Photographers' Blog

Adventures on the western frontier

North Dakota

By Shannon Stapleton

It had been a couple months since I traveled somewhere to cover an assignment and I have to admit I was really looking to get out of town.

So when I heard that the Reuters text operation was covering a story in Williston, North Dakota on the Bakken Oil boom I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to visit a place that I had never been before. That same day I picked up the month’s edition of National Geographic and saw on the cover that one of my favorite photographers Eugene Richards had spent some time there this past summer. I was excited to embark on an adventure to the western frontier and see for myself this modern day gold rush.

GALLERY: NORTH DAKOTA BOOMING

I should have known that the average daily high temperature in March doesn’t exceed 35 degrees Fahrenheit in western North Dakota with a wind that bites right through you. But I was getting out of town and having the opportunity to work on a story that had significant news value. So, on Monday I took a 6:30 am flight from New York to Minneapolis for a layover then on to the wild frontier of Williston, North Dakota. During the layover I noticed that I was the only guy wearing sunglasses and a North Face jacket. I was surrounded by burly guys in Carhartt work clothes waiting to head back to a place that I found was a home away from home that afforded these men the opportunity to provide for their families that most of them had left back in areas all over the United States. I arrived in Williston and the temperature was a balmy 23 degrees. I picked up my rent a car and drove to my “luxurious” weekly rental located right off the main drag of Highway 85.

That day I met our text reporter Ernest Scheyder and even after a long day of traveling was excited see the various oil drilling sites that were everywhere around the vast snow-covered wheat fields. About an hour into our venture a snow storm came out of nowhere and caught us a little off guard. It was blinding and thank God for the iPhone’s GPS and Ernie’s four wheel drive we made it back to the motel. Over the next few days I encountered several men and women that had very similar stories about coming to Williston for work in order to survive and make a better life for them and their families in such troubling financial times in our country. Other than the daunting task of finding an affordable place to live, the jobs were there and ripe for the picking. Experience was not required in some cases. Wal-Mart was advertising starting jobs at $17 an hour with benefits merely because they were having difficulty finding people to work for those low wages.

All in all it was a mirage unlike anywhere else in the country that had an unemployment rate hovering around three percent, some five points lower than the national rate. Jobs were plentiful and there was a lot of money to be made.

Of gain and loss (and the longest story I’ve ever done)

By Rick Wilking

In the summer of 2011, as a chapter in a broader two-year project on obesity in America, I started a photo story on an almost 300 pound teenager who was planning bariatric surgery as a last resort to lose weight.

When a photojournalist starts a project like this there is always a lot of doubt. How much time will it take? Over how long a period and with how many visits. Will the subjects (and their friends and families) get tired of having me around? Will they cooperate in giving me the access I need? Since it’s a medical story will the hospital and doctors involved cooperate too? And most importantly will the time investment from both my subjects and me produce quality images that convey a compelling story?

SLIDESHOW: JAZMINE’S TRANSFORMATION

After bariatric surgeon Dr. Michael Snyder told me he had a candidate for the project I was introduced to Jazmine Raygoza. Just 17-years-old at the time she was preparing to have a lap-band placed, a highly controversial procedure for a teenager.

Obesity in America

By Rick Wilking

Almost 2 years ago I started work on a photo documentary simply titled “Obesity in America.”  It’s a simple title but with complex subject matter.

Getting the access, the various permissions from individuals and institutions and working through the convoluted American HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) that protects patient privacy to extremes was quite a challenge. But trying to tell a story with this many layers and permutations was even tougher.

It was a hot topic back in 2010 when I started, with obesity-related stories moving frequently on the Reuters wire but with few images to go with them. I set out to change that and decided to work the project in multiple chapters.

An American homeless family

By Lucy Nicholson

On her second day of camping near the coast north of Los Angeles, Benita Guzman lit a match, threw it on a pile of logs, and poured gasoline on top. As flames engulfed her hand and foot, her niece, Angelica Cervantes, rushed to throw sand over her. Benita thrust her burning hand into a pile of mud, and took a deep breath.

Camping’s not easy. It’s a whole lot rougher when you’re a pair of homeless single mothers trying to keep seven children fed, clothed, washed and in school.

Guzman, 40, and two of her children are living outdoors with Cervantes, 36, and five of her children. The two banded together in an effort to keep the children together as a family, and not taken away and separated in foster homes.

Hope Gardens

By Lucy Nicholson

Lilly Earp changes the diaper on her 5-week-old baby sister Emily with the confidence another child would have cradling a doll. She’s only 8, but she already shows the street smarts of an older child as she helps her mother. It helps to be resourceful when you’re homeless.

Her mother, Doreen Earp, 38, who is originally from Germany, and her three children ended up on the street after her relationship with Emily’s father fell apart. They stayed in a hotel for a month, then with people from their church and eventually ended up with no roof over their heads.

Today, they’re lucky to be among the 150 or so other homeless women and children living at Hope Gardens on the outskirts of LA. It’s a place where those at the end of the line are given a life line. The shelter for families is an oasis compared to where most of LA’s massive street population lives on a grim patch of downtown’s Skid Row. While homeless services are concentrated downtown, it’s no place for a child.

Choosing surgery for weight loss

Obesity.

Just the word is ugly. Morbid obesity sounds even worse, the clinical term for someone with a body mass index of 40 or higher. Morbidly obese usually means someone is at least 100 pounds over their suggested normal weight.

With all the media attention on the topic the word obesity by itself might conjure up images of giant sized people waddling down the sidewalk, pulling into a handicapped parking spot or riding electric carts that have popped up at almost any major store. You might pray you don’t get seated next to “one of them” on a train or an airplane.

The media inevitably run video or photos of giant people shot from behind to go with the latest story on obesity.  Is it because they are protecting the person’s privacy or is it just to emphasize how big they are?