Photographers' Blog

When tragedy turns to joy

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

By Sergio Moraes

I never imagined to find so many tragic stories that end with joy, until I discovered the project called “Praia para Todos”, or “Beach for Everyone.” The project, sponsored by the NGO Instituto Novo Ser in Rio, offers recreation and sport to the physically handicapped on Saturdays at Barra da Tijuca beach, and on Sundays at Copacabana. The project is run by physical therapists and students, all of them volunteers. They built ramps on top of the sand so that wheelchairs could easily reach the water’s edge.

In my first contact with the organizers, I asked for help to meet some of the visitors so that I could follow their personal stories. The first one I spoke to was Patricia Alves de Souza, 41, the mother of an incredible boy named Jorge, or Jorginho. Jorginho, 11, was born prematurely with brain paralysis. Jorginho is crazy about soccer, and doesn’t tire of telling stories about his favorite team, Vasco da Gama. He knows everything about Vasco.

Jorginho has always dreamed of going to the beach and swimming in the sea. Since he lives in Iraja, a middle-class neighborhood 35 km (20 miles) from the shore, the first time he was able to go to a beach was in 2009, but he never reached the water. His mother, who was abandoned by her husband after Jorginho was born, couldn’t push the wheelchair on the sandy beach at Copacabana.

Last February, thanks to Beach for Everyone, Jorginho bathed in the sea for the first time. When I entered the water with him, I asked him what he thought of the water. He answered with the question, “Are you going to remember this day, forever?” I told him yes. He couldn’t thank the volunteers enough for helping him in the amphibious chair.

I met another person who was lots of fun, Marcelo Cardoso. Marcelo, 20, is a swimmer who competes in butterfly in spite of having been born with a malformed spine. He can’t walk, but he can swim. When he arrived at the program, he didn’t tell the counselors that he knew how to swim and picked out two young and pretty volunteers to help him into the water. After being held by them for some time, he suddenly took off swimming. When the girls asked him why he didn’t say anything before, he laughed. “I wanted to spend time with you.”

Who said farming can’t be fun?

Hohenzell, Austria

By Leonhard Foeger

“Sure, you can come and take pictures. We don’t have any secrets here and you will have a very special view of the sex life of breeding bulls nowadays,” Josef Miesenberger, head of the artificial insemination station in Hohenzell, told me on the phone when I asked to shoot a story about cattle breeding in Austria.

One might imagine cattle breeding involves green grass, some trees, and a cow and bull coming together in their natural world doing what they have done to procreate since the dawn of time.
But when I arrived at the insemination center near the village of Hohenzell at six in the morning I saw a farmhouse-like building with huge barns and a laboratory inside.

Johannes, one of the bull keepers, showed up and let me in. I had to change into green overalls and boots before I was allowed to enter the barn with about 50 breeding bulls. The smell of bulls hit me intensely. My lenses immediately fogged up due to the high humidity inside. I could see Austria’s most expensive and exclusive breeding bulls having breakfast. Josef, another bull keeper, told me to just act like a bull keeper and not take any pictures since the bulls were very sensitive if they don’t know the people in their barn. After a while I started to take some images and the bulls just looked as if they were wondering what was going on.

Dark side of the festival

Bangkok, Thailand

By Damir Sagolj

Totally unconcerned with incoming traffic, Khun Tuey powers the ambulance van through Bangkok’s narrow streets as fast as its engine can push it. Soon after the chase started, the pointer on the speedometer kisses the 120 mark and for a short moment I take my eyes off the road to look around. Next to the driver sits his beautiful, four month pregnant wife Amarin, ignoring what passes by the windshield as if she is watching a session of Bulgarian parliament on TV. To the left is Somat, a medic with 110 hours of training – the team’s expert for injuries. His eyes are closed and it looks like he is sleeping. I hope he is praying. Tonight, we all need prayers to come true.

It is the crazy wet Songkran, as the week-long Thai New Year is known. Earlier in the day, we all enjoyed the festival – I sprayed water, wore powder on my face, drank beer and played fool with friends.

But the fun part is over. Tonight is another Songkran night; one of seven dangerous ones when an already high number of traffic-related deaths and injuries surge. Experts say Thailand has the greatest number of road deaths in Southeast Asia per capita, due to a combination of lax road laws and careless driving habits.

Augusta: A tournament like no other

Augusta, Georgia

By Phil Noble

It was the author Mark Twain who wrote “Golf is a good walk spoiled” and although the persistent rain that dogged the final round play at this years Masters certainly made it tough for both players and photographers alike, the amazing photographs at the final hole of regular play and the subsequent thrilling playoff certainly ensured our “good walk” wasn’t ruined.

I was lucky enough to be asked to return to the Augusta National golf club this year for my second Masters tournament. Along with my Reuters colleagues Mike Segar, Bryan Snyder, Mark Blinch and 24 year Masters veteran Gary Hershorn, who would edit our pictures, we pitched up again at the Mecca of golf to cover a tournament unlike any other.

At most other golf championships we cover, photographers are allowed to work inside the ropes that hold the spectators back, making the job of following play and getting into a good position to photograph the golfers a relatively easy one. At Augusta however, we are accorded no such privilege, the hallowed, well manicured and vibrant green turf being preserved only for those playing in the tournament, meaning we are in with the spectators, or in the case of Augusta, the ‘patrons’.

“Are you al-Shabaab or soldiers?”

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

Mogadishu, Somalia

By Feisal Omar

At 11:30 on Sunday morning I was sipping a cup of coffee at the Village restaurant near the palace when I heard a blast followed by gunshots.

I walked out onto the street and could see pickup trucks with anti-aircraft guns mounted on them, rushing toward the Mogadishu court. I started my vehicle and drove speedily in the direction of the court. I arrived moments later at the court building where there was an intense exchange of gunfire.

I could not believe armed fighters had broken into the court, killed the soldiers that guarded it, the lawyers and others. “How did al-Shabaab take over such a well-guarded building in the heart of the town!’ I whispered to myself as I got closer to the building.

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.

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.