Photographers' Blog

Hong Kong’s National Day ferry disaster

By Tyrone Siu

When the National Day fireworks ended in enthusiastic applause, most photographers – especially those who were functioning on an empty stomach like me – thought we could finally call it a night. After all, we had witnessed all the hustle and bustle since early in the day at the flag-raising ceremony. It was, we thought, perhaps enough sensation for a single day.

I was about to enjoy a nice hotpot dinner with other battered journalists after filing my fireworks pictures, when a reporter on site mentioned a brief report online that ruined the plan.

It said that two ferries had collided off Hong Kong’s Lamma Island but did not mention any injuries, but a hunch told me it could turn out to be a particularly nasty disaster. A minute later, I was carrying my clumsy tripod to evade the happy festival-goers and run past the police’s quarantine line to search for a taxi.

SLIDESHOW: DEADLY FERRY COLLISION

My watch told me half an hour had passed since the crush when the taxi was driving at full speed – heading to somewhere that I needed to decide soon. I told myself the decision had to be made promptly and I knew a wrong judgment call would cost me the opportunity to record the incident.

In a frenzy, I made a dozen calls to try to figure out the number of injuries, where the passengers were taken to be treated, the location of the collision site and what damage there was to the ferries, praying that the information could led me to the best vantage point.

Keeping safe in a quake-hit zone

By Jason Lee

Around noon on September 7 two shallow earthquakes struck the mountainous area of Yiliang county of Yunnan province, China. I received my assignment to travel to the area at around 6 p.m. when the death toll reached 60.

SLIDESHOW: QUAKE AFTERMATH

As you can imagine, it is never easy to get to an earthquake-hit area. I had only 20 minutes to pack and prepare before a 3-hour flight. After that, I traveled another 8 hours by car followed by a one hour ride on the back of a motorcycle before reaching my destination. Along the road I didn’t see many collapsed buildings, but there were lots of giant rocks that had probably rolled down from mountains as the quake hit, as a result, many cars were smashed into pieces.

My memory of covering the deadly 2008 Sichuan earthquake gradually came back — apart from the damage that had already been done, I needed to watch out for possible landslides and other dangers. Every aftershock brought with it more risk for the residents and rescuers in the worst-hit area, as they were at the foot of several huge rocky mountains.

Waist deep in Tropical Storm Debby

By Brian Blanco

It’s an awkward feeling walking through someone’s home while photographing their children sloshing through rising floodwater in the living room. It is, I can assure you, another feeling entirely when that same homeowner yells down from the second floor, “It could be worse, at least we still have power” as I look over to see the electrical outlets mere seconds away from being submerged. These are the moments that help to remind me that there are dangers involved in covering just about any natural disaster and that it’s important not to be complacent just because a named storm may “only” be a tropical storm, as was the case with Tropical Storm Debby.

SLIDESHOW: DEBBY SLAMS FLORIDA

As a Florida-based photojournalist I’ve covered more named storms than I can recall, ranging from those forgettable storms that, thankfully, produced little more than twigs in the street, to the now infamous Hurricane Katrina. I’ll admit that I was initially guilty of underestimating this storm. After getting the call from Reuters to cover Tropical Storm Debby, I was packing my car when my wife popped into the garage to tell me to be careful and I scoffed and said, “Oh Honey it’s “just” a tropical storm. I’ll go make some rain features and be back in a couple of days.” As it turns out, I was wrong, this storm caused more damage from flooding and tornadoes than I’ve ever seen a tropical storm cause. It ended up touching a lot of lives and, in meeting those affected, touched my life as well.

Logistically speaking, covering Debby was easy. There were no wide-spread power outages, no fuel shortages, no lack of hotel rooms, cell service remained uninterrupted and most businesses and restaurants remained open. All of this meant that I, thankfully, didn’t have to turn my car into a rolling Molotov cocktail with fuel tanks. I didn’t have to transmit photos via an expensive and complicated BGAN (sat phone) and, most importantly, I didn’t have to sleep in my car.

Cruising to Venice

By Stefano Rellandini

Venice has always been a peculiar destination for everyone who visits. As a town built on water it appears somewhat atypical; no cars, no motorcycles, not even any bikes. The only way to travel through the city is to walk or use the gondolas, the traditional boats of Venice.

Ships are primarily used to reach Venice and in recent years these have become bigger and bigger. Every weekend seven or eight arrive at the lagoon of Venice. They then sail in front of San Marco square to reach the harbor.

The transition through the lagoon is always an exciting moment, especially witnessing the dimensions of these huge sea giants against the surrounding territory.

Angels of Parmesan

By Stefano Rellandini

It all started one night as I looked for some Parmesan cheese to add to my pasta at home. I wondered what the situation was two weeks after an earthquake struck the area of Emilia, the home of Parmesan cheese. After dinner I searched online for some news on the subject and found a lovely story about a team of firefighters who went to the affected areas to help recover the damaged cheese.

Around Finale Emilia, the epicenter of the latest earthquake, there are many factories producing Parmesan which, alongside agriculture, is the core business of the region.

