Photographers' Blog

Peering into the Wall of Death

Athens, Greece

By John Kolesidis

I’m a huge fan of motorbikes and I’ve been riding since I was 20. I love the speed. I watch MotoGP racing religiously and I certainly don’t scare easy, either as a driver or a passenger. But I cannot say the same for the first time I saw the “Wall of Death”.

After a two-hour trip some 150 km (93 miles) northeast of the capital Athens, I arrived in Mantoudi, a small village where stuntman Akis Andreou would perform his final motorbike stunts in the “Wall of Death,” a narrow, wooden, barrel-like structure, before taking the show to Athens.

After I met him, he offered to do some rounds just for me so that I could get used to it, as he said, before taking pictures. He asked me to go to up to the stands where the audience usually sits and stressed that I should be careful and keep my hands off the barrel.

Without finding a reason for this personal show and with a slight sense of arrogance, I went up and I waited. Darkness had fallen outside and the relatively dimly lit barrel created in me a feeling of claustrophobia and of anticipation – the barrel is just 5.5 yards high and has a diameter of only 9 meters. I pulled out my camera and glued myself against the barrel. Akis turned the key and a deafening sound flooded the space. As he began whirling furiously, the barrel’s wooden planks began to shake one after the next, just like piano keys. My pulse began to rise rapidly. I leaned in and focused on a point in the middle, where I expected he would appear in the next round, so I could photograph him.

Only that never happened.

With a quick throttle, he rode almost vertically up against the barrel, found himself at the top end and, as I was looking through my lens, his front wheel filled my wide-angle. The bike was just inches away from my head and the whole barrel shook. My blood froze and I instinctively jumped backwards.

The toughest foot race on earth

Death Valley, California

By Lucy Nicholson

Park Sukhee, 46, had been running and walking for more than 35 hours when he approached the base of Mount Whitney. His friend handed him a South Korean flag and he broke into a jog and a smile. Running ahead of him to take photos, and realizing I was his only other spectator, I lowered my camera to applaud his achievement.

Park had just run 135 miles (217 km) from the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere, Death Valley, to the trailhead to Mount Whitney, climbing a total of 13,000 feet (4,000m) over the course, in temperatures that blazed to about 120 degrees Fahrenheit (around 49 degrees Celsius).

GALLERY: DEATH VALLEY’S ULTRAMARATHON

The Badwater Ultramarathon bills itself as the world’s toughest foot race. Competitors run, walk and hobble through one or two nights to finish the grueling course within the 48-hour limit.

Don’t rush for gold

Tien Shan mountains, Kyrgyzstan

By Shamil Zhumatov

“Don’t run! Slow down! Just don’t run!” I repeated this non-stop to myself like an incantation. Indeed, it is hard even to pace quickly – let alone run — when you have to breathe in the rarefied air and wear a supplied protective helmet and brand-new rigid boots with steel toes.

I also had to look out for giant trucks the size of three-story houses chugging around. It was difficult to keep my emotions under control during the few hours on this tight assignment. I was at an altitude of over 4,000 meters above sea level near the Chinese border, inside a huge open-pit gold mine at Kumtor, Kyrgyzstan’s largest gold asset, operated by Toronto-based Centerra Gold. Gigantic trucks and excavators worked non-stop in the snow-clad pit, looking like characters from a fantasy movie. As if playing a computer game, an excavator operator elegantly manipulated small joysticks – just five scoops full of ore, and almost 200 tones were loaded into a truck in about one minute.

In line with Centerra Gold’s tough requirements, I passed two medical checks before I started working at these giddy heights. A day before, we had to stay for the night at a guest house located at about 1,700 meters above sea level to get accustomed to high altitudes before ascending to Kumtor. The gold mine is the world’s second highest-altitude gold deposit after Peru’s Yanacocha mine. Some vehicles never even stop their engines in these ferocious conditions of Arctic tundra and permafrost.

Under the ice

Lake Weissensee, Austria

By Michael Dalder

I’ve been diving for almost 15 years, but due to family matters it has fallen off my list lately. So a new picture assignment at Lake Weissensee in mid-February 2013 just came right to my diver’s heart: The Underwater Ice hockey Championships.

Underwater Ice hockey is not played on top of the ice like ice hockey is usually played but underneath it. That’s where diving comes into the game because the underwater ice hockey players are in fact apnea divers who want to give their sports an additional sportive kick.

My day started early when I met with the men and women from the Vienna rescue divers’ squad ASBOe – Moedling. These dive enthusiasts are responsible for safety and security during the whole tournament. If you dive under ice you can’t go straight to the surface to breath if you have an emergency. Thus ice diving is, together with cave diving, considered to be the most dangerous diving discipline. For that reason I listened to the security briefing attentively.

Sauna marathon

Otepaa, Estonia

By Ints Kalnins

Going to the sauna is an ancient tradition in Estonia. Almost every home owner has at least a small sauna in his/her house or backyard.

Going to a sauna has always been important for socializing, even in ancient times.

