Photographers' Blog

Life on a leash

Daohui village, China

By William Hong

Every morning, as soon as Xie Juntu wakes up, he ties his grandson to a pillar. His aim, however, is not to torture the boy but to keep him safe and save the family from bankruptcy.

When I met him in the remote Chinese village of Daohui, Juntu’s grandson Guobiao looked like any other normal 11-year-old. The only difference was the rope that prevented him moving more than a few steps away from the place where he had been tied.

Juntu explained the situation. He said that when his daughter-in-law gave birth to Guobiao, a landslide blocked vehicles from leaving the village. It was a difficult labour. Four neighbours managed to carry the mother on foot to the nearest town with a maternity hospital, but it was too late to save the baby from suffering brain damage from lack of oxygen during the long birth.

Guobiao grew up with a mental disability and his “mischievous” behaviour meant his family spent a lot of time looking for him when he got lost playing in every possible corner of the village.

It also cost them a tremendous amount of money. They had to pay compensation for the damage Guobiao caused when he smashed neighbours’ windows and tore down tiles from their roofs with his bare hands.

Fukushima’s children

Fukushima Prefecture, Japan

By Toru Hanai

It will soon be the third anniversary of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami that wrecked the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

I myself live in Tokyo, more than a three-hour drive away. Right after the disaster, I too bought bottled water both to drink and to use around the house. Now, however, I drink from the tap without thinking about it.

As the anniversary of the nuclear accident approached, I found myself wondering what life has been like for the people of Fukushima, especially the children, whose lives are still directly affected by it.

A child’s autistic world

Havana, Cuba

By Enrique de la Osa

When I arrived early at the Dora Alonso School, Julio came over, shook my hand and gave me the latest weather report. He did it with such precision that I didn’t know what to say. Julio is 24 years old and a die-hard meteorology aficionado. But instead of working as an expert predictor of the weather, he was making a living sweeping the school’s patios. Julio is also a patient at the school – he suffers from autism.

The Dora Alonso School specializes in treating children who suffer from autism spectrum disorders. The building housing the school was a military facility before the Revolution, and it was inaugurated as a school for children with special needs ten years ago by Cuba’s former President Fidel Castro. The school is surrounded by a lush green garden and there is no outside noise. It is extremely peaceful. More than 40 children, ranging from the age of four to six spend their days at the school with a group of therapists, doctors, physiotherapists and psychologists who not only work with the children but prepare parents and teachers as well.

The disorders can range from severe mental retardation with a profound inability to communicate, to relatively mild symptoms combined with some high levels of function such as those seen in people with Asperger’s. When I saw the students I found they looked physically normal, but seemed apathetic. They live in a world different from others. In Cuba we are used to children running around, laughing, crying, and doing everything with lots of noise and bravado; they wear their emotions on their sleeves. But these children were quiet and detached. They were completely unfazed by my presence and the camera, showing no curiosity.

Kids in camo

By Pichi Chuang

The Albert kindergarten and day care center in the central Taiwan city of Taichung is as joyful and vibrant as any other, with its colorful plastic slides and trampolines, but what makes it different is the children. From five to nine years old wearing camouflage uniforms they practice crawling and handstands on foam cushions in the front yard, copying the training of army special forces frogmen.

Principal Fong Yun said “I think most Taiwanese children lack confidence compared with kids from other countries.” Inspired by U.S. physical therapist Glenn Doman’s theories, 15 years ago she created a series of exercises that combine military drills and gymnastics, believing that they would help children develop physical and mental strength.

“All our children have had a hard time practicing the exercises. When they encounter obstacles in the course of their life, such as college entrance exams, job hunting, or even marriage, the experience they gain here by practicing very hard and finding a way to do it perfectly is very helpful,” said Fong, adding that the exercises help develop digestive systems and the brain’s language center as well as courage and strength.

Helpless in an explosion’s wake

Kabul, Afghanistan

By Omar Sobhani

Last Friday was a public holiday here in Afghanistan but I was on call and had gone for lunch in Kabul with my friends. Our relaxing day was interrupted by a huge explosion.

