Photographers' Blog

Amid the opium fields

Loimgmain, Shan state, Myanmar

By Soe Zeya Tun

Ethnic Palaung and Lisu make their homes atop mountains that rise more than 5,000 feet above sea level in Myanmar’s northern Shan state. Temperatures here can be far lower than in much of the country, with lows hovering around 41 degrees Fahrenheit (5°C) and sometimes dropping to as little as 37 (3°C) during the winter months. Tea and opium poppy plantations cover many of the surrounding hillsides.

I was one of eight Myanmar journalists who recently traveled to this remote region. Leaving Mantong township, we first took motorcycles along a dirt road only about 2 feet wide. After a day’s drive we reached a village where we spent the night. We hiked the entire next day to get to Loimgmain, a village surrounded by opium poppy fields.

Ngokhu, a 30-year-old man from the northern Shan capital of Lashio, traveled to Loimgmain to work in the poppy fields. He makes only 4,000 kyat (about $4) per day to plant and harvest. He huddles next to a fire to keep warm, wearing the same clothes he put on four months ago at the start of the cold season.


Gallery: Amid the opium fields

Ngokhu says he’s been working here for the past four years, because there are no other jobs, and he is able to send 600,000 kyat (about $600) to his mother each year. Ngokhu says he does not use opium. But a TNLA soldier and former drug user said Ngokhu’s watery eyes and dry skin show that he is still taking opium.

This TNLA soldier said the ethnic army group decided to destroy poppy fields because local people were becoming addicted to opium. He said Chinese traders were making money while locals remain poor.

Lead in his head, love in his heart

Asuncion, Paraguay

By Jorge Adorno

There is so much sadness in some people’s lives. I felt immense sadness upon writing this, because I saw and felt the pain behind Salvador Cabañas’s eyes.

I first spoke to the great soccer player on January 24, four years and a day since he was on the threshold of death.

In Paraguay they call him the Mariscal (Marshal in English), while in Mexico he is known as “Chava,” a common nickname for Salvador. In both places, they were dazzled by his soccer genius.

Singapore – Gateway to Asia

Singapore

By Edgar Su

Singapore’s port is one of the busiest in the world and has long been a key part of the island’s economy. I took some time last year to document the shipping hub, and was surprised to see how closely life in Singapore is linked to it.

Walking along the coast on a fine day, you’ll see countless ships anchored in the sea around the city-state. At East Coast Park, where many leisure activities take place, I saw a group of school girls conducting soccer training as tankers lined up to make a call at the port. It was quite a peculiar scene – in the foreground daily life was going on, but in the backdrop a massive industry was working around the clock to get cargo shipped or vessels refueled.

Even from atop Singapore’s iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel – a modern landmark that houses some of the most lavish entertainment for visitors spending top dollar – you have a full view of vessels waiting silently for their turn to enter the port.

Family, soccer and God

by Rickey Rogers

It was around the time that Brazil was beginning construction projects to host the 2014 World Cup four years ago, that a massive earthquake devastated Haiti’s capital. The quake killed over 200,000 people and left few Haitians unaffected in some way. That disaster, coupled with the attraction of a World Cup country and the fact that Brazilians were already familiar to Haitians as UN peacekeepers patrolling their streets, initiated a new route south for migrants trying to escape the difficult situation. That route starts in Haiti passing overland to the Dominican Republic, by plane to Ecuador or Peru, and overland to the Peru-Brazil border where even today there are hundreds of Haitians awaiting visas.

Photographer Bruno Kelly was on an assignment to photograph the dozen or so Haitians working at the Arena Amazonia stadium in Brazil’s Amazonian capital, Manaus, when he met immigrant Milice Norassaint. Milice’s story touched Bruno, and they became friends as Bruno photographed him at work and in his daily life. Bruno asked Milice for his wife’s phone back in Haiti, and Bruno gave it to colleague Marie Arago in Port-au-Prince.

What resulted is a story about a family divided by need, but united through their faith.

Searching for Circassians

Sochi, Russia

By Tom Peter

It is not easy to find Circassians in historical Circassia, a densely vegetated land of rolling hills and mountain slopes soaring to snowy heights along the northeastern coast of the Black Sea. The region of Greater Sochi used to be the homeland of the Circassian people before their expulsion by the Russian army in the 19th century. Modern Sochi has an ethnic make-up of staggering diversity; besides Russians, there are people from numerous other Caucasus nations, as well as Armenians, Georgians, Cossacks, Jews and Ukrainians.

But the people who resisted Russia’s expansion into the land of their fathers for some forty years are largely gone. The last Circassian forces surrendered to the Russian army in 1864 on a glade in the mountains above Sochi, later named Krasnaya Polyana. In a matter of weeks it will be the site where athletes compete for Olympic gold in the skiing events.

