Photographers' Blog

A slow boat to Myanmar – nearly

I was at the airport shooting pictures to illustrate a Singapore Airlines story when the office rang to say there was an opportunity, if we could move quickly enough, to embed with the U.S. Naval relief operation heading to cyclone hit Myanmar.

malucca sunset

Early the next morning I was aboard a U.S. Navy supply ship heading up the Malacca Strait. There were 8 journalists on board – writers, a BBC tv reporter and cameramen, and 3 photographers. It was a 2 day trip up to the USS Essex, and with little else to do on board, I photographed the crew preparing supplies which would be transferred when we arrived. With only experience of ferries to go on I’d feared getting horribly seasick – but was holding up okay, and excited about what we’d find when we got to the Navy ships.

heloride

We transferred to the Essex by helicopter. I quickly learned to use the word “helo” – pronounced “heelow” – as no one seemed to understand me when I said “chopper”. The supply ship had been crewed by ex-navy “civilian mariners”, but I’d been warned that things would be “different” on the real Navy ship. And they were.

essex

If there’s one thing this experience has given me it is an indelible association between US Navy ships and disinfectant. Where the supply ship had been pretty crusty, the interiors of the Essex were sparkling clean – floors, walls, celings, everything – spotless. Every time I descended a set of stairs or a ladder (of which there were many) and my nose reached the same level as the deck, I’d get a heady whiff of disinfectant. A few days ago I visited the lavatories in a Singapore shopping centre and the smell took me right back to the Essex – I guess they were both using the same floor cleaner!

On the Essex and later on the Harpers Ferry, we were always “escorted” by either Navy or Marine media liasons. Although we were ”free to move about the ship,” the reality was slightly different. This was good in some ways – on occasions when I managed to evade my escorts, I got lost in the labyrinth of corridors and hallways on each deck and it took me forever to find my way. Hunt-for-Red-October lighting at night and a flashlight strapped to my head, I’d wander around in circles.

Shouting into the wind

Flood

Before I start please spare a thought for the thousands who died when Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar and the thousands more affected by it, who have lost loved ones, their homes and their livelihoods.

For a news pictures editor in charge of Asia yesterday was a tough day. The death toll was rising steadily as the enormity of the tragedy slowly unfolded and we worked hard at getting pictures from staff and stringers. Handout pictures from pressure groups were scrutinized and checked for usage rights usage and potential bias. We had staff waiting at airports to speak to tourists who may have had images of the scene as the cyclone struck.

The day was a stream of planning meetings, coordination with text and TV meetings, safety meetings, negotiations with wide eyed tourists all believing they had shot a million dollar picture, editing and captioning the results, trying to find staff with the requisite experience for the conditions, stroking those who had volunteered but lacked the experience and speaking to the photographers on the ground (compared to whom my day was a walk in the park - no power, no water, no food was the least of their worries).

A toast to Adrees Latif

I’d like to add my own congratulations to the plaudits being lauded on Adrees Latif who has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography. It is one hell of a picture.

The following images are unlikely prize-winners but serve to demonstrate the delight with which news of his win has been received by his Reuters colleagues. In the first Paul Barker, Editor Asia News Pictures and Asia Chief Photographer Russell Boyce toast his image;

 Adrees 2

while in the second the editorial team from text, TV, graphics and pictures at Reuters Asia HQ in Singapore drink his health as Adrees himself listens-in via the telephone on the desk to the right of the frame, from his assignment in Nepal.  

The story behind the Pulitzer picture

Reuters Bangkok senior photographer Adrees Latif tells how he took the pictures which won him a Pulitzer Prize. The pictures were taken in Myanmar during the protests in September last year and include the photo of Japanese video journalist Kenji Nagai being shot.

“Tipped off by protests against soaring fuel prices, I landed in Yangon on 23 September, 2007, with some old clothes, a Canon 5D camera, two fixed lenses and a laptop.

For the next four days, I went to Shwedagon Pagoda, two-three kilometres from the centre of town and waited for the monks who had been gathering there daily at noon.