Photographers' Blog

Seven siblings in China

Jinhua, China

By William Hong

Even after I set out to visit his family, the story of Yang Hongnian and his seven children sounded unbelievable to me. As I stood in front of his makeshift house, which is just 20 meters square, I still wasn’t sure it could be true.

Yang Hongnian and Le Huimin's children drink outside their house in Jinhua, Zhejiang province, August 7, 2014. Migrant worker Yang, 47, his wife Le, and their seven children share a 20-square-metre makeshift  house on the outskirts of Jinhua, and live on around 3000-4000 yuan ($486.8-$649) which Yang earns from working at a construction site. Except for one daughter Le had with her ex-husband, the couple have given birth to six children in 10 years. REUTERS/William Hong (CHINA - Tags: SOCIETY) CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA

The children played around as I waited for Yang to finish work so that he could be interviewed. Eventually, he walked into the dimly lit space with a tired face and a lighted cigarette. The children rushed and surrounded him. Suddenly the already cramped house was completely full.

Yang Hongnian, 47, smokes after lunch at home in Jinhua, Zhejiang province, August 7, 2014. REUTERS/William Hong

Yang and his wife Le Huimin have had six children together over the past ten years, in addition to a daughter of Le’s from a previous marriage.

China has eased its famous one-child policy, making it easier for many couples to have two children. However, having as many children as Yang and Le definitely breaks the country’s family planning policy.

Shiyu, 1, the youngest child of a seven-children family, looks up as she rests on a bed at home with her brothers and sisters, in Jinhua, Zhejiang province, August 7, 2014. Migrant worker Yang Hongnian, 47, his wife Le Huimin, and their seven children share a 20-square-metre makeshift  house on the outskirts of Jinhua, and live on around 3000-4000 yuan ($486.8-$649) which Yang earns from working at a construction site. Except for one daughter Le had with her ex-husband, the couple have given birth to six children in 10 years. REUTERS/William Hong

That means that four of their kids have not been able to get ‘hukou’ residence permits. Without these documents it’s hard for children to be registered for a primary school and there may be more problems for them as they grow up.

Waiting on widow’s island

Geoje, South Korea

By Kim Hong-ji

After Germany was reunited in 1990, Korea has been the highest profile divided country in the world. The division has separated numerous families and made them miss each other. A few months ago, when the relationship between the two Koreas improved after five months of political tension, North Korea proposed a reunion ceremony for families who have been separated by the Korean War. Then it abruptly cancelled the ceremony, disappointing the families who have been waiting to reunite with long-lost relatives. Lots of separated families in the two Koreas are still living in great hope that they will be able to meet their loved ones some day.

Geoje island is a small and remote place in South Korea where 18 fisherman were abducted by North Korea while fishing in the disputed West Sea in December, 1972. Forty one years later, little is known about these husbands and sons, how they were abducted or where they may be living in North Korea. I only came to know about this incident when I heard one of the abducted fishermen, Jeon Wook-pyo, 68, escaped from North Korea and returned to South Korea a few months ago. I could not locate him and there is an ongoing investigation by the government. He was abducted 10 years before I was born and I had limited information to follow. Instead, I met a few grandmothers still living in a town heavy with grief for their lost family members. A widow who lost her husband and a mother who lost her child; just wishing they can be reunited in the town some day.

Kim Jeom-sun, 82, who lost her husband when he was abducted in 1972. She is now a grandmother living alone in a 10-square-yard house in Busan, east of the island. She left the island some twenty years ago due to the stigma – as if her husband was a betrayer who fled to the North. Much time has passed since then, but her memories stay with her. A few pictures hanging on the wall keep the memories lingering in her mind. “I have waited and waited until now.. even if he died in North Korea. I still wait for him.”

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.

The parents left behind

Warsaw, Poland

By Peter Andrews

I remember my mother taking me to the airport on June 10, 1981. In theory, everyone knew I was leaving for three weeks, but both of us really knew that I would not be coming back. I was nineteen at the time and wanted to see a different world, a world outside the so called Iron Curtain.

My mother didn’t show sadness but I could see tears in her eyes when she said good bye to me. I saw her twice in ten years. Once after four years, when she visited my new home, Canada, and later in Germany when the Berlin Wall was coming down. Our contact was scarce. In those days, it was very difficult to call out of Poland, especially after martial law was introduced. Later, when martial law was lifted, it was a bit easier, but still there were only land lines. No mobile phones, no Internet, no Skype – only written letters put inside envelopes, with a postage stamp and sent from the post office. It was only when the Soviet Union collapsed and the so-called evil empire ceased to exist that I was able to see her freely. It is only when you are not able to see your parents often that one notices how age works on people.

