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Sderot, Israel

By Finbarr O’Reilly

“If you want to learn about a city, look at its walls.”

-Greek graffiti artist iNO

In springtime, the fields around Sderot are carpeted with red and yellow flowers swaying in the breeze. Yet the pastoral setting is at odds with drab concrete tenements rising up from the impoverished Israeli city under constant threat of attack.

Nowhere in Israel has been as heavily bombarded as Sderot. More than 8,600 rockets fired from Gaza, the Palestinian territory controlled by the Islamist group Hamas, have landed in and around the city since 2001 according to the local media center. Ten people have been killed by rocket fire in Sderot since June 2005 and dozens more have been injured. Psychological stress also takes its toll.

With just over a kilometer of fields separating it from the Gaza Strip, Sderot is an obvious target for Palestinian militants whose stated aim is to destroy Israel. The most intense bombardments came during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, when Israel launched an attack on Gaza, beginning with a week of air strikes and shelling, followed by a land invasion. Hamas and its allies responded by firing rockets and mortars into Israel during the three-week conflict, which killed an estimated 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

Israel’s Iron Dome defense system that destroys incoming rockets does not offer full protection to Sderot. When a “code red” alarm crackles over the city’s loudspeakers, the roughly 25,000 residents have 15 seconds to seek shelter from incoming projectiles.

“Having 15 seconds to run for your life is hard to understand or explain,” said Noam Bedein, director of the Sderot Media Center. “Routine life is a bit absurd, but you accept it.”

The Burning Man experience

Black Rock Desert of Nevada

By Jim Urquhart

I’ve been here three times and I still don’t know where I have been.

I don’t mean to sound whimsical but I still don’t know how to truly describe Burning Man. What began three years ago as idle conversation with some editors has brought me to the Black Rock Desert of Nevada for a week for the third time in the heat of the summer.

The two previous years I have spent my whole time on the desert floor working and creating photos for Reuters.

A special performance

Madrid, Spain

By Susana Vera

Luismi Astorga clasps his hands as he lifts his head up to the sky. He’s waiting to take the stage at a music club in Madrid where his dance group, Fusionarte, is taking part in a charity gala.

Astorga closes his eyes and begins to pray. The click of my camera breaks his concentration and he smiles at me as he proceeds to tell me, “Waiting makes me nervous.”

It’s not the first time Astorga has faced the thrill of performing for a live audience. He has been dancing with Fusionarte since Argentine choreographer and dancer Pau Vazquez formed the group six years ago with the aim of introducing dance to people with special needs.

Any color, as long as it’s blue

Wiesbaden, Germany

By Ralph Orlowski

It was a cold and blustery winter morning when I arrived at the warm and cozy gallery rooms of the Hesse Nassau Art Club in Wiesbaden to take pictures of the exhibition “Bourquoi”. This was to be my third attempt to take photographs of viewers at the show. So far I had not been successful at finding any willing visitors. I wondered whether this could be because of the compulsory dress code. The title of the exhibition “Bourquoi” by Turkish-German artist Naneci Yurdaguel is a play on the two words ‘pourqui’ — the French word for ‘why’ – and “Burka”.

I took off my big awkward padded winter coat only to be handed an equally, if not more, awkward “Burka” by the gallery assistant. I was told the only way to photograph or view the exhibition was while wearing it. No exceptions – not for male visitors or even for journalists.

Finally two visitors arrived – a man and a woman who were also willing to pull over an original Kabul burka. The organizers of the exhibition had flown in about a dozen original blue Burkas from the Afghan capital. I expected the visitors to be giggling and laughing when they changed to fulfill the dress code. But everyone was surprisingly extremely quiet and respectful.

Where have all the toys come from?

By Kim Kyung-hoon

When you look at the mountain of toys in this picture, you might think that your childhood dream has come true and this is a toy lover’s paradise.

In fact, what seemed to be a child’s dream come true was not a magic spell but “recycling”.

Japan’s famous contemporary artist, Hiroshi Fuji, renowned for using the theme of recycling in his various artworks over the last decade, held his solo exhibition in Tokyo and surprisingly, his art creations were made from more than 100,000 unwanted toys. The numerous toys had been collected from across Japan over the last 13 years through community activities to recycle these unwanted toys by bartering among children.

A tourist in my own backyard

By Kevin Lamarque

There may be no free lunch, but for those seeking to take in art and education, visiting Washington is a bargain. The Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum and research complex, includes 19 museums and galleries. All of which are free of charge. Add to that the National Gallery of Art, and the only toll you will pay is the fatigue on your legs as you wander from site to site in the nation’s capital.

