Photographers' Blog

Lessons from the floods

By Damir Sagolj

In the beginning it was business as usual. Children played in the water, women moved around on makeshift rafts and people ignored the rising water from the north of Thailand. There were lots of smiling faces and very few worried ones. Looking from the outside, one could say people were having fun and soon all would be forgotten.

Then, suddenly it was not fun any more. As the murky water rose and moved towards the capital it was obvious the scale of this year’s floods would be something very few expected. The land of smiles turned into the land of worry, then anger.

Pictures of destruction and despair were on every corner, the joy and smiling faces had begun to fade-out. We witnessed catastrophe and damage on a scale that would be difficult to calculate. The floods in Thailand occur every year and they hit the same provinces at about the same time. People know what to expect, and some have even use to it. But, what happened in the past two months left everyone totally shocked.

At the peak of the disaster, a third of the country was under water; a third! From the roads and elevated highways it looked bad but the truth was only revealed once we had a chance to fly over the enormous mass of water with an end nowhere to be seen.

The floods were on two levels – everything outside Bangkok and the water in the capital. As the unimaginable become reality and the floodwater gushed past suburbs towards the city – the stories and our pictures had changed. The smiles and those victory signs people flash all the time (photographers from the Middle East to Asia “love” it so much) disappeared into muddy and toxic water. What remained was a serious struggle to minimize the effect of biggest floods in over half a century in Thailand.

Retracing my steps in Pakistan

On August 7, 2010, with a camera in hand, I dropped into a flooded village on an army helicopter that was delivering food aid to marooned villagers. As a crewman slid the door open to find solid ground, I leaped out, took some photographs, and managed to get back on before the chopper departed.

Time stamps on the images show the hover-stop lasted less than the length of an average song. For those three minutes, my thoughts were focused on finding an image that would bring the Pakistan floods story to life.

After getting back to base, I worded the caption, “Marooned flood victims looking to escape grab the side bars of a hovering Army helicopter which arrived to distribute food supplies in the Muzaffargarh district of Pakistan’s Punjab province August 7, 2010.”

Their scars, our scars

May 1, 2011

I’m on a plane from Los Angeles to JFK. About an hour before we touch down, the word goes out that the U.S. military has found and killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. I land, make a few frames at baggage claim of people watching television while I wait for my bag. Then it’s talk my way to the front of a very long taxi line and make my way to Times Square and the site of the former World Trade Center towers, which many now refer to as Ground Zero. I notice an air of celebration.

People are cheering, waving American flags. There is quite a bit of media. I wonder what this must look like to the rest of the world, here we are celebrating the killing of a man. True, he came to represent the war against terror in the United States, but it seemed to be a celebration of death, at a place that had come to symbolize the death of many at the hands of extremists. Remembering the scenes of some burning American flags and cheering after the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the outrage it caused, I make pictures of the scene. This is a historic milestone in a war that had begun nearly ten years earlier, and this is a turning point in the psyche of America.

Less than 24 hours later, I’m behind a barricade at the Met Gala, an event that is on par with some of the more high profile celebrity events in the United States. It’s sort of an Oscars for the East Coast, with a high level of star participation. But it’s a grueling parade of celebrities, all walking past a long line of photographers. There is Beyonce in a dress that rendered her nearly unable to walk up the stairs, there are Tom and Gisele, there is Rhianna, and there is the last minute arrival of Madonna.

Natural disaster strikes Sri Lanka, again

The recent floods in eastern Sri Lanka disrupted the lives of more than 1 million people and forced up to 400,000 people to seek refuge in temporary shelters like huts, schools and mosques. Rice crops in the east were devastated. Many fields were flattened by the water that burst through broken dams. Standing water 4 feet deep saturated the fields for days. Much of the rice that remained standing, while it looked healthy, had no grain remaining in it. The worst-affected districts were Batticaloa, Ampara and Trincomalee and these were also regions hit hard by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and decades of separatist conflict which ended nearly two years ago.