A year ago the cultural center in the small south-eastern town of Otepaa decided to organize a sauna marathon. There was a lot of interest in the event and it was even voted as one of the best tourism attractions in the county. This year more than 600 sauna friends arrived to race between and enjoy 20 different saunas – from ancient smoke saunas to modern ones in local spa resorts.

Vegetarian Festival in Phuket: Cutting out the meat

By Damir Sagolj

In front of me stood what must have been the most beautiful “god’s” body in the whole of Phuket. Her gentle pink robe swayed above bare feet as she made her way in a trance through the crowd of devotees at the Chinese Jui Tui shrine. And her pretty face was pierced with a long spike, a piece of fruit stuck on its end.

This woman was a “mah song”, roughly translated from the Thai language as “entranced horse” or “one whose body is used by gods as a vehicle”. She was the centre of attention for a good reason. For the day, she represented a god whose powers would help purify members of the community and wash away any bad karma.

GALLERY: Extreme vegetarian festival

“The god has to hurt itself, for cleaning us from our bad deeds”, the brother of a mah song told a confused journalist, who was practically from another universe.

It’s a dirty job

By Jessica Rinaldi

Imagine a mountain, the type of thing that you might go skiing on in the winter. Now picture yourself running up and down said mountain for nine miles and just for kicks why don’t you throw in some really sadistic obstacles? Things like fire and mud and just to make it more fun why not throw in some live wires? Yeah, live wires. You know just string them over that mud pit there so that you’ll get zapped as you’re trying to get across to the other side. We’ll call it the electric eel. What’s that you say? You’d like a dumpster full of ice cubes to jump into as well? Done. Congratulations you’ve just entered the world of the Tough Mudder, an event so intense that in order to compete you must sign a waiver releasing the planners from liability should you happen to die somewhere along the course.

SLIDESHOW: ONE TOUGH MUDDER

Let me be clear, this event is a sports photographer’s paradise. The mud alone would be enough to combat every extra inning baseball game you’ve ever shot (what’s that you say, 17 innings and not a single good picture?) but then throw in the ice cubes, the fire, the electrified wires, and a bunch of contestants so focused on getting through the thing that they have no idea you’re even there and well… you get the point.

You might assume that a photographer on her way to cover such an event would think to bring some sort of suitable covering for her equipment. I would love to tell you that I busted out the expensive rain covers for my cameras and wrapped them up lovingly, keeping a microfiber cleaning cloth in my pocket to quickly wipe away any debris that got on my lens. But that would be a lie. I carried three cameras with me and threw caution to the muddy, muddy wind.

A pitch-side soaking

By Yves Herman

Picture five photographers and one technician traveling together between the cities of Kharkiv and Donetsk in Ukraine, at an average of 38 degrees C (100 degrees Fahrenheit) with air humidity of more than 50%. Eastern Ukraine is definitely not a fresh or cool place to stay during this EURO 2012 soccer championships. Nevertheless, it is our job to be there and it is a pure pleasure to be sitting alongside the pitch and taking photos of Europe’s best soccer teams. On that journey a cooling rain would have been most appreciated.

Alessandro from Italy, Felix from Spain, Michael from Switzerland, Vasily from Belarus, our technician Rod from Washington DC and myself, based in Belgium, hit the road early on June 15 on our way to Donetsk. An eagerly anticipated match between Ukraine and France was to take place that day at the famous Donbass Arena in front of more than 40,000 fans.

After a more than five hour tough drive, we arrived at the venue at around 1500 and temperatures had crept up even further. We could feel how wet the atmosphere was, even if the sky was a deep blue and cloud free.

Extreme healthcare after freak accident

The accident happened in Shuangxi, Fujian province, when the steel bars accidentally broke
and popped out from a machine, piercing through the worker’s body at around 3pm on
June 11.

The worker was sent to a hospital in Hangzhou, where the picture was taken, as the operation
could not be done at a local hospital. The surgery started around nine hours after the
accident happened and was a success after more than five hours.

The photo was taken during the first phase of the operation, to shorten the steel bars, as the
firefighter advised on how to dissect them. The co-workers helped to hold the bars with pliers
and used a steel carving machine under supervision by the doctors.

A recipe for excitement

Bjorn Heregger of Sweden competes during the Xtreme men’s ski freeride contest on the Bec des Rosses mountain in Verbier March 22, 2009. REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud

Take a 3,223m (10,574 ft) high mountain in Switzerland, “Le Bec-des-Rosses”, blessed with a 500m long north face and inclines of up to 55 degrees, sprinkle with sharp rocks, cover with snow for a few months, blast occasionally with strong winds and then add in a jump-friendly 20m escarpment along with narrow passages for descent.

Now throw into the mix 28 of the best skiers and snowboarders in the world, each of them climbing said mountain to reach their start positions. Add a light garnish of helicopter flights for the accompanying mountain guides, TV crews and photographers and you then have the vital ingredients of the recipe for excitement that is the Freeride World Cup Final 2009, or ‘Xtreme’ – an event held at the Swiss Alps resort of Verbier since 1996.