Photographers' Blog

Oil from all angles

From the moment the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico made headlines, Reuters has provided extensive coverage. Below are accounts from six of our photographers who have been sent at various times to document the story.

LEE CELANO

Reuters photographer Lee Celano photographs oil in a marsh near Pass a Loutre, Louisiana, May 20, 2010.  REUTERS/Matthew Bigg

Covering the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster as a still photographer for Reuters has brought unique challenges. Although the volume of oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico is huge, relatively small patches of oil have landed along coastal Louisiana. It’s like a monster who hides most of the time and lashes out quickly, withholding its full strength. But it has been important to show that oil is in fact having an ecological impact here, and to find areas with visible proof.

On Thursday May 20, I accompanied a Reuters TV crew, correspondent Mathew Bigg and Maura Wood of the National Wildlife Federation on a boat, looking for heavy concentrations of oil in an area at the very southern tip of Louisiana. We headed for an area which had just begun being inundated with oil from the Deepwater Horizon leak. After hours of searching, a broken propeller, and an unexpected lunch aboard a work barge, we had found the spot. As Wood prepared to take a sample of the water to check its toxicity, I suited up in chest waders and slowly got into the murky water, one camera and lens stuffed into my waiters. Maneuvering in the soft lagoon floor was tricky; I sank down as I tried to walk and was concerned I might loose my balance and get myself and camera wet. So I held onto the drifting boat long enough to get into position, cautiously letting go so I could have both hands free to shoot. Wood leaned over to get samples and I was able to shoot it from from the perspective of the oily water.

Maura Wood, Senior Program Manager, Coastal Louisiana Restoration for National Wildlife Federation takes a sample of water in a heavily oiled marsh near Pass a Loutre, Louisiana May 20, 2010.   REUTERS/Lee Celano

The last task of the day was washing oil from the hull of the boat, at the request of owner/captain Carey O’Neil. We wanted to avoid going through decontamination, so I scrubbed the sides in the water with Dawn.

BRIAN SNYDER

Photographer Brian Snyder rides in the US Army National Guard blackhawk.  REUTERS/Nick Cangemi/Handout

The first thing I realized upon arriving in Mobile, Alabama as a part of Reuters’ coverage of the BP oil spill is that Alabama has a lot of coastline on the Gulf. Whenever I was in one place, I was always thinking “what if there’s something going on somewhere else?” Twice I flew out over the Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana coastline, once with the environmental group Mobile Baykeepers and once with the US Army National Guard. From that vantage I could really see just how long a shoreline was at risk. Oil booms surrounded some of the barrier islands and portions of the coast, but at times their placement seemed random. Forecasts of the path of the oil changed constantly and dramatically; one day the oil was projected to hit Alabama within the next 48 hours, the next morning it was projected to head west towards Louisiana.

Chile: The earthquake picture I never sent

Caption for an unchosen picture:

Constitución, March 1 – An earthquake survivor carries the dog that he rescued from the ruins of his home, along a street devastated by the earthquake and tsunami.

“Take my picture with the dog,” the survivor tells me. I take it as if ordered to, and see that his face shows tremendous pain. “I lost my home, the sea took my son and my wife, and this is all that was left. I can’t leave the dog here. He was my son’s.” He pauses. “I found my wife (alive), but my boy is still missing.” Before he finishes speaking I lower my camera and cry. I walk together with him thinking what to say to lessen his suffering, but there is only silence.

ivan blog photo

I never sent this poorly-focused photo of the earthquake survivor. The preconception of what makes a good photograph, the aesthetics, the layers of composition, and the sharpness or lack of it, all became reasons not to choose it. It was some time later when I realized that the sadness of the out-of-focus man with his pet is still transmitted as pain and devastation even through the picture’s technical defects, and banishes all the photographic concepts I hold true in my own little world. I blame Reason for overcoming Emotion.

Slow change in Haiti

In the weeks since I arrived in Port-au-Prince to cover the earthquake, the streets have been cleared of debris and thousands of bodies have been removed from the rubble. But in many ways, the changes seem incremental.

QUAKE-HAITI

In Cite Soleil a small improvised camp looks a lot the same, only it’s grown in size. Thousands of families continue living under blue plastic tarps, and they receive food from aid groups fighting against time as the rainy season approaches. When I left, on March 1, the food distribution at least was much more organized, watched over by American soldiers. The food just goes to women now, in an attempt to get aid to nuclear families instead of those who shove the hardest.

QUAKE-HAITI/FRANCE

About a month after the earthquake, on a trip to Titanyen, the site where some 100,000 were buried in mass graves north of the city, I saw a small group of Haitians with sticks and stones. They were trying to mark off land in order to build there in the future. There was nothing else, just gravel. No services at all.

