Photographers' Blog

Hope turns to tragedy in quake aftermath

Cebu, Philippines

By Erik de Castro

It was a normal Tuesday morning for me that fateful day when a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck the central Philippines. I was covering a Muslim Eid Al-Adha religious festival at a Manila park, after nearly a week of floods coverage brought about by Typhoon Nari. As I was driving away from the park, I received a text message from a Reuters reporter about the quake. I felt the adrenalin rush as I mentally ran through my checklist of disaster gear while hitting the accelerator to reach home quickly. After getting my manager’s approval to cover the earthquake aftermath, I rushed to the airport to catch the next flight to Cebu city. I was lucky to get on a flight minutes before the plane’s door closed. After more than an hour, I arrived in Cebu and quickly contacted a driver and rented a van to go around the city. I was checking out damaged structures near the Cebu airport when I heard from a local radio station that hospital patients were being evacuated from a quake-damaged hospital.

When I reached Cebu City medical center, I saw the adjacent basketball court filled with hospital beds and patients. I immediately took pictures of a general view of the area. As I fired my shutter, I noticed some medical personnel surrounding a baby lying on top of a small table converted into a makeshift operating table at the far end of the covered court. I moved closer and took a few pictures only as I was worried I might interrupt their work to save the baby.

I moved to other areas to continue taking photos of the evacuated patients, but I made a mental note to come back later and inquire about the status of the baby and to get more details for my caption. When I returned to that spot after about two hours, I saw a man, who turned out to be the baby’s father, pumping oxygen manually in to the baby’s mouth. He told me the baby, their first born, is a boy. He gladly told me the baby’s chances of survival were good because he was now breathing. I felt a strange joy in my heart after taking a few photos of the baby and the father. After a few minutes, I was asked by medical workers to leave the area.

I left Cebu at dawn the following day to Bohol province, to cover the epicenter of the earthquake. I later found out from our pictures desk that there were many inquiries from clients about the status of the “quake baby”. I thought of returning to the makeshift Cebu hospital before flying back to Manila and felt a small gush of excitement as I looked forward to making images of a healthy baby born after a strong earthquake.

After arriving in Cebu early on Friday, I immediately rushed to the makeshift hospital. I couldn’t believe it when hospital workers told me the baby died later that same Tuesday night.

Ashes to ashes; dust to dust

Gainesville, Florida

By Steve Johnson

“Ashes to ashes; dust to dust.”

Its origins come from Genesis 3:19 (King James Verison): “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

We celebrate death in so many different ways. From sky burials in Tibet, to hanging coffins in ancient China, how we honor the dead is varied and changing.

In the United States and Canada, vault burials have grown in popularity since the early 1900s. With more than 19,000 funeral homes and 8,000 embalmers in the U.S. alone according to the National Funeral Directors Association.

Dark side of the festival

Bangkok, Thailand

By Damir Sagolj

Totally unconcerned with incoming traffic, Khun Tuey powers the ambulance van through Bangkok’s narrow streets as fast as its engine can push it. Soon after the chase started, the pointer on the speedometer kisses the 120 mark and for a short moment I take my eyes off the road to look around. Next to the driver sits his beautiful, four month pregnant wife Amarin, ignoring what passes by the windshield as if she is watching a session of Bulgarian parliament on TV. To the left is Somat, a medic with 110 hours of training – the team’s expert for injuries. His eyes are closed and it looks like he is sleeping. I hope he is praying. Tonight, we all need prayers to come true.

It is the crazy wet Songkran, as the week-long Thai New Year is known. Earlier in the day, we all enjoyed the festival – I sprayed water, wore powder on my face, drank beer and played fool with friends.

But the fun part is over. Tonight is another Songkran night; one of seven dangerous ones when an already high number of traffic-related deaths and injuries surge. Experts say Thailand has the greatest number of road deaths in Southeast Asia per capita, due to a combination of lax road laws and careless driving habits.

Faced with the hand of death

Guatemala City, Guatemala

By Jorge Dan Lopez

Lately, I’ve begun to think about death in a different way. Maybe it has something to do with taking photographs at the central cemetery every day for the last four months. It has become part of my daily routine, like getting up in the morning and brushing my teeth. Sometimes when I go, I don’t even take a picture, I just listen to the workers or enjoy the cemetery’s own sounds.

The other day it became quite cold during the night, temperatures dropped more than ten degrees Celsius and continued to descend. It was the coldest night of the year so far and while I was sitting at the cemetery, I thought I should take some photos about the cold weather. It was a frivolous thought, especially when I heard a little later that a person had died of hypothermia. I received the tip from a firefighter about the first dead person to have died due to the cold weather.

The body was found in the conflicted neighborhood Zona 18. It has been practically militarized by the Fuerza de Tarea Maya, a joint force made up of soldiers and police officers.

