Photographers' Blog

Kentucky Derby by the numbers

The Reuters pictures team of John Gress, Matt Sullivan and Jeff Haynes reflect on covering the past weekend’s Kentucky Derby.

By Jeff Haynes

Fast forward 25 years from 1988 and the Winning Colors victory to 2013 and Orb, include every Kentucky Derby winner in-between and you have a total of roughly 50 minutes of what I call a spring time tradition – photographing what many call the most photographed two minutes in sports. Just like in years past photographing the Derby for me is one of the most thrilling events I cover each year. 2013 was no different.

It was this annual event that got me hooked on becoming a wire service photographer. Covering the Derby is like no other event. You show up days before to go to early morning work-outs and photograph the horses training on the track, being groomed and bathed, and maybe catching a quiet moment where a trainer and horse just graze on Kentucky Blue grass on the back side of Churchill Downs.

Not much has changed in 25 years, maybe a few more people get in the way trying to get a glimpse of each horse. Then comes the first Saturday in May – the numbers change but the day is always the same. We arrived early in the morning to set up remote cameras, check the computers and internet connection so everything was ready to go for later in the day. You kill time by taking photos of beautiful ladies in even prettier hats, and guys smoking huge cigars they have waited all spring to smoke.

There are the silly hats, the mint juleps and the drunks in the infield who might not even know there is a horse race about to happen, but you always think about the race that is going to happen later in the day. We waited for the bugler to call the horses to the post for this year’s Kentucky Derby. This year’s main attraction was the rain. The rain started around 9am and didn’t stop all day, adding another factor to our long day.

Waves of fire

As wildfires rage through California, photographers Patrick Fallon and Jonathan Alcorn describe working on the fire line.

By Patrick Fallon

Driving up the 101 towards the Dos Vientos neighborhood in Newbury Park, California, I could see the fire’s thick, black smoke – a sign the fire was burning fresh brush, fueled by strong winds.

When I arrived the neighborhood was under an orange tint from the smoke in the air. Sheriff Deputies were going door to door, helping people evacuate, while a group of young men helped their neighbors, jumping from yard to yard to hose down the back yards as firefighters held back the fire on the hills above the home.

Bollywood dreams

Mumbai, India

By Danish Siddiqui

The Hindi film industry or Bollywood can make a star, a household name out of anyone overnight. It can bring instant money, fame and the fan-following of millions from across continents.

Bollywood is an addiction for many that attracts thousands of aspirants to the breeding grounds, the city of Mumbai, everyday. I was keen to look at this other side of the glamour world. The side that entails the struggle to enter the world of aspiring dreamers and their struggles to become a star.

There is no time limit to becoming a nationwide sensation, a star in Bollywood. As one of the aspirants told me it’s a gamble you take, forgetting all your worries about the results.

Parallel world of Chechnya

Grozny, Chechnya

By Maxim Shemetov

What did I know about Chechnya before last week? For someone who grew up in the 1990s the very word Chechnya meant a string of grainy images on TV showing people in battered camouflage outfits, shooting at each other amid destruction and ruin. Fear, wahhabis, Shamil Basayev, terrorism, mountains: these were the words that used to spring to my mind when someone mentioned Chechnya.

It still has a reputation as a frightening place where people get kidnapped and entire villages are razed. When I told my friends I was leaving for Chechnya on assignment they asked me in jest if I would need an armored vehicle. Many of then were visibly worried. But then I spoke to a colleague who had worked there for more than 15 years. He said: “You won’t find a safer place in Russia, be smart and you’ll be okay”.

I flew to Grozny, with mixed expectations. When we got there and I stepped out of Grozny’s Severny Airport, I knew this wasn’t Russia. It was a totally different, parallel world, a cross between Singapore and the Middle East, with veiled women, men in camouflage, Islamic skull caps and long beards, and armed police on every street corner. There was a mosque outside the main airport terminal. A huge portrait of Chechnya’s strongman leader Ramzan Kadyrov was just across the street, and another, smaller portrait of Russian president Vladimir Putin close by. The streets were spotless, a rarity in Russia where many cities are full of potholes and crumbling buildings. I got into a taxi and plunged into Grozny.

A piece of the past with the present

New York City, NY

By Shannon Stapleton

Every time I have to cover a story related to the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center I always hope that I will be able to forget that day and the so many lives affected by the tragedy.

Today was not different. It’s a beautiful spring day and being down near the Ground Zero site was probably the last place I wanted to be. But covering one of the last pieces being hoisted onto One World Trade Center did provide a glimmer of closure.

It’s taken way too long but the site is being transformed into more of a place of remembrance – a place, at least for me, that I can go near and not be totally engulfed by the memories of what I saw and what happened on that tragic day.

