Photographers' Blog

“I will show you the Pope”

Rome, Italy

By Alessandro Bianchi

After what seemed like a lifetime of standing in the rain, “Habemus Papam” (We have a Pope!).

I woke up after basically not sleeping at all. Another day and now what? We had no idea what Pope Francis would do. Nobody knew. Only that he was due to attend a small prayer at the Santa Maria Maggiore – a basilica in central Rome. So, fellow photographer Stefano Rellandini and I got on our scooters and went to take a look. When we got there, there was a lot of people – media, tourists (the basilica is right next to the main train station), curious bystanders, and a big wall which surrounds the basilica. Stefano stayed with the pack outside the main entrance and I went for a little wander. How could I see above this wall? The only way was to go into a local school. I walked in, looked for the principle and said “Come with me I have something to show you. I will show you the Pope.” He smiled and said “Okay let’s see.” I said, “I have to have this picture, or my boss will be very unhappy…”

We entered into a class of school kids, around 15 years old (to tell the truth I wasn’t really paying attention to them). Then came one of the longest moments of my life as I walked through the class and saw that from their window I could see into the courtyard of the basilica. I saw cars, police and a couple of priests. This was it. Seconds later he appeared at the doorway and I started taking pictures. I said to the kids “It’s the Pope, it’s the pope. He’s here, say something,” but they were a little star-struck and I had to say “Yes, it really is him – say something.” So the kids all shouted “Viva il Papa, viva papa.” Then one of his close cardinals tapped him on the shoulder and pointed at the kids (or more importantly me). Then the Pope waved and smiled and finally I could relax.

I’m happy, the kids are happy, the Pope is happy. And what made it sweeter was that I was on my own. Or at least I thought I was. I walked down the stairs and bumped into a colleague of mine from a local agency. We hugged and we both said “that was nice.” Okay, he can have the Italian papers, and I can have the rest of the world – I’m happy.

Inside Guantanamo Bay

Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

By Bob Strong

My visit to the U.S. naval station in Guantanamo Bay Cuba began much like any other military embed. I sent an application to the Press Affairs Office (PAO) explaining who I worked for and the reason for my visit, and a couple of weeks later the trip was approved. The base is divided into two sections, the naval station which has been in existence since 1903, and the Joint Task Force (JTF GTMO) which is where the detainees are held. A special ID is needed to access the JTF section of the base and most residents of the naval station never go there. My visit request was directed at the JTF side, but I was able to work on the naval section as well.

GALLERY: INSIDE GUANTANAMO

I was met at the airport by two Sergeants, who would be my escorts for the entire trip. Although technically I could walk around the naval base unescorted, taking pictures on any military installation often attracts attention, and I ended up doing all of my work while accompanied by PAO personnel. After I arrived I was briefed on what could and could not be photographed, and reminded that all photographs and videos had to be reviewed and approved by military censors. This generally took place at the end of the day and was referred to as the OPSEC (operational security) review.

There is a long list of items not to photograph but ironically, I was permitted to take pictures of the NO PHOTOGRAPHY signs posted everywhere. When I mentioned that every inch of the base was easily identified on Google Earth, everyone in the office nodded their heads and sighed.

Faced with the hand of death

Guatemala City, Guatemala

By Jorge Dan Lopez

Lately, I’ve begun to think about death in a different way. Maybe it has something to do with taking photographs at the central cemetery every day for the last four months. It has become part of my daily routine, like getting up in the morning and brushing my teeth. Sometimes when I go, I don’t even take a picture, I just listen to the workers or enjoy the cemetery’s own sounds.

The other day it became quite cold during the night, temperatures dropped more than ten degrees Celsius and continued to descend. It was the coldest night of the year so far and while I was sitting at the cemetery, I thought I should take some photos about the cold weather. It was a frivolous thought, especially when I heard a little later that a person had died of hypothermia. I received the tip from a firefighter about the first dead person to have died due to the cold weather.

The body was found in the conflicted neighborhood Zona 18. It has been practically militarized by the Fuerza de Tarea Maya, a joint force made up of soldiers and police officers.

Uneasy life of China’s migrants

Shanghai, China

By Aly Song

Living in the metropolis of Shanghai for over 10 years, it makes sense to me that all the luxury malls, high-end goods and soaring skyscrapers are made by the hands of migrant workers. As a result, I pay extra attention to the migrant worker community.

Shortly after the Spring Festival holiday, I had a chance to photograph dozens of migrant workers traveling from home to job interviews at an underwear factory in Shanghai. They were all recruited by an employment agency, a popular business nowadays especially on the coastal area where the labor shortage situation has reached a worsening level.

The interview was the simplest I had ever seen, the only requirement by the factory was “good health”, followed by several questions which altogether lasted about 5 minutes. Afterwards the workers were divided into two groups – experienced and “whiteboard” (without any work experience). The experienced workers were asked to start working right away, while the whiteboard workers needed to attend a training course – by observing the production line and following a veteran for one or two days.

Mars in the desert

Outside Hanksville, Utah

By Jim Urquhart

I may be a Red Shirt but I made it to Mars.

According to Urban Dictionary (the finest source of American literature), a Red Shirt is defined as; A character in a science fiction or adventure story whose sole dramatic purpose is to get killed by the story’s villain and/or itinerant monster. Taken from the propensity of security officers on the original Star Trek series (who typically wore red uniform tops) to be killed in the episodes’ pre-opening-credits teasers.

GALLERY: LIFE ON MARS

When I was young I wanted to be an astronaut but I never had the discipline to follow through. At one point I wanted to be a scientist but I barely made it out of high school and later dropped out of college but not until after I learned a little chemistry for recreational use in my younger days.

