Photographers' Blog

Jazz night at the Apollo

New York City, N.Y.

By Zoran Milich

It was a blistery cold day in New York City as I shuffled in with hundreds of other locals to the historic Apollo Theater to document a rehearsal performance of the Apollo’s new production, Apollo Club Harlem.

An older crowd obediently lined up in the dark corridor of the theater lit by grand chandeliers. They pointed at the wall of pictures of great musicians that performed at the Apollo such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, James Brown, Sarah Vaughan, Michael Jackson and many more.

Guests at the rehearsal would be replaced that evening with those arriving in long black limousines, none the less they trembled with excitement knowing they were about to be transported back in time with music, dance and song of the Jazz era that seeded at the Apollo in the 30′s and 40′s.

Classic chairs, tables and lamps replaced the theater’s traditional seats and set the atmosphere reminiscent of Harlem’s music night clubs. The dark mood was an extreme challenge for my camera relying on the flicker of light to illuminate my subject matter.

Moments before the curtain went up, chatter in the crowd buzzed with stories of growing up in Harlem, New York City, and the extreme difficulties of those years. They talked about the great musicians and how they shaped their lives. One table spoke of Duke Elington while another Count Basie. Dizzy Gillespie came up and the innovative tap styles of John Bubbles. All were to be brought back in the next few minutes.

Back in time biathlon

Dalton, New Hampshire

By Jessica Rinaldi

Every year for the past ten years “The Dalton Gang” has held a primitive biathlon at their shooting club in Dalton, New Hampshire. If you’ve never heard of this before, here’s the rundown.

A primitive biathlon is what happens when you strap snowshoes to your feet and grab a muzzleloaded weapon (rifle or pistol) and race around a track through the woods, in this case 1.75 miles long, to different stations where you load the weapon and shoot at the target. You are scored by how fast you can make it around the track and how accurately you can hit the nine targets spread out across the four different stations scattered throughout the course.

The wildcard in the race is the muzzleloader, a gun in which the ammunition is loaded into the muzzle or the opening at the front of the gun. The contestants carry gun powder, round ball ammunition, and a ramrod to help push the ammunition down into place with them as they race through the course. All of this is difficult enough under normal situations but when you’ve been running up the side of a mountain it becomes even more challenging not only to load the gun but to lower your breathing enough to actually hit the target.

Countdown to Sochi 2014

Sochi, Russia

By Kai Pfaffenbach

There are a few things you expect as a German photographer from cozy Frankfurt when your boss sends you to cover the test events for the upcoming 2014 Sochi Olympic winter games in Russia.

Will it be heavy snow and cold you have to brave? How difficult will communication be (as I don’t speak Russian)? How will the general feeling of Russians be about Germans a few days after they celebrated the anniversary of their big victory over Hitler’s sixth army in Stalin-(Wolgo)grad during WWII in 1943? Well, after nine days within the 70km (43 mile) perimeter of the 2014 Olympics I can say it is a bit of everything but it is definitely a balancing act between extremes.

When you read the invitation letter of the Organizing Committee you learn that “Sochi2014 will be the most compact Winter Games in the history of the Olympic Movement”. The Games will be held in two clusters. The coastal cluster where all indoor events (speed skating, curling, ice hockey etc..) will be held and the mountain cluster around the (former) village of Krasnaya Polyana and the alpine resort of Roza Khutor where the outdoor venues are located. When the Games start on February 7, 2014, a new rail track should connect the coastal cluster with the mountains. With less than one year to go construction works are well under way but for now a narrow bumpy road is the one and only way to get up and down. Dozens of tunnels and bridges need to be built through the valley along the “wild water” river. Sometimes it seems bizarre when the graveyard of the little suburban village of Krasnaya Polyana is less than 100 yards away from the Olympic lane.

An island of religion in a sea of secularism

Warsaw, Poland

By Kacper Pempel

When Pope Benedict XVI announced last week that he was stepping down, the mood in my country, Poland, was overwhelming. This is one of the most devoutly Catholic countries in Europe, which still proudly identifies itself as the birthplace of Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II. On the day of the announcement my colleagues went to the church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw. The worshipers coming out of the church were in a state of shock. “It’s so sad. It’s such a shame. But what can we do? I can’t believe it,” said one woman as she left the Holy Cross church in the Polish capital, who gave her name as Maria. “I am very sorry because I really like the Pope. He is continuing the teachings of our Pope (John Paul II).” Janusz, another worshiper, said: “I don’t think it’s true. In my opinion it would not be a good solution. It would definitely be a huge pity for Poles and Catholics.”

I spent the last few months traveling around Poland taking photographs of Polish people demonstrating their Catholic faith: going on pilgrimages, attending mass, children having religious lessons in schools. I photographed the statue of Jesus in Swiebodzin, near the Polish-German border, which stands 33 meters tall. I visited a huge church built since the fall of Communism in farmland in Lichen, in central Poland. As I drove towards the church, its gold-colored dome, 98 meters high, looked incongruous surrounded by cows grazing in a pasture.

The building was so vast that it dwarfed the worshipers and the village around it. I went to another new church in the Warsaw suburb of Wilanow. Filled with young, middle-class families, it stands in stark contrast to the image many people have of Catholicism in Poland, a religion for the old and the poor.

