Photographers' Blog

Making it as a masseuse

Zhengzhou, China
By Jason Lee

I have to admit that I’m a massage addict. I’m hooked on the magical, relaxing effects that massage has, especially after a tiring day of shooting pictures that leaves many of my muscles sore.

My love for the art and my sense of curiosity brought me to the Chinese city of Zhengzhou to photograph the training center of a leading massage company – Huaxia Liangtse.

When I first saw the gloomy classrooms and humble dormitories they seemed a long way from Huaxia Liangtse’s luxurious massage stores in Beijing. But the basic conditions did not deter students.

Among the 60 trainees I photographed, my camera was gradually drawn to a young girl named Wang Feng. To be honest, she didn’t stand out among the crowd that much – she was relatively short and always wore a satchel slung over her chest. But careful observation told me that she was a serious learner and a hard worker. We talked a lot, and I was pleased to gain her trust to the point that she stopped feeling nervous in front of my camera.

As a massage addict, I’ve found that masseuses and I have many interests in common: how to have a healthy life; what it is like to work in big cities; and even what sort of unusual people we meet through our jobs.

Living with “werewolf syndrome”

Dolkha District, Nepal

By Navesh Chitrakar

People have always had a certain fascination with the unknown – a fascination that has been experienced by Devi Budhathoki and three of her children, who all suffer from a rare genetic condition that causes large amounts of thick hair to grow on their bodies.

There is no medical solution available for Devi’s condition, which is known as Congenital Hypertrichosis Lanuginosa, but its symptoms can be reduced by laser hair removal. Dermatologist Dr. Dharmendra Karn has been giving this treatment to 38-year-old Devi, along with her two daughters Manjura, who is 14, Mandira, who is 7, and her son Niraj, who is 12. Dr Karn’s care has helped the family, but they need multiple sessions for it to be effective and even after finishing a course of hair removal, they need to keep returning because the hair grows back again.

The Dhulikhel hospital has been treating Devi and her children for free since its management heard from locals, the media and social workers that Devi came from a poor family. Devi is married to Nara Bahadur Budhathoki and for 23 years they have been living in their home that has one kitchen, a shared bedroom and no lavatory. The house sits on a hill in Kharay, some 190km (118 miles) from Nepal’s capital Kathmandu.

A round in the ring against Parkinson’s

Costa Mesa, California

By Mike Blake

I have been tromping around the planet for some 50 years now. I don’t have much recollection of the first six or seven, but after that I can easily think back to places, people and events that remain inside my head much like the pictures I have shot remain on film and in pixels stored on the random-access memory inside this computer I’m typing on.

GALLERY: FIGHTING AGAINST PARKINSON’S

For each and every one of us, our memories are contained somewhere behind our eyes in a biological wonder of neurons that has yet to be fully understood. If you think about all your life’s memories and how much information that is, and, if you’re as old as me, you have to be impressed with this piece of engineering we all have. Not only is it holding your whole life in storage, it’s also been telling your heart when to beat, your stomach when to toss that bad piece of sushi and your body temperature to remain precisely regulated at exactly 98.7 F since the day you were born. If that’s not impressive enough, it tells your body to do everything you want it to do.

It controls all your motor functions, from me typing these letters on a computer screen, to getting up to go to the bathroom. As soon as you think it, it sends the signals down to your muscles and you get to where you’re going, or your arm brings that cup of coffee up to your mouth. Your brain can do all of these things in the blink of an eye – except when it can’t. And this is where I begin my little story about Parkinson’s disease.

Inside the iSurgery operation

Hamburg, Germany

By Fabian Bimmer

When my boss, Joachim Herrmann, told me that I had to cover liver surgery using an iPad, I had no idea how an iPad could be helpful during an operation. I knew that iPhones, iPads and tablets were becoming more important in being useful in all sorts of activities in our daily life – but for surgeries?

We use these new toys in different ways: GPS for cars, during sporting activities, music, mail and for other ways to communicate. Some of my colleagues use tablet computers to present their portfolios and to operate their cameras. Swiss camera maker Alpa uses an iPhone as a viewfinder for their tilt and shift cameras. But I couldn’t imagine how an iPad would be helpful during an operation to remove two tumors from a liver.

Also, I knew nothing at all about livers or any surgery before this assignment.

Little angel Niuniu

Shanghai, China

By Aly Song

“Mom, can I touch the stuffed steamed bun? I won’t eat it, just touch.” Four-year-old Wang JiachengNiuniu, nicknamed Niuniu, said to his mother while desperately eager for a bite of the steamed bun stuffed with meat in front of him. Half a year ago, Niuniu was diagnosed with late stage neuroblastoma. Since then, he has undergone chemotherapy treatments which cause him to vomit constantly and make it almost impossible to eat anything, especially meat. Yan Hongyu, Niuniu’s mother, cast a bitter smile at her son’s naive request. She was still struggling to believe that her boy had to suffer such a great deal in his childhood.

GALLERY: A CHILD’S STRUGGLE

I came across Niuniu’s story while doing research to find a family for an in-depth picture story on China’s healthcare policy. Before I met them, I did some searches and found out there weren’t many treatments available in China for neuroblastoma, which is a neuroendocrine tumor arising from any neural crest element of the sympathetic nervous system. This cancer has a more successful treatment rate if the patient is less than two-years-old. But in Niuniu’s case, the risk is much higher. Nonetheless, Niuniu had surgery to remove the tumor. After that, he would have to completely rely on chemotherapy to kill the cancer cells.

