Photographers' Blog

Money and dreams in Australia’s outback

Shooting the vast Australian outback had been my goal ever since I first arrived in Sydney. After three years I finally had the opportunity — a Special Report (a Reuters’ investigative story) on a worker shortage in the middle of Australia’s mining boom. My destination, Karratha, is a small town in Australia’s northwest.

After a more than 6 hour flight from Sydney, from one corner of Australia to the other, I touched down into a landscape exactly as I had imagined. The land was littered with red iron ore rocks, clear blue skies stretched with an immensity you only feel at sea, and trains, huge trains, hauled iron ore from the mines to be loaded onto ships bound for China.

This remote region called the Pilbara is at the center of Australia’s mining boom. But with more than AUD$400 billion in new resource projects on the drawing board, miners are struggling to find people who want to live and work in this harsh environment, despite offering wages in the six figures for truck drivers and construction workers – more than Australian doctors and lawyers earn.

But the high wages mean sky-high rents in outback towns in the Pilbara region – something we quickly discovered when we drove into the Aboriginal “dry town” of Roebourne, where alcohol has been banned due to high rates of domestic violence. After hours of driving, we found a bed in Roebourne in a dirty hotel room for $230 a night, with a can of insecticide in case of a midnight attack by some weird Aussie pest.

In outback towns which before the mining boom struggled to exist, we met workers from around the world — French, South Africans, Germans, Koreans, New Zealanders, and of course lots of Australians. All of them came to the outback with different dreams, but the same objective: earn the money to make those dreams come true.

Working in the pit lane without earplugs

Excitement best describes my feelings about Formula One racing. Ever since Ayrton Senna battled with Alain Prost in the late 80′s my heart was linked to this circus and more so when Colombian driver Juan Pablo Montoya won a place in the Williams team. He even managed to take the checkered flag in Monaco which was enough to make a whole country crazy.

Red Bull Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany is pushed into the garage during qualifying session for the Australian F1 Grand Prix at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne March 26, 2011. REUTERS/Daniel Munoz

Those were the days of being a sort of slave inside the dark room, learning and dreaming about having the opportunity to shoot at the side of a track, any track, Interlagos in Sao Paulo was the closest at that time, so it became my objective for years.

Moving to Australia brought my dream one step closer and I went to Albert Park in 2009 for my first ever Grand Prix.

Clash of two cricketing titans

The second quarter-final of the cricket world cup was a clash between two huge teams. India, the world’s no. 1 team with its power batting lineup. Australia, three-time world champions who have reigned supreme over the game for 12 years. Whoever won, it would be a huge story. Whoever lost, it would be a huge story.

Police officers control a crowd of spectators outside Sardar Patel Stadium ahead of the Cricket World Cup 2011 quarter-final match between India and Australia, in Ahmedabad March 24, 2011.        REUTERS/Andrew Caballero-Reynolds

We headed to the stadium at around 10am, well before the 2.30pm start. Traffic was backed up a long way. There was only one road leading to it and we weren’t sure if it was fans waving flags and blowing horns, buses and four wheel drives, scooters or the cops that were in charge. Fellow photographer Andrew Caballero-Reynolds got nervous because on his last 3 trips to stadiums, the vehicle he’s been in has blown a tire. Lucky we made it in one piece. There were thousands of fans queuing in the searing heat to get into the ground, watched over by the usual stick-wielding police in khaki suits.

I installed a remote camera high on a TV tower above the stands, hooked up by usb cable to a laptop, both powered by a 25m extension cord we rented for 150 rupees (about 4 dollars) from a local shop that usually rents them out for weddings. The remote would capture the action from a different angle and would fire whenever I wanted it to from my field side position. I had the laptop running on a data card so the pictures would automatically be downloaded and transmitted to our editing system live, so that we didn’t have to wait for the break inbetween innings to get the disk and edit pictures. It was going to provide some great pictures from the match.

My date with Yasi

So, I was sitting on a plane flying from Sydney to a town called “Townsville” before I had a moment to consider that I was going north to intercept a huge cyclone, try and hide somewhere in the middle of it and stick my head up and start shooting as soon as it passed over me. In the end I was fully equipped, located and psyched to deal with a storm “roughly the size of Italy” but it was cyclone Yasi that blinked first.

When the decision was made to go I had 60 minutes before leaving for the airport. Photographers talk about a “go bag” or how they have a permanent disaster kit next to the front door or that they’re such legends, who have covered an untold number of natural disasters, everything they need is burned on their memory. I have a list. I have a number of lists but I still stand in the middle of the lounge room asking my wife what I have forgotten. She always comes up with something. Surprisingly, the flight (the very last one to this impending natural disaster before the destination airport closed) was packed. On it were a few other media types but also a bunch of paramedics, emergency workers and prison guards all going for the same reason.

Local resident Selwyn Hughes (C) sits with his daughter Roseanne, 13, outside an emergency cyclone shelter after it was declared full and the gate locked in the northern Australian city of Cairns February 2, 2011.  REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

First stop for my text and TV colleagues and I was the first gas station we found still trading as we headed still further north to Cairns – right into the path of the cyclone. Just about everything was closed with taped up windows or boarded up doors. We netted $250 worth of bottled water and the kind of food you’d only ever buy at a gas station.

Floods and landslides: A global view

In recent months floods and heavy rain have affected many different parts of the world, from Australia where an area the size of France and Germany combined was under water to the devastating landslides in Brazil that killed over 500 people.

Here are three stories from photographers, Tim Wimborne in Australia, Tom Peter in Germany and Bruno Domingos in Brazil, detailing how they overcame the challenges they faced to get pictures on the wire.

