Photographers' Blog

Living with “werewolf syndrome”

Dolkha District, Nepal

By Navesh Chitrakar

People have always had a certain fascination with the unknown – a fascination that has been experienced by Devi Budhathoki and three of her children, who all suffer from a rare genetic condition that causes large amounts of thick hair to grow on their bodies.

There is no medical solution available for Devi’s condition, which is known as Congenital Hypertrichosis Lanuginosa, but its symptoms can be reduced by laser hair removal. Dermatologist Dr. Dharmendra Karn has been giving this treatment to 38-year-old Devi, along with her two daughters Manjura, who is 14, Mandira, who is 7, and her son Niraj, who is 12. Dr Karn’s care has helped the family, but they need multiple sessions for it to be effective and even after finishing a course of hair removal, they need to keep returning because the hair grows back again.

The Dhulikhel hospital has been treating Devi and her children for free since its management heard from locals, the media and social workers that Devi came from a poor family. Devi is married to Nara Bahadur Budhathoki and for 23 years they have been living in their home that has one kitchen, a shared bedroom and no lavatory. The house sits on a hill in Kharay, some 190km (118 miles) from Nepal’s capital Kathmandu.

Nara Bahadur does not mind Devi having excessive hair on her face; he said a good man does not pursue a woman for her appearance. The couple has five children, three of whom suffer from Devi’s condition. Devi told me that no one in her family had this disorder before her. She said that her family earns some money by working as porters. They use this cash to pay the school fees for their children. They eat what they can grow in their fields.

It’s generous of the hospital to provide Devi and her children with free treatment she said but she has so little money that she finds it difficult to pay for transport to get there. She cries when she is alone, thinking of her poverty and her children. She is considering selling the only gold earring that she owns so that she can afford to travel to the hospital. Sometimes she even thinks of not going back because the treatment doesn’t seem to be working, and the hair on her face always grows again.

Colombian yellow is back

Barranquilla, Colombia

By Jose Miguel Gomez

An entire stadium with over 40,000 fans dressed in yellow awaited the key match between Colombia and Chile. Only a couple of thousand wore Chilean red. We photographers arrived early to set up on the field in the 40C (104F) heat and 80% humidity. Every slight movement in the sun caused a burst of sweat.

Colombia only needed a draw to qualify for Brazil 2014. It was 16 years since we last qualified for the World Cup, and the fans inside the stadium and out were in a state of triumphal optimism. This was a whole new generation of players, and those who played for European clubs carried the biggest burden of setting the stage for a nationwide fiesta.

Chile, on the other hand, did play in the last World Cup. Commentators claimed that Chile is a dangerous team, but no one imagined what would happen later.

France’s boy bullfighters

Nimes, south of France

By Jean-Paul Pelissier

Ask a young boy what he wants to be when he gets older and the reply is the usual “a fireman, soccer player, doctor or astronaut”. However, ask two young boys from southern France, Solal, aged 12 and Nimo, aged 10, and you’ll hear, “a bullfighter”.

At the start of the story, bullfighting was familiar to me, but full of unknowns. Familiar because living in southern France, the traditional Ferias of Nimes and Arles are well-known yearly popular festivals, attracting revellers for two or three days to the Roman arenas and parades with many dressed in local costumes. On occasion I attended bullfights with friends, followed by partying in the streets at the outdoor bars or “bodegas”.

Following the two boys I learned the language of the bullfighter, mostly Spanish in origin, that the “aficionados”, the dedicated fans use. The studied cape movements by the toreador, and the charges by the fighting bull, make for a charged confrontation between man and animal where spectators react with animated emotions.

Home is where the Beetle is

Monterrey, Mexico

By Daniel Becerril

The need to find a place and make it your own is sometimes the only way to cope in a life full of surprises, hardship, sorrow and joy. It’s unbelievable how humans are capable of accommodating themselves in any space and under any circumstances.

I first heard of Oscar Almaguer, or Don Oscar, on a local TV program. It was the story of an 83-year-old man who had been living in a battered VW Beetle for the last 10 years. Don Oscar’s story was the perfect one to show life’s full range of social complexities and I thought it would definitively make an interesting picture story.

In these times of economic hardship it’s not that uncommon for people to live in their cars after falling on hard times but Don Oscar’s story is a little bit different. He and his wife got divorced 10 years ago and sold everything in order to split it in equal parts. Instead of leaving Don Oscar with half, she disappeared with everything, or almost everything. What she did leave him was their 1967 VW Beetle, known here by the Mexican nickname “Vocho.”

Everyone has a dark side

Bottrop, Germany

By Ina Fassbender

I really don’t like splatter films, not even the films of ‘Saw’. But for this job I had to look at a sequence from Saw 1 on YouTube and after six minutes of this, I was curious about my performer Yvonne Nagel who wanted to perform as the Amanda Young character, who wakes up in a room with a “reverse bear trap” around her mouth and the key to her escape is in the stomach of her dead cellmate. Nice. Movie Park Germany engages every year some hundreds of people who run through the park to frighten visitors during the Halloween season.

So I met Yvonne, or ‘Amanda’, in person at the Movie Park.  It is her fourth season as a Halloween performer there. She was excited about my idea to picture her out of character, so we decided that I could visit her, at her office where she works as project manager, at Lenovo-Medion AG in Essen. When I arrived at the entrance of her company, I looked around and couldn’t see her. Then from a distance a business woman with somber black suit and high heels called my name. It was Yvonne. What a change. She looked like you and me. Dressed casually. Flowing long hair and very likeable.

