Photographers' Blog

KZ: Two letters, literally hell

Weimar, Germany

By Lisi Niesner

U.S. troops arrived at German KZ (concentration camp) Buchenwald, near Weimar on April 11, 1945. The hands of the tower clock on top of the entrance gate are exactly set to a quarter past three: the time of liberation.

Walking through a memorial side of a former concentration camp feels indescribably oppressive. Between July 1937 and April 1945 a quarter of a million people were imprisoned in KZ Buchenwald with a death toll of around 56,000. This is a place as inhuman as it may be possible, full of sorrow, torture and death.

Prisoners had to endure a dreadful extent of humiliation, starvation, coldness and disease. Many worked to death, others died in medical experiments or were murdered arbitrarily. Here on the grounds of the former concentration camp, you become even more aware of the terrible magnitude of the systematic genocide by the Nazis.

Visitors enter the inmate’s camp through an iron gate with an inscription which is just readable from the inside, “to give each his due”.

Survivors, their relatives and others gather annually on April 11, at 15:15 pm for a commemoration ceremony at the memorial to all inmates’ of Buchenwald located at the former muster ground. Twice daily, the prisoners had to line up for a roll call. They had to stand, to march, to form lines and sometimes to sing for hours. Naked prisoners were flogged there and others were hanged on gallows for all to see.

Indians, or farmers-to-be?

Maraiwatsede, Mato Grosso, Brazil

By Paulo Whitaker

Sixty years ago Brazil’s Indians had their territory demarcated, when they lived in a rich forest from which they extracted their food. Their rivers were teeming with fish, and their jungles with wild animals.

Today, in the 21st Century, many Brazilian Indians live a completely different situation, trapped in corners of their land by settlers who are large and powerful farmers that invade native territory to plant soybeans, sugar cane, and pasture to raise cattle.

We recently visited the Indian village of Maraiwatsede in the central western state of Mato Grosso, a region dominated by cattle ranches and soy farms. Little remains of the native forest that belonged to the Xavante tribe. Much of this land is not officially registered so it was invaded by ranchers trying to expand their holdings. There is even a clandestine city with nearly 1,000 inhabitants built on Indian land.

Born in the world’s newest country

Juba, South Sudan

By Andreea Campeanu

“Go look inside and then come back and tell us what you think,” the doctor responsible for the maternity unit at the Juba Teaching Hospital in South Sudan told me. “We are many years behind”, was his own assessment.

I had arrived in Juba, South Sudan, a few weeks earlier with feelings of trepidation but also with a great deal of excitement. Since 2010 I had wanted to come here. At that time I was living in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum – before the South’s independence in July 2011.

South Sudan is the world’s newest country, but according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) it also has the far less welcome accolade of having the planet’s highest maternal mortality rates.

Politics aside, along the border

California, along the U.S./Mexico border

By Mike Blake

A while back I had stopped at a cafe near San Ysidro, which is about as south as you can get in California before stepping into Mexico. I was walking out the door when I spotted three guys rolling up on ATV bikes dressed like they had just come out from one of my son’s Xbox games.

They were U.S. Border Patrol, grabbing a coffee, on a break from the dust of their patrols. I said to myself “Okay, I have to come back here and look into what these guys do.”

After a bunch of phone calls, emails and changing schedules (even a hard drive crash) I found my way back – this time I was in the game. I was in their dust, surrounded by their hills and trails and stepping into their real life cat-and-mouse game.

Circus of the Alley

Sao Paulo, Brazil

By Nacho Doce

A few days ago I ran into Brazilian muralist Kobra in the Sao Paulo neighborhood of Vila Madalena. He told me that in that same city square where we were standing in front of his graffiti, jugglers gather every Monday night.

GALLERY: SCENES FROM THE CIRCUS

So the following Monday I headed to the square at around sunset, and found them exactly as Kobra had told me – a group of jugglers in the middle of the square surrounded by and covered with graffiti. Before I even took out my camera I asked one of them if he expected more to arrive. “Uyy,” he answered. “In about an hour this place will be packed.”

I was about to experience what’s known as the Circo do Beco, or Circus of the Alley.

“I’ve never been in an elevator”

Havana, Cuba

By Desmond Boylan

Jesus Salgado, “Chinito”, was fished out of shark infested waters from a frail, sinking boat by a U.S. Coast Guard patrol near the Bahamas, back in 2003.  He had finally made his illegal exit from Cuba after a lot of planning, and even after spending a year in prison when a previous plan to escape was thwarted by the authorities. In those days, just thinking of leaving the country illegally was heavily penalized.

