Photographers' Blog

Afghan refugees – Seeking sanctuary

Brussels, Belgium

By Francois Lenoir

It was a cold, wet morning when I passed through the doors of the Church of Saint John the Baptist at the Beguinage, a grand 17th century building in the center of Brussels.

Inside, children were playing and shouting in the large, dark hall, which was lined with rows and rows of tents. I had not just entered a church – I was inside people’s homes. The building had become a very private space.

Saint John the Baptist’s is occupied by a group of Afghan migrants, who have been living there for more than three months. Their first asylum request was refused by the authorities and they were told to leave Belgium, but some ended up travelling around the county aimlessly and were left squatting in unoccupied buildings.

That was before Daniel Alliet, the priest at Saint John the Baptist’s, opened its doors to them. When I went to visit the church at the beginning of the year, more than 200 migrants were living there, although that number has since dropped as many have found shelter in asylum centers.

On my first visit, I felt a sense of dismay when I saw the chaotic and unsanitary conditions in which the asylum seekers lived. The church was not built to house this many people, day and night. Water supplies were under strain. There were only two toilets. The priest told me that the condensation from so many bodies had even begun to damage the organ.

Kids, cats and education

Birdsboro, Pennsylvania
By Mark Makela

It was my editor Chris Helgren who told me about the “Book Buddies” program, where children in the Pennsylvania town of Birdsboro read to cats up for adoption at an animal shelter. The assignment was a gift – unusual, humorous, endearing, with universal appeal.

The Animal Rescue League of Berks County has been running this program for six months, and is less than an hour’s drive away from my home, but I had never heard of it. This was a perfect illustration of that hackneyed but apt idiom that great stories are in your backyard, but can be so easily overlooked.

The scheme began in August 2013 after Kristi Rodriguez, an employee of the shelter, brought her son in to read to the cats. He enjoyed the experience so much that he wanted to come back. Now there are about three-dozen students in grades 1-8 who regularly participate.

In Caracas – The business of death

Caracas, Venezuela

By Carlos Garcia Rawlins

As a photographer I’ve been present at many funerals and I’ve often found myself, in one way or another, surrounded by death and all that it entails.

One of the more gruesome things that I have witnessed is the sight of a victim of violence being embalmed.

The pungent odors of formaldehyde and decomposition, and the way that they make your eyes itch, are nothing compared to the moment when the embalmer methodically removes the seal that closed the head-to-belly incision following the autopsy.

Water, water everywhere

Moorland, Britain

By Cathal McNaughton

It’s like a scene from a Hollywood disaster movie. The Somerset village of Moorland is under five feet of water. Wading along the usually bustling main street, I am struck by how quiet it is – everything has an eerie, post-apocalyptic feel.

The only sound I can hear is coming from the now breached flood defences moving backwards and forwards in the ebb and flow of the rising waters, creaking like a sinking ship.

There is a strong chemical smell of leaking fuel as I push past the huge chunks of debris floating by in the murky waters. Cars lie abandoned with their lights left on, the houses are sandbagged and empty – their inhabitants left days ago. I see a deserted house with post still sticking out of the letterbox.

Fast and fearless: photographing at Sochi’s Sanki Sliding Center

Rosa Khutor, Russia

By Fabrizio Bensch

It must take a lot of courage for bobsleigh, skeleton and luge competitors to hurl themselves at mega speeds down the 1,365-meter ice track at the Sanki Sliding Center. It looks crazy – would you do it?

Sanki is one of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic venues, where some of the world’s best athletes compete for glory. The venue is some 60 km (37 miles) northeast of Sochi in the “mountain cluster” of Olympic venues.

Throughout the Games, my photography colleagues Arnd Wiegmann from Switzerland, Murad Sezer from Turkey and myself have been getting up in the early hours of the morning to start what is normally a 14-hour day. We travel to the venue using a cable car and cover everything from the training sessions in the morning to the competitions in the evening.

Manhunt for wildcat gold miners

Jacareacanga, Para (Brazil)

By Lunaé Parracho

“We’re asking you not to go,” one of the Munduruku Indians said to me while standing in a circle of ten other warriors.

