getting arrested seemed improbable.

After only a few blocks I found myself wedged between a family trying to take photographs of the apparently fascinating Nasdaq building and a bunch of men screaming at me while waving pamphlets in my face about how much fun I’d have sitting on top of a red bus in the middle of bumper to bumper traffic touring the city.

Among the throngs of people I spotted in the middle of the road was an African American man wearing white briefs, cowboy hat, boots, and a guitar. It was a “Naked Cowboy!” Everyone has heard about the original Naked Cowboy, but I had never seen this particular cowboy before. He was a young guy, rocking out on his guitar in the middle of the road, with a grin on his face and a little swag to his strut. I decided to follow him around a bit. At the very least I could snap a few fun photos of him interacting with tourists, all the while getting a little humorous entertainment.

Chasing the rich and (some) not-so-famous

Sun Valley, Idaho

By Rick Wilking

In between covering tornadoes and forest fires this year I have covered several business conferences and related stories. Starting with the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting, to the SALT hedge fund conference, to the Wal-Mart annual meeting I’m now at the big kahuna, the Allen and Company conference in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Never heard of the Allen and Co. conference? Well maybe that’s because most of the attendees are people you’ve never heard of either. Even though they are millionaires and billionaires, huge investors and big-time global CEOs, most of the people here stay far off the radar. Even if you have heard of their companies you probably haven’t heard of their leaders, let alone seen a picture of them.

But then there’s the “A-Listers” of technology and media companies attending. Many people have heard of Mark Zuckerberg (founder and CEO of Facebook) or Tim Cook (the new CEO of Apple, replacing the late Steve Jobs) or the venerable Warren Buffet. But have you heard of Philippe Dauman? (CEO of Viacom, the company behind networks like MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central and movie studio Paramount.)

A farewell message to the telegram

New Delhi, India

By Mansi Thapliyal

At 10 p.m. on July 14, India will send its final telegram before the service shuts the following day, signaling the end of a service that has been going for over 160 years. It is the latest means of communication to be killed off by the mobile Internet age.

From families waiting to hear from their children who migrated to India’s cities for work, to soldiers in remote areas for whom the telegram was the only way to stay in touch with relatives, the telegraph service has been used to connect millions of people across this vast country since the mid-19th Century.

Charged per word, some messages went on and on, while others chose to write single words like “love” – a simple message to express how they felt.

Turning trash into dreams

Asuncion, Paraguay

By Jorge Adorno

Throughout my life I have always been struck by how music, as a part of culture, is a white flag in many circumstances of life, especially in times of conflict. Even the Germans found time to attend concerts during war.

The other day I went to the education center in the Asuncion neighborhood of Cateura called Vy’a Renda, meaning Place of Joy in the Guaraní language, where I found youths building their future in a place of extreme poverty. It’s a school with curtains drawn over broken windows, but which houses diamonds in the rough in the form of children studying music and playing in an orchestra. Their instruments are built of material recycled from trash, giving the orchestra its name, the Orchestra of Recycled Instruments of Cateura.

The orchestra’s director, Favio Chavez, was an amateur musician apart from being an environmental engineer at the Cateura municipal garbage dump. In 2006 he decided to help the children of the dozens of garbage pickers by forming a music school with the five instruments he managed to acquire.

On the gruesome battlefield of Gettysburg

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

By Gary Cameron

The 150th anniversary and reenactment of the U.S. Civil War battle in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was a story suggested months ago by Reuters Pictures Editor Mike Fiala. Lasting three days, it would include thousands of re-enactors dressed in blue & gray wool uniforms who would live in historically accurate camps with canvas tents, and include 400 horses for cavalry units, with over 200 cannons from both sides to effectively blast each other off the battlefield. Add thousands of rifles and side arms to the mix (all weaponry fires black powder but no shells or bullets in re-enactments), and you have the makings of one very loud display of history, carnage and destruction.

What I did not know is that NO re-enactment battles of Gettysburg would be played out on the actual “hallowed” ground of the 1863 conflict. Two separate re-enactment groups would have their own events, each with versions of the July 1, 2, and 3 battle days, on large nearby farms. Stadium seating similar to those used at professional golf tournaments would accommodate 10,000 fans and border the battlefields.

All of this would follow immediately after President Obama’s trip to Africa that fellow staff photographer Jason Reed and I were assigned to. While looking forward to the Gettysburg assignment, Africa (three countries in seven days with numerous events and time zones) would have to come first. And the temperatures experienced in Africa would break me in for the sweltering heat and humidity of 12 hour days in Pennsylvania. Not quite….

Is it him, or is it not?

Havana, Cuba

By Desmond Boylan

Yesterday, a strong rumor that a delayed flight from Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport due to land in Havana could be carrying fugitive former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, sent dozens of reporters scrambling to the airport. Since June 23, this has happened many times already.

As I watched passengers gather in the arrival hall, the gentleman in the picture below, with the blue shirt, grabbed my attention. Could he be the fugitive?

In the midst of the Snowden story, how would clients from all over the world perceive this picture if they received it, even with a caption simply stating that they were passengers arriving in Havana from Moscow? Would it raise questions? It’s difficult to find an answer to these questions as my ethics told me that it was not right, and I decided not to move this or any of these pictures. Once I got a full view of the man’s face it was clear that he was not Snowden.

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.