Adrees Latif wins ICP Infinity Award for Photojournalism

Marooned flood victims looking to escape grab the side bars of a hovering Army helicopter which arrived to distribute food supplies in the Muzaffargarh district of Pakistan's Punjab province August 7, 2010.  REUTERS/Adrees Latif

Pakistan chief photographer Adrees Latif has won the prestigious ICP Infinity Award in Photojournalism for his outstanding coverage of last year’s Pakistan floods. Working under the most difficult of conditions he led the Reuters pictures team to tell the story from every possible angle. His images were published daily across international front pages, bringing attention to the enormity of the catastrophe from its early stages. Latif’s work has received numerous industry accolades including the Pulitzer prize for Breaking News Photography in 2008.

An Army helicopter drops relief supplies to flood victims in Pakistan's Rajanpur district in Punjab province August 15, 2010.  REUTERS/Adrees Latif

Resident Ikramulla, 37, stands near a pen where he lost a handful of water buffalos to floods in Nowshera, located in Pakistan's northwest Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province August 1, 2010.  REUTERS/Adrees Latif

Residents being evacuated through flood waters dodge an army truck carrying relief supplies for flood victims in Pakistan's Muzaffargarh district in Punjab province August 11, 2010.  REUTERS/Adrees Latif

Flood victims crowd the back of a trailer while evacuating to higher grounds in Pakistan's Muzaffargarh district in Punjab province August 11, 2010.   REUTERS/Adrees Latif

Adrees recounts how he took the award-winning image of marooned flood victims grasping on to an army helicopter as they tried to escape.

Heavy monsoon rains in late July 2010 caused widespread flooding across Pakistan, sweeping away entire villages and killing at least 1,600 people and displacing 10 million. Water submerged around one-fifth of the country and led to the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis in decades. A week into the crisis, flooding had submerged areas of southern Pujab province while leaving a trail of death, damaged infrastructure and an uncertain future in the north of the country. As the flood waters ravaged villages and towns along the Indus River basin, I too followed its trail of destruction. After spending days wading through flood waters to tell the story, I arrived in Multan on August 6 in the hope of getting a seat upon a helicopter taking part in relief efforts. My goal was to bring light to the vast amount of landmass the floods had covered, the same viewpoint that made U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon note the Pakistan floods were worst disaster he had ever seen.

Chasing the floods in Malaysia

A trader closes his flooded shop in the village of Panchor, 200 km (124 miles) south of Kuala Lumpur, February 3, 2011.  REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad

As I pondered whether to cover the floods that hit southern Malaysia, the first question that came to my mind was “will the floods still be there?”

Nonetheless, I decided to take the risk by driving more than 4 hours to get to the area. I was proven wrong. A villager said “You should have come yesterday.”

I grew up in the northeastern part of Malaysia where floods are a common phenomenon. When I was a young child, I enjoyed playing in the floods. Now, faced with the prospect of going home empty handed, I chose to stay put and do my best. Luck was on my side. A speeding ambulance whizzed by and I decided to chase the vehicle.

Floods and landslides: A global view

In recent months floods and heavy rain have affected many different parts of the world, from Australia where an area the size of France and Germany combined was under water to the devastating landslides in Brazil that killed over 500 people.

Here are three stories from photographers, Tim Wimborne in Australia, Tom Peter in Germany and Bruno Domingos in Brazil, detailing how they overcame the challenges they faced to get pictures on the wire.

AUSTRALIA
Tim Wimborne

The mud covered friends of Andrew Taylor (2nd R), pose around a destroyed piano, as they help his family clean their house after flood waters receded in the Brisbane suburb of Westend January 14, 2011. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

Huge floods have wreaked havoc across the globe. Australia has experienced some of the worst of it with headlines dominated by an “inland tsunami” killing many around the town of Toowoomba. The much larger flooding however was far more passive in its advance over millions of hectares and into the heart of Australia’s third largest city.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures January 16 2011

Our thoughts are with photographer Lucas Mebrouk Dolega who was covering the street protests in Tunisia who is now in a critical condition after sustaining head injuries on Friday from a tear gas canister fired by a nearby police officer.

