Photographers' Blog

On safari with my mentor

Hato La Aurora nature reserve, Colombia

By Jose Miguel Gomez

I’ve been a photographer for over 20 years, but this was to be my first bird-watching safari so I took along a 70-300mm lens, thinking it would be enough. We also expected to do lots of hiking in heat, and it’s the lightest of my long lenses.

I traveled with my son and 18 other explorers of whom some were amateur photographers. We had four guides plus a well-known ecologist, but the real treat for me was master photographer-adventurer Andres Hurtado, who organized the trip. Andres was leading us to the Hato La Aurora nature reserve, in Casanare province.

It was one day decades earlier, in high school, when I first met Andres. He arrived to give a class titled “general culture” right after tumbling down the Naranjo de Bulnes mountain peak in Spain and losing all feeling on his left side. It was a miracle he had survived, and there he was giving classes to us.

A group of us began physical training with him, jogging daily around a mountain near Bogota, until one day he invited me to climb Tolima Mountain. That day he showed me my first camera, and my life was changed.

Now, years later, we began the visit to Hato La Aurora with a 9-km (5 miles) hike across the savanna in a temperature of 38C (100F). We began to see birds that were new to us, flying out of and back into nearby forests, but when we approached they became frightened. They were too fast for our cameras, but left us with the constant hope of finding one of their kind again.

A fallen cadet

Bogota, Colombia

By Jose Miguel Gomez

When a television journalist called to her cameraman to come running, I thought it was just to get a better angle of some VIP arriving to celebrate the 121st anniversary of the National Police, and the new graduating class of the academy. I’m farsighted and didn’t have my glasses on, but I did have a 400mm lens on the camera.

A few more moments went by and I still didn’t catch what the fuss was about, and the only colleague near me was busy shooting. That was when I spotted the cadet on the ground, apparently fainted in the middle of the ceremony, and I instinctively began photographing. Help was so slow in arriving that I was able to shoot from different angles this curious scene of a policewoman lying unconscious, face down on the ground in her best uniform. It was at least five minutes before a couple of police officers finally carried her away.

In the meantime the ceremony continued with the presence of the presidents of Colombia, Costa Rica and Honduras, whom I assumed were asking themselves the same thing I was – why did it take so long amidst a formal ceremony to help this girl?

Dancing away the violence

Meta, Colombia

By John Vizcaino

The last time I was in Colombia’s Meta Province was to photograph 35 body bags containing the remains of rebels killed in clashes with the Army. That was last March, and for years before that nearly all the news we covered in Meta had to do with violence.

This time was different. What brought me to Meta was the Joropera dance festival in the village of Acacias. I wanted to show the cultural richness in this village affected by the conflict for so many years.

La Joropera is one of the most colorful festivals in Colombia. It is the positive changes in security that now bring more families than ever from all over Colombia, and a few from Venezuela, to dance here.

The pier of my memory

By Jose Miguel Gomez

The old and decayed pier in Puerto Colombia was a place that I first visited with my father when I was just six. We walked the whole of its nearly two kilometers into the Caribbean Sea, feeling the wonderful sea breeze and a bit of fear as the waves rolled under us at the end. The strong waves vibrated the foundations of this pier that in its heyday, at the turn of the 20th Century, attracted tourists in boats which docked alongside cargo ships. It was a colonial experience when there were still street lamps casting a romantic light on the dock frequented by lovers strolling under a full moon.

The qualifying matches for the World Cup Brazil 2014 recently brought me to Barranquilla, just east of Puerto Colombia. Today, Barranquilla has its own great port for modern ships that has made the world all but forget about the monumental pier just 16 kms away. On a day when neither Colombia nor Paraguay allowed photographers into their soccer training sessions, I decided to return to Puerto Colombia to visit my childhood pier.

Thanks to Barranquilla, Puerto Colombia is no longer a seaport. A town all but forgotten, it still attracts tourists and lovers who stroll along what used to be the world’s third longest pier.

Orlando’s elves

By Jose Miguel Gomez

We plunged nearly 80 meters down a wood-lined tunnel while listening to Orlando Arias, the guide who brought us to Nemocon, an Andean village nestled between mountains and natural salt deposits just north of Bogota. His stories allowed us to focus our minds in the dark mine, and we could feel the dampness of that cold place.

Orlando caught my attention when he claimed to have seen elves there. I asked what they were like, and he answered, “They’re small with elongated ears, very mocking, the size of children, and very ugly.” He showed us a photo of them, and in a ghost-like image I could see seven small green creatures with big ears.

