Photographers' Blog

Squatting in Brussels

Brussels, Belgium

By Yves Herman

Once a church and convent, the “Gesu squat” is a huge building which has long been home to an eclectic group of residents.

But now, if a project by a Swiss developer gets the green light, it may be turned into a hotel and luxury apartments, and its inhabitants will face expulsion. At first, Gesu was occupied by artists, who organized events and exhibitions between 2009 and 2012. They had to leave, however, after clashes with newcomers – mainly people in precarious situations looking for a place to live.

Some 160 residents, including 60 children, have lived at the Gesu squat for more than three years. But over the past few months, the number of inhabitants has grown so large that authorities have become worried about them bothering neighboring communities.

Only a few metro stops from Brussels’s famous tourists sites and European institutions, the Gesu church and convent were bought by a Swiss developer named Rosebud Heritage in 2007. The company said that residents could live there until building works started.

Most of the people at Gesu are immigrants from countries including the Czech Republic, Spain and Brazil, who want to settle in Belgium. A few of the families have already lived in Belgium for a long time, and some have stayed in the squat for months or years. But the residents, the landlord and the authorities have signed an agreement saying that they must leave within two months if the project to build a hotel is approved.

Abortion: After the decision

New York City, New York

By Allison Joyce

I had been trying to think how to tell the story of abortion in photos for a while. Over the past few years the U.S. has seen new laws limiting abortions enacted and politicians speaking out for and against abortion.

Unless it’s on a political level, it’s still taboo in our society to discuss abortion. I was surprised when I started talking openly with my friends and colleagues about abortion how many of them had had one themselves. I hadn’t known that 40 percent of American women will have an abortion during their lifetimes. While it’s a personal and private experience, there are 45 million women in America who share in it, and it shouldn’t be a shameful secret. The silence creates a stigma that prevents a meaningful discussion and understanding in the national debate and dialogue.

These women are your mothers, sisters, friends, wives, neighbors, grandmothers, colleagues and daughters. These are real people, not an abstract issue.

Hiking in to a stranded town

Jamestown, Colorado

By Rick Wilking

My rule in covering natural disasters has always been: Find the worst damage first. That’s what the reporters will be writing about and it’s what people want to see. It also may be the hardest to get to.

Such was the case in the Colorado floods of 2013 that started on September 11.

Word came in early that the Boulder County town of Jamestown was devastated and cut off from all road traffic. Three creeks converged right in the middle of downtown, sweeping away whole houses. A man killed in a house collapsed by the flood waters was the first reported death in the tragedy. But there was also (supposedly) no way to get to the town short of going in on a helicopter. National Guard CH-47 Chinooks were ferrying people out so the logical thing was to try and get on one of those. That ride was denied immediately so I decided I would take another route, coming in the “backdoor” as it were.

Jamestown isn’t that far from where I live, normally taking about an hour. But with road closures it took almost two and a half hours just to hit another road block six miles from the town. I was fully prepared for this, having planned on hiking in all along.

A streetcar desired

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

By Pilar Olivares

“Why is Bonde crying, Mom?” my six-year-old son Caetano asked me. I hadn’t noticed it before but he was right. Bonde, the little streetcar that was retired but is still ever-present in our neighborhood, is depicted as tearful in graffiti, posters, stickers, t-shirts, and souvenirs. The yellow trolley that was part of the old train system for more than 115 years and became an icon of Rio de Janeiro’s Santa Teresa neighborhood, doesn’t circulate anymore. Bonde is crying, and so are the neighbors!

Last August 27th was the two-year anniversary of the great Bonde accident in which six people died, including the conductor, Nelson. That was the day Nelson became a hero when, realizing that the brakes were failing, he began screaming to the passengers to jump as he struggled with the mechanism until the fatal impact. That’s why Nelson appears in Bonde graffiti with a big smile on his face, and shops sell posters with his emblematic face.

As I photographed the neighborhood before and during the anniversary, I spoke to residents of Santa Teresa, which is my neighborhood too. I began to understand their feelings and devotion for Bonde, whose loss they still cry over.

Weapons at hand

Belfast, Northern Ireland

By Cathal McNaughton

As I was driving home one night after covering civil unrest in Belfast, I looked at the objects sitting on the passenger seat. There was a golf ball and two snooker balls: objects thrown at members of the police and media by rioters.

I decided that it would be interesting to see how many of these items I could collect over the coming months at the various riots that were sure to follow. The idea was interesting but the difficulty was going to be adding some life to these inanimate objects. They ranged from the ridiculous (a ball covered in insulating tape) to the lethal (a petrol bomb and a hammer).

There were some things I could not collect, such as scaffolding and even a bedside cabinet, due to their size and the dangers of trying to retrieve them.

The women of China’s workforce

Shanghai, China

By Aly Song

Sometimes a good story comes naturally.