The highlanders’ defeat heralded a campaign of forced eviction on a massive scale. “Perhaps as many as 300,000 Circassians died from hunger, violence, drowning and disease when Russia expelled them from their lands,” writes journalist and author Oliver Bullough in his book about the Caucasus, “Let Our Fame Be Great”. Circassian groups have called for the killings to be recognized as genocide.

The practice of breast-ironing

Douala, Cameroon

By Joe Penney

Every Friday afternoon, Julie Ndjessa, 28, invites the teenage girls in her neighborhood in Douala over to her house on a dirt road where she lives with her mother, father and cousin. Giggling, they play clapping games and chat loudly with each other about the week’s escapades. Then Julie got down to business: educating the young women in her community about the many dangers they face before reaching adulthood.

Over the past few years, one of the main topics she discusses is called “breast-ironing,” a practice used by some mothers in Cameroon to flatten their pubescent daughters’ growing breasts. Done with the goal of protecting young women from early pregnancy by making them less attractive to men, breast ironing is extremely painful and has dangerous long-term health consequences.

There are few people more qualified to speak to young women about this practice than Julie, whose mother Genevieve took a hot stone to her chest when she was 16. She said she harbors no bad feelings toward her mother, who she said did it to try to protect her from the prying eyes of men as she became a woman.

Chicago’s doctor to the homeless

Chicago, Illinois

By Jim Young


“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” —Dalai Lama

“What size boots do you wear?” Dr. Patrick Angelo asks a homeless man as he looks down at his worn sneakers. “Here, take my boots, I will give you mine,” and proceeds to give him the boots off his feet, right then and there, in 5 degree Fahrenheit weather to a complete stranger under an overpass in downtown Chicago.

Angelo is an oral surgeon by day in the Chicago area, and drives into the city several nights a week to help the homeless. A successful physician with a house in the suburbs and children of his own, he says it came to him like a flash that he could do this and make a difference. So he packed up, though not sure where to go and what to do, and off he went. That was 13 years ago, and he has been doing it ever since.

Timelapse: Golden Globes red carpet

Los Angeles, California 

By Mario Anzuoni

This year for the Awards’ season opener, the Golden Globe Awards, I decided to set up my gopro to document arrivals from my position. This is the first big award show of the season, generally the precursor of what the Oscar winners might be, so all the major A-listers are usually nominated and expected.

I decided to approach this using a light, easy setup, so I attached my gopro to a joby mini tripod which I laid directly in front of me on one of the hedges. It was ready in minutes, barely noticeable and with a wider perspective of my position. Arrivals begin at 2:30 for a 5 o’ clock show, but the floodgates really open from 4:15 to about 4:45. My set up was aimed at documenting the incredible flow of celebrities who arrive in such a short timeframe to crowd the Beverly Hilton hotel ballroom.

Let the award season begin…

 

Keeping the faith

Manila, Philippines

By Bobby Ranoco

Covering the grand procession of the Jesus of the Black Nazarene is not easy, even though I do it annually. Every year on January 9, millions of devotees crowd the streets as a life-sized, dark, wooden sculpture of Jesus Christ carrying the cross is brought through Manila’s old city.

I began to prepare days before the procession and sought permission to get a vantage point on the rooftop of the Quirino Grandstand at Luneta Park, where the procession begins, and on top of other buildings surrounding the route, to produce photographs from a bird’s eye view. It was my first time photographing from the rooftop of the Quirino Grandstand. I had to do my research on how my photographs would turn out at such an angle.

As I did all this, I was praying hard for guidance from the Jesus of the Black Nazarene that all my requests would be approved. He heeded my prayers: everything was approved and ran smoothly with time to spare.

Welcome to Chiberia

Chicago, Illinois

By Jim Young

It was dubbed “Chiberia” here in Chicago: record low temperatures with a wind chill in the -40 Celsius range (-40 Fahrenheit).

I knew it was coming. I had been dodging the bullet for two winters in Chicago and eventually “real cold” had to arrive here sooner or later. I had survived 30+ years of Canadian winters and lived through a -50C (-58F) wind chill in Ottawa, but I have had two of the nicest winters in my life in the Windy City. In February 2012 it was 80F and I was walking around in flip flops, but certainly not this week.

It started at sunrise on Monday morning. While driving along Lake Michigan to downtown I could see a “fog-like” haze over the water – it was arctic sea smoke caused by bitter cold air moving over the warm lake water. I parked down by the beach. It was a beautiful sunny morning and a balmy -42F. The biggest problem I had was with my fingers. Working with cameras even while wearing the warmest gloves is a challenge. I would take them off for just a few seconds but it would get incredibly painful, like needles stabbing into your hands. It would take 10 to 15 minutes back in the gloves just to get the pain to subside. I remembered hearing on the radio the early warning signs of hypothermia such as shallow breathing, drowsiness, shaking and stumbling…check, check, and check. The batteries in my cameras died so I tried to shoot an Instagram, but even though my iPhone was inside several layers of clothing, it was frozen like a brick and wouldn’t even boot up.