I have upon occasion been lured into the National Gallery of Art, located next to the U.S. Capitol, before or after covering my news assignments on Capitol Hill. The National Gallery of Art provided me with a temporary escape from the world of politics that dominates this town. It also gave me some much needed visual stimulation. I would rarely come out without some interesting photo for Reuters. I enjoyed trying to capture the aesthetic relationship between the physical space of the gallery, the art and the visitor.

VIEW A LARGE FORMAT GALLERY: SMITHSONIAN STILLS

I wondered if the other galleries offered similar visual opportunities. Summer is high tourist season in Washington, a good time for me to join the masses and see what they come to see. My plan was to visit the National Gallery and all the Smithsonian museums and galleries located downtown in an attempt to make at least one nice photo at each locale. It’s a checklist I should have completed long ago. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I’d only visited a few of these places in my 13 years of living here.

Addicted to the needle

By Jason Reed and Larry Downing

The tattoo is as ancient as time itself.

Born out of man’s desire to draw more than straight, simple lines, today’s tattoos have evolved into beautiful interpretations by savvy artists that bend those old lines into colorful masterpieces etched onto a virgin canvas of skin with sharp needles and bright inks. Lifetimes of stories of hard love, or high adventures archived onto an arm, a leg, or for that matter, anywhere skin lives for curious eyes to enjoy forever.

The hobby of collecting tattoos has exploded into the mainstream. Look around and you’ll find them worn by anyone…. and anywhere. Annual conventions and competitions are held freely inside luxury hotels instead of hidden from view. Tattoos are even stars of their own reality television shows.

Reuters Senior photographers Jason Reed and Larry Downing traveled across the country recently to attend two different tattoo conventions in Hampton Roads, Virginia, and Cincinnati, Ohio, while working on a multimedia project entitled, “Addicted to the Needle” which opens a window into the private world and the culture of tattooing. First up was the Hampton Roads Tattoo Festival and then the National Tattoo Association’s 33rd annual convention. Both walked out of those gatherings realizing tattoos are no longer the stamp indicating someone to be a tramp, or a biker outlaw, but instead a lover of beautiful art and personal expression.

A hotel that floats their boat

By Allison Joyce

The Boatel is an eccentric floating hotel run by artists in New York City’s Far Rockaway neighborhood. Built out of 16 abandoned or discarded boats at Marina 59, near Kennedy airport, the lovingly restored accommodations are decorated with colorful paints and decorations. A psychedelic-themed cabin is complete with tie-dye and a beaded chandelier, while another with a science theme has fossils, a magnifying glass and binoculars.

A one night stay costs between $55 to $100 for a boat, all of which can comfortably accommodate at least two people, and in some cases more. The proceeds go toward taxes, upkeep, and future art residency programs that will allow more boats to be restored.

SLIDESHOW: NEW YORK’S BOATEL

What is really unique about the Boatel is that no one is trying to make a profit – they are only trying to support and perpetuate a thriving local art community.

“As a person I am not extra interesting” – Klimt

By Herwig Prammer

When you walk through central Vienna now you get the impression there are almost no other cultural events this year besides Gustav Klimt’s 150th birthday anniversary. Posters, postcards, sketch books, scarves, curtains, neck ties and gloves, umbrellas, cups and glasses, bottles and plates, boxes and containers on every corner are covered with his paintings. Copies of “The Kiss” even beautify toilet seats!

Originally I wanted to look at how Vienna pays tribute to this important Austrian “Wiener Jugendstil” (parallel to “Art Nouveau” in France) artist. But the growth of tacky commercialization of Klimt’s art has begun to taken center stage.

I learned this is mostly because the copyright time limit for Klimt’s art has recently run out and is partly due to his trend-setting work just being simply popular.

The fight over Berlin’s Tacheles

Over the last decade Berlin has been changing more rapidly than most of its inhabitants can stomach. Because of its history, the brunt of gentrification that changes everything (from social fabric to architecture) has hit the German capital more than other cities around the world.

Before the Wall came down, Berlin used to be a mecca for bohemians, artists, left-wing idealists and military service dodgers, mostly from West Germany. The collapse of East Germany resulted in an abundance of neglected buildings available in East Berlin. Punks and artists flocked in and the city became Europe’s capital of squats. A maelstrom of unfettered subculture productivity ensued, bestowing the city with an aura of the urban cool that feeds into its reputation to the present day.

But the Berlin of the wild nineties is long gone. Most of the squatters have been evicted or their housing projects legalized. Some of those whom back then ran underground clubs are well-off nightlife entrepreneurs today. Ordinary people who shared their neighborhood with the artists have had to move away, because rents have gone up manifold. And the influx of bohemians from abroad has turned into a stampede of party tourists, turning the last subculture enclaves into playgrounds for reckless twenty-somethings.

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