We went to an exhibit room to take pictures. Wonderful, the contrast between her job and her performance for Halloween couldn’t be larger. Next, I visited her at home. Because they changed their house, it looked a little bit provincial.

Preparing for the worst

Oakland, California

By Stephen Lam

When the sounds of the first simulation went off in the distance and victims started screaming, it was game on.

While at a wedding rehearsal last week, I received a call from my editor to cover Urban Shield, a large-scale, 48-hour preparedness exercise for first responders. With participants and observers attending from various states and countries, Urban Shield is in a sense the Super Bowl of preparedness exercise.

I knew I wanted to document the event when I heard that parts of it will be held at the recently closed eastern span of the former San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. So after a week of planning and anticipation, I was escorted first to an elementary school in Castro Valley to photograph an active shooter scenario. In a matter of minutes, a tranquil elementary school was transformed into a disaster scene with people role playing as victims, hostages and terrorists ran all over as SWAT team moved in to secure the area.

At home with a hermit

South of Russia’s Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk

By Ilya Naymushin

Viktor is a hermit who, for the last ten years, has lived all alone in the wild Siberian forest by the banks of the Yenisei River.

I first heard about him in September, when I went out sailing with some yachting buddies of mine, looking for beautiful autumn scenes to photograph. One of my yachtsmen friends suddenly asked: “Do you know that there’s a hermit who lives near here, completely alone? Do you want to visit him and take his picture?” “I don’t know. Yeah, sure, I’d like to,” I replied.

After that conversation, the day eventually came when I went out with my brother Alexey in his boat to meet the hermit. In a distant corner of a deep cove, hidden from view, we spotted a shabby wooden hut. We were in luck, the hermit was at home.

Star of the gypsy circus

Paris, France

By Philippe Wojazer

“I want to become one of the best Flamenco dancers” said Roujenka, 13, the youngest daughter of Romanes Circus founders, Delia and Alexandre. The circus, located on the outskirts of Paris, is a small Gypsy circus and is entirely family-run. It is comprised of a tent in an enclave along this busy Parisian boulevard.

After asking her father, Roujenka became the first member of the family to go to school. Her three sisters and a brother were educated by teachers coming to the circus. “I have many problems at school”, Roujenka said. “The other pupils make fun of me because I do not dress like them. It is out of the question for me to give up my culture and wear trousers and they do not even try to understand why I wear my long and colorful dresses. It is becoming harder and harder for me to be who I am even more since my community was attacked in France. I am happy with my sisters, my brother and my parents, and the way I live. We do not harm anyone but we are always criticized.”

When I asked about her hobbies, I was expecting a simple answer, like one given by most 13-year-old girls. “I do not watch television. I do not have stuffed animals. My animals are the cats running everywhere in the circus. I do not go shopping, this is not our way of life, it’s not in our culture. The only place I go shopping is the Flamenco tailor but it is very expensive. I have three dresses, one red and white, a yellow one and a black with white spots. When I get off from school, I practice my Flamenco dancing, I sing, I rehearse, I listen to music. My sister Alexandra is a great trapeze artist and she teaches me a lot too. All this is with the goal to improve my skills.”

A night in a bunker

Ilmenau, Germany

By Ina Fassbender

One Saturday morning I began to time travel for 16 hours to a place in eastern Germany, traveling to the time of the former DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik), to the time of two countries and two armies. To the bunker museum at Rennsteighoehe, in the middle of the Thueringer forest. It is owned by the “Waldhotel Rennsteighoehe”, which offers a ‘reality event’ weekend, to sleep one night in a bunker built by the ministry for national security MfS, wear a NVA (Nationale Volksarmee or National People’s Army) uniform and be treated like a former DDR soldier for the night.

I arrived in the middle of the forest with 14 others taking part in this reality event. First, everybody had to choose trousers, jackets, belts and caps. A gas mask was essential. Then a man, who looked like a major, appeared with a frightening look in his eyes and scolded us with severe words, exhorting us to find the bunker some 30 kms (18 miles) away. So we walked with our luggage through the forest. We were happy to find the bunker after only 100 meters (yards). At a closed gate a man, who had the look of a former NVA officer, welcomed us with no warm words. Rather he gave commands like in former times.

GALLERY: INSIDE A GERMAN BUNKER

At that moment I remembered my first meeting with the NVA. I visited friends in Berlin in 1986 and had to use the 200 km (124 miles) transit motorway through the former DDR. At the customs inspection I waited for many hours; don’t do anything, stay calm, don’t smile, be serious. After what seemed like an eternity of waiting, there was the moment NVA soldiers had to control me. I was in fear. They looked into my eyes, asked me where I wanted to go, how long would I stay there, what was the reason, was I smuggling something? They went away for 10 minutes with my pass. When they returned they uttered no words, inspected the car and my baggage inside and out. It took around 15 minutes and then I was on my way to Berlin. They found nothing.

The fashion of Liverpool

Liverpool, England

By Suzanne Plunkett

The chances are you won’t have heard of Liverpool Fashion Week. But if you have – or if you ever do in the future – it will likely be thanks to Amanda Moss.

Moss, an indefatigable mother of six children, is on a mission to transform Liverpool into Britain’s first haute couture hot spot beyond London. She has some way to go but if anyone can do it, she can. I met her while covering Liverpool Fashion Week, an event launched by Moss five years ago and now proudly sashaying into the international spotlight.

The words Liverpool and fashion have been known to raise a smile when mentioned together – especially among locals, known for their self-deprecating sense of humor.

  • Editors & Key Contributors