I doubted it all as we continued on our tour. He guided us around all the main sites in this mine that attracts some 80,000 tourists each year. That day we were only a few, so it was easier to take photos. Orlando told us how he likes photography, and he convinced us by pointing out the best points from which to photograph the mine and the reflections on the pools of water. He also showed great patience to wait for us to do our job.

The prettiest in prison

By Jose Miguel Gomez

I thought this year’s prison beauty pageant would be the same as in the past, a story of prisoners enjoying a day different from the rest that coincides with the Our Lady of Mercy holiday.

Colombia is a country of beauty queens and pageants. Each region has its annual fiestas that are centered around a beauty pageant. Dozens of them are chosen throughout the year to culminate in the selection of the single most beautiful Miss Colombia in Cartagena. There are pageants to elect a miss coffee, a miss honey, and the woman with the nicest buttocks, in this country that loves to brag about the beauty of its women. Surprisingly, there is even one to elect the best dressed donkey, and the ugliest man.

This day in El Buen Pastor Prison didn’t seem to be an exception. They have been electing their beauty queen here for the past decade. Their pageant is just like the Miss Universe one; they elect their queen and give her a crown, which is passed on the following year to the next winner.

Frustration in the Enchanted Garden

By Jose Miguel Gomez

We reached the Enchanted Garden looking for the more than 24 species of hummingbird that lived there. What a surprise it was to actually find them concentrated in a small space where they drank sugary water put out in feeders to attract them.

The birds were so small that any one of them could easily fit into the palm of my hand. Their wings produced a unique sound, especially when they dipped downward and changed speed. I thought about doing a story on these birds that can’t walk but can hover in one spot like a helicopter, and then disappear in a flash behind a tree.

Leonor Pardo has been using nearly a ton of sugar each month since she created the Enchanted Garden. She first put out the sweet syrup and suddenly these hungry, swift creatures just appeared.

Another ground zero

By Fredy Builes

It began as a normal summer day in cold Bogota, with bright sun lighting up the morning. I had just picked up one of my favorite lenses from a repair shop, and was carrying a camera and wide angle lens in a bag while heading for a local university which I have done photo assignments for. As I talked to Vicky, the head of the journalism school, all of a sudden a great explosion shook us. In her eyes I saw the same fear that I was feeling, as the deafening sound left us speechless. It was only instinct that carried me to the street.

I ran out of the university towards the place of the explosion like a bull being released into the ring. Ground zero was right on a nearby street in downtown Bogota, where attacks like this haven’t happened in a very long time. I walked through the strange atmosphere of shocked people, deafening noise and fear, to reach the epicenter. I was surrounded by terror, blood, screams, sobs, rumors of another bomb, and death exposed for all to see.

One woman tried to calm a man lying on the ground, as another appeared with blood on her face in a way that reminded me of Christ bleeding from the crown of thorns.

The last ten

By Jose Miguel Gomez

Some of these captives had been gone for 14 years, but as anxious as they must have been to return, they walked very slowly on the airport runway at Villavicencio. It seemed to me that they were carrying the weight of so many years of the horror they lived, hiking through the thick Colombian jungle, persecuted by the fear of being killed by their captors or by the bombing of the armed forces.

They landed exhausted. In their glances it seemed they were living a dream – one in which they returned to embrace their families, showing them that they were all still alive. Theirs was not an ending like some of their fellow captives, who were killed when the Army tried to free them. With their faces clearly aged, they returned with few possessions. Some of them brought jungle animals as pets. Their families awaited them in a private room of the airport because the government had decided not to show their first reunion to the press. We were upset, to say the least.

When Ingrid Betancourt and the 14 hostages were freed in Operation Checkmate, the government brought them to Bogota in a media show. This time the hostages were simple soldiers and policemen and the only thing they wanted to do was hug their children who had since grown into adults, and their spouses and parents affected by the years of suffering.

The Life of an Aussie Immigrant

By Daniel Munoz 

After a 24-hour flight,  three almost deadly wrong-way turns while driving jetlagged in Sydney and a soccer game with the Thomson-Reuters team (of course we won 2-0), things are looking good in Australia.

Pic 1

When you come to Sydney from a country like Colombia your life changes in an unforgettable way, my first couple of hours here were full of exciting feelings. Tim Wimborne, my boss here, picked me up at the airport and took me and my wife straight to Lady Macquaries Chair, a park with the best view of Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. It was the best possible introduction to this city and filled our eyes with tears of joy.

Pic 2

Shooting is no less joyful here with four swimming world records, the Olympic torch relay in Canberra, Cate Blanchet, nice standalones and the fashion week in Sydney makes for a file rich in colour and makes me happy too.

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