Knowing the chances were slim, Niuniu’s parents committed to the treatment with 100% faith. Yan quit her job in Yancheng, Jiangsu province, and took her son to Shanghai for better medical services in early 2013. They rented a 10-square-meter small apartment near the hospital, and since then have been rushing between the two places. Niuniu’s father, who used to own a small company in Yancheng, recently sold the company in order to pay the bills. He was still taking some jobs in their hometown to make ends meet, but whenever he had a chance he would go to Shanghai to help his wife. “Nowadays, people just cannot afford to get sick” Yan said as she chatted with other patients’ relatives in the hospital. Before Niuniu fell ill, they were a happy upper-middle class family. But now the estimated cost for the entire treatment is over 300,000 yuan (48,991 USD), and the insurance can only cover as much as 80,000 yuan (13,064 USD). A huge financial burden, restless nights while taking care of Niuniu and mental anguish – none of this matters to Yan. “Nothing is worse than seeing my son suffer everyday,” Yan said. “I would rather myself being sick.”

Clowning around with healthcare

Bern, Switzerland

By Pascal Lauener

The first time I meet Regula Kaltenrieder, a qualified acupuncturist, I didn’t know that she was one of the 200 Clown Doctors of the Theodora foundation.

The funny and loud crowd celebrated their 20th anniversary on the Federal Parliament Square in Bern. The foundation was founded in 1993 through the initiative of two brothers, André and Jan Poulie, who decided, in memory of their mother, to name the foundation Theodora. Outside Switzerland, the foundation is currently active in seven countries: England, Belarus, China, Spain, France, Italy and Turkey. After a chat with the media representative of the foundation and several phone calls and e-mails later they accepted a photographer to go on a visit with one of their clown doctors.

Last week I met Regula outside a Lebanese restaurant next to the main hospital, the Insel in Bern. She was drinking a cup of tea and chatting with four other women and the media representative of the foundation, who had to ask the parents for permission to take pictures during my visit with the clown doctor.

Would you stand on this ridge? Gabrielle Giffords did

By Denis Balibouse

Would you stand on this ridge?

(Excuse the uneven horizon, it is due to my legs shaking when I took the picture)

A few weeks ago I received an invitation for two conferences from the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva from the six astronauts who flew the Space Shuttle Endeavour’s last mission in May 2011, which delivered the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the International Space Station. According to CERN’s website this is “an experiment to search in space for dark matter, missing matter and antimatter on the international space station.”

Sometimes the hardest part of a job is to find the news hook, so for this invitation I turned to my journalist colleagues in Geneva. Tom Miles, our Chief Correspondent in Geneva helpfully pointed out that the mission commander was Mark Kelly and that his wife, former U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who survived an attempted assassination in Tucson, Arizona on 8 January 2011, was coming along.

Hope in the fight against AIDS

By Mike Segar

The photos in this project, conceived ahead of this week’s International AIDS Conference, are not the dramatic, heartbreaking, moving sort that we have been used to seeing of AIDS patients from the ‘80s and ‘90s. What I came to quickly realize is that this story, or I should say this portion of it, is about hope – hope and recovery. Living and learning to live as best one can with a disease the world has come to know all too well as an indiscriminate killer.

Take for example the hope that I saw in the eyes of 40-year-old AIDS patient Bobby Billingsly, a man who was close to death when he arrived at Broadway House in Newark, New Jersey, with a CD4 count near zero in 2009, an indication of what is known as Full blown AIDS.

GALLERY: AIDS IN BLACK AMERICA

With the care of nursing, physical therapy and support staff, the latest in AIDS fighting medication, exercise, healthy diet and therapy, Billingsly is becoming the picture of hope – at least to me. He has slowly been able to raise his CD4 count to nearly 200, improving his overall health and hoping to live as long as possible with AIDS. Twenty years ago he would surely have faced a speedy death. Perhaps most hopeful is the attitude he shows of resolve and determination to move forward — something he said he had little of when he arrived. When I asked him how he looks at having AIDS now as opposed to then he says, ”With the medication, workouts, and all we do here, there is reason to believe that you can beat this thing, maybe not beat it, but not let it beat you.” That stuck with me.

Courage on the Island of Widows

By Oswaldo Rivas

We got up before dawn to travel to the Island of Guanacastal, a community 130 km (80 miles) north of Managua, Nicaragua. My travel companions were silent, some lost in their thoughts and others sleeping, shivering due to the cold of the early morning hours.

As we passed Chichigalpa, a small and peaceful town near the San Cristobal volcano and where the famous Nicaraguan rum Flor de Cana is made, we started seeing the immense sugar cane plantations, the main component in the production of sugar and rum.

Shortly after leaving the main road we finally reached the island, now more commonly known as the Island of the Widows. More than 100 women of the 250 families living in the small village have lost their husbands to chronic renal failure, a disease that paralyzes kidney function by preventing the body from eliminating waste and excess fluid.

Operating on an implant scandal

WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES THAT CONTAIN NUDITY

By Eric Gaillard

The PIP breast implant scandal or how a French news story became a global health problem.

During a recent daily news briefing, I learned from a Paris-based editor that a plastic surgeon in Nice named Dr. Denis Boucq had decided to remove breast implants manufactured by a French company called Poly Implant Prothese (PIP) as a precaution.

After some research, I found the surgeon’s contact details. I thought to myself that with such a busy schedule, he would be unlikely to give me an immediate appointment. I took a chance and to my surprise his secretary told me “Come in 30 minutes. He will see you between two patients.”

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