Photographers' Blog

The Burning Man experience

Black Rock Desert of Nevada

By Jim Urquhart

I’ve been here three times and I still don’t know where I have been.

I don’t mean to sound whimsical but I still don’t know how to truly describe Burning Man. What began three years ago as idle conversation with some editors has brought me to the Black Rock Desert of Nevada for a week for the third time in the heat of the summer.

The two previous years I have spent my whole time on the desert floor working and creating photos for Reuters.

In both years I heard from a small number of burners that they felt I could never do Burning Man justice because I was working. That statement has lingered with me a bit.

Photojournalists are granted front row seats to some of the most cherished events in the world. But much of our experience is framed through the viewfinder due to the responsibilities of being an objective observer and the pressures of working on constant deadline to deliver the best photo reports possible. We rarely get to feel the joy or despair of being a participant.

The old Cannes clapper-board

Cannes, France

By Eric Gaillard

In 1987, I covered my fifth Cannes Film Festival. I really wanted to find THE original and exclusive photo to announce its opening.

“The cinema Clap” – An idea which became evidence: Take a photo of the President of the Jury holding a cinema clap. The show begins for another 12-day festival.

At that moment I could not imagine the work and the stress behind this challenge and how far I would have to fight to succeed. Anyway, it was the start of an exciting experience, that I’ve continued every year since.

The man with the coconut and the GoPro

Lalitpur, Nepal

By Navesh Chitrakar

Rato Machhindranath is the god of rain, so huge crowds gather in Lalitpur around a 32-meter (104 foot) high tower mounted on a chariot during the chariot festival in an effort to ensure good rains and prevent drought.

The highlight of the day is when someone climbs to the top of the chariot and throws a coconut to devotees below. This is an ancient ritual thought to guarantee the catcher of the coconut the birth of a son. Few people believe this nowadays and I think participation is more about enjoying and preserving the tradition.

Every year I saw the same man climb atop the chariot. Every year he threw the coconut down towards the devotees. I really wanted to show in pictures what the perspective of this man looked like.

Dark side of the festival

Bangkok, Thailand

By Damir Sagolj

Totally unconcerned with incoming traffic, Khun Tuey powers the ambulance van through Bangkok’s narrow streets as fast as its engine can push it. Soon after the chase started, the pointer on the speedometer kisses the 120 mark and for a short moment I take my eyes off the road to look around. Next to the driver sits his beautiful, four month pregnant wife Amarin, ignoring what passes by the windshield as if she is watching a session of Bulgarian parliament on TV. To the left is Somat, a medic with 110 hours of training – the team’s expert for injuries. His eyes are closed and it looks like he is sleeping. I hope he is praying. Tonight, we all need prayers to come true.

It is the crazy wet Songkran, as the week-long Thai New Year is known. Earlier in the day, we all enjoyed the festival – I sprayed water, wore powder on my face, drank beer and played fool with friends.

But the fun part is over. Tonight is another Songkran night; one of seven dangerous ones when an already high number of traffic-related deaths and injuries surge. Experts say Thailand has the greatest number of road deaths in Southeast Asia per capita, due to a combination of lax road laws and careless driving habits.

Riot of color

Vrindavan, India

By Vivek Prakash 

It’s one of those things that you just have to do. Ever since I moved to India, I’ve always wanted to photograph Holi celebrations in north India. As a kid growing up here, I played with colored powders and water in the streets with my friends. As an adult, I’ve been lucky enough to have the chance to return with my camera. I had been looking forward to this assignment. I was expecting a riot of a different kind, a riot of color and noise – and that’s exactly what I got.

GALLERY: FESTIVAL OF HOLI

Holi is celebrated widely across India, but it is more popular in the north of the country. The epicenter of all the action is in a triangle of villages around the city of Mathura – the fun begins at Barsana, then moves to Nandgaon, Vrindavan, and Dauji before finally finishing a week of rolling celebrations in the region where the Hindu god Krishna and his consort Radha are thought to have been born and lived. It’s a festival that celebrates the arrival of spring, but in this region it also has special significance as it celebrates the story of Radha and Krishna and their love for each other. The enthusiasm of the people is unmatched – the energy combined with sheer numbers make for fantastic scenes drenched in water and color. It makes for delicious pictures. But I have to admit, after having covered it for the first time, it’s harder than it looks to get a great picture. Keeping your equipment dry and operational is a big challenge.

