Photographers' Blog

Singapore’s hazy skyline

Singapore

By Edgar Su

As someone who has lived in Singapore all my life, haze is not unusual, it is somewhat a seasonal event that I have become used to. But last Monday was different, I woke up to a slightly smokey smell in the air and the view outside my apartment was more hazy than usual. Immediately, I checked Facebook to see what my friends working in the city were experiencing. Many posted pictures of a very hazy skyline from the view in their office and remarked that even the air in the subway and malls smelled of smoke.

I immediately made my way to the business district to have a look. My first instinct was to get up to the rooftop of the Marina Bay Sands hotel to get the best vantage point available in the city. On the way up, a hotel staff member apologized to me in the elevator, “I am sorry for the view today”. He was right, from the observation deck, the haze was so thick that I could only see the outlines of landmark buildings.

There on the 57th floor, I could feel no breeze. It was very humid, my chest felt tight and I found it hard to breathe carrying all my gear with me. I needed that one picture showing a human element against the hazy skyline and I knew it was at the poolside which only hotel guests had access. My only option was to wait to join one of the three daily scheduled tours of the pool for the public. So I waited two hours in the humidity before a tour guide came along and brought us in. “Take as many pictures as you want” he said. The only problem was, it wasn’t exactly a tour of the pool, we were only allowed in a small 20 yard stretch shared among at least 40 other tourists with cameras and we had only about fifteen minutes. Worse still, many of the hotel guests were suddenly getting out of the pool because of all the tourists looking at them. But I was lucky, just before I was about to leave, a man began swimming in front of us…

In the days that followed, I started early every day to document people commuting to work in the deteriorating environment.

To protect myself as I spent about 8 to 10 hours on the streets everyday, I kept an N95 mask on most of the time, but every now and then when the air irritated my throat, I would cough uncontrollably.

Waves of fire

As wildfires rage through California, photographers Patrick Fallon and Jonathan Alcorn describe working on the fire line.

By Patrick Fallon

Driving up the 101 towards the Dos Vientos neighborhood in Newbury Park, California, I could see the fire’s thick, black smoke – a sign the fire was burning fresh brush, fueled by strong winds.

When I arrived the neighborhood was under an orange tint from the smoke in the air. Sheriff Deputies were going door to door, helping people evacuate, while a group of young men helped their neighbors, jumping from yard to yard to hose down the back yards as firefighters held back the fire on the hills above the home.

Tips on the fire line

My rental SUV smells like a junior high school locker room manned by a chain-cigar-smoking gym instructor and I am standing on the side of the road with my pants and shirt half off cleaning myself with baby wipes and I am itching in areas that are not suppose to itch like that… yeah, I am in the field covering a wildfire.

Luckily I keep a “go” bag with all my own fire gear in it. I got the call in the evening and had arrangements to fly to Albuquerque, New Mexico, the next morning. I was being sent to cover the Wallow Wildfire, which has turned into Arizona’s largest fire in history, and was right on the border with New Mexico heading to the community of Luna, New Mexico. Thankfully I had editors that trusted me and knew I had been to a few of these rodeos before and would let me make the calls as to where I would go for photos and take the risk of getting out ahead of the fire.

Much of the media had headed to the northern edge of the wildfire and the towns of Springerville and Eager, Arizona. I had heard nothing but horror stories about trying to get any work done up there. The stories I had heard included hordes of media descending into these small towns making it very difficult to find a unique story. I had also heard from media about how hard it was to work with local enforcement and that even the Public Information officers (PIOs) were taking media nowhere near any real fire action and at times took them away from the visuals and stories.

An aerial view of Sumatra Island

I joined a Greenpeace tour flying over Sumatra Island to take pictures of their protest over forest destruction.

Five photographers and a TV cameraman set off early in the morning, while it was still dark, in a new, single-propeller aircraft. No one told me it would be nearly three hours to get to Jambi on a small plane with no toilet. Luckily for me I had an empty bottle as an emergency measure.

This was the first time I’ve taken aerial shots, so I took so many types of pictures. I took every single detail that caught my eye — forest, reflected light from the sun during sunrise, palm oil plantations, river, sea,  houses, everything.  When we started to take pictures, all five photographers jostled around one opened window. The wind blew very hard, pushing the glass against my face. After one hour, one of the other photographers gave up, and had to take a rest after throwing up all his breakfast. That made me happy – more room for me to take pictures.

Amid fires the air is thick with prayers

Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, wearing headphones, sits in the cockpit of a firefighting plane in Ryazan region August 10, 2010.   REUTERS/Ria Novosti/Pool/Alexei Nikolsky

The Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin occupied the nation’s TV screens while reports of his bravado in fighting forest wildfires littered the media. The rest of the country were dead on their feet, choking with smoke as they fought the disaster.

Residents attempt to extinguish a fire near the village of Polyaki-Maydan in Ryazan region, some 380 km (236 miles) southeast of Moscow, August 9, 2010.  REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov

Unable to depend upon Putin, government authority or new luxury equipment for assistance, locals grew weary as they defended their houses using an arsenal of tractors, farm equipment and shovels.

A man drinks water as he tries to extinguish a forest fire near the village of Polyaki-Maydan in Ryazan region, some 380 km (236 miles) southeast of Moscow, August 9, 2010.   REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov

Some relied on their prayers.

A priest blessed firefighters in the village of Berestyanka before they continued on. Local residents conducted religious services asking God for rain to prevent new wildfires like the one that partially destroyed the village of Kriusha on August 5.

There is always one…Part three

Continuing this mini-series of highlights from the Reuters picture file, my eye was caught by Robert Galbraith’s photograph shot in California on July 29. Robert was there to photograph the fires near Yosemite National Park, and saw this figure of an angel in the remains of a home burned in the fire.

In conditions such as this it is easy for the eye to miss what is nearby, because there is so much to photograph on a large scale, and it can be exhausting to work in an area that is dangerous and physically demanding.

We know that in its normal environment the figure wouldn’t have merited a second look, but the appeal of this image is not just that it is well observed in the circumstances, but also that it is simple, and the angel itself stands as a symbol of hope amid the charred destruction.