When I arrived at the factory I saw that the situation remained difficult for the owner as all the cheese lay on the ground or had collapsed on the counter. Firefighters were constantly working to remove the cheese. Looking around the warehouse I wondered why the farmers had waited for the special team of firefighters to remove the cheese and not used local volunteers instead.

Chance meeting 14 years on

By Andrew Winning

14 years ago this November I travelled to Nicaragua to cover one of the deadliest hurricanes to hit central America. Hurricane Mitch, the strongest October storm on record, ground to a halt just off the coasts of Nicaragua and Honduras and brought almost two weeks of torrential rain down on the whole region. Rivers and streams became raging torrents as flash floods and mudslides left a trail of devastation and claimed over 9,000 lives.

With roads and infrastructure washed away the only way to reach the affected communities was by helicopter. Mexico, the United States and other countries lent theirs to help Nicaragua cope with the task of ferrying aid to populations cut off by the flooding and collecting the sick and injured for treatment in the capital.

On November 5, 1998 I flew with a U.S. Blackhawk to the flood ravaged community of Wiwili in the north east of Nicaragua near the border with Honduras. We touched down on a muddy sports field and within two minutes we had loaded a young girl with a fractured femur and an old man with a heart condition and we were airborne again on our way back to Managua. Volunteer Nicaraguan medics who endured the toughest of conditions to look after those affected by the storm had treated the two and called for them to be flown to Managua.

Rocking and Rolling on the Titanic Memorial Cruise

By Chris Helgren

In what resembles a Trekkie convention gone through a time portal, hundreds of passengers on the Titanic Memorial Cruise, retracing the Titanic’s voyage from Southampton 100 years later, now divide their time between promenading in the latest fashions of 100 years ago and debating the true color of Titanic’s funnels. Yellow, but what kind of yellow? Model maker Kenneth Mascarenhas and painter James Allen Flood don’t see eye to eye on the subject, and it’s suggested that fellow passenger Commodore Warwick should adjudicate the issue. After all, he saw the Titanic wreck in a submersible. However, Mascarenhas fails to take into account that the ship is now rusted through and covered with Oceanic mud, its funnels probably covered in barnacles.

Actually, there are plenty of things to do on board the MS Balmoral. I missed the “fluid retention and swollen ankles seminar” on Monday, but there’s been a parade of Titanic experts on show to fill us in on everything one would want to know (except the color of funnels). Sadly, due to the inclement weather, shuffleboard has been cancelled the last two days. As has a dance show, due to health and safety concerns. Many of my fellow passengers have been sighted hunched over, unable to promenade, green with seasickness.

The big drama yesterday was the helicopter evacuation of a BBC cameraman. Tour operator Miles Morgan said that the ship would swing back 20 nautical miles towards Ireland, within range of an Irish Coast Guard chopper. The ailing man was whisked upwards in a sling and we returned on our course, hopefully not late for our anniversary date. Captain Robert Bamberg assured everyone that would be the case if we continued at a speed of 15 knots.

Empty spaces

By Carlos Barria

A year ago I went to Japan to cover the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that destroyed the country’s northern coast.

At the time I was shocked by the scale of the destruction and felt I needed to show the magnitude of the disaster. I tried to fill my pictures with as many elements as possible. I even took a series of panoramic-format photographs, for a wider view.

My pictures at the time showed spaces filled with pieces of houses, twisted cars and people’s belongings– the debris of daily life.

The place that adults fear

By Toru Hanai

March 11 is here again in Japan.

A year after the tsunami devastated Higashi Matsushima city in Miyagi, seven-year-old Wakana Kumagai visited the grave of her father Kazuyuki with her mother Yoshiko, brother Koki, and her grandparents.

I first met Wakana last April, just weeks after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and huge tsunami devastated Japan’s northeast Pacific coast. The school year begins in April here in Japan, and Wakana was carrying her new, shiny red school backpack as she visited her father at a temporary graveyard that housed those who died from the tsunami. She gracefully bowed to her dad, showing off her new bag and her dress she wore for the first grader’s ceremony as if she were at a ball, and told him that she just attended her school for the first time. Her graceful bow struck my heart.

The next time I saw Wakana was on September 11, half a year after the disaster. Seeing her pray at the spot where her father’s car was found, Wakana looked like she had grown up a little bit. I heard that she was writing letters to her father, saying “Daddy, I want to see you but there’s nothing I can do about it, right?”, then placing them in an urn containing her fathers’ ashes, which was still at their house because there were not enough spots for graves. Her message for her father sank into my mind.

The tornadoes March

By Harrison McClary

1,000 miles

March came roaring in with deadly storms leaving a trail of destruction across the mid-western states. I was covering a Rick Santorum campaign stop when picture editor Bob Strong called to ask if I could head over to Crossville, Tennessee to cover an area hit by the tornadoes the following morning.

I arrived on the scene to find the access road closed. I looked at my GPS and saw a small road that appeared to parallel the main road, so I turned on it and followed until trees blocked the road. I could easily see where the destroyed homes were, so I got out to walk. I climbed over, and crawled under fallen trees and foraged through the mountainous countryside until finally getting to the bottom of the valley. Once there I discovered the road was washed out.

Not long after getting back to my car they re-opened the main road and I headed into the damaged area, photographed the destruction and transmitted from my car.