Photographers' Blog

Toy soldiers

Anzio, Italy

By Tony Gentile

A few months ago I exhibited my pictures during a photographic festival in Sicily. As I was hanging my work I was impressed by the images of another photographer which were displayed next to mine. They were war photos, in black and white, depicting World War II and I thought they were taken by an old photographer. But when I looked closer I saw that the photographer was young, and the pictures were taken only a year before. They were eerily similar to those shot during the 1940s, but the reportage concerned a re-enactment of the wartime landing of Allied forces in Anzio, about 60 km (37 miles) south of Rome.

Last week I glanced upon an announcement that the 69th anniversary of the Anzio landing was taking place, so I decided to go to take a look and cover this story. Unfortunately, due to the economic crisis, there were not many people involved in it this year but there were enough to make a picture story. While the rest of Italy was starting to celebrate the beginning of the Carnival season, these few war buffs were parading around in 70 year old army vehicles.

In the early hours of January 22, 1944, a convoy of 374 ships disembarked the 1st British Division on the coast just north of Anzio, while the 3rd American Division landed on the beaches near Nettuno (named Peter Beach and X-Ray Beach by the Allied forces). This was the beginning of Operation Shingle which had been so strenuously promoted by Winston Churchill.

Today, much is still being written and debate continues as to why the invading forces landing at Anzio did not press on to occupy Rome without delay. There were reportedly few German combat troops in the area, although a German armored division had been in the Anzio area up until only 48 hours before the landing, before being then transferred to Cassino. There is some controversy over whether the American general leading the invasion, General Mark Clark, had failed to charge ahead, possibly giving an opportunity for German Field Marshall Albert Kesselring to lock them into the beach head, as well as allowing German forces to escape to fight another day in his drive to liberate Rome.

After 69 years it is quite a spectacle to see as many as 40 military enthusiasts taking part in a re-enactment of the landing, proudly donning the uniforms of U.S., British, and German SS soldiers. They not only look like actors in a movie scene but also feel the history. And at the end of the day they appear to be just big boys who continue to play with toy soldiers.

The year of the snake

Beijing, China

By Barry Huang

With the year of the dragon coming to an end, Chinese people will embrace the year of the snake. The snake, the sixth sign of the 12 Chinese Zodiac animals, is also called “junior dragon” due to its Chinese dragon-like appearance. According to ancient Chinese belief, the snake is the form of the dragon before it obtained divinity and learn to fly.

Studies show that people born in the year of the snake share certain characteristics. Like the snake, they are keen and determined and know how to maneuver themselves to their own destinations. They are also sophisticated and calm and not outwardly emotional; however, many of them also have an ounce of paranoia that runs in their blood. One of the most well-known people born in the year of the snake is China’s late Chairman Mao Zedong.

Although the universal perception of the snake is mainly that of a poisonous and evil guise, it has long been worshiped in China as a divine creature. According to Chinese mythology, the well-known creators of mankind, the “Chinese Adam and Eve” — Fu Xi (also known as the first of the Three Sovereigns of ancient China) and his sister and/or wife Nüwa, were described as “half human, half snake”. In many parts of northern China, in the past having a snake living in the house meant good fortune. People regarded the house snake as a guardian god, and if a mischievous child ever beat it or scared it away, terrible things would happen to the family.

All or nothing

Brussels, Belgium

By Francois Lenoir

My first big assignment after a few weeks off was to cover convicted Belgian serial killer and child molester Marc Dutroux, who was appearing in court in Brussels on February 4 to request his release. Benelux chief photographer Yves Herman was covering the exterior of the courthouse waiting for the arrival and the departure of the convoy carrying the serial killer. We also had a photographer at the Nivelles prison.

Heavy security measures surrounded the building. Police officers were placing fences inside the palace to prevent people from looking into the hearing through the windows. No pictures were allowed inside.

As the national and international media gathered to get the arrival of the lawyers and family at the entrance to the court, I decided to look around to try to work out what route Dutroux would take through the 19th century courthouse in central Brussels, which has about 40 km (24 miles) of corridors and is bigger than the basilica of Saint Peter in Rome.

A city divided and paralyzed by politics

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

By Dado Ruvic

Mostar; where half of its heart has stopped beating

At the entrance to the city on the left side, the beautiful slopes of mountain Prenj greeted me proudly defying the environment and covered in snow. All the splendor of colors and suns’ rays that penetrated through it was broken after I saw a house that was completely destroyed in the war beside the main road. Even twenty years later the house had not been restored. For me, this city has always been beautiful, complete with the most beautiful bridge in the world – the Old bridge.

However, when we traveled to the other side of the bridge, the city was spooky. There were dilapidated buildings and ruins where just dogs and ghosts of the past lived. After twenty years they still carried the weight, pain, suffering and wounds that will never heal. I’m sure that the younger generation will not be poisoned by nationalism; they don’t have to watch buildings being destroyed by bullets every day.

Surely they wonder though and certainly hate grows. There comes that poison called nationalism, perhaps. I wonder all the time, while I’m walking, taking photographs. I felt so proud as I photographed the old part of the town, because I could show the world one of the most beautiful cities in the world. But the pride, the joy, the happiness just disappeared when I realized the harsh reality – I had to show the other parts of the city. My soul was hard as I photographed half reconstructed, and in most cases never renovated, buildings. I listened to the stories of people selling souvenirs and random passer-bys as they talked about the divided city; about “them” on one side and “those” on the other side. All the beauty disappeared.

