Photographers' Blog

Revisited – A new life in Germany

By Marcelo del Pozo

Over a year ago now, I was looking for a way to put a human face to the story of Spain’s unemployment crisis – a crisis that is still affecting the country today, with around one in four workers without a job.

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I sent messages to lots of my friends, asking them if they knew any Spaniards thinking of emigrating to find employment. At last, I met Jose Manuel Abel, a former salesman from southern Spain, who, after being unemployed for two years, decided to learn some German and move to Munich for a job to help support his family.

Jose Manuel Abel (C), 46, has lunch with his wife Oliva Santos (L), 45, daughter Claudia (2nd L), 13, son Jose Manuel (R), 16 and mother Carmen Herrera, 71, in Chipiona in this June 28, 2012 file photograph. REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo/Files

Jose Manuel Abel, 46, walks to his flight at San Pablo airport in Seville in this June 29, 2012 file photograph. REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo/Files

I took pictures as Jose Manuel said goodbye to his wife and children, got on the plane and started work in a restaurant owned by a friend of his.

One year later, I decided to go back and see what had become of him.

In many ways, I found good news. Jose Manuel’s situation has really improved over the last year. He stopped working in the restaurant kitchen, but he managed to get a job with a company that runs a fruit and vegetable warehouse in the city.

Jose Manuel Abel (L), 47, and his colleague Omar arrange boxes as they work in a fruit and vegetable warehouse in Munich October 10, 2013. REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo

He now has a good position there with a permanent contract, he earns more money than he used to, and he speaks much better German.

The ghost town of Goussainville

Goussainville-Vieux Pays, France

By Charles Platiau

Once upon a time there was a small French village called Goussainville, situated 20 kms (12 miles) north of Paris, with its town hall, its church, its 19th century manor, and only seven small streets. Early in the 20th century the only sounds to be heard came from the church bell, farm animals and the roar of thunder from a passing summer storm. Then came the Great War with the noise of canons. In May 1915 local resident Auguste Denis was killed, in November his brother Henri was killed. This followed in 1916 with the death of his brother Alfred and then in 1917 their brother Julien. A war monument was built with the four brothers’ names among the 32 soldiers from the village who lost their lives. Calm returned until the bombings of World War II. After the Liberation, German prisoners of war worked the fields and life quietly moved along until in June 1973 a Tupolev 144, performing at Le Bourget Air Show, crashed in the village, destroying fifteen homes and a school. A second sound was heard.

Then technicians installed speakers and turned up the sound, to demonstrate to the village residents what to expect with the opening of the future international airport, Roissy-Charles de Gaulle. Too much noise with the runways only 3 kms (2 miles) from the village, added to the fear of potential air crashes. Many residents moved away to a new village, bearing the same name, Goussainville, with a new cemetery. They called the village, “Le Vieux Pays” (Old Settlement), the houses were boarded up, the church closed its doors, the bells silenced, the cemetery would no longer see funerals, and only the rare visitors. Practically a ghost town, frozen in time, where only several die-hards, continue to live. Among them a book store owner, the only shop doing business in the village.

In 1997 the village tried to reawaken, to transform itself into a village of books and crafts, but today Nicolas Mahieu remains the only bookseller, no one came to join in his adventure. Often a day goes by without a single customer in his shop, although business goes on via the internet.

Destroying the heart of the village

Geste, France

By Stephane Mahe

The villages of rural France are faced with decreasing numbers of residents. In addition to the closure of bakeries and shops, they are seeing rising costs to maintain the religious and social heart of these communities, the local church. The village of Gesté and its church, Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens, has witnessed this first-hand.

Local media reported the final phase of the “deconstruction” of a neo-Gothic church in the village of Gesté, and its 2,600 residents. The municipal council was unable to allocate the funds, some 3 million euros ($4.05 million) in 2007, needed for repairs and upkeep. With some research I discovered that since 2000, more than twenty village churches had faced the demolition ball. Apparently 250 churches in France are threatened with the same fate as municipalities are faced with extremely high costs to repair and maintain them, costs that are higher than the cost of tearing them down.

I appeared on site to discover the Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens church, built between 1854 and 1864, with workmen and cranes tearing down the walls of the church, leaving the bell tower and the crypt intact. People stopped to gather behind barriers to watch as heavy machines partially brought down the church.

Romania’s bankrupt town

Aninoasa, Romania

By Bogdan Cristel

Getting to Jiu Valley – once home to a powerful coal mining industry that has since fallen on bad times – is difficult. The main road there is currently closed to traffic three days a week because of repair works, so I arrived in the small Jiu Valley town of Aninoasa after driving for 7 hours on detour roads. It is roughly 330 kms (205 miles) to Aninoasa from the Romanian capital Bucharest.

Aninoasa is the oldest town in Hunedoara County, mentioned as far back as 1453 AD. But earlier this year it also became the first town in Romania to have filed for insolvency. It is a small town, with simple houses and ramshackle communist-era apartment buildings to house coal miners.

But the hard coal mine was closed in 2006, after it became too costly, low yielding and outdated to maintain. Today there are only a few coal mines still left in Jiu Valley. Unfortunately for Aninoasa, no replacement jobs have been created since the mine closed. At the abandoned mining site, goats graze and children play.