Salgado was not returned to the Republic of Cuba by the Americans as he would have been under today’s legislation. Under the U.S. government’s “wet foot, dry foot policy” in force today, he would have been sent home or to a third country since he was found at sea.

Salgado was returned to Cuban soil, but not in the political sense. He was taken to the U.S. Guantanamo Naval Base on the eastern tip, where he remained for 20 months working as a mechanic for wages which he saved.  He was then allowed to leave to Honduras, with the same final goal – to reach the U.S.

Man versus wild

Kathmandu, Nepal

By Navesh Chitrakar

I was on my way to cover another assignment when I got news of a leopard that had wandered into a town. Without wasting any time, I turned my motorbike around and rushed toward the scene. When I reached the area, I saw a huge crowd of people, most of them with big sticks, pieces of bamboo or farming tools, but I couldn’t see a leopard anywhere.

I asked one of the men standing near me and he pointed to the bush and said that was where the leopard was hiding. At that point, a policeman with a gun entered the bush and climbed up a small tree. I heard a big bang as he let off six rounds of gunfire – the sound was really loud. Was the leopard dead? Was it going to come out?

The gun had been fired to scare the animal and make it emerge from its hiding place, but the plan didn’t work. Up until that point, there had been no trace of the beast, only people making fun of it, shouting, looking toward the bush and cracking jokes. The policeman walked out of the undergrowth with his gun.

Swiss code of arms

Geneva and Zurich, Switzerland

By Denis Balibouse

I have quite a simple relationship with firearms. I don’t like them: their power scares me.

Unlike most Swiss men of my age I did not take part in compulsory military service in the Swiss Army (thanks to a torn knee ligament that saved me from a possibly awkward session with the Army psychologist during the recruitment process).

GALLERY: SWISS GUNS

When I was starting out as a photographer in my late teens I did some work for the French-language section of the Swiss Shooters newspaper. I had never felt so out of place in my life, what with everyone from teenagers to grandfathers wearing special outfits resembling some kind of Robocop get-up and armed to the teeth. Even with the hearing protection I would flinch with every one of their shots. It wasn’t the best environment in which to concentrate on getting my shot (pun intended), with hundreds taking part in the competition.

Voodoo alive and well

Souvenance, Haiti

By Marie Arago

There is much beauty in Haiti. There are mountains, the countryside, the sea and beaches, but what I find most beautiful is the culture of this country. There are many elements that contribute to Haiti’s rich culture and Voodoo (also spelled Vodou and Voudou) is definitely one of them.

This past week I spent three days documenting the annual Voodoo festival at Souvenance, a small village outside of Gonaives. Souvenance was formed by escaped and freed slaves from Dahomey (present day Benin) about two hundred years ago. During this week at Souvenance all of the Rada Iwa, or Voodoo spirits of Dahomey origin, are honored through different ceremonies, song and dance.

The first day begins with a ceremony that leads into a dance for the lwa, or spirit, named Legba. The dancing is led by three drums and the song lyrics are a mix of the Kreyol and Dahomey languages. These songs and dances have been passed on for generations and, judging by all of the children who were singing along, the traditions are not in danger of being lost.

Adventures on the western frontier

North Dakota

By Shannon Stapleton

It had been a couple months since I traveled somewhere to cover an assignment and I have to admit I was really looking to get out of town.

So when I heard that the Reuters text operation was covering a story in Williston, North Dakota on the Bakken Oil boom I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to visit a place that I had never been before. That same day I picked up the month’s edition of National Geographic and saw on the cover that one of my favorite photographers Eugene Richards had spent some time there this past summer. I was excited to embark on an adventure to the western frontier and see for myself this modern day gold rush.

GALLERY: NORTH DAKOTA BOOMING

I should have known that the average daily high temperature in March doesn’t exceed 35 degrees Fahrenheit in western North Dakota with a wind that bites right through you. But I was getting out of town and having the opportunity to work on a story that had significant news value. So, on Monday I took a 6:30 am flight from New York to Minneapolis for a layover then on to the wild frontier of Williston, North Dakota. During the layover I noticed that I was the only guy wearing sunglasses and a North Face jacket. I was surrounded by burly guys in Carhartt work clothes waiting to head back to a place that I found was a home away from home that afforded these men the opportunity to provide for their families that most of them had left back in areas all over the United States. I arrived in Williston and the temperature was a balmy 23 degrees. I picked up my rent a car and drove to my “luxurious” weekly rental located right off the main drag of Highway 85.