Photographers' Blog

The samurai and survivors of Fukushima

Fukushima, Japan

By Damir Sagolj

Shortly after the mandatory evacuation was announced on television, Fumio Okubo put on his best clothes and his daughter-in-law served up his favorite dinner. By morning, the 102-year-old was dead. He had hanged himself before dawn.

GALLERY: BROKEN LIVES OF FUKUSHIMA

A rope knitted from plastic bags is certainly not a tanto knife. Nor was his death a dramatic one, with the public in attendance and blood all around but what an old farmer did that morning recalls the act of a samurai in ancient times – to die with honor. Okubo, who was born and lived his entire life between Iitate’s rice fields and cedar trees, wanted to die in his beautiful village, here and nowhere else.

For most people on Japan’s eastern coast – at least for those survivors who lost nobody and nothing – the true horror of the powerful earthquake and tsunami it triggered was over quickly. But for many unfortunate souls in otherwise prosperous Fukushima prefecture, March 11, 2011 was just the start of what for me is one of the most heart-rending stories I have ever covered outside the misery of the developing world.

The unimaginable happened. A nuclear power plant, the pride of Fukushima, was overwhelmed by the monster wave, setting off a series of disasters that never stopped. The result is equally disastrous: two and a half years later, Fukushima looks worse than ever. Once the government realized the initial scale of destruction and the threat of radiation, over 300,000 people were evacuated. Towns and villages were abandoned and lives broken. People were in shock. Only a few, Fumio Okubo among them, knew this was not something that would be over in a week or so.

Evacuees found shelter in schools and sport halls turned into collective centers across the prefecture, sometimes in places with radiation levels higher that their original home towns. In the early post-tsunami chaos, such mistakes were made. Iitate, officially one of the most beautiful villages in Japan, was originally designated as a shelter for people from areas near the tsunami-crippled plant. Then it was realized that the radioactive cloud traveled north-west, and that Iitate was more contaminated than many places closer to the plant.

Shopping for vintage wheels

Pierce, Nebraska

By Jim Urquhart

I think I just witnessed the biggest news event to take place in the small hamlet of Pierce, Nebraska.

GALLERY: VINTAGE CAR AUCTION

Hundreds of miles away from my Salt Lake City home in the heart of fly-over country I was assigned to cover the auctioning off of 500 vintage automobiles in a field outside of town. Ray Lambrecht had run the local Chevrolet dealership for decades before retiring in 1996. Over the years he developed a habit of not selling trade-in cars and held onto many unsold cars. What was left was a scattered collection of hundreds of cars in warehouses and fields around the town of about 2,000 people.

When I heard the cars were going to be put up for auction after they had been “found” I knew this was a story my Dad would love. My father showed me how to turn wrenches when I was young and always taught me that it saves money to be able to work on your own car, if you have the skill, than to pay someone else to do it. It also teaches you how to be able to rely on yourself a bit more. We have long talked about restoring a late 50s model Nash automobile. We have yet to sit down and begin working on one let alone find one that we could afford to get our hands on. I thought that just maybe Nebraska might be the place for us.

Living through a disaster

Golden, Colorado

By Rick Wilking

In a career as long as mine, spread across several continents, I have covered many, many natural disasters. If you have read my blog posts lately that seems to be all I write about. But this time is different. This time, I am a victim of a disaster.

The first week of September was unusually wet for the Front Range of Colorado, but not shockingly so. In fact, we were enjoying how green it was with wildflowers still in bloom instead of fretting about wildfires as we normally would be this time of year. But on the fateful day of 9/11 the rains picked up. I was away from my mountain property most of the day and when I came home noticed new waterfalls on the rocks I had never seen before. Still, I didn’t think much of it and just listened to the rain pound the house all night long.

Early on the 12th, while still dark, my wife got a call from her hospital asking if she would be able to make it in as they were hearing some roads were closed due to flooding. I turned on the TV and it looked like the highway to our driveway might be closed. I decided to wait until first light to take a look. I drove down our mile long driveway a short distance and soon realized it was heavily damaged and impassable by vehicle with a major washout where the road used to be.

Living on climate change

Huaraz, Peru

By Mariana Bazo

Climate change now has a historic route in the Andean cordillera. The gradual melting of tropical glaciers (glaciers located within the tropical latitudes) in one town has led to a decline in tourism that has made villagers look for alternatives to continue attracting tourists.

Peru is a country of multiple ecosystems. To travel from the seaside capital of Lima to 5,000 meters (3,107 feet) above sea level requires just a few hours driving uphill. One of the most important cities in the altitude, Huaraz, is famous for its nearby snow-capped mountains and glaciers. Huaraz is also frequented by mountain climbers, many of whom aim to reach Huascaran, Peru’s tallest mountain and the highest point in the world’s tropics at 6,768 meters (22,205 feet) high.

Huaraz is separated from Lima by about 500 kms (310 miles) of road, but it is much more distant in customs and economic development. One of the biggest attractions near the city is the Pastoruri glacier, on top of which visitors used to hike and play in the snow and ice.

