Photographers' Blog

38 days and 10 years in Afghanistan

By Erik de Castro

As I write this blog, I am on the 38th day of my current assignment to Afghanistan as an embedded journalist with U.S. military forces. I have been assigned here several times since 2001 to cover the war that is still going on 10 years after the al Qaeda attack on U.S. soil. Mullah Omar, popularly known as the one-eyed Taliban, was the first member of the Taliban I met back in 2001. He held press conferences almost daily at the Afghan embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan a few weeks before U.S. forces and its allies attacked Afghanistan to remove the Taliban government.

Ten years and several trips back to Afghanistan later, I still haven’t seen a lot of Taliban fighters. My present assignment is the time I’ve experienced the most encounters between the combined U.S. and Afghan forces and the Taliban.

It is remarkable how the Afghan soldiers and Taliban fighters are more aggressive now. The insurgents, though they know their artillery is no match to that of the Americans, are daring enough to attack at every opportunity, be it with small arms, RPGs or, on occasions, IEDs and rockets. Most of the time, it is a “hit and run” kind of attack wherein they flee after firing some shots. Such eagerness, however, could cost lives.

In Kunar province last week, U.S. and Afghan military engaged insurgents near Combat Pirtle King close to the Pakistan border. I saw Afghan soldiers unloading from the back of their armored vehicle the bodies of two Taliban fighters killed in the encounter. They also captured a wounded insurgent. The Taliban fighters looked barely out of their teens, had unkept long hair and beard, giving the impression that they have been in the mountains for some time.

Afghan soldiers from the joint U.S.-Afghan forces also show the same boldness although their moves are more calculated. On one of our patrols, we saw a white Taliban flag mounted on top of a hill in an area that is known to be a Taliban stronghold. Without hesitation, Afghan soldiers went up the hill to seize the flag as U.S. soldiers watched their backs. There was a fire fight but it was brief as the Taliban immediately fled on motorcycles.

Learning to smile again

By Toru Hanai

Six months after Japan’s massive earthquake and tsunami, I went back to visit six-year-old Wakana Kumagai who lost her father in the disasters in Higashi-Matsushima, Miyagi prefecture.

I photographed Wakana when she visited her father’s temporary grave at a mass burial site in Higashi-Matsushima on April 21, after attending an entrance ceremony at her elementary school. I was struck by how positive and optimistic Wakana behaved.

Five months later, Wakana bowed her head in prayer with her mother Yoshiko and brother Koki at the exact spot where the car of their late father Kazuyuki was found. The family crouched in prayer at 2:46 p.m. as Japan marked exactly six months since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Where were you on 9/11?

By Larry Downing

It’s a simple question understood by anyone alive on September 11, 2001; an unwanted reminder for those who witnessed the confusion of America’s day of crisis as uncertainty stretched beyond its borders and illustrated to the world man’s capability of reaching out and doing harm to others.

That September day started quietly as early Fall leaves gently landed on top of the morning shadows of New York, Washington D.C. and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, but turned horrible after passenger jets and skyscrapers fell out of the sky holding thousands of souls trapped inside evil fires.


(REUTERS/Sean Adair)


(Rescue workers carry mortally injured New York City Fire Department chaplain, the Rev. Mychal Judge, from the wreckage of the World Trade Center in New York City September 11, 2001. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)

A Holga view of 9/11

By Shannon Stapleton

The 10th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center has been causing me some anxiety for some time now.

We were told that magazines, newspapers and all other outlets for pictures regarding the 9/11 attacks would need to be filed and completed by mid-summer for deadlines. For a long time I didn’t cherish the thought of covering another anniversary let alone trying to find new ways to illustrate something that for some time I have been trying to avoid. Having been there first hand on that dark day in history I truly dislike having to go down there at all and usually do my best to avoid World Trade Center site area.

It brings back bad memories and I am not a fan of how it has become such a tourist stop when they visit New York. I truly understand the significance of the day and why people would want to come but looking up at the sky or at a fence covering a big hole in the ground is something I will never understand. As jaded as that may sound I will say that once all the politics, union negotiations and property disputes were settled, they have, and continue with time running out, made significant progress for the Ground Zero memorial. Ten years to figure that out seems to me like a long time but who am I.

A hurricane named Katrina

Elton Driscoll, Jr. carries a U.S. flag that he removed from a hotel down the deserted and boarded-up Bourbon Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans August 28, 2005.   REUTERS/Rick Wilking

While covering Hurricane Katrina ripping through New Orleans five years ago, it struck me how the individual events that unfolded in the aftermath echoed similar tragedies I had photographed around the globe.

Cynthia Gonzales runs through the rain with a stray dog she rescued from a destroyed gas station (background) in Gretna, Louisiana, as Hurricane Katrina hit August 29, 2005.   REUTERS/Rick Wilking

It was like several stories in one – a hurricane of course, but there was little typical hurricane damage in the city. In fact, before the levees broke and it turned into a flood story I was close to leaving to move further east along the coast to cover the near-total devastation in Mississippi.

Two men push their truck in flooded New Orleans August 30, 2005.  REUTERS/Rick Wilking

It was a huge human tragedy story, reminiscent of 9/11 in New York in some ways with dazed, confused and distraught people wandering the streets.

The year of the Aquinos

A woman takes a picture of the grave of the late Philippine President Corazon Aquino during her first death anniversary at Manila Memorial Park in Paranaque City Metro Manila August 1, 2010. REUTERS/Cheryl Ravelo

By Cheryl Ravelo

One year ago, my country was in mourning when former President Corazon Aquino died. Cory, as she is known, is revered as the mother of Philippine democracy because of her role in the overthrow of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

Today, I’m at Mass in the same school gymnasium where her body was laid for the public to pay their last respects. I’m with the same media people who covered the week-long mourning period and funeral. I’m photographing the same Aquino family, whom some call the Philippines’ Kennedys. There’s a crowd of supporters, gleaming in the yellow shirts and ribbons that were Cory’s trademark.

Families and supporters of the late Philippine President Corazon Aquino attend a memorial service during her first death anniversary at La Salle Gymnasium in Manila August 1, 2010. REUTERS/Cheryl Ravelo

Unlike a year ago, the gym is not jam-packed. There were no queues of people from all walks of life, just families, friends and supporters gathered to attend the memorial service. Fewer people perhaps, but I feel the same feeling of unity and hope in democracy from the crowd.

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