A return to the land in Spain

Murcia, Spain

By Susana Vera

The silence of a sleepy town and the flickering light of the street lamps greet Jorge Ibanez as he leaves his home before the crack of dawn in Pozo Estrecho, in the southeastern Spanish region of Cartagena, Murcia. With his baseball hat on and a cooler in his hand, he approaches a couple of men on a corner. They exchange timid hellos and engage in conversation as they wait for the car that will drive them to a potato field ready to be harvested.

Ibanez is a 20-year-old Spanish day laborer. A pair of rotten gloves and his baseball hat are his work uniform, a group of Moroccan men his work companions. Together they set out every morning to collect thousands of pounds of potatoes that will end up in the kitchens of northern Europe.

Different fields every day, but always the same sight: row after row of round yellow potatoes waiting to be picked up. Tractors work at night unearthing the tubers so that the day laborers can start collecting them as soon as the sun rises. Extreme heat is not good for potatoes, so the workers have to rush to finish before midday, when the sun is at its peak and the heat starts becoming unbearable, both for them and the spuds.

Scraping by as a French pensioner

Nice, France

By Eric Gaillard

One evening while returning home I came upon a scene that I had never imagined in a country as rich as France – people rummaging through supermarket trash bins looking for food.

In spite of the difficulties I would encounter, I decided to go ahead and meet these people head-on. That day I saw an elderly man waiting on a public bench. Quickly I understood that he was waiting for the trash container from a nearby neighborhood supermarket. I approached him, with my camera on my shoulder, and started a conversation, which stopped abruptly with a curt, “Leave me alone, don’t take my photo”.

I sat down beside him, changed the direction of our conversation, in the hopes of building trust. I knew that what I was asking him was difficult to accept. We spoke of other things when suddenly he opened up giving me his name, Eugene and his age, 87, and that he first rummaged for food during the war when he was twelve. “Times were difficult,” he told me, sighing. Eugene revealed that the money he saved from rummaging for food allowed him to pay for a flight to Thailand once a year to see his “girlfriend”.

Homeless in Greece

Athens, Greece

By Yannis Behrakis

Marialena’s tears ran down her face onto the dirty mattress where she and her boyfriend Dimitrios have been sleeping day in, day out, for over a year, under a bridge in one of Athens’ most run-down neighborhoods.

Marialena, 42, is a homeless AIDS patient and a former drug addict on a Methadone rehab program.

Athens is full of sad stories like hers – of once ordinary people with a job and family who have found themselves on the fringes of society after the country’s economic crisis began in 2009. Up until a few years ago, homelessness was relatively unusual in this country of close family ties, but nowadays stories like Marialena’s are increasingly common.

Cyprus, it’s all Greek to me

Nicosia, Cyprus

By Yorgos Karahalis

I’ve been working in the media industry since 1986 and I can’t recall the last time Cyprus, the small divided Mediterranean island, attracted so much attention since the 1974 invasion by Turkey, which stills keep the island and its residents separated.

A decision by the European Union for a “haircut” on deposits in all Cypriot banks made the country one of the top stories in the region and across the world. Various scenarios for Cyprus’s financial meltdown appeared everywhere.

After the vote by the Cypriot parliament, who delivered a loud ‘No’ to the proposal to seize depositors’ money, and the government’s decision to close banks all over the island to avoid a bank run, the idea of a violent uprising started gaining traction. The capital Nicosia, with its population of just 300,000 people, saw journalists, TV crews, photographers and famous analysts drinking coffee on the pedestrian Ledras street in the old part of town.

Uneasy life of China’s migrants

Shanghai, China

By Aly Song

Living in the metropolis of Shanghai for over 10 years, it makes sense to me that all the luxury malls, high-end goods and soaring skyscrapers are made by the hands of migrant workers. As a result, I pay extra attention to the migrant worker community.

Shortly after the Spring Festival holiday, I had a chance to photograph dozens of migrant workers traveling from home to job interviews at an underwear factory in Shanghai. They were all recruited by an employment agency, a popular business nowadays especially on the coastal area where the labor shortage situation has reached a worsening level.

The interview was the simplest I had ever seen, the only requirement by the factory was “good health”, followed by several questions which altogether lasted about 5 minutes. Afterwards the workers were divided into two groups – experienced and “whiteboard” (without any work experience). The experienced workers were asked to start working right away, while the whiteboard workers needed to attend a training course – by observing the production line and following a veteran for one or two days.

More soup for more poor

Buenos Aires, Argentina

By Enrique Marcarian

I first photographed a soup kitchen in 1998, in a parish in one of Buenos Aires’ famous “villas miserias,” which literally means “misery towns” in reference to its large slums. At that time I only saw children taking their daily rations and often smiling at my camera.

I assumed that the sheer number of children depending on soup kitchens was just circumstantial, and the next governments would improve the situation for them and there would be more being fed at home instead of by charities.

I was wrong. A couple of years later the country entered into one of its worst economic crises. Suddenly I no longer saw just more children in the soup kitchens but I saw them even more malnourished, to the extent that they were at risk of starvation. In fact, I came to find out that some children did die, although official versions didn’t say it was starvation.

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