AUSTRALIA-FLOODS/

A passenger in a car waves for assistance as a flash flood sweeps across an intersection in Toowoomba, 105 km (65 miles) west of Brisbane, January 10, 2011. Tsunami-like flash floods raced towards Australia's third-largest city of Brisbane on Tuesday, prompting evacuations of its outskirts, flood warnings for the financial district and predictions that  the death toll is likely to climb.     REUTERS/Tomas Guerin

Rupert Murdoch's iPad only newspaper "The Daily" is getting closer to launch (reports say the proposed launch of January 19th was delayed due to technical glitches) and others are  launching similar pay-for publications. Along with rumours of an imminent iPad2 and Apple's competitors rushing to launch their own tablet devices, it seems to me much more likely that people will once more expect to pay for their news as opposed to expecting  to get it free. They will now have a device to easily download and read news and look at pictures and video immediately. Maybe the much heralded notion that the sometimes faster, but unsubstantiated, social media generated news would be the death knell of main stream media (why should I pay for the news when I get it free from the net quicker?) might have been a little premature and could actually be one of the factors that contribute to people expecting to pay for quality news viewed on hand held devices. What do you think?

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures September 26, 2010

A tough week for India as athletes began arriving  for the start of the Commonwealth Games. On September 21, a pedestrian walkway outside the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi collapsed; the very next day a portion of the ceiling in the weightlifting arena also collapsed. Social and mainstream media showed pictures of blocked drains, dirty bathrooms, soiled matresses and unfinished work in the athletes' accommodation.  Team members started to pull out of the games, undermining the status of the event. The enormity of the clean-up task seemed insurmountable, this concern beautifully illustrated by Parivartan Sharma's picture of a man sweeping dust in the streets with a hand brush - a seemingly pointless task when CWG president Fennell said that there was still "considerable work to be done". Have a close look at Reinhard Krause's picture of the roof of the weight lifting arena and make your own judgement on the workmanship of the construction.  As someone who has not got a great head for heights I fear for the safety of the workers walking on the roof of the building.

GAMES/

A man sweeps under a flyover in front of the Commonwealth Games athletes village in New Delhi September 25, 2010. Commonwealth Games Federation President Michael Fennell said on Saturday there was still a considerable amount of work to be done and there was great concern about the security and safety of athletes and officials. REUTERS/Parivartan Sharma

GAMES-INDIA/ROOF

Workers climb down the roof of the weightlifting venue for the upcoming Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, September 22, 2010.   A portion of false ceiling in the Commonwealth Games weightlifting venue in India's capital caved in on Wednesday, a day after 27 workers were injured when a footbridge collapsed near the same sports complex.  REUTERS/Reinhard Krause

from Russell Boyce:

“Allah-u-Akbar! God is Great!”

Some pictures still shock me. Some make me laugh; many provide an insight or window into a new idea but only a few haunt me with my mind's eye returning to them again and again.

On Wednesday 28th July an Airblue plane crashed  just outside Islamabad in the beauty spot of the Margalla Hills killing all 152 on board. The cause of the crash, as yet unconfirmed, is thought to have been the driving monsoon rain. I edited the pictures shot by Reuters photographers who reached the scene. Images ranging from smoke drifting through the hills, men scrambling in the charred rocky, woodlands, picking through twisted metal and rocks looking for signs of life; tied cloth bags, dripping with the blood  that contained the remains of the passengers, to a severed arm and hand, the fingers still perfectly formed, just lying on the ground. There were no survivors.

PAKISTAN-CRASH/

Policemen and soldiers raise their hands while shouting "God is great," to lift their spirits as the team worked through heavy rain to search for bodies and a flight data recorder at the site of the Airblue plane crash in Islamabad's Margalla Hills July 29, 2010. Heavy monsoon rains in Islamabad on Thursday hampered recovery efforts at the site of a Pakistani plane crash that killed all 152 people on board a day earlier, a senior police officer said. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

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