AUSTRALIA
Tim Wimborne

The mud covered friends of Andrew Taylor (2nd R), pose around a destroyed piano, as they help his family clean their house after flood waters receded in the Brisbane suburb of Westend January 14, 2011. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

Huge floods have wreaked havoc across the globe. Australia has experienced some of the worst of it with headlines dominated by an “inland tsunami” killing many around the town of Toowoomba. The much larger flooding however was far more passive in its advance over millions of hectares and into the heart of Australia’s third largest city.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures January 23 2011

As India heads towards their Republic Day celebrations, Prime Minister Singh makes minor adjustments to his cabinet while outside on the streets people demonstrate over food and fuel price inflation and corruption. Adnan Abidi produces a great picture as a middle-aged demonstrator gets to feel the full force of a police water canon. In stark contrast, B Mathur gets a glimpse of the dress rehearsal of the full military parade planned to celebrate India's independence where the security forces are deployed in a somewhat different manner.  Danish Siddiqui added to the file this week with a well seen picture to illustrate a government spending initiative with a man pulling a pipe across a building site, the shadow creating an eye like image that almost seems to wink at the viewer.  

INDIA/

Police use water canons to disperse supporters of India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) during a protest in New Delhi January 18, 2011. Thousands of the supporters on Tuesday in New Delhi held a protest against a recent hike in petrol prices and high inflation. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

INDIA/

Indian Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers ride their camels during the full dress rehearsal for the Republic Day parade in New Delhi January 23, 2011. India will celebrate its Republic Day on Wednesday. REUTERS/B Mathur

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures January 16 2011

Our thoughts are with photographer Lucas Mebrouk Dolega who was covering the street protests in Tunisia who is now in a critical condition after sustaining head injuries on Friday from a tear gas canister fired by a nearby police officer.

AUSTRALIA-FLOODS/

A passenger in a car waves for assistance as a flash flood sweeps across an intersection in Toowoomba, 105 km (65 miles) west of Brisbane, January 10, 2011. Tsunami-like flash floods raced towards Australia's third-largest city of Brisbane on Tuesday, prompting evacuations of its outskirts, flood warnings for the financial district and predictions that  the death toll is likely to climb.     REUTERS/Tomas Guerin

Rupert Murdoch's iPad only newspaper "The Daily" is getting closer to launch (reports say the proposed launch of January 19th was delayed due to technical glitches) and others are  launching similar pay-for publications. Along with rumours of an imminent iPad2 and Apple's competitors rushing to launch their own tablet devices, it seems to me much more likely that people will once more expect to pay for their news as opposed to expecting  to get it free. They will now have a device to easily download and read news and look at pictures and video immediately. Maybe the much heralded notion that the sometimes faster, but unsubstantiated, social media generated news would be the death knell of main stream media (why should I pay for the news when I get it free from the net quicker?) might have been a little premature and could actually be one of the factors that contribute to people expecting to pay for quality news viewed on hand held devices. What do you think?

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A week in Pictures 7 November 2010

A continual struggle with writing this blog is trying to keep it picture led and not wander off into the top stories from the week that may not have produced the best pictures. This week in Asia we have seen the arrival of U.S President Obama in India, U.S Secretary of State Hilary Clinton doing the rounds, the first election in Myanmar for 20 years (no prizes as to who will win though) not one, but two Qantas jets getting into engine difficulty, the continuing tensions between Japan and China, the failed bid by BHP Billiton to take over of Potash, currency woes as we prepare for G20 in Seoul later this week and let's not forget Afghanistan and bombs in Pakistan. So where to start?  Mick Tsikas produced my favourite picture of the week, a fan at the Melbourne Cup; one can only admire the oral control it takes to shout in celebration while holding firmly onto a lit cigarette.  I thought this was a skill that died out with the passing of Humphrey Bogart.

HORSE RACING/MELBOURNE

A race-goer cheers as jockey Gerald Mosse of France rides Americain to victory in the Melbourne Cup at the Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne November 2, 2010. REUTERS/Mick Tsikas

In Indonesia the stark realities of living in the shadow of an erupting volcano continue to be brought home by Beawiharta. Try as I might I could not edit out any of these four pictures.  So with cries of "overfile ovefile" ringing in my ears I will shamelessly re-publish.  Wearing a hat to protect yourself from the hundreds of tonnes of hot ash raining down, you've been made homeless and the air is filled with dust and smoke - what do you do? Light up - a perfect moment caught as life stoically goes on. The strong diagonal lines and planes of tone in perfect monochromatic harmony.

Click and kiss

Good kisses are like good pictures, they come in the most natural way, without words or permission. What would happen if you asked permission for a kiss or a picture? The answer would likely be ‘no’.

On the streets of Australia, stealing a kiss can sometimes be a lot easier than taking a photo.

The nation has an obsession with rules and a fear of media, a very bad combination for press freedom. Warnings are everywhere: “No trespassing, offenders will be prosecuted,” “No entry,” “Private.” Every time you put a camera to your face in a public place, some local official will intervene: “What are you taking pictures of? You can’t take pictures here without permission.”

If no one shows up, is it still news?

Photographers covering protests in many parts of the world need to consider logistics, politics and, above all, their personal safety. In Australia, one of the main considerations is whether to cover the event at all.

Last week my colleague Ahmad Masood wrote a noteworthy blog highlighting the stark difference between a protest he covered recently in Germany and the many demonstrations he covered in Afghanistan. His words were in my mind last Saturday as I set off to cover an anti-consumerism rally in Sydney, part of international “Buy Nothing Day.”

It was a fine, sunny day. There should have been plenty of protesters. The announcement said to expect hoards of demonstrators dressed as zombies, chanting anti-capitalist slogans while cutting up credit cards.

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