Bacon, beans and tea to go

Along Britain’s highways

By Stefan Wermuth

In a mug or take away? That’s the decision you have to make when you order a tea through the hatch in the side of a burger van, snack van, mobile kitchen, roadside cafe or tea stop – all different names for food vendors scattered around the main roads that wind across Britain.

Your first answer might be “excuse me?” because you can’t hear the question over the sound of the food van’s generator buzzing too loudly or a heavy-goods truck passing by, honking his horn five inches away from your ear. When you do manage to answer properly, “in a mug” means you will get your tea in a giant cup, often branded with the logo of a local business, along with a metal spoon shared with other travelers. Otherwise you get the tea in a polystyrene cup to take away.

Snack vans are usually located roadside in areas known locally as “lay-bys” along so-called “A-routes” – main roads not quite as big as motorways, which run all over the country. They can be trailers, little vans, caravans or even converted double-decker buses. They don’t offer a panoramic view – or let’s say that the only possible panoramic view ends at the next hedge – but every van is unique.

Guest at a teen wedding

Beit Lahiya, near the border between Israeli and northern Gaza Strip

By Mohammed Salem

I got a phone call from a friend asking if I wanted to photograph a wedding in Gaza. I told him I wasn’t interested but when he told me the groom was 15 years old and the bride was one year younger than him, I rushed to the location immediately.

After arriving I saw people celebrating in the street not far from the border between Israel and the northern Gaza Strip. Among them was a young Palestinian boy being carried on the shoulders of relatives and friends. I couldn’t believe that the boy was the groom until I asked him and he replied with a smile, “yes I am”.

GALLERY: PALESTINIAN TEEN WEDDING

After he finished celebrating at a party held a day before the official wedding, he went to play with friends in the street where they enjoyed flavored frozen drinks.

China’s pint-sized snooker prodigy

Xuancheng, China

By Jianan Yu

My understanding of snooker starts with top world players such as China’s Ding Junhui, Britain’s Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O’Sullivan. But recently, a three-year-old Chinese player in Anhui province is capturing attention after a video of him playing showed up on the Internet. Some called him “Snooker Wonder Child”, others wrote, “Next O’Sullivan”. I wanted to find out how great this kid was.

GALLERY: THREE-YEAR-OLD SNOOKER STAR

Wang Wuka’s home is in a rural area on the edge of a small city. His father Wang Yin just turned 30, mainly supporting his family by selling miniature potted plants and tree trunks. Wang Yin’s favorite hobby is snooker, and he has a table at home. A few years ago, Wang met his wife Huang online. They soon got married and Huang gave birth to Wuka, or Kaka as he is called by his family.

“In the beginning, Kaka liked to crawl around on the pool table.” Wang Yin said. “When he was one year old, I made him a small cue and slowly taught him how to play pool on a smaller eight-ball table. When he reached two, he could hit nearly all the shots on the eight-ball table, therefore I started teaching him snooker.”

Witnessing the Nairobi mall massacre

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

Nairobi, Kenya

By Goran Tomasevic

(Editor’s Note: Goran Tomasevic is a veteran war photographer, covering conflict for over 20 years in countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Egypt and Syria. As Reuters chief photographer for East Africa, Goran is now based in Nairobi, Kenya. This is his story of the attack on the Westgate shopping center on September 21, 2013.)

I was at home when I heard from a friend about something happening, but we weren’t sure what it was. I went to the Westgate mall and saw some bodies lying in the car park and realized it was serious. I saw some police so I hid behind the cars to take cover and slowly got closer to the gate.

An injured child was being pushed in a supermarket trolley. The woman said to me, “Please, take this child”. But the police jumped in and helped her. I took some pictures and then saw a couple of plainclothes and regular police. I asked when they would be moving and they said they were going to try and enter the shopping mall from the top. I went with them.

Gaining Ben Johnson’s trust

(Editor’s note: Gary Hershorn, now Global Editor, Sports Pictures, for Reuters, has covered sport for 35 years. A Canadian, he gained the trust of compatriot Ben Johnson in the run-up to the 1988 Seoul Olympics and had special access to the sprinter’s training. Here, Hershorn, looks back at that time and at Johnson’s downfall.)

By Gary Hershorn

Standing shirtless on the training track, Ben Johnson looked at me, then dropped his running shorts. He stared at me, apparently willing me to take a picture and prove I was just another paparazzo desperate to get a sensational shot of the world’s most famous athlete ahead of the Seoul Olympics.

I stared back but did not put my camera to my face. Training over, Johnson told me everything was fine and I could come back and watch him train as often as I liked. I had, it seemed, passed the test and won his trust. Johnson, who generally distrusted the media, completely opened up that July, telling me what time he would train each day, showing up on time and taking me inside his private world, to the weight room and massage room.

Beachside at Blackpool

Blackpool, Northern England

By Phil Noble

I can remember vividly as a child trailing after several suitcases pulled by my parents or trying to squeeze into my uncle’s luggage-laden car as my brother and I began the journey to our annual family holiday by the beach.

This was the late 1970s or early 1980s, and foreign holidays were out of the reach of the Noble household at that point, so the bright lights of a British resort such as Llandudno or Blackpool was our usual destination.

Over the years these seaside resorts and others like them have undergone a rollercoaster ride (excuse the pun), seemingly lurching from popularity to poverty and back again.