Photographers' Blog

Embedded in Afghanistan

Reuters photographer Finbarr O’Reilly recently spent a month with the U.S. First Battalion Eighth Marines in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province. While embedded at the remote Outpost Kunjak with the unit’s Third Platoon’s, Fourth Squad, O’Reilly documented camp life, patrols and combat operations, including one battle that saw four squad members suffer concussions from grenade explosions, including squad leader Sgt. Thomas James Brennan. This is Sgt. Brennan’s personal account of that day, and his reflections on what it is like living and fighting on the front lines of Afghanistan’s war.

The voice of a veteran

I stumbled across the Yoga For Vets, NYC website while doing some research for another story. The tag line on their site says, “Taught by a veteran, for veterans, Yoga for Vets NYC is FREE for all veterans, family, and providers.” I kept clicking. The site went on to talk about how the program offered both yoga and meditation classes. It said the classes were designed specifically for veterans dealing with injuries or trauma. The program was started by Anu Bhagwati, a former Marine who found that yoga had helped her with aspects of service-related injuries that the VA Hospital could not. It all sounded pretty amazing. I emailed Anu asking if I could come by and photograph her class, then crossed my fingers.

Anu was kind enough to allow me to photograph her class, and generous enough to speak with me about the experiences that led her to start the program in the first place. I knew that without her words I would risk coming away with pictures that didn’t really distinguish this yoga class from that of any other in the city. It’s a problem that visual journalists often face when stories turn towards topics that are largely invisible. How do you tell a story about trauma or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder when everything appears to be normal on the surface?

As photojournalists we constantly look for moments, situations, details that can help to tell our stories but sometimes it is the voice of the subject to really bring things into sharp focus.

AIDS: Wat Prabat Nampu temple, Thailand

Photographer Damir Sagolj presents a multimedia look at a hospice for those dying of AIDS at a Buddhist temple Wat Prabat Nampu in Lopburi, Thailand.

A “bionic” heart for rock ‘n’ roll

I met Dan Roth in conjunction with a story being written by Reuters’ Toni Clark. Toni’s story was about a new kind of artificial heart, the LVAD (Left Ventricular Assist Device), which is implanted inside a patient’s chest. It is powered by external, rechargeable batteries connected to a cable coming out of the patient’s side, and pumps blood through the circulatory system on a continuous basis, taking over most of the heart’s work.

Dan is 23 years-old, has an LVAD implanted inside him, and is awaiting a heart transplant. All this after he had a stroke, had a defibrillator implanted in his chest and ultimately “coded” for 6 minutes.

Dan provided a compelling story for Toni and I. He plays in a rock band, works out at home and in a gym, twice a day changes the rechargeable batteries on his LVAD and at night plugs himself into the wall to power his LVAD while he sleeps. Dan graciously let me tag along to photograph much of this and all of these activities provided a nice set of pictures showing the full life Dan enjoys. But I was afraid the photographs made it all look a bit too easy. None of those images showed the trauma Dan had to overcome to get to this point.

Souvenirs of War: Purple Hearts, Prosthetics and Phantom Pains

“I teared up…and didn’t cry again for 40 years.”
–Combat veteran Bob Ness after a close friend died next to him in Vietnam.

A spooked soul lives behind the troubled eyes of a combat soldier.

A U.S. soldier of 2-12 Infantry 4BCT-4ID Task Force Mountain Warrior takes a break during a night mission near Honaker Miracle camp at the Pesh valley of Kunar Province August 12, 2009. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Whether returning from the battlefields of Kandahar, Kirkuk, Khe Sanh, or Korea, weary veterans come home with that same intense and unnerving stare…dark, swollen lines surround exhausted eyes that dart in and out of distant shadows; eyes searching for ghosts waiting to haunt the last shreds of sanity remaining inside a terrorized mind.

