Photographers' Blog

Lives behind the gaudy uniforms and loud music

New Delhi, India

By Mansi Thapliyal

Music bands play an integral part to the big fat Indian wedding, especially in North India.

Weddings in North India are never complete until the family of the bride and groom dance to the tune of popular Bollywood songs. Brass bands are hired for the purpose of playing at the wedding procession in which the groom’s family dance all the way to the wedding venue where the bride’s family waits to receive them. A procession called “Barat” is usually accompanied by bright lights, fireworks, loud music and dance. The instruments played by these brass bands are a mix of Indian and western musical instruments.

The men who make up India’s brass bands are regularly seen marching through the cities and towns dressed in their flashy outfits and spicing up parties, though despite their loud presence, they usually go unnoticed.

I wanted to take a closer look and find out more about them, find out what they do when they’re not entertaining wedding guests and find out about their day-to-day struggles.

The routine of brass band members consists of leaving their shops around late afternoon. Once they reach the venue from where the wedding procession has to start, they often wait hours for the groom’s family to gather. One of the band members told me that earlier the hours used to stretch ahead endlessly but thanks to mobile phones and internet technology things are different for them now. They use their mobile phones to kill the boredom – huddling together to watch a film on the handset’s small screen, listen to songs or talk to their girlfriends.

Healing Kashmir’s wounds

Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir

By Fayaz Kabli

When I saw four young Kashmiri boys at a music contest perform English and Urdu tunes in Srinagar, I could not believe my ears and eyes that it was really happening in Kashmir.

Kashmir’s centuries-old music was silenced by the sounds of bomb explosions and booming guns after a bloody revolt against Indian rule broke out in this disputed region over two decades ago. Music schools, liquor shops, beauty parlors and cinemas were closed in the Valley in 1989 and conservative Islamic ideas were propagated by armed militant groups.

The sounds of drums and guitars and the singer’s voice caught my attention, driving me to want to meet them after the performance. I met them back stage and found myself wanting to know more about them. So, I planned to do a story on the youths. I received a call telling me they were planning a jam session in their house. Excitedly, I went to met them immediately. I was received warmly and taken into an old building in an uptown locality of Srinagar. There was little light in the room with just two lamps that weren’t working properly. As I tried to help fix the lights, the music began to get louder and I started taking pictures.

The silent drummers

By Nacho Doce

A photograph may be deaf and mute, but it speaks through the interpretation and feelings of each viewer. We might say that feelings are among the few things not yet globalized in the 21st Century.

SLIDESHOW: MUSIC OF SILENCE

For the second time I found myself doing a story on handicapped children in Brazil, but this time deaf musicians were very different from blind ballerinas. What I found truly gratifying about the ballerinas was what they achieved deserved fame. Well after finishing that story, they performed in the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Paralympics. This time we decided to do a story on a music school for deaf children, only to find out after that they are invited to play Brazil’s National Anthem on their drums in the opening ceremony of the upcoming 2014 World Cup.

As the ballerinas always had their eyes closed it made it easier to portray them as blind, but with the deaf musicians it was more difficult. The majority of them don’t use a hearing aid which would have served as an obvious reference, and my pictures don’t have sound. I discovered their peculiar reason for not wearing the aid, especially those over 14 years old; they were ashamed to wear them on the street for aesthetic reasons, something I realized was natural at that age.

Pussy Riot’s activist beginnings

By Tom Peter

When the Khamovnichesky court announces on Friday the verdict in the case against the punk band Pussy Riot that is accused of hooliganism in Moscow’s main church, the world will witness how the Russian authorities respond to an artist’s smack in the face.

Many admire the braveness of Yekaterina Samutsevich, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Maria Alyokhina, others object to the form and the choice of location for their shock performance. But make no mistake; the impact of the “Punk Prayer” on public opinion was not the chance result of a post-adolescent prank. At least two of the three defendants have emerged from a scene of young conceptual artists that have been engaged in political activism for years. They knew exactly where to hit so that it hurt most.

SLIDESHOW: THE EARLY YEARS OF PUSSY RIOT

I met Nadezhda and her husband Pyotr Verzilov in 2007 after they co-founded the art group Voina that gained international fame with a number of spectacular stunts in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Yekaterina joined the group a little later. I never met Maria Alyokhina during my time in Russia.

Bieber fever spreads to Mexico

By Henry Romero

The security fence surrounding the hotel in the upscale neighborhood of Polanco, Mexico, where Justin Bieber was scheduled to give a news conference, was impressive. It was far away from the main entrance of the hotel – far enough away to make sure that the throngs of frenzied girls would not be able to trample their object of lust to death. Girls still dressed in their school uniform endured the sun for hours, screaming or singing his songs together, without knowing each other but bonding through their love for him.