Rescue amid destruction

“Train crash in Halle” read the sms snap from a local newspaper we received on Monday morning. I called photographer Thierry Roge who was not too far from the scene and managed to arrive there within 15 minutes, while I organized a helicopter flight over the scene of the crash. Thierry had the initiative to jump over a wall beside the tracks and start walking straight to the train, on the track itself. For 10 minutes he was free to take pictures without being stopped by police who were busy rescuing people. Thierry and a Belgian TV crew were the only ones so close to the train at that time.

BELGIUM-CRASH/

Emergency crew work on the site where two trains crashed near Halle February 15, 2010. REUTERS/Thierry Roge

A man, apparently a plainclothes police officer, was featured in some of Thierry’s first pictures carrying a young girl wrapped in a blanket and walking in his direction. As they got closer, Thierry managed to photograph them with the train in the background, making the key picture of the day.

Reliving the tsunami

Today I returned to Aceh, determined to take pictures of the same locations my team and I had photographed five years ago, when the capital Banda Aceh was completely devastated by a tsunami. At the time, I was with two Reuters journalists from the Jakarta bureau.

We landed at Aceh’s Sultan Iskandar Muda airport on December 27, 2004 – one day after the giant waves paralyzed the city, previously unaware of what a tsunami could do to a city. Information from Banda Aceh in the first few days after the disaster was very limited. It dawned on us later that the lack of news from Banda Aceh was because all of the communication facilities had been damaged.

The airport was oddly quiet. A few wounded victims were waiting for flights to take them out of Aceh. The car park was empty and we couldn’t find cars or taxis. We spotted an ambulance parked outside, so we asked the driver to take us to the city.

How the earthquake in Sumatra affected me

Write a personal blog on an earthquake where thousands have been killed. Spot the contradiction there… but here goes – how the earthquake in Sumatra affected me.

So usual drill (1) Get a call. (2) Pack my bags, too much, too little, unpack, repack – I know I’m missing something. (3) catch a flight – London, Doha, Kuala Lumpur, Padang. (4) Take pictures. (5) Transmit pictures. (6) Repeat (4) and (5).

Directly from the airport I go to the local earthquake-damaged hospital. I see a grandmother comforting the bravest nine-year-old girl suffering from two broken legs. She reminds me of another brave little girl, my eldest daughter, 10 years old. Heartbreaking.

Remembering Lockerbie

Reuters Sports Editor, Pictures, Greg Bos recalls covering the 1988 Lockerbie bombing in the following question and answer session.

What role were you in when the bombing happened?
I was working on the Reuters pictures desk at the time, but was also part of the rotation system we had – where photographers could go out and cover picture assignments.

How did you hear about it?
I was at home nursing a bad cold, when staff photographer colleague Nick Didlick called and asked if I could get up to Scotland asap. The company had arranged for a private plane to fly me and two text journalists from Stansted Airport to Carlisle on the Scottish border in the middle of the night. Meanwhile, Nick and fellow staffer Rob Taggert drove to Lockerbie through the night in the pool car with all the darkroom equipment. We arrived at Carlisle Airport at around 4:00 or 5:00am and I was told to stay put because a media helicopter was due to go up at dawn for aerial shots. I was the designated pool photographer on the first morning. However, it was a very foggy morning and I could not see any of the wreckage or the large crater. I remember the aerial pictures from the first morning were unusable. I was terribly disappointed after spending several hours in a freezing cold helicopter with blocked sinuses.

Covering the quake: Audio slideshow

David Gray recounts his experience covering the earthquake that devastated Sichuan province, China.

Shouting into the wind

Flood

Before I start please spare a thought for the thousands who died when Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar and the thousands more affected by it, who have lost loved ones, their homes and their livelihoods.

For a news pictures editor in charge of Asia yesterday was a tough day. The death toll was rising steadily as the enormity of the tragedy slowly unfolded and we worked hard at getting pictures from staff and stringers. Handout pictures from pressure groups were scrutinized and checked for usage rights usage and potential bias. We had staff waiting at airports to speak to tourists who may have had images of the scene as the cyclone struck.

The day was a stream of planning meetings, coordination with text and TV meetings, safety meetings, negotiations with wide eyed tourists all believing they had shot a million dollar picture, editing and captioning the results, trying to find staff with the requisite experience for the conditions, stroking those who had volunteered but lacked the experience and speaking to the photographers on the ground (compared to whom my day was a walk in the park - no power, no water, no food was the least of their worries).

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