Photographers' Blog

Two faces of the same drama

A year ago, I was part of the Reuters team that covered Haiti’s massive earthquake, which claimed some 250,000 lives, and left a million people living in makeshift camps. This year, I was part of the team that covered another natural disaster– the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan’s northern coast and brought on a nuclear crisis.

The two events were very different. They occurred on opposite sides of the globe, in completely different countries, in different cultural contexts. Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, with a turbulent political history. On the other hand, Japan is one of the richest and most modern countries in the world– the third largest economy and, actually, one of the first to send help to Haiti.

But in covering these two catastrophes, I was struck by a few similarities.

Walking through the rubble of Kessenuma, in Japan, looking for a way to convey the scale of the destruction, I found myself almost in a situation like one year ago in Haiti.

There was a woman alone, who paused and stood still, looking at the remains of her house. I had a flash back to a man I had photographed walking alone in the devastated Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.

(Left) A woman reacts while using a mobile phone as she looks at her house destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami in Kessenuma town, in Miyagi prefecture March 28, 2011. (Right) A man clean himself as he walks at a destroyed street after Tuesday's earthquake in Port-au-Prince, January 15, 2010. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

I realized that situation after situation, similar scenes repeated themselves.

(Left) Family members of victims of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami cry next to coffins of their relatives during a mass funeral in Kassenuma town, Miyagi prefecture March 26, 2011. Ten flimsy wood coffins were laid on two sturdy rails at a hastily prepared cemetery of mostly mud as Keseunnuma began burying its dead from the tsunami that ripped apart the Japanese coastal city. (Right) A woman cries during a memorial ceremony at a mass grave in Titanyn, outside of Port au Prince, February 1, 2010. Tens of thousands of bodies have already been buried at this site at Titayen, north of the capital. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

(Left) A refugee sleeps at a relief center in Minamisanriku town, Miyagi prefecture, March 22, 2011. (Right) A woman sits at her tent at a makeshift camp in Port-au-Prince, Haiti January 26, 2010.  REUTERS/Carlos Barria

(Left) A fisherman reacts as he looks at his boat, which was destroyed by March 11's magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami, in Yamada town, Iwate prefecture March 27, 2011. (Right) A woman cries as she walks along a street in downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti January 27, 2010.  REUTERS/Carlos Barria

(Left) Workers install a sign at a cemetery for victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, in Kamaishi town, Iwate prefecture March 29, 2011. The sign reads, "Tohoru Great Disaster Victims Burial". (Right) People plant a cross at a mass grave during a memorial ceremony in Titanyn, 30km (19 miles) outside of Port au Prince February 1, 2010. Tens of thousands of bodies have already been buried at this site at Titayen, north of the capital.  REUTERS/Carlos Barria

(Left) A woman carries a bag of food along an area destroyed by the tsunami in Kamaishi town, Iwate Prefecture in northern Japan March 25, 2011. (Right)  A couple walks along a destroyed street in Port-au-Prince January 18, 2010.  REUTERS/Carlos Barria

(Left) Uchidate Noboyuki, 33, pauses as he digs through the remains of his house that was destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami in Yamada, Iwate Prefecture in northern Japan, March 24, 2011. Uchidate is still looking for his parents, sister and brother who were reported missing after the tsunami. (Right)  man stands in a street in downtown Port-au-Prince February 18, 2010.  REUTERS/Carlos Barria

No matter what the differences are between countries and cultures, at the end of the day I felt I was watching people suffer in the same way.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures April 3, 2011

In case anyone is in any doubt about the volatile situation many of our staff and stringers work under in Afghanistan I want to recount what happened on Saturday. Ahmad Nadeem was covering a demonstration that was sparked by the actions of extremist Christian preacher Terry Jones, who, according to his website, supervised the burning of the Koran in front of about 50 people at a church in Florida. The mood at the demonstration changed very quickly as the crowd sought a focus for their anger. Ahmad, our stringer in Kandahar was targeted. He was beaten with sticks, his gear smashed and his hand broken. Then an armed man instructed the mob to kill him. Ahmad fled for his life escaping into a nearby house where he successfully hid from the mob. Earlier in the day a suicide attack also hit a NATO military base in the capital Kabul, the day after protesters overran a U.N. mission in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and killed seven foreign staff in the deadliest attack on the U.N. in Afghanistan.

