Photographers' Blog

A mother’s sacrifice

By Bobby Yip and Cheryl Ravelo

DATELINE: HONG KONG

Like most of the domestic helpers from the Philippines, Imelda “Susan” Famadula smiles a lot. She has been working in Hong Kong for 15 years, waking early in the morning, dropping the kids off at school, going to the market, bringing the kids back, all along taking care of various household tasks which last until midnight, and for six days a week.

Imelda loves Sunday. She can meet friends in the city’s financial Central district, where bankers and office workers make way for domestic helpers. Imelda also goes to church, but most importantly, she is free to meet her family – via the Internet.

Every month she sends nearly all of her salary back to the Philippines for her family. Only once every two years does she manage to save enough to travel back to her hometown. “I may not go back this year, second year in a row, as my kid needs more money while studying in the university”, she said, still smiling.

Internet is her lifeline, connecting her soul with those she feeds thousands of miles away.

In Hong Kong, she has two boys to take care of. When she started working for her current family eight years ago, they hadn’t even been born yet.

Going hungry

By Bobby Ranoco

When I saw a headline in a local paper that the number of Filipino families experiencing hunger had risen from 4.3 million to 4.5 million, I called my sources in the slum district of Baseco community in Tondo, Manila.

I was told there would be a feeding program for children sponsored by South Korean missionaries later in the afternoon. When I arrived, I was surprised to see hundreds of children gathered outside the missionary house waiting for a free meal.

I have covered this kind of subject several times but this time I was so emotional seeing lots of hungry children, most of them barefoot and dirty. When a man distributing food stubs arrived, all the children rushed and scrambled to get one. I noticed a girl carrying her brother on her back amid the scramble.

When December turns tragic

By Erik de Castro

December is normally a festive month in the Philippines with the Christmas season a big deal in this country of predominantly Roman Catholics. However, based on experience, heavy rains that can bring flash floods, landslides and lead to ferries sinking are also likely to happen during this period. For some Filipinos who have survived the worst kind of such disasters, December reminds them of the trauma they experienced.

Several villages in Cagayan de Oro City and Iligan City were caught flat-footed as they slept last Friday night when tropical storm Washi swept across Mindanao and Eastern Visayas, bringing strong winds and heavy rains that caused massive flooding, flash floods and landslides.

Early the next day, when a colleague told me that there were scores dead and hundreds still missing, I jumped from my bed, collected my disaster gear and asked for permission from Reuters to fly to the area. As soon as I got the approval, I rushed to the airport to get a flight. It was chaos at the airport as people were going home to the provinces for the holidays. The flight to Cagayan de Oro City was fully booked because flights were cancelled the previous day due to the storm. Many of the passengers were hoping they could finally get a flight, even more so after the disaster as they had to get home to check on their families. The names on the waiting list for stand-by passengers was already in the hundreds, with my name included. By luck, I was able to board one of the flights later in the afternoon.

Two typhoons. One tragedy.

By Cheryl Ravelo

Two years after the devastating typhoon Ketsana hit Manila on September 26, followed by Typhoon Parma a week later, I thought this year would just be to commemorate the tragedy of those twin typhoons whose magnitude of destruction was historic for this country. But, I never knew we would relive it again, and this time with much greater damage brought by Typhoons Nesat and Nalgae.

When I went out to cover Nesat, I said to myself it’s just another typhoon, got some pictures of school cancellations, knee-deep flooding and villagers pre-emptively evacuating with their families, belongings and pets.

But the situation seemed to be getting worse when Bobby started photographing the already flooded U.S. Embassy along Manila Bay, something that has never happened in recent history. Storm surges created waves as high as the coconut trees lining the seawall. An oil tanker ran aground, almost hitting hundreds of shanties along the coastline of south harbor.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures 7 August 2011

After rioting in Xinjiang left 11 dead at the start of Ramadan the Chinese authorities stated that the insurgents who started the trouble had fled to Pakistan. Security forces quickly deployed in numbers to ensure that any further trouble was prevented or quickly quelled. Shanghai-based Carlos Barria travelled to Kashgar to shoot a story on the renovation of the old Kashgar centre, an example of China's modernising campaign in minority ethnic regions. A busy week for Aly Song, who is also Shanghai based, with taxi drivers on strike over rising fuel costs while Lang Lang had local fishermen preparing for typhoon Muifa to hit. In both pictures, the eye is cleverly drawn  to the distance to show in one image, a line of  striking taxi drivers, and in the other, rows of boats bracing for the imminent typhoon.