As a follow-up to China’s mighty urbanization policy, I gained access to a huge construction site within a new residential development zone some 30 kilometers (18 miles) from Shanghai’s city center. My original plan was to photograph the lives of Chinese migrant workers at night. I imagined that they would probably go to some colorful places and do some interesting things after nightfall. But I was completely wrong – every day they went straight back to their dormitories, where they would eat, chat, play some poker, probably watch an outdoor movie once a month, and that’s it!

I was about to give up when I noticed that there were many women at the dormitories. I got curious so I asked other workers: “Your boss has no problem having wives living here too?” One of them replied: “They also work here at the construction site.” To be honest, I was very surprised because in my mind, construction work has always been a job for men.

From that moment, it was natural that I turned my camera to the female workers. I went up to them, introduced myself, and asked for their permission to document their lives for a couple of days. I was lucky that the women and their husbands were all very nice.

The Arafat-Rabin handshake 20 years on

By Gary Hershorn

There I was on Saturday, September 11, 1993 waiting for the U.S. Open women’s tennis final to start in New York when I received a call from my manager at the time, Larry Rubenstein, that I had to return to Washington the following night as soon as the men’s final was finished to help cover what he said was a big event Monday morning. “There is going to be an historic handshake and you need to be there so just get back to DC,” he said.

Word had come that PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin were going to attend the signing of the Israeli-PLO peace accord with President Clinton on the back lawn of the White House. I was told to do whatever I needed to in order to get out of New York on Sunday night after the men’s final and be at the White House at dawn Monday morning.

It was a great honor to be told by my boss that I would be the Reuters photographer on the main camera platform in front of the stage where the signing was taking place but before that happened, I had two tennis finals to photograph and make sure I actually arrived back in Washington on Sunday night before I could allow myself to start thinking about how I wanted to capture the historic moment.

The end of the Lusty Lady

San Francisco, California

By Stephen Lam

Sometimes, you just have to wait.

A few weeks ago I was assigned to photograph the closure of the Lusty Lady, the first unionized and worker-owned strip club in the United States, located in San Francisco’s popular North Beach neighborhood.

In the week leading up to the event, I had a difficult time getting in touch with my contact at the club, but I was finally able to get the green light two days before it shut. The club had been extremely busy since the closure was announced, but they allowed us to cover the story on the condition that I remained respectful to everyone there: challenge accepted.

As part of the closure, the club hosted a New Orleans-style funeral procession around the neighborhood before the final night of shows at the club. I was greeted by the sight of current and former dancers from all over the country, along with curious onlookers.

Burning bright, loud and intense

Black Rock Desert of Nevada

By Jim Bourg

Having been to Burning Man several times now, I went to the 2013 event determined to convey in some new way to people who have never been the intensity, the size and the sometimes overwhelming sensory overload of the experience. It is truly like nothing else on earth and sometimes feels alien and otherworldly.

The size of the event, a temporary city of almost 70,000 people spanning across miles of the Nevada desert, is hard to convey in individual still photos. So is the sensory overload that 24 hour a day music, lasers, flame effects, wild costumes and the intensity of the dusty, sometimes blazingly hot in the day and at other times frigidly cold at night desert environment brings to bear. Some people who have not been before find it too much to take and leave after only a few days never to return. But for tens of thousands of others one of the regular cliches of Burning Man is that it feels like home and they feel more comfortable there than any place else. As people arrive in Black Rock City every single person gets the salutation from volunteer greeters: “Welcome Home!”

Another common cliche among the “Burners” who attend the event is that trying to describe the experience of being at Burning Man to people who have not been there is like “trying to explain the color purple to a blind person.” Participants returning to work exhausted and changed by a week in the 100 degree dust storm blasted, dehydrating heat of the desert are often floored by friends and coworkers cheerily asking “How was your vacation?” The environment, culture and experiences of Burning Man strain relationships, profoundly impact peoples’ concepts of community, self reliance and responsibility for themselves and others. In many cases the experience actually permanently changes peoples’ perspectives on their lives.

Losing the land war

Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil

 By Lunae Parracho

Three-year-old Sandriely has a look of suffering. She was born in the roadside camp along the same highway where her brother was run over by a truck. Her grandmother Damiana Cavanha, one of the few women chiefs among the Guarani Indians, has lost, beside her grandson, five other family members: one aunt died of poisoning from pesticides used on the neighboring sugar cane plantation, and her husband and three of their children were hit and killed by passing vehicles.

Damiana, Sandriely, and 23 other Guarani Kaiowa Indians are living in a makeshift camp along the shoulder of highway BR-463 in Mato Grosso do Sul since 2009. They settled here after their last failed attempt to take back their ancestral land, called Tekohá Apika’y. (Tekohá is loosely translated as ancestral land, and Apika’y, the name of that specific plot, means “those who wait.”) That was four years ago when they were expelled from their land by gunmen who shot one of them.

A federal prosecutor visited the camp back then, and wrote in a report, “Children, youths, adults and the elderly are subjected to degrading conditions against human dignity. The situation experienced by them is analogous to a refugee camp. They are like foreigners in their own country.”