Photographers' Blog

Destroying the heart of the village

Geste, France

By Stephane Mahe

The villages of rural France are faced with decreasing numbers of residents. In addition to the closure of bakeries and shops, they are seeing rising costs to maintain the religious and social heart of these communities, the local church. The village of Gesté and its church, Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens, has witnessed this first-hand.

Local media reported the final phase of the “deconstruction” of a neo-Gothic church in the village of Gesté, and its 2,600 residents. The municipal council was unable to allocate the funds, some 3 million euros ($4.05 million) in 2007, needed for repairs and upkeep. With some research I discovered that since 2000, more than twenty village churches had faced the demolition ball. Apparently 250 churches in France are threatened with the same fate as municipalities are faced with extremely high costs to repair and maintain them, costs that are higher than the cost of tearing them down.

I appeared on site to discover the Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens church, built between 1854 and 1864, with workmen and cranes tearing down the walls of the church, leaving the bell tower and the crypt intact. People stopped to gather behind barriers to watch as heavy machines partially brought down the church.

Speaking with the crowd I learned that they come often to watch, to photograph the destruction day-by-day of their village’s heritage, this massive church, a symbol at the center of their village. I look at their faces as they watch the gutting of their church. As stones crash to the ground, the crowd watches in silence.

I was taken to a warehouse by the current mayor who showed me where statues of the Virgin Mary and Christ were stored. Stacked one on top of another, they await a new church to be built on the site of the partially destroyed Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens. I learned about the division this has brought about in the village with those behind the project, and those who are bitter about the “deconstruction”.

Harvest Moon rising

London, England

By Toby Melville

“Moon, Daddy!” exclaimed my two year old daughter excitedly from the rear seat as I drove her back home from a day with the childminder. “Where’s the moon?” I inquired as I concentrated on navigating through the evening rush hour on the busy roads of west London. “Over there: moon!” she repeated.

I knew it was a full and so-called Harvest Moon that night. I had a 500mm lens and decent enough 2 x converter in the trunk of the car as the every-ready back up emergency news set up. But the afternoon had been grotty and drizzly so not for the first time I had pretty much abandoned ideas for ‘full moon’ shots for another month.

But she was right: as I sat at the traffic lights in an interminable line, I could just catch a glimpse of the huge glowing orb peeping between clouds and houses. So, now the dilemma again of plenty a photographer when features and news just don’t happen between pre-determined working hours or ‘on-shift’. Continue home and then do the cherished fun evening routine of bedtime stories for Junior, followed by wee glass of wine and dinner? Or go moon chasing?

Behind the Costa Concordia timelapse

Giglio harbor, Italy

By Tony Gentile

I have always been keen on cinema and documentary video. I study and create multimedia projects and like telling stories using still photos, video and audio.

After receiving the assignment to cover the Costa Concordia “parbuckling”, I had the idea to create a timelapse. Definitely not an original idea because in Giglio, there were more cameras shooting timelapses than there are island residents.

A timelapse is a cinematographic technique used to shorten the action. It allows us to see very slow actions or natural events that we cannot see naturally using the technique of shooting pictures at regular intervals. Then we edit to create a video of about 24 or 25 frames per second. In this way you can see the action accelerate.

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.

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.