A world without smiles

By Lunaé Parracho

The northeastern city of Salvador, Brazil’s third-largest, is a major tourist destination thanks to its beautiful beaches and popular festivals. Its Carnival is considered the world’s largest street party.

In spite of being idyllic in so many ways, this city suffers from an unprecedented explosion of violence in recent years, part of a national phenomenon with the migration of violence towards the north. While the murder rate has dropped more than 63% in the southeast in the past ten years, it has increased 86% in the northeast. That is according to the 2012 Map of Violence compiled by the Brazilian Center for Latin American Studies.

GALLERY: FAVELAS IN ARMS

In Salvador, the murder rate has risen over 250%.

One of the police officers I spoke to summed up the situation clearly with his own personal tragedy. “We’re living in the middle of a war. I try not to leave home, and  when I do I’m armed,” he said, asking to remain anonymous. He knows what it’s all about – his son was killed recently by a thief to steal his iPad. Just a teenager, he died as he was returning from school on the street near their home in an upscale neighborhood.

In the shadow of Mexico’s guns

Mexico City, Mexico

By Edgard Garrido

Days before last Christmas, city authorities initiated a program of voluntary disarmament for citizens encouraging them to swap their pistols, revolvers, guns and the occasional 60mm mortar round for bicycles, tablets or cash. Thousands flocked to the swapping stations set up in different neighborhoods by the police and military.

Some weapons were destroyed on site but I wondered where the rest of the collected weapons would land. So, I decided to issue a formal request to the Mexican Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA) asking if I could access their storage facilities to take pictures.

The military is in charge of storing and destroying weapons, not only those handed in by the civilian population sometimes including those inherited from an ancestor who might have fought in the revolution but also the weapons confiscated in the six-year-long, ongoing drug war that has so far killed some 70,000 people. Those are generally larger calibers than great-granddad’s Winchester Rifle from the early 1900s. They confiscated everything from custom-made, gold-plated Colt Super 38 Automatic to rocket-propelled grenade launchers and lots of Kalashnikov AK-47s, the narcos’ weapon of choice.

Ghost town of Superstorm Sandy

Breezy Point, New York

By Shannon Stapleton

Driving into the city I was listening to NPR talking about it being the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Sandy.

At first I couldn’t believe it had been six months already, and then I thought more about it and it seemed like years ago. The last time I was in Breezy Point and the Rockaways not much had changed.

The area of Breezy Point was still littered with fire and storm damaged homes throughout the seaside community. Arriving today the specific area that was ravaged by fire was completely different. The remains of homes had been taken away and the land flattened and filled with sand.

A second chance for women facing prison

Los Angeles, California

By Lucy Nicholson

Victoria Rios, 49, stood up in front of the crowd gathered in the court’s public gallery for her graduation. She listened as Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Tynan, 76, began her story. She had started drinking and smoking when she was eight-years-old. She began taking heroin when she was eleven. She was abused, and went through many abusive relationships. “Prisons become my permanent friend,” she said. “If it wasn’t for this program, I don’t know where I’d be. In prison for life or dead,” she said as tears rolled down her face.

GALLERY: SECOND CHANCE FOR JAILED WOMEN

Judge Tynan walked over to her and wrapped his arms around her in a bear hug. “I could have retired 11 or 12 years ago, but I keep coming back because of people like her,” he said. Tynan has been running the Second Chance Women’s Re-entry Court program since 2007, with Public Defender Nancy Chand, who represents most of the women.

As California struggles with its crowded prison population, the court has pioneered an approach that aims to treat the underlying causes of many women’s crimes – drug addiction, sexual and physical abuse, and mental illness — most commonly post traumatic stress disorder. Around 66% of California prisoners have serious substance abuse problems, but only 2% participate in treatment in prison.

Photographing the darkness

Little Rock, Arkansas

By Gaia Squarci

I’ll never forget the day I first came in contact with blindness. It was a day in November 2011. A couple of months earlier, I had come to New York to pursue photography, shaping an identity largely based on what I see and the way I see it. Blindness was pure terror for a photographer like me – and it was also mysterious.

On that day, I walked into Visions, a center for the blind, and 10 minutes later I was sitting on an armchair with a weird hat on my head, posing for a picture in a photography class. I was totally confused but simultaneously my focus crystallized. I wanted to see — and photograph — what the sighted don’t imagine is still possible for the blind.

Dale Layne, 31, was one of the blind photographers in that class. Dale is from Guyana and is talkative and composed. Since, he’s become a friend and a point of reference when I try to explore perceptions of space and time, identity, culture, memory and love, as heavily altered by the lack of vision.