Photographers' Blog

Church, faith and rock’n'roll

Saltillo, Mexico

By Daniel Becerril

When I first heard of Adolfo Huerta, or Father Gofo as everybody calls him, I thought it was a joke. I thought he just liked to drive a motorcycle and to wear his hear long and that he wasn’t even a priest, just a guy who liked to pretend to be one.

He was packing his things the day I met him as he was moving to another parish. They were sending him off to a neighborhood with social problems, or a “hot” area as it’s generally called. I looked around Adolfo’s room while chatting with him – it looked more like the room of a teenager. I saw heavy metal and alternative rock CDs, books piled high on different topics, all had his nickname “Gofo” written on them. A poster of Che Guevara adorned the wall, another of the latest Batman movie and a double-spread picture of a lovely young lady showing her assets “au naturel”.

FULL FOCUS GALLERY: ROCK’N'ROLL PRIEST

Adolfo discovered God and the priesthood while studying philosophy at the Pontifical University of Mexico City, and working with HIV-positive patients and sex workers as an activist for social causes. But he seems to break the mold of a Catholic priest, he likes rock music, dyes the ends of his hair red, dresses in black, and likes to ride his motorcycle. He is a member of a motorcycle club called the “Black Wings”, he goes to bars, drinks beer, smokes, swears and tells jokes while officiating mass. He likes pictures of naked women. Although his female friends complain about the posters, he says he is an admirer of the female body, its beauty and its ability to give birth. No filthy or profane thoughts behind it, he said, in order to live a chaste life.

One night we went to a bar called “The confessionary” blasting music from Iron Maiden and the number 666 painted on the wall, illuminated with red lights. Father Gofo greeted the owner of the place and waited outside for some friends and members of the “Black Wings” motorcycle club. Inside, he and his friends had a couple of beers, they chatted and sang to Pantera and Metallica songs. He left early.

“There is more communion at barbecues, at parties, at bars. When you arrive at those gatherings and places, people greet you, they hug you, they ask you how have you been. When you arrive at church, nobody notices each other and they only shake hands when the priest tells them to do so”, Adolfo said.

“I will show you the Pope”

Rome, Italy

By Alessandro Bianchi

After what seemed like a lifetime of standing in the rain, “Habemus Papam” (We have a Pope!).

I woke up after basically not sleeping at all. Another day and now what? We had no idea what Pope Francis would do. Nobody knew. Only that he was due to attend a small prayer at the Santa Maria Maggiore – a basilica in central Rome. So, fellow photographer Stefano Rellandini and I got on our scooters and went to take a look. When we got there, there was a lot of people – media, tourists (the basilica is right next to the main train station), curious bystanders, and a big wall which surrounds the basilica. Stefano stayed with the pack outside the main entrance and I went for a little wander. How could I see above this wall? The only way was to go into a local school. I walked in, looked for the principle and said “Come with me I have something to show you. I will show you the Pope.” He smiled and said “Okay let’s see.” I said, “I have to have this picture, or my boss will be very unhappy…”

We entered into a class of school kids, around 15 years old (to tell the truth I wasn’t really paying attention to them). Then came one of the longest moments of my life as I walked through the class and saw that from their window I could see into the courtyard of the basilica. I saw cars, police and a couple of priests. This was it. Seconds later he appeared at the doorway and I started taking pictures. I said to the kids “It’s the Pope, it’s the pope. He’s here, say something,” but they were a little star-struck and I had to say “Yes, it really is him – say something.” So the kids all shouted “Viva il Papa, viva papa.” Then one of his close cardinals tapped him on the shoulder and pointed at the kids (or more importantly me). Then the Pope waved and smiled and finally I could relax.

The cycle of poverty and pregnancy

By Erik de Castro

It was a few minutes before 6 a.m. when I arrived at the dwelling of Liza Cabiya-an, 39, and her 14 children. Liza was pouring coffee on a plate of rice as her five small children, including her youngest 11-month-old baby, huddled on the floor around her waiting to be served their breakfast. On a good day, Liza says breakfast would be pan de sal, or the classic Filipino salt bread, which they dip into hot instant coffee.

While the small children have their breakfast, Liza’s nine other children were still asleep, shoulder-to-shoulder, in a room of approximately 9-square meters.

The only appliances they have are the television and a DVD player. The glassless window provides natural ventilation to the space. Liza’s family lives on the third floor of a three-story tenement in a slum neighborhood in Paco, in the Philippines capital Manila. I had to go up a narrow wooden ladder to reach their dwelling. Residents of the tenement share the same toilet, which is on the second floor. Liza complains that there are nights when they have to endure the stink of the toilet, which is not regularly cleaned.

Detroit’s glimmer of hope

By Mark Blinch

I’ve been to Detroit countless times over the years and though I’ve always known the city to struggle with poverty, I am usually sent to the city to cover another winning Detroit sports franchise, or the glitzy international auto show showcasing the years new cars from all the top auto makers.

As I drove down the highway from my hometown Toronto, I tuned into my favorite Detroit rock radio station 89x as I got close to the border crossing. The radio hosts began to plug an event where people with little means could go and get a free meal. It was just a few days until Christmas, and rockstar Kid Rock, a Detroit native, was putting up the funds to help support his hometown.

I was sent to Detroit to meet with the people who struggle the most during the holidays, to see the places where they seek comfort and to capture the spirit of the locals who reach beyond their own troubles to help out others.

The trouble with Northern Ireland

Tradition is something that is celebrated, enjoyed and handed down to the next generation, but in the small corner of western Europe where I was born, it has led to shootings and bombings and the loss of thousands of lives.

For 16 years I’ve worked as a photographer covering ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland and in this time I’ve come to realize that what one side of the political and religious divide sees as celebration, the other sees as triumphalism.

The Twelfth of July parades are one such tradition that sparked disturbances on the streets of Belfast this week with rioters throwing petrol bombs and police responding with plastic bullets as Catholics and Protestants once again clashed.

How I became a pilgrim

I grew up in a country with deep Catholic traditions. I was just a year old in 1978 when Polish cardinal Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II. It was a huge surprise in the then‐communist country, a satellite of the Soviet Union, that a son of Polish soil could become the head of the Catholic Church – which was painfully divided by the Iron Curtain.

Over the years, it became a natural feeling that the pope was Polish. The words ‘pope’ and ‘Pole’ becoming synonyms in my mind. John Paul II visited Poland eight times as the pontiff but I only had one chance to see him live when his papa‐mobile passed my home in 1991. I was 14 years old and took a picture of the event.

Unfortunately, during my professional career I never took a picture of Pope John Paul II. My first such assignment came only after the late pope passed away and I was sent to Rome for his funeral. It was a really hard time with no sleep, no time for eating or bathing. I just wandered about taking pictures of thousands of pilgrims sleeping along the Vatican streets and waiting for several days to attend the funeral ceremony. The air was full of grief. I also queued for hours to get to the St.Peter’s Basilica following an endless stream of people who wanted to honor John Paul II and to take a picture of his body exhibited to the public.

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