When we, the photographers and journalists, were walking past to get into position for the news conference, the girls begged to come along with us “Sir, let me carry your equipment; don’t you need an assistant?; Pleeeease, I love him sooo much, please, take me with you…….” while they hugged the fence and held pictures of Justin pressed to their hearts.

One of them was holding onto a life-sized cardboard cut-out of Justin like it was the real thing; Justin – the cardboard lover.

The crowd-pleasing MTV awards

By Mario Anzuoni

I was assigned to cover this year’s MTV Movie Awards. These awards are voted by audiences online and besides some of the traditional awards, they also give out unique ones, such as: the “best on-screen dirtbag,” the “best kiss” and “best fight” award.

The challenging part of the assignment was that my position was in a regular audience seat on the main floor, in a show that has much audience participation and standing up. It translated in me free handling the 400mm lens to get a clear shot, past the standing crowd.

Witty, British humor was provided by actor and comedian Russell Brand who hosted the show. Jennifer Aniston was the first to be recognized as the “best on-screen dirtbag.”

Marilyn Manson… and Johnny Depp?

By Mario Anzuoni

The Golden Gods awards is a celebration of the most influential heavy metal and hard rock bands, sponsored by the industry magazine Revolver. This year, for the first time in the award’s four year history, the 2-hour show, featuring multiple headbanging performances in an extremely loud concert-like atmosphere, would be televised live on the xbox network. And if that wasn’t enough to make the night interesting, I was informed before the show that a very special guest was going to be a part of the finale this year.

The show kicked off with a performance by Motley Crue co-founder Nikki Sixx, followed by Gene Simmons of KISS receiving a special Golden God award for his career achievements. The show just got louder from there, with performances by the Hollywood-based band Black Veil Brides and Dee Snider, then Slash performing with Alice Cooper. Then came Evanescence followed by Tenacious D duo Jack Black and Kyle Gass presenting Rush drummer Neil Peart with a Lifetime Achievement award.

The crowd was pleased, but after almost two hours, the audience was both impatient and excited to see Marilyn Manson’s finale performance.

Babushka tunes

By Sergei Karpukhin

Life in the Russian provinces has never been easy. The absence of common utilities even now is not a rarity in villages: water is gathered from wells, stoves have to be heated up, the cattle watched, in the summer the vegetable patch needs tending…

All these tasks, and household chores in general, fall on the shoulders of the womenfolk, and in the villages where the young have left, they fall on the shoulders of the ”babushkas” – the grannies. Dealing with this workload has always been helped by song. Normally it’s those songs taught to you by your mother or grandmother in early childhood. The songs are passed from generation to generation gathering all the love, tenderness, happiness and sadness of the people who lived before.

These grannies from the village of Buranovo in the central Russian region of Udmurtia started their folk ensemble almost 40 years ago to sing these songs. Recently they have started to sing popular hits from Russia and overseas in their own language (more similar to Finnish than Russian). They were chosen by popular demand to represent Russia in the Eurovision 2012 competition. Their vitality, love and the sharp understanding of life inherent in their collective experience is an uncommon virtue, even among the young.
Even if these wonderful seniors don’t get first prize in the competition, I feel their story will make them winners.

An accordion for Ablogin

By Vasily Fedosenko

To Vladimir Ablogin, it may still seem like a fairy tale, but as he touches his new squeezebox “garmoshka” accordion, which had covered thousands of miles to find him in his dilapidated wood hut, he knows what has happened is real.

I arrived in his run-of-the-mill Russian village in the Smolensk region at Belarus’s border on an early December morning to take pictures of local peasants voting in Russia’s parliamentary election. Looking like it was still from the Soviet era, the election day soon turned into a rare holiday in this backwater settlement, which was until recently prosaically named “Gryaz” (Mud).

Paying little heed to my presence and already warmed up with Russia’s national tipple, a bare-footed Ablogin sat on a bed in his higgledy-piggledy home, playing a traditional Russian “garmoshka” button accordion to amuse his audience of several women and men.

Afghanistan’s symphony

By Omar Sobhani

Usually when I go to shoot for a story, we are faced with a bomb blast, a suicide attack, or some other type of violence here in Afghanistan. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised when I visited Afghanistan’s National Institute of Music. Even though I have lived in Kabul for many years, I had no clue this academy even existed — it is the only of its kind in the whole country.

Foreigners and Afghans teach young Afghans how to play all sorts of instruments, as well as to sing. What struck me most is the opportunity given to women. There are not many opportunities for women in Afghanistan to play or sing music — during the Taliban era (from 1996-2001) music was outright banned and women were basically taken away from public life.

So, being at the school, and seeing young girls learn how to play music, actually gave me some hope about my country and made me think perhaps we can live in peace in the future. This is not the usual feeling I have after an assignment.