A fox hunt with no foxes

McClellanville, South Carolina

By Randall Hill

In a thick strand of woods in rural Georgetown County, South Carolina, the self-proclaimed “Gullah Huntsman” Bill Green prepares for his latest drag fox hunt. It’s a cool day in early February and the stocky built African-American man sits comfortably atop his trusted horse.

“You got to treat these animals with loving kindness,” he says with a smile referring to the fox hunting hounds and horses he trains for these events. “If you don’t treat them well they won’t do what you want.”

Green pulls from a stained and worn saddlebag a wet rag tied to a long rope. The strong, pungent smell of fox urine covers the area around him like a cloud when he opens the bag. It’s an odor so strong one doesn’t need the olfactory prowess of a dog to detect.

50,000 images, 250 matches, 2 weeks, 1 champion

Melbourne, Australia

By Rob Dawson

Yummy, Fried Egg and Scrambled Eggs

Now that your appetites are whet I am going to disappoint you. This isn’t a blog about food.

Growing up in Melbourne you might think tennis was a big part of my life, with the first slam of the year being held every year in the city, but I don’t come from that Melbourne. I grew up in a small market town in Derbyshire in Britain. My experience of tennis growing up involved playing on this court and ones similar. Luckily the poorly maintained surface and nets did not quell my enthusiasm for the sport. I would often rush home from school so I could watch Wimbledon on the television while eating home picked strawberries and cream.

My first experience at editing tennis was in 2005. Within my first two months working at Reuters, I was assigned to be a processor at Wimbledon. I was ecstatic when I found out. Then on the first day my smile dropped. Over the next two weeks I went through one of my steepest learning curves in my career so far. The sheer amount of pictures taken, sent to clients and the tennis matches covered were eye-opening.

Exorcism at the ghost fair

Malajapur, India

By Danish Siddiqui

Malajpur is a small but not ordinary village in central India. In fact it is probably the only village in India which has been hosting a ghost fair for the past several years. People from across the country come to this fair to get rid of ‘evil spirits’ that they claim to be possessed by.

As night falls on Paush Purnima (full moon night) the ‘possessed’ are taken to the local shrine to be exorcised. People who bring their relatives here feel the latter’s bodies have been ‘taken over by ghosts of the dead’ and that exorcism is the only release for them. Interestingly, most of those who come here to be exorcised are women. When I asked the priest the reason he said, “They are emotionally weak and hence easy target for spirits.”

On the first day when I went to the temple, it looked to me like any other temple complex. But suddenly from the middle of the crowd I heard a woman scream as she started running around the temple courtyard. According to priests the ghost inside people becomes weak the more they run around the courtyard in an anti-clockwise direction. For those who don’t run voluntarily (which is the case often) relatives or priests make them do so by pushing or kicking.

On safari with my mentor

Hato La Aurora nature reserve, Colombia

By Jose Miguel Gomez

I’ve been a photographer for over 20 years, but this was to be my first bird-watching safari so I took along a 70-300mm lens, thinking it would be enough. We also expected to do lots of hiking in heat, and it’s the lightest of my long lenses.

I traveled with my son and 18 other explorers of whom some were amateur photographers. We had four guides plus a well-known ecologist, but the real treat for me was master photographer-adventurer Andres Hurtado, who organized the trip. Andres was leading us to the Hato La Aurora nature reserve, in Casanare province.

It was one day decades earlier, in high school, when I first met Andres. He arrived to give a class titled “general culture” right after tumbling down the Naranjo de Bulnes mountain peak in Spain and losing all feeling on his left side. It was a miracle he had survived, and there he was giving classes to us.

Chicago’s violent legacy gets personal

Chicago, Illinois

By John Gress

It’s not every day that an assignment teaches you something about your own childhood.

When I was 7 years old my father, who shared my name, passed away and when I looked down today, I saw a boy, Ronnie Chambers Jr., who is about the same age as I was back then, sitting at my feet with RIP carved in the back of his hair. He was there mourning the loss of his father, who also shared his name.

Ronnie Chambers was shot in the head on January 26. His mother Shirley Chambers, has lost all four of her children to gun violence.

Oil in the blood

Baku, Azerbaijan

By David Mdzinarishvili

One morning last week, as I was looking for general shots of the Azeri oil industry, the oil worker walking with me suddenly stopped, and looked out admiringly at the nodding oil pumps silhouetted by the rising sun over the Caspian. He turned to me and said proudly, “This is Azerbaijan!”

Commercial oil production has a long history in Azerbaijan, a country of 9 million at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. Starting with European prospectors in the 19th century, the industry became a major part of the soviet economic model and a strategic goal to be protected at all costs. With the fall of the Soviet Union production faltered as Azerbaijan struggled with its independence, but soon investment returned, new reserves were tapped and the oil has started to flow again.

Offshore rigs are responsible for 80% of the 43 million tonnes of oil pumped last year from Azerbaijan, and this is the reason I found myself on a helicopter bound for the imaginatively named oil platform number 5, about 100kms (62 miles) from the coast, in the waters of the Caspian.