Photographers' Blog

The writing’s on the wall

Belfast, Northern Ireland

By Cathal McNaughton

A five meter high mural of a gunman dressed in army fatigues and a balaclava, clutching an AK-47 painted on the gable end of a wall of a house in a residential street – people walk by and don’t even notice it.

In other parts of the UK and Ireland there would probably be outrage – but not in Northern Ireland, where young children happily play on streets with a backdrop of politically charged murals commemorating the violence and bloodshed of the Troubles.

These murals have become street wallpaper for the people living in this small corner of Europe who barely bat an eyelid at a gory depiction of a skeleton crawling over dead bodies that adorns the end wall of a house on their street.

GALLERY: NORTHERN IRELAND’S MURALS

Most of the hundreds of murals across Northern Ireland, which are not only found in major cities like Belfast and Londonderry but in small towns and villages, promote either Republican or Loyalist political beliefs, often glorifying paramilitary groups such as the IRA or the Ulster Volunteer Force with a roll call of the dead written large ‘lest we forget’.

However, since the paramilitary ceasefires in the 90s the distinctive Northern Irish artwork has seen a change. New murals have sprung up depicting local heroes like golfer Rory McIlroy who represent the changing face of Northern Ireland’s political landscape.

To die in peace

Yangon, Myanmar

By Minzayar

“There are about thirty patients in our hospice and the number’s always about the same. New patients arrive regularly and as old patients die. About ten die every month here.”

When the nurse showing me around the hospice said that, I was kind of shocked. If ten patients die a month, that means one every three days. To be honest, I have very rarely seen someone die near me. When I do, it is very sad and scary. I cannot imagine how the people here live with it.

U Hla Tun’s cancer hospice is a well-known place in Myanmar where cancer patients have been looked after for many years. It was founded in 1998 by U Hla Tun, who despite his wealth couldn’t save his young daughter from deadly cancer. His hospice only accepts cancer patients in the terminal stage, those who have already been given up on by the government hospitals’ cancer wards. “We accept only the hopeless and the helpless,” says Naw Lar Htoo Aye, the head nurse.

The old woman and the sea

Cano Ciego Island, Costa Rica

By Juan Carlos Ulate

One of the most gratifying moments that photojournalism offers is to meet people who will make an impression on us, regardless of their social or intellectual status, through an example of courage and boldness.

People like Cecilia Villegas, a 77-year old woman who lives on the island of Cano Viejo, some 45 minutes by boat from the Costa Rican city of Puntarenas on the Pacific coast. Cecilia, known to all as “Grandma Chila”, goes out every morning with her weak knees and slanted walk looking for mollusks in the mangrove swamp where she lives.

She then ventures out to sea in her small boat and goes fishing. If she is successful she goes to the market in the port of Puntarenas to sell her catch. Then she wanders the streets for 12 hours or until the tide rises when she can go back home to her Cano Viejo ranch and her animals.

The lost dogs of Ciudad Juarez

Ciudad Juarez, Mexico

By Jose Luis Gonzalez

As a photojournalist living and working in Ciudad Juarez I’m used to seeing dead people being picked up off the streets.

The last few years have been brutal, with violence and shoot-outs every day and dead people everywhere. But it is much calmer now and corpses lying in puddles of blood are not as common a sight as they used to be. Nevertheless, some weeks ago I drove through a neighborhood and saw a couple of men dressed in hooded, white coveralls picking up another kind of corpse: a dead dog. They threw it into a container pulled by a truck and when they took off I started to follow them.

They stopped every so often, picking up another dead dog from the streets and throwing it into the container. They were collecting a lot of dead animals and when I approached the truck, I could see that there was a whole pile of them.

Riding India’s railways

Across India

By Navesh Chitrakar

My journey on the great railways of India began on October 23, 2012. The trip not only marked my first visit to India, it was also the first time that I had ever travelled on real trains because my home country, Nepal, does not have a proper rail network.

Everything about the trains was new to me, which made it really exciting. I started out from Hazrat Nizamuddin railway station in Delhi and headed towards Agra with the help of a railway atlas, a train map and a fixer. I had been provided with the fixer’s assistance for a couple of days thanks to my chief photographer Ahmad Masood, one of the generous people who gave me a lot of help to complete this story. It didn’t take me long to get used to train travel; I understand and speak Hindi, and most of the people on the trains were very friendly and helpful. Most of the time I was doing what I was there to do: observing and trying to capture the most significant and fascinating aspects of India’s railways.

In a country that is the seventh largest in the world by area and the second largest in the world by population, the Indian railway network reaches almost everywhere and carries commuters from one end of the country to the other. The network is a lifeline for India and for the Indians who use it. And why not take advantage of it? People prefer trains because they are a cheaper and faster way to travel. When you travel India by rail, everything is going on around you; it seems like the railway has created its own world and the running of that world depends on the running train.