It took little time to figure out what was going on. As on most days, working or not, I carry my cameras so I jumped in my car and rushed towards the noise. My colleague Mohammad Ismail, who was enjoying a day off also, heard the explosion and called me as I headed towards the scene saying that he was coming to help cover the story. I spoke to my text and TV colleagues at Reuters bureau although the sound of the attack was too loud to hear easily but they were well aware of the incident.

As a safety measure I kept colleagues in the bureau informed of our plans and movements.

The boy in blue

By Lucas Jackson

One of the ubiquitous presences when traveling through Afghanistan on an embed with U.S. soldiers is that of scores of children either watching the soldiers passing in convoys or patrolling their villages. It is not uncommon for dozens of faces to be staring at you, often while standing mere feet away from the obvious out-of-towners.

The soldiers do their best to either ignore these multitudes of staring eyes or to interact with them but most often the children react shyly when confronted or when someone tries to talk to them. As a photographer traveling with these soldiers I also stand out, even more so than the soldiers which they are at least used to seeing. I am dressed differently and instead of a rifle I carry something they see far less often – cameras. For me these trips are as frustrating as they are interesting. I try to catch moments when these children are interacting to the presence of the military in their town or with each other. But I often find that as soon as I point the camera, I either become the center of attention or my young subjects turn and run away.

A young girl carrying a baby, as she went to the town’s well to get water, kept a watchful eye on my camera, while pumping water as her friend stared. Groups of children, earlier pointing and laughing, immediately turned and hid behind a lamp post as soon as my camera was raised to my eye. The children waiting to pick up the spent bullet casings after a small firefight were not at all shy of the noise of machine guns and sniper rifles, but they instantly look down or cover their faces when a camera appears. It is a fascinating fact of life here; these children understand better and are more comfortable with guns than with a camera.

Silent tears within the brothel walls

By Andrew Biraj

“Hashi cannot be sad ever. Sadness is a part of our lives, so we don’t bother with sadness. My parents will not be able to identify me anymore. There is a huge difference between my present appearance and the malnourished look of my childhood. I am healthier than before and fit to serve a lot of customers in a day.”
- Hashi (which means happiness), a seventeen-year-old sex worker at Kandapara brothel in Tangail

It was a quieter evening than in hectic Dhaka. The gentle breeze of spring surrounded the cold atmosphere of the small town of Tangail, a town in the north east of Bangladesh. A small walk through a calm neighborhood took me to a place which looked similar to any of the country’s slums.

The bright tungsten lights of grocery shops and the high volume of Bangladeshi pop music from the tea stalls mesmerize the whole area. Between those stalls the alleyways on the other side of wide drains are dark. Following my fixer I suddenly found myself inside one of those narrow lanes, where young girls with heavy makeup and colorful clothes were lined up. The girls of different ages, though mostly teenagers, try to draw the attention of men by laughing, chuckling and pulling their hands.

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.

Risking life for school

By Beawiharta

On Wednesday morning I received an image on my twitter feed (@beawiharta). It was a photo from a local newspaper that showed a student crossing a river on a collapsed bridge. The picture caught me. I needed to find out where it was so I could go there to capture it.

Shortly afterwards I arrived at the office. I had forgotten about the collapsed bridge because we were very busy. I had two assignments for the day, a breast milk courier story and a story about Indonesia’s rising investment rating. This was a big financial story because Moody’s ratings agency restored Indonesia debt to investment grade.

I went to Jakarta’s business district to find photos of middle-class workers returning to their homes. When I had finished, I realized that I had something different to shoot for the next day. I searched Google maps to find the location of the collapsed bridge but I couldn’t find the exact location. There was a blank map with only the name of the village, Sanghiang Tanjung. Surprisingly, it said the village was just 130 kms (80 miles) away from our Jakarta office – a travel time of about two hours. My estimation was it would take 4 hours.