AFGHANISTAN-VIOLENCE/KABUL

Bullet holds are seen on the windshield of a car used by insurgents after an attack at Camp Phoenix in Kabul April 2, 2011. Insurgents clad in burkhas attacked a coalition base in Kabul with guns and rocket-propelled grenades on Saturday, but were killed either when they detonated their explosives or by Afghan or coalition fire outside the entrance, NATO and police said.    REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

AFGHANISTAN/

Afghans chant anti-American slogans during a demonstration to condemn the burning of a copy of the Muslim holy book by a U.S. pastor, in Mazar-i- Sharif April 1, 2011. Afghan insurgents used mass protests against Koran burning as cover to launch an attack on the United Nations building in northern Mazar-i-Sharif city, in which at least seven foreigners were killed, the governor of Northern Balkh province said. The United Nations death toll in an attack on the U.N. compound in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif could be as high as 20, U.N. officials told Reuters on Friday. REUTERS/Stringer

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures, March 27, 2011

Japan continues to dominate the file from Asia with new photograhers rotating in to cover the twists and turns of this complex and tragic  story.  In a country were the nation rarely buries its dead, the site of mass graves is quite a shocking scene to behold. Holes the length of football pitches are dug in the ground with mechanical digggers and divided into individual plots by the military and are then filled with the coffins of the victims of the tsunami. Family members come to weep and pray over the graves. Some are namless and marked only with DNA details, others bear the names of the victims. There is not enough power or fuel to cremate the thousands of bodies that are being recovered from the disaster zone. 

JAPAN-QUAKE/

Members of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force carry a coffin of a victim of the earthquake and tsunami to be buried at a temporary mass grave site in Higashi-Matsushima, in Miyagi prefecture, northern Japan March 24, 2011. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

People who have either been made homeless by the tsunami or have fled the 30km exclusion zone around the stricken nuclear plant live out their lives in evacuation centres, not sure what the future will hold. There is a backdrop of growing concern over the radiation that is continuing to leak out into the atmosphere from the nuclear plants in Fukushima.  Thousands of people are still unaccounted for, international help has arrived to help with the massive task of clearing up, industry is still crippled and the weather is poor.  Next week, a school will reopen at a temporary site, 80% of the classes are either dead or missing. It is under these conditions our team of photographers continue to work. Again I wil let the pictures speak for themslves.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A week in Pictures March 20, 2011

Japan - after four days of editing pictures from the earthquake and tsunami in Japan I took an hour break to buy some food and get some money in a small shopping centre near the office. As I walked through the busy street, the thought that stuck me was that everything around me is so temporary. The people along the coast of the Miyagi Prefecture were probably going about their daily business, just like I was, when the wall of water swept through their towns wiping their very existence off the face of the earth. Reports of a nuclear cloud heading towards Tokyo where 13 million people live, added to my sense of fear. In my mind,  the world had changed forever. I cannot begin to imagine what the people in Miyagi, the rescue workers and the photographers taking the picture are feeling. From our team of photographers covering the story, I have chosen three pictures from each photographer, not an easy task when there are so many great images. Respect to all the teams covering the story and my condolences to the people of Japan. I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

JAPAN-QUAKE/

A survivor pushes his bicycle through remains of devastated town of Otsuchi March 14, 2011. In the town of Otsuchi in Iwate prefecture, 12,000 out of a population of 15,000 have disappeared following Friday's massive earthquake and tsunami. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

JAPAN-QUAKE/

A vehicle is half submerged at a crossroad after an earthquake and tsunami in Sendai, northeastern Japan March 12, 2011. Japan confronted devastation along its northeastern coast on Saturday, with fires raging and parts of some cities under water after a massive earthquake and tsunami that likely killed at least 1,000 people. Japan scaled back its tsunami warning for much of the country on Saturday, nearly 24 hours after a massive earthquake struck and set off a succession of tsunami, NHK television said. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures 06 March 2011

I do enjoy a coincidence. The week after calls for prodemocracy demonstrations under the social media tag of "Jasmine Revolution" and the week before  the National People's Congress (NPC), International journalists (and I of course include photographers under this title) are brought in by the authorities for "chat". During the "chat" they are reminded of the terms of their journalist visas and how quickly these visas can be revoked if the rules are broken on illegal reporting. Also outlined are places that special permission is needed to report from, Tiananmen Square heading the list. Our picture of a member of the PLA leaving the Great Hall in Tiananmen Square appearing to almost step on the photographer with this low angle picture, as I said I do love a coincidence.

