Photographers' Blog

That sinking feeling

Kiribati, In the middle of the Pacific

By David Gray

The first sign you see of the equator-hugging central Pacific island nation of Kiribati (pronounced Kir-i-bas), is a small patch of green that breaks the seemingly endless monotony of blue that is the Pacific Ocean. Tropical storm clouds fill the sky, rising so high you feel uncomfortably small. Descending, the tiny atolls that reach just a few meters above sea-level at their highest point and make up this small island nation, come into focus, and even from this height, it is obvious that land is an extremely precious commodity out here in the vastness of an ocean that is cut by the International Date Line.

The immigration check once you are inside the quaint arrival hall is made up of just two small palm-leaf stands marked “Visitors” and “Residents.” The rental car, which should be called a “borrow” car, is waiting for me in the dusty car lot out the front, with the key handover no more than an acknowledgment that I am staying at the motel I have named. Showing some identification, let alone a driver’s license, is not even a thought – just a welcoming smile and a handshake will suffice. I think it best to ask how to find the motel and I am told: “Well, just keep heading down the one road we have on the island, and you won’t miss it.”

Upon arriving at the motel, I meet up with David Lambourne, a well-informed local who moved to Kiribati’s capital Tarawa some 18 years ago from Australia, to discuss the problems facing the nation. Including the possible catastrophic scenario that one day Kiribati could possibly become uninhabitable under the weight of its own population and an ever encroaching sea. David tells me this is a real possibility, especially for the small group of atolls that make up South Tarawa.

Tarawa is broken into two sections, north and south. David takes me to the village of Betio which lies in the south and is already dealing with a population density greater than that of London, England (currently standing at around 5200 people per square kilometer), but amazingly population growth forecasts for the area say this could double in less than a decade. Betio’s small homes are mostly made from bits of corrugated-iron and panels of wood nailed together. You get the impression these are shelters for temporary accommodation. But David tells me that not only are these homes decades old, the chances that they will change in the future is highly unlikely.

But this is not the biggest concern for these homeowners. The lack of a sewerage system does not lend itself to a clean environment. The area had an outbreak of cholera in the late 70′s, and some are worried that with present sanitation levels, it could easily happen again. The local fresh water supplies come from shallow “lenses” located just below the surface, with hundreds of wells scattered between the ramshackle huts. But the quality of water from these wells is becoming more polluted as a result of ground-based pollutants and rising sea levels creating salinity problems. This also means that growing any types of food crops has become extremely difficult.

Taksim Square: One woman’s protest

Istanbul, Turkey

By Murad Sezer

Anti-government protests have gripped Turkey for almost two weeks, and Istanbul’s famous Taksim Square and adjoining Gezi Park have become a center of the demonstrations, with thousands flocking there to voice their opposition to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling AK party.

Ayse Diskaya is one of them. She is a 48-year-old housewife, an active member of the left-wing cultural organisation Halkevleri, a women’s rights activist – and now a Gezi Park protester. Riot police cleared the square early on Wednesday but Ayse says she will return to Gezi Park later in the day.

Ayse lives in an apartment building in Okmeydani, a poor neighborhood of Istanbul, along with her husband and two sons. Until two weeks ago, her daily routine consisted of taking care of the house and working to promote women’s