Under the ice

Lake Weissensee, Austria

By Michael Dalder

I’ve been diving for almost 15 years, but due to family matters it has fallen off my list lately. So a new picture assignment at Lake Weissensee in mid-February 2013 just came right to my diver’s heart: The Underwater Ice hockey Championships.

Underwater Ice hockey is not played on top of the ice like ice hockey is usually played but underneath it. That’s where diving comes into the game because the underwater ice hockey players are in fact apnea divers who want to give their sports an additional sportive kick.

My day started early when I met with the men and women from the Vienna rescue divers’ squad ASBOe – Moedling. These dive enthusiasts are responsible for safety and security during the whole tournament. If you dive under ice you can’t go straight to the surface to breath if you have an emergency. Thus ice diving is, together with cave diving, considered to be the most dangerous diving discipline. For that reason I listened to the security briefing attentively.

Front line female Marines

Ternate, Philippines

By Romeo Ranoco

Long before U.S. President Barack Obama allowed female soldiers to be deployed for combat duties, the Philippines has been doing exactly that for several years, in particular among those in the Marines.

I was excited to photograph some of the women during a military exercise at a Marine base south of the capital Manila. This was not the first time that I had taken pictures of female soldiers during training exercises, but I volunteered again because this time I would be documenting new recruits.

I arrived at the base in the afternoon and was immediately briefed by the training officers, discussing my interest and the pictures that I would like to take. I wanted to take pictures of female soldiers trying out to join the “few and proud” Marines, showing their capabilities and comparing their skills, stamina and endurance with male soldiers.

Notes from the pole of cold

Oymyakon valley, Russia

By Maxim Shemetov

One loses all bearings when faced with the shroud of white that obscures all things mid January in the Siberian city of Yakutsk. Only the traffic lights and gas pipelines overhanging the roads help you to find your way. Wrapped in frosty fog the city life seems frozen in a sleepy half-light. It is -48 C (-54 degrees Fahrenheit) outside.

Before venturing out, I put on two layers of thermal underwear, trousers, two-sweaters, pants winterized up to my waist, and huge low-temperature boots. I pull close the hood of my down jacket and fasten it so that only my eyes are exposed. Lastly, I slip on two pairs of gloves and head for the entrance hall – the airlock. Now only the ice-bound door separates me from the cold. There is Space outside and I feel like an astronaut.

However I do not have enough time to freeze today – the minibus is waiting for me at the corner and I pile in with my gear. Our routes lies along a Stalin-era road that is officially called “Kolyma Federal Highway”. Locals call it “the road on bones” after the thousands of Gulag prisoners who built it in the middle of the 20th century perished. The sights that it passes by are “terra incognita” even for the most of locals. As we travel further and further northeast towards the snowy foothills from the provincial capital of Yakustk, the signs of life appear less and less frequent. Down the road, one can travel over 200 kms (124 miles) without seeing a homestead. The cell phone coverage cuts out when we arrive at Handyga. Fifty kilometers (31 miles) later we load up on tanks of fuel at the petrol station that is the last human outpost at the edge of the vast and mountainous taiga. Only the occasional UAZ minibuses (bukhanka – bread loaf as it is called there and trucks break the monotony of the endless, empty road.

The hero of Timbuktu

Timbuktu, Mali

By Benoit Tessier

In order to get to Timbuktu I chose the most arduous route, 800 kms (500 miles) of tracks in the desert, because it was the only way possible. Along the road I saw more French flags than during the Football World Cup in 1998. Two days later François Hollande was arriving in town.

The local VIPs, from the wealthiest families of Timbuktu, waited along with other figures of the city (or at least the last remaining few) for the arrival of the French president in front of the big mosque. Since April and the fall of Timbuktu into the hands of the MLNA rebels and Islamist groups, the town suffered and emptied itself over the past 10 months.

The memories of the “punishments” (lashes) that the Islamists inflicted on couples accused of committing adultery or on smokers had now faded. In front of the Sankoré mosque, thousands of people were here to say thank you to France and its hero of the day: François Hollande who enjoyed a walkabout on the esplanade. The crowd was jubilant and screaming “Mali France! Mali France! Long life daddy Hollande.”

A village hunted by wild elephants

Kyar Chaung village, Myanmar

By Minzayar

It was a fine winter evening and the first frame I took was a silhouette of a farmer and his wife wearing ta-na-ka, riding on their cow carts, so at once, I thought this is a very nice village. But in fact, its people have been living in fear for several years.

Kyar Chaung village is 64 miles north of Yangon, Myanmar. Most villagers have two houses. One on the ground to stay during the daytime and one in a tree to protect themselves from a wild elephant’s attack.

As I went to see the head of the village, people were already gathering in front of his house and chattering about a man who had to run for his life as he was chased by an elephant just a day ago.

The tragic legacy of KISS

Santa Maria, Brazil

By Ricardo Moraes

It was an unforgettable end to enormous pain and a ravaged mind. The last day of coverage of one of Brazil’s greatest tragedies touched me so much that I’m only going to tell how the story ended.

The morning of January 30, 2013, I met a woman who was devastated, confused, and completely lost inside of herself – wounded to the heart.

The first contact with her was moving. We arrived at a building on the outskirts of Santa Maria and knocked on the door of apartment 121, on which there was a message left by children offering help and consolation for a woman named Gelsa. In spite of the obvious clue that inside lived the mother of a disaster victim, we hadn’t reached that place by chance; we were led there by Carlos, a friend of Gelsa, the woman whose small family had now been reduced to just one, herself.