At the time when I was leaving Poland no one knew that ten years down the road the world’s geo-political situation would change and that eastern European countries would join NATO and later, in 2004, the European Union would allow many young people to travel freely, without any restrictions or prosecution.

Mother’s Day behind bars

By Lucy Nicholson

The children bounded off the bus and ran excitedly towards a tall fence topped with razor wire. In the distance, through layers of fencing overlooked by a guard tower, huddled a group of mothers in baggy blue prison-issue clothes, pointing, waving and gasping. Many had not seen their children in over a year.

Frank Martinez jumped up and down, shrieking with delight. “Stay right there Mommy,” he yelled. “Don’t cry.” As the children disappeared into a building to be searched and x-rayed, a couple of the mothers began sobbing.

An annual Mother’s Day event, Get On The Bus, provides free transport for hundreds of children to visit their incarcerated moms at California Institute for Women in Chino, and other state prisons. Sixty percent of parents in state prison report being held over 100 miles from their children, and visits are impossible for many.

An American homeless family

By Lucy Nicholson

On her second day of camping near the coast north of Los Angeles, Benita Guzman lit a match, threw it on a pile of logs, and poured gasoline on top. As flames engulfed her hand and foot, her niece, Angelica Cervantes, rushed to throw sand over her. Benita thrust her burning hand into a pile of mud, and took a deep breath.

Camping’s not easy. It’s a whole lot rougher when you’re a pair of homeless single mothers trying to keep seven children fed, clothed, washed and in school.

Guzman, 40, and two of her children are living outdoors with Cervantes, 36, and five of her children. The two banded together in an effort to keep the children together as a family, and not taken away and separated in foster homes.

The struggles of a gay military family

The United States became the 23rd of 26 NATO countries to allow military service by openly gay people last week. An estimated 66,000 lesbians, gay men and bisexuals are serving in the U.S. military, according to a recent study by UCLA’s Williams Institute. Many are still afraid to come out. I visited a gay military family to hear the story they are now able to tell.

By Lucy Nicholson

A week ago, Luz Bautista, 30, and her fiancée Alejandra Schwartz, 24, both Navy petty officers, were celebrating the end of the U.S. ban on openly gay service members.

This week, they’re being forced to live apart.

Bautista headed to Illinois Monday, away from Schwartz and their daughter Destiny, 6, for a three year posting that could be extended.

Life with a “Quiverfull” Family – the story behind the story

Rick Wilking is a Reuters contract photojournalist based in Denver, Colorado who has been shooting for Reuters for almost 25 years based in Europe, Washington, D.C. and now in Colorado. Rick recently developed the idea of spending time documenting the lives of a Christian “Quiverfull” family who have 15 children due to their belief that all family planning is best left in the hands of God. Rick produced the following piece of multimedia video from his time spent with the Jeub family in Colorado and tells us about the experience below. -  Jim Bourg

I am convinced that the easiest part of my job is taking pictures. Coming up with story ideas, getting access and then producing the final results are MUCH tougher! That was very true with this story. I read about Christian Quiverfull-minded folks who closely follow and live by Christian scripture and biblical verses and decided to try to find one of these families to document. I begged my way into a Quiverfull forum on the web and was met there with much skepticism about letting me in. One family in Kansas said maybe and another back east said I could come by. But neither were enthused and I knew the travel budget was too tight for a trip that distant and long.

Then I found the Jeub family, only a 90 minute drive away from my home in Colorado. They too were tentative at first but let me in after seeing stories I had done recently in their area. My work documenting the headquarters of the “Focus on the Family” organization, portraying troops returning from Iraq at a nearby military base and covering “The Purity Ball”, a Christian father-daughter event all convinced them of my fairness and the integrity of my photojournalism. They said they prayed on it hard and were led to let me into their home to tell their story through pictures and sound.

Flu, fear and family

News coverage is a daily activity for me, and however I get involved in a story it’s not just a job; it’s also what I enjoy doing. Sometimes I’m just an observer behind a camera, but other times I also end up being affected personally. When the new H1N1 flu virus broke out in Mexico there was an additional factor for me; it was impossible not to suffer the first days of the epidemic as the head of a family.

I thought of the photos that I wanted to take, but I couldn’t help thinking of my daughter, my wife and my mother. As Colombians living in Mexico City we were all exposed to the unknown virus. Fear and uncertainty dominated my family, friends and the millions of people with whom I share the streets of this metropolis.

Very early on Friday, April 24, I put on rubber gloves and a facemask that I bought from the corner pharmacy. The masks were still easy to find, but a day later their scarcity would become a problem. My daughter celebrated along with countless others of her age the sudden onset of vacation, not yet understanding that the break from school would become a virtual quarantine. It was recommended that children not leave their homes during the emergency. In the early days of the outbreak, the government said that the majority of the victims were young adults, but in normal flu outbreaks children and the elderly are always the most vulnerable.

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