CHINA-DEFENCE/

A military delegate from the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) leaves the Great Hall of the People after a meeting during the annual session of China's parliament, the National People's Congress, in Beijing March 4, 2011. China said on Friday that its official military budget for 2011 will rise 12.7 percent over last year, returning to the double-digit rises that have stoked regional disquiet about Beijing's expanding strength. REUTERS

Inside the Great Hall Jason shot this fantastic, Daliesque image of the headless conductor who appears to radiate waves from the central red star that has replaced his head. Another picture that caught my eye is the image of the patient watching the national address by China's Premier Wen Jiabao from her hospital bed. I wonder if the remote is within reach as these speeches tend to go on for quite a long time and imagine that if you are in hospital in pain there is only so much economic news you can absorb at one time ? Moving away from Beijing and the NPC I am really drawn to Aly's picture of the construction site which was shot to illustrate the housing inflation story in China (not an easy one at any stretch of the imagination). The metal reinforcement supports look like leafless trees, the solitary figure trudging through a lifeless, snowy landscape. 

Rapper salesman Mr Watanabe

“Extraordinary, unique, outstanding….”

These words often promise an interesting news story and also they might guarantee success in someone’s job.

Sales clerk Satoshi Watanabe cleans a pair of eyeglasses to display on a rack at an optical store in a shopping district of Tokyo February 24, 2011.  REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Mr. Watanabe, who I happened to find on the street, is an example of these words.

He is a sales clerk in an eyeglass company which has about 2,000 employees and his job is to sell eyeglasses to customers in a shop in one of the busiest shopping districts in Tokyo. His attire is not unique and more like a typical sales person in Japan. His black horn-rimmed glasses and dark-toned suits would remind you of a picture in a company poster of the most diligent employee of the year.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures February 27, 2011

The World's gaze at events in the Middle East was broken last week after an earthquake of 6.3 destroyed many buildings in Christchurch, New Zealand; the death toll now stands at 147 with 200 still missing. This was the latest disaster covered by Tim Wimborne. In recent weeks he has been to Toowoomba and Brisbane for the floods, Cairns for the typhoon Yasi and now NZ to cover the earthquake.  Tim worked closely with stringer Simon Baker to produce a file that saddens the heart, buildings normally seen on holiday postcards now forming the tombs of those who have died and as yet have not been pulled from the rubble. For me one of the strongest images is that of a  man picking through the rubble of what was once his home. With Tim's birds-eye view we see that nothing is really worth saving amid the dust and rubble, a photograph, a smashed lamp and a model boat.

NEWZEALAND-QUAKE/

Resident of the beach-side suburb of New Brighton, Julian Sanderson, searches for personal items through the remains of his house, destroyed by Tuesday's earthquake, in Christchurch February 25, 2011. International rescue teams searched through the rubble of quake-ravaged Christchurch on Friday for more than 200 people still missing, but rain and cold were dimming hopes of finding more survivors in the country's worst natural disaster in decades.  REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

NEWZEALAND/QUAKE

A rescue worker (R) looks through the rubble of the Cathedral of Blessed Sacrament in Christchurch February 24, 2011. International rescuers intensified their search for earthquake survivors in New Zealand on Thursday, spurred on by reports of a faint female voice heard beneath a collapsed church, even as the official death toll of 71 looked certain to climb. REUTERS/Simon Baker

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures February 6, 2011

Cyclone Yasi statistics were impressive, bigger than Katrina that killed more than  1,200 people in 2005, winds of 300 km (186 miles) per hour, more powerful than Cyclone Tracy that hit Darwin in 1974, killing more than  70 people and probably the most powerful in recorded history ever to hit the coast of Australia. The satellite pictures seemed to support all these claims. The expectation of devastation was high. I even began to fret about the claim that the concrete hotel that photographer Tim Wimborne was staying in was actually cyclone-proof. Experts had started to say that  cyclone proof buildings might not be. But Yasi passed and only one poor soul died (asphyxiated in his home by fumes from his own generator), a few homes had their roofs torn off, caravans were swept aside and minimal flooding. The only lasting effect that will hit us all are the increased insurance premiums, devastated banana and sugarcane crops; price rises are promised.