Ethnic Uighur men sit in front of a television screen at a square in Kashgar, Xinjiang province August 2, 2011. Chinese security forces blanketed central areas of Kashgar city in the western region of Xinjiang on Tuesday, days after deadly attacks that China blamed on Islamic militants highlighted ethnic tensions in the Muslim Uighur area.  REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Armed police officers are deployed at a square in Kashgar August 2, 2011. Chinese police have shot dead two suspects being hunted for a deadly attack in the restive western region of Xinjiang, which an exiled regional leader blamed on Beijing's hardline policies towards her people. The two suspects, Memtieli Tiliwaldi and Turson Hasan, were shot by police late on Monday in corn fields on the outskirts of Kashgar city, where on Sunday assailants stormed a restaurant, killed the owner and a waiter, then hacked four people to death, according to the Khasgar government website.  REUTERS/Stringer

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A week in pictures 26 June 2011

Last week a series of unconnected bomb attacks across Asia left dozens dead and many more injured.  Thirty-five people were killed in a suicide bombing next to a hospital in Afghanistan's Logar province south of Kabul, at least four police officers were wounded in blast in eastern Pakistan, and suspected Taliban militants stormed a police station in a town in northwestern Pakistan, killing at least five policemen. Four explosions rocked Myanmar's capital, Naypyitaw.  In Thailand a triple bombing by suspected insurgents kills at least two people and wounded nine others in Thailand's deep south.

A victim of a suicide bomb attack yells as medics apply burn cream to his torso after he was brought to the Lady Reading hospital for treatment in Peshawar June 20, 2011. A suicide bomber blew himself up in a market area on the outskirts of the northwestern city of Peshawar, killing at least two people and wounded three, police and hospital officials said. This image has been rotated 180 degrees.  REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz

Covering violence and the suffering it causes is a daily diet for the team in Pakaistan so when I saw Fayaz's up-side-down picture on the wire  I asked Adrees Latif, chief photographer Pakistan, why it had been rotated. Visually I was uncomfortable with it.  Adrees' answer made me stop and think about the way I look at these pictures so I thought that I'd share his reply.

Mud-covered devotion despite downpours

As Tropical Storm Meari dumped heavy rains on the Philippine capital Manila, causing the cancellation of domestic flights and residents to flee their houses near rivers and low-lying areas, I traveled in the wee hours of June 24 hoping that the rains would not spoil this year’s “Taong Putik” (Mud People) Festival.

The trip to Aliaga town in Nueva Ecija province, north of Manila took an hour longer than usual due to rising flood waters in Manila and surrounding areas. I arrived in the barangay of Bibiclat before 5am, allowing me enough time to talk to residents and ask for directions to where devotees, called “Taong Putik” or literally Mud People, start their preparations as part of a yearly festival honoring the village’s patron saint, John the Baptist. In other parts of the largely Roman Catholic Philippines, people use St. John the Baptist’s feast day to engage in revelry that includes dousing water on unknowing passersby.

One resident pointed me to the rice fields where devotees apply mud to their faces or whole bodies to show humility. Luckily, I arrived while the devotees were just starting their yearly ritual, also called Pagsa-San Juan. Apart from putting mud all over their bodies, the devotees wear costumes made from vines, dried grass and leaves.

Labor pains and flashbacks

It was a hot and humid Wednesday morning when I finally received much sought after permission to document childbirth at the government-run Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital.

I suited up with excitement. I put on a hospital gown together with a mask and cap that I bought inside the hospital. I entered a two-door room filled with doctors and nurses. I walked around and found the labor room on the left side. It had six beds but all were occupied. There was a patient on the first bed who was uneasy, fear flashed in her eyes. Medical staff stood next to the bed to counsel her. Next to her was a doctor conducting an internal exam on a mother, I could see her pain while waiting to be fully dilated. In no time they transferred her into the delivery room.

I couldn’t help but notice the pain in every contraction as the mothers lay in bed. They were dressed in white dusters and their body shifted from one side to another. As moans echoed from every corner, a familiar feeling flashed back; my first birthing experience two years ago. I could somehow feel again what they were going through, the only difference was I was able to watch and capture the pain this time with my cameras.

Half a century of crucifixions for both penitent and photographer

I can’t help but be amazed by the contrasting observance of the Lenten season, particularly Holy Week, in my country, the Philippines. To many, Holy Week means going back to their home towns for vacation for a relaxing time and to renew ties with families and friends. To others, like the people from Pampanga in the northern Philippines, it is the time for the annual religious ritual that could be viewed as bizarre in the eyes of some observers.

Pampanga has become a popular destination for local and foreign tourists, as well as journalists, during Maundy Thursday and Good Friday as thousands of penitents self-flagellate and dozens enact Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. Last Thursday, I followed the shirtless men as they walked the streets while whipping their backs with bamboo sticks. Blood splattered not only on my clothes but also on my camera lens as I got closer to the penitents to take a snap shot of their wounded and bloodied backs. Sometimes I even tasted the blood as droplets landed on my face.

It was 1985 when penitent Ruben Enaje first had himself nailed onto the cross. He said it was a vow he made after miraculously surviving a fall from the third floor of a building he was painting. Seeing him again last Friday for the 26th year of his crucifixion, it was obvious he has aged but the expression of pain on his face – as three-inch stainless steel nails are hammered on his hands and feet – is the same.

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. 

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