A U.S. Marine from Bravo Company of 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, gestures during a gun battle in the town of Marjah, in Nad Ali district of Helmand province, February 13, 2010.  REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

Veteran’s call it “the thousand yards stare.”

That playful bravado and bulletproof swagger shared on the flight overseas melts into a pool of lies once the first ear-piercing “snap” chasing the tail of a hungry bullet misses a lucky helmet; that innocent belief of invincibility is quickly replaced with the frostbitten truth that the hunter becomes hunted in battle.

Homegirl cafe

Homegirl from Lucy Nicholson on Vimeo.

It was Stephanie Lane’s first day on the job as a waitress at Homegirl Café and the last thing she wanted to do was wait on the police.

The restaurant, staffed by female gang members trying to leave their past behind, is part of Homeboy Industries, the largest gang intervention program – and one of the most successful – in the U.S.

Quitting a life of drug dealing, fighting and stealing cars on the streets of South Los Angeles, where she followed her father and mother into the Crips gang, is not easy and now Lane faced the first of many tests: the police chief and top brass were growing impatient waiting for service.

Off the runway at NY Fashion Week

Reuters photographer Brendan McDermid shares his experience covering New York Fashion Week, with the logistics of shooting backstage, the shows and everything in between.

Cheering on an aging Japan

When I first heard there was a 78-year old cheerleader in Japan who wears metallic silver wigs and waves gold pom-poms as she jumps and dances in her shiny red sequined costume, it instantly made me curious to find out what kind of person she is.

Japan's cheerleaders.  REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

Everyone knows by now that people in Japan live a long time. According to the World Health Organization’s latest life expectancy figures Japanese women remain at number one (life expectancy: 86 years), but I had never heard of an 80-year-old cheerleader.

Fumie Takino’s way of life seemed to be the key.

My first encounter with her was at her gymnasium, which takes her an hour to get to by bus and train. Upon meeting her I was immediately struck by her big smile and how open she was to let me photograph her practice session with her teammates.

Land of the living dead

It was one early March morning in 2007 while on my way to shoot an assignment in the Portuguese Language Museum that I found myself amidst a mass of people consuming crack in the heart of Sao Paulo. I had stumbled onto Cracolândia, or Crackland, and the party was one of the living dead. I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of people openly consuming the drug at such an early hour, oblivious to the flow of pedestrians heading to work in this megalopolis.

(Multimedia best viewed full screen)

I immediately thought that this was a story that had to be told. I needed to show the reality of life for these addicts and alert residents of the local government’s indifference to this problem in the very heart of their city. In spite of a program by City Hall and the state government for neighborhood renewal, crack is consumed freely 24 hours a day. The police appear to expel consumers from the zone, herding them like cattle to nearby streets where they continue to exercise their vice. The abuse of crack in Crackland has increased day by day in Sao Paulo and Brazil.

Police officers push crack consumers and dealers away from one block as an addict lies sleeping in the part of Sao Paulo's Luz neighborhood locally known as Crackland, March 28, 2010. REUTERS/Fernando Donasci (BRAZIL)

That that same year, 2007, I did a short story on Crackland but now, after seeing the situation so much worse, I decided it was time to do something more in-depth. I began with research into places with a clear view of Crackland from where I could work in relative safety. Without cameras I visited bars, hotels and streets around the district. I hung around trying to get a feel for the streets, get used to the behavior of the consumers and try to know them a little better. Crackland is an extremely dangerous place where users can easily lose control, and sellers can turn the simple action of anyone photographing or filming into a fatal mistake.

Asia’s largest solar power plant

Nicky Loh presents a series of time-lapse sequences of a solar power plant in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

Asia’s Largest Solar Power Plant in Kaohsiung, Taiwan from Nicky Loh on Vimeo.

The first time lapse sequence was shot over a period of one hour at 1 frame every two seconds on a lens baby. I chose to use still photography to capture the time lapse over video as the movement of the panels was so small that a continuous one hour raw video file on the 5D MKII would have crashed my computer.

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