aus combo

(Top left) A hand painted board protects the front window of a cafe in the northern Australian city of Cairns February 2, 2011. Category five Cyclone Yasi, expected to be the most powerful storm to cross Australia's heavily populated east coast in generations, is expected to make landfall late on Wednesday night. Thousands of residents fled their homes and crammed into shelters in northeastern Australia as the cyclone with a 650 km (404 mile) wide front barreled toward the coastline on Wednesday. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

(Top right) Cyclone Yasi (top) is seen approaching the coast of Australia, at 2300 GMT on February 1, 2011, while Hurricane Katrina is seen with its outer bands lashing the Gulf Coast of the U.S. a day before landfall, August 28, 2005, in this combo of satellite images created February 2, 2011. Yasi, which has been upgraded to a maximum-strength Category 5 storm, is now moving with winds of up to 300 km (186 miles) per hour and has a 650 km (400 mile) wide front. Yasi's current strength is similar to Hurricane Katrina, which reached maximum Category 5 in the U.S. Gulf before weakening a little as it made landfall near New Orleans, causing altogether approximately 1200 reported deaths.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures January 30, 2011

Even though the world's gaze is firmly focused on the events in Egypt and Tunisia, top stories continue to break in Asia. Last week during my morning call with Enny Nuraheni, our Indonesia Chief Photographer, she told there was a ferry on fire with hundreds on board, a train had crashed and Mount Bromo was spewing ash, all on the same day.  In Japan Mount Kirishima was erupting, thousands of birds culled to try to stop the spread of bird flu and the economy and government were under pressure.  But all Japanese worries were forgotten briefly as Japan beat Australia 1-0 in the AFC Asian Cup final in Doha. 

JAPAN/ 

Volcanic lightning or a dirty thunderstorm is seen above Shinmoedake peak as it erupts, between Miyazaki and Kagoshima prefectures, in this photo taken from Kirishima city and released by Minami-Nippon Shimbun January 28, 2011. Ash and rocks fell across a wide swathe of southern Japan straddling the prefectures of Miyazaki and Kagoshima on Thursday, as one of Mount Kirishima's many calderas erupted, prompting authorities to raise alert levels and call on for an evacuation of all residents within a 2 km (1.2 miles) radius of the volcano. REUTERS/Minami-Nippon Shimbun

Issei Kato's picture of Prime Minister Kan addressing parliament is as frenetic as the politics themselves, while Kim Kyung-Hoon's picture to illustrate the economy perfectly timed as the eye is drawn into the frame by all the elements that appear in to be in choreographed perfection. If the apocalypse is coming it is sure to come in one of two forms; the eruptions of fire, smoke and lightening or the eerie silence of spreading disease. We had two pictures giving us a sneak preview of our potential fate. A wonderful image of the sheer beauty of the power, energy, light and colour of Mount Kirishima erupting and the whisper of deadly fumes as fully masked workers with red and blue targets sprayed on their white overalls, cull the hapless birds.  

Shooting birdmen

Downhill from the height of a 30-story-building and soaring through the air: this is the definition of ski jumping. The skiers reminded me of birdmen, or extreme skydivers.

Austria's Stefan Thurnbichler soars through the air during the practice session of  the FIS World Cup Ski Jumping in Sapporo, northern Japan, January 15, 2011.  REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

While I was covering the “birdmen” at the Sapporo Ski Jumping World Cup, I noticed a similarity between shooting ski jumping and the job of Siberian hunters, which I had watched in a TV documentary. Instead of the hunters’ trap, I set up a remote-controlled camera at the bottom of the slope to capture the leap.

Austria's Andreas Kofler soars through the air to take first place in the FIS World Cup Ski Jumping in Sapporo, northern Japan, January 16, 2011.   REUTERS/Kim Kyung-HoonInstead of their hunting rifle and telescope sight to pursue deer across the snow-covered Siberian plains, I had a 400mm lens with a converter in my hands and my viewfinder was aimed at the flying birdmen at a snow-covered ski resort. My camera fired like a gun whenever the birdmen appeared in my sights.