More soup for more poor

Buenos Aires, Argentina

By Enrique Marcarian

I first photographed a soup kitchen in 1998, in a parish in one of Buenos Aires’ famous “villas miserias,” which literally means “misery towns” in reference to its large slums. At that time I only saw children taking their daily rations and often smiling at my camera.

I assumed that the sheer number of children depending on soup kitchens was just circumstantial, and the next governments would improve the situation for them and there would be more being fed at home instead of by charities.

I was wrong. A couple of years later the country entered into one of its worst economic crises. Suddenly I no longer saw just more children in the soup kitchens but I saw them even more malnourished, to the extent that they were at risk of starvation. In fact, I came to find out that some children did die, although official versions didn’t say it was starvation.

A dramatic rescue outside my window

Athens, Greece

By John Kolesidis

Today I woke up to the deafening sound of thunder. The rain was pouring hard.

I made myself a cup of coffee and watched the rain out the window flood the surrounding streets. I was at a loss as to how I would get to the office without getting soaked, so I decided to stay put until things calmed down a bit. When I finished my coffee, I looked out the window again, and things had taken a dramatic turn.

GALLERY: SAVED FROM A FLOOD

A bit further down the street I could see an immobilized car getting swollen by the flood. Then I heard some muffled voices. I put on my galoshes and raincoat, took my cameras, and tried to get there. I walked through a small park, but that led me behind barbed wire which I couldn’t get over. I saw a woman trying to hold on to her car door, while the water was at waist level. I called out to her not to be scared, urging her to hold on to the door until I could get closer.

I took some pictures behind the barbed wire, and then I tried to find a way to cross the flooded park so that I could get to her. When I got in front of the fence, there was a cascade between me and the woman, as she was on the other side of the road. People were looking on from their balconies, and I started shouting out to them to call the fire brigade. Then a man on the same side of the street climbed on top of her car, and another man managed to approach as well.

How to survive in the jungle: a drop of cobra blood with Khun Norris

Chon Buri province, Thailand

By Damir Sagolj

“Gentlemen, that was excellent!” said a young American called Richard as he downed a glass of snake’s blood in a room full of cobras and tough-looking Asian men. “Never refuse the invitation, never resist the unfamiliar.”

But those lines come from a movie called The Beach, and Richard was played by Leonardo DiCaprio. A few days ago, another young American, this time a real-life U.S. Marine training in Thailand, told Reuters what cobra’s blood really tasted like. “Terrible. Really terrible. But it’s a good experience. It’s something I can always tell my grandchildren about.”

And that sums it all up. For troops attending this strange training exercise, it’s something to tell grandchildren and friends at home. And there is Facebook, of course – many thumbs-up for bad-ass Marines.

An amendment revisited

Old Town, Florida

By Brian Blanco

You feel a moment. I’m not certain if it’s a second lost or a second gained, but in that moment the Earth stops. It’s the moment you watch a child, a young girl in purple shoes, pull a loaded AK-47 assault rifle from the cab of a pick-up truck.

The child, 9-year-old Brianna, had no ill intentions with the weapon of course. She was simply retrieving the gun for a man she affectionately calls “Uncle Jim”. He is Jim Foster, a 57-year-old former police officer and the leader of the North Florida Survival Group. The organisation teaches children and adults alike to handle weapons, and Jim refers to it as a ‘militia”.

GALLERY: TRAINING CHILD SURVIVALISTS

Jim was the man who, after feeling out my intentions in a two-hour meeting at a chain restaurant a few weeks earlier, had granted me permission to photograph his group’s field training exercise. It was an opportunity I snatched up without hesitation. It’s not every day that a photojournalist gets an invitation to shoot a militia gathering. Understandably, they tend to be fairly secretive groups who don’t exactly keep the media on their Christmas card lists.

Skiing nostalgia

Neuastenberg, Germany

By Ina Fassbender

When I was a child and winters were really powerful dropping one or two meters of snow, my four sisters and I used to spend every afternoon after school at the snow-covered cow meadow with our wooden, candle-waxed skis, wearing black leather ski boots with shoelaces. Parallel turn was an unknown expression and if our skis were not waxed well with candles, it was impossible to ski down the hill – one could only walk with them.

Years later when I had my first ski holidays in the Alps with modern ski gear, I did not miss my old equipment. I learned to downhill ski with elegant parallel turns and carve up the snow faster and faster. What progress!

Last Tuesday I went with my family for a day of alpine skiing at the Sauerland ski area complete with 20 lifts and the longest track of about 1200 meters. When I saw a placard announcing a ‘Nostalgic Ski Race’ in the neighboring village, I remembered my own experience with old wooden skis and asked the Berlin pictures desk for permission to go there and cover the event, expecting to get some nice winter features.