On my first day of coverage, I arrived at the village of Barsana early in the morning and headed straight for the main temple where celebrations would take place. I was at first disappointed as the morning session at the temple was a bit subdued. However, by the time the temple re-opened at 4pm it was a different story. There were thousands of people waiting to storm the entry doors. Inside, a sea of bodies heaved against each other, amid projectiles of colored powder and buckets of orange colored water being flung everywhere. It was hard to hold your position steady enough to shoot pictures, let alone compose something nice. At one point, there was so much powder that photographers were completely caked in it – nostrils and lungs were full of red dust. I wished I had brought a surgical mask instead of a scarf to shield myself.

Blue + Yellow = Green

Sydney, Australia

By Daniel Munoz

I knew before it started, that trying to avoid the colorful powder would only make it worse. So, I decided to go all the way and get in close – deep and merciless.

As the clock struck 9 last Sunday morning, the official start of this fun run, I grabbed my two camera bodies and stepped into what was known as the ‘blue zone’. The first runners came towards me, and the fun began.

People from all ages ran around Sydney’s Olympic Park, with only one intention: get as much color powder thrown at them as they could, and of course, being a professional photographer, my mission was to be as close to the action as possible.

Demon face

Heitwerwang, Austria

By Dominic Ebenbichler

Tourists or foreigners have to look twice when attending a Perchten festival in the western Austrian region of Tyrol. Some probably think there is something wrong with the countryfolk – dressing up like demons, wearing head to toe animal skins and wooden masks, behavior that could easily be associated with some kind of a devil’s cult. It just doesn’t seem to be normal.

The explanation goes back to the years about 500 AD. Back then farmers performed pagan rites to disperse the ghosts of winter to help bring a fruitful harvest. They thought it might work with terrifying masks which should scare even ghosts. And what is more scarier than the devil himself? Right, nothing! Even ghosts have to be scared by the devil.

In 2012 not much has changed. Of course we know that scaring ghosts is not going to work, but traditions are deep-rooted and somehow people still believe in the power of pagan rituals. And in the countryside there is nothing more important than a good harvest, so why not help a good harvest along by getting rid of some winter ghosts one way or another. Old habits die hard I guess.

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.

Welcome home to Burning Man

By Jim Urquhart


Photographer Jim Urquhart poses at Temple of Juno at Burning Man. Photo courtesy of Brian Erzen

As I write this I am sitting in my little camping trailer the morning after completing my Burning Man 2012 coverage. I am exhausted, a bit dehydrated, sore, my hair has become matted like dreadlocks from the combination of sweat and fine dust and I reek so horribly of body odor that I can make the sense of shame blush. But I am so aware of myself, I am alive and thriving. This is why I love what I do and the opportunities and experiences that it makes possible.

Okay, maybe not so aware of myself (I just fell asleep with my finger on the tab button after writing that first paragraph).

Be messy and be healthy

Crowds flounder and scream in the gray mud. Crazed people struggle with each other, fighting fiercely to throw others into the mud. The streets of a small coastal village are messy with mud. Mud-covered pedestrians, some already tipsy, wander along the beachside streets. But this is not a battlefield or a disaster area. It’s typical scenery during the Boryeong Mud Festival.

The festival, which runs from July 16-24 this year, is one of South Korea’s most popular summer events. Around 2-3 million domestic and international festival-goers visit the beach during the event each year to enjoy mud-related activities such as mud slides, mud wrestling, a mud king contest and mud massages.

The presence of lots of foreign visitors, many of them members of the U.S. Forces Korea and their families, make this festival an exotic event for locals. It feels like I’m staying at Miami Beach. The mud puts everyone in a good mood. Visitors can enjoy the festival regardless of age, sex, or nationality. And there’s no need to play in the mud – you can just spray it and tackle the people around you! Somehow everyone can be friends after a few minutes of mud fighting.