To die in peace

Yangon, Myanmar

By Minzayar

“There are about thirty patients in our hospice and the number’s always about the same. New patients arrive regularly and as old patients die. About ten die every month here.”

When the nurse showing me around the hospice said that, I was kind of shocked. If ten patients die a month, that means one every three days. To be honest, I have very rarely seen someone die near me. When I do, it is very sad and scary. I cannot imagine how the people here live with it.

U Hla Tun’s cancer hospice is a well-known place in Myanmar where cancer patients have been looked after for many years. It was founded in 1998 by U Hla Tun, who despite his wealth couldn’t save his young daughter from deadly cancer. His hospice only accepts cancer patients in the terminal stage, those who have already been given up on by the government hospitals’ cancer wards. “We accept only the hopeless and the helpless,” says Naw Lar Htoo Aye, the head nurse.

Coffin therapy

By Sheng Li

After many days trying to set-up an interview at the Ruoshui Mental Health Clinic, which resides within a commercial apartment building in Shenyang, China, I finally received a call from the owner on December 12 who granted me the access and opportunity to photograph one of their “death experience therapy” patients.

An hour later, I found myself in the so-called “death experience room”, a 10-square-metre room with nothing but a coffin on the floor. On the wall there was a poster of Jesus holding a newborn baby illuminated with gloomy blue lights. My first impression? Quite intimidating.

According to 50-year-old therapist Mr. Tang Yulong, the clinic opened in 2009 and since then there have been more than a thousand people who have done the death experience therapy. The therapy costs 2000 yuan ($320) and usually lasts 4 to 5 hours, during the duration of which the patient is required to lie in a coffin while his/her relatives read “epitaphs” or give speeches nearby. The patient also needs to write down his/her feelings and share with therapists and family. Mr. Tang said that many of them burst into tears when they are “resurrected.” He believes it is an extreme but efficient method to make people realize the value of their lives.

The year of the Aquinos

A woman takes a picture of the grave of the late Philippine President Corazon Aquino during her first death anniversary at Manila Memorial Park in Paranaque City Metro Manila August 1, 2010. REUTERS/Cheryl Ravelo

By Cheryl Ravelo

One year ago, my country was in mourning when former President Corazon Aquino died. Cory, as she is known, is revered as the mother of Philippine democracy because of her role in the overthrow of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

Today, I’m at Mass in the same school gymnasium where her body was laid for the public to pay their last respects. I’m with the same media people who covered the week-long mourning period and funeral. I’m photographing the same Aquino family, whom some call the Philippines’ Kennedys. There’s a crowd of supporters, gleaming in the yellow shirts and ribbons that were Cory’s trademark.

Families and supporters of the late Philippine President Corazon Aquino attend a memorial service during her first death anniversary at La Salle Gymnasium in Manila August 1, 2010. REUTERS/Cheryl Ravelo

Unlike a year ago, the gym is not jam-packed. There were no queues of people from all walks of life, just families, friends and supporters gathered to attend the memorial service. Fewer people perhaps, but I feel the same feeling of unity and hope in democracy from the crowd.

from Russell Boyce:

“Allah-u-Akbar! God is Great!”

Some pictures still shock me. Some make me laugh; many provide an insight or window into a new idea but only a few haunt me with my mind's eye returning to them again and again.

On Wednesday 28th July an Airblue plane crashed  just outside Islamabad in the beauty spot of the Margalla Hills killing all 152 on board. The cause of the crash, as yet unconfirmed, is thought to have been the driving monsoon rain. I edited the pictures shot by Reuters photographers who reached the scene. Images ranging from smoke drifting through the hills, men scrambling in the charred rocky, woodlands, picking through twisted metal and rocks looking for signs of life; tied cloth bags, dripping with the blood  that contained the remains of the passengers, to a severed arm and hand, the fingers still perfectly formed, just lying on the ground. There were no survivors.

PAKISTAN-CRASH/

Policemen and soldiers raise their hands while shouting "God is great," to lift their spirits as the team worked through heavy rain to search for bodies and a flight data recorder at the site of the Airblue plane crash in Islamabad's Margalla Hills July 29, 2010. Heavy monsoon rains in Islamabad on Thursday hampered recovery efforts at the site of a Pakistani plane crash that killed all 152 people on board a day earlier, a senior police officer said. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

Dark side of Japan’s pet boom

Approximately one and a half million unwanted dogs have been put to death in public animal management centers across Japan in the last ten years.

It was a very surprising figure for me as I had only been covering Japan’s colorful and luxurious pet boom, so I decided to shed some light on the dark side of the industry.

(View the full text story here)

After more than a year of seeking permission, I was finally given the go-ahead to shoot an animal management center in Tokushima and I went on a 745 mile (1,200 km) long journey from Tokyo with my DSRL camera for shooting still and video.