Even with my Red Shirts I have always been wanted to be around people that put their minds and bodies to the test. I even married a woman that has three Master’s degrees and is working on her Ph. D. I have always prided myself in consuming as much science news as possible. To me, the mind and the search for tangible knowledge is the fuel for dreams and will lead you to adventures in life.

A widow’s refuge offers solace to the sorrowful

Vrindavan, India

By Adnan Abidi

The sound of applause echoing in the dingy shelter forced a smile on the face of Tulshi Dasi. An expression she had almost forgotten since her world turned white. The reason: she could now write and had just finished writing the English alphabet on a blackboard. And all this at the age of 70! She had never felt this empowered and never knew that learning was so much fun. As Dasi wrote a new chapter in her life in the grimy shelter in Vrindavan, that she shares with many women like her, her companions, around 50 odd widows applauded her progress.

GALLERY: WIDOW REFUGE

Widows, either abandoned by their family members or shunned by society, find their life’s last refuge in various government run shelters such as this one. They come here from all across the country, but mostly from Bengal, where they survive by begging and chanting hymns in temples.

Hindu widows are branded as inauspicious by society and are forbidden to wear any form of color or be a part of any kind of celebrations like marriage and childbirth, hence most find respite amid their own kind, and seek solace in sorrow. As I spent my day with them I realized that learning was the best part of their day. Each of them would get up early, bathe and offer prayers together in the hall before resuming their daily chores of making prayer beads and flower garlands.

Underground with Bosnia’s women miners

Breza, Bosnia and Herzegovina

By Dado Ruvic

Since I started photography, miners have always been an attractive subject matter for me. They provide all photographic elements in one place. Throughout the years, I have often worked on stories below ground for the local newspaper, spending shifts with miners. As March 8th neared, I came up with the idea to do something different related to International Women’s Day. The story, which I had planned a few years earlier but had no reason to shoot, was now ready: Women miners.

GALLERY: LONE FEMALE MINERS OF BOSNIA

One morning I went into the Breza mine and the first person that greeted me at the door was a very strong, smiling woman named Sakiba. I felt the spirit of mining through her. After she finished the morning’s preparation and made a few phone calls, we went to the change rooms. After I awkwardly donned mining clothes, our day started, and a crowd of dirty particles were smiling on my camera. At the entrance to the pit, there was a second miner Šemsa, waiting for us.

Both women have been working in the mine for over 20 years. Every wall, every pillar, every soul in this mine politely bowed to them. We descended in the elevator to about 400 meters below ground. About one year ago a major fire broke out in the mine and one of their friends died. During the time we spent together Šemsa said she finds it difficult to descend into the pit — it stirs very bad memories that are hard to deal with. However, she comforted herself in believing that death was meant for everyone, including her friend.

Destination Fukushima: Two years on

Fukushima, Japan

By Issei Kato

“Let’s put our hearts together and keep going, Fukushima!” reads a large banner that hangs across a large steel structure that stands next to the No. 4 reactor building at Tokyo Electric Power Co’s Fukushima nuclear power plant.

The plant was overwhelmed by a massive tsunami and earthquake two years ago, triggering hydrogen explosions and a nuclear meltdown.

I was at the Fukushima site for the second time on Wednesday, ahead of the two year anniversary of the March 11 tsunami and earthquake, as a pool photographer, taking pictures of the crippled plant on behalf of foreign media based in Japan. This time, I was struck by how many more workers were on-site and the large number of tanks filled with contaminated water scattered around the area.

The tiger, the pig and the cage

Sumatra Island, Indonesia

By Beawiharta

Over a three-week period in February, I covered two very different animal-related assignments in Indonesia – the slaughtering of snakes in West Java and the preservation of the endangered tiger in Sumatra.

In West Java, Wakira along with his 10 workers kill hundreds of snakes each day for their skin at his slaughterhouse in Cirebon. While in Sumatra, real estate tycoon Tomy Winata saves and releases tigers into the wild at his Tambling Wildlife Nature Conservation. I didn’t enjoy the snake slaughterhouse assignment because snakes are dangerous and disgusting, but I really liked visiting the tigers in Tambling.

After a nearly 90 minute flight on a Super Puma helicopter from Indonesia’s capital Jakarta, we landed at the Tambling Wildlife Nature Conservation on the southern tip of Sumatra Island. The 45,000 hectare forest reserve can only be reached by boat or plane. As soon as we reached the Sumatran Tiger Rescue Centre on our golf cart, we could immediately hear the roars of the tigers. Seeing three ferocious tigers up close was shocking to me. At times, it was difficult to move and I trembled in fear as the view from my camera lens made me forget that they were actually caged up.

This isn’t my first Mardi Gras

Sydney, Australia

By Tim Wimborne

Not many photographers look forward to shooting on the street on a wet Saturday night. This probably led to my ‘big break’ with the sole agency I had my eye on shooting for – more so than the months I had spent promoting myself as a potential Reuters stringer. And so I covered the 2001 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade. I got there early, left late, carried too much gear, over shot and over filed.

Now, after a couple of years freelancing and then a decade as a staffer with assignments in dozens of countries, my time Down Under is up. This month I take on a new position with Reuters in Singapore. My last assignment in Australia? The 2013 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade.

2001 – I was still shooting film and used a Nikon F5. I would have used Fiji-color 800 film, maybe pushed a stop.
2013 – Last Saturday I covered the parade using Canon EOS 1Dx bodies, 16Gb cards although still shooting mostly with prime lenses.