They feared that I would slow them down if I accompanied them on another six-hour hike through the forest to a wildcat gold mine operated by intruders in their territory. This was to be the fifth mine dismantled by the Mundurukus, who live in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest in the western state of Para. This region is rich in natural resources and has been called the country’s new frontier of economic expansion.

Another warrior, sensing my reaction at being considered a drag on the group, approached me and tried to allay my disappointment. “We will photograph for you,” he said, pointing to two young Indians holding compact cameras. “If you want you can give them your camera.”

Football in the land of futebol

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

By Sergio Moraes

Sports and I have always had an intense relationship. Ever since I was very young, I played street soccer, here called futebol, with friends. I was influenced by my father, a newspaper photographer who covered a lot of soccer and who made me want to do the same.

In my 33 years of taking all kinds of pictures, my greatest experiences were while covering sports, especially the Olympic Games. The Olympics are special to me because they give me the opportunity to photograph and experience sports that aren’t normally played in Brazil. But even after several Olympics, I still haven’t had the chance to cover American sports like NFL football, NBA basketball, and MLB baseball. I’ve watched some of those leagues during visits to the U.S., and that only made me want to photograph them even more. I’m fascinated by their level of organization, their grandeur, and their marketing.

So last February 8th, 33 years into my career, I finally got a chance to photograph a game of American football. It was, of all places, on a beach in Rio de Janeiro. The game was the Ipanema Tatuis, or “Armadillos”, versus the Copacabana Pirates and it was loads of fun. The players were all Brazilian, but they knew enough of the game to follow a few of the American traditions, such as handing the game ball to the day’s best player. It was a game of many touchdowns for the winning Armadillos, played against the backdrop of Rio’s famous Sugarloaf Mountain.

In a spiral of violence

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

Bangui, Central African Republic

By Siegfried Modola

I landed in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, for what was going to be the most intense four weeks of my career. I would be covering a sectarian conflict that has left thousands dead and around a million people displaced.

Nothing could have prepared me for the extent of this crisis. I witnessed the cold reality of people fleeing, losing their belongings and being killed because they belonged to a certain religion and found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

As soon as we touched the runway at Bangui’s Mpoko International Airport, it was obvious that something was wrong. From the windows of the plane, we had a view of plastic sheets set up as shelters by the United Nations Refugee Agency – an image synonymous with conflict around the world.

From the White House to the Mad House

Bali, Indonesia

By Jason Reed

Just a couple of months ago I was swirling in a perpetual bubble, a privileged circle of photographers whose job it is to photograph one man – the President of the United States.

I did it for ten years and mostly enjoyed every minute. Over that period of time there comes a predictable familiarity to the role, in which you can pre-write all your captions hours and sometimes days in advance and plan your coverage down to the last detail. It is a safe and cosy existence. Due to the nature of the subject, it needs to be.

Behind the velvet rope, boundaries are respected and the president’s handlers and the Secret Service ensure you are no closer to him than you need to be. Your bread-and-butter lens is most often the 70-200mm telephoto zoom variety and getting an exclusive image is almost impossible. Subtlety and nuance in your edit is the biggest differentiator between your work and the person that just shot the same thing over your shoulder.

Nights with the Bangkok protesters

Bangkok, Thailand

By Athit Perawongmetha

Thai anti-government protests have been going on for some three months and during weeks of political unrest my attention has been focused on the action of the daily news.

The protesters’ takeover of major intersections in the city harks back to a tumultuous April and May of 2010, when supporters of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra took to the streets. I now find myself in the same location near Bangkok’s central Lumphini Park where violent street battles between protesters and government security forces took place.

Today’s protesters are opponents, rather than supporters, of Thaksin and they are against his sister, the current Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. They mostly hail from the south of Thailand and from Bangkok, whereas Thaksin and Yingluck’s supporters are mostly poor, rural voters from the north and northeast. But despite that, the scene does not look dissimilar to 2010: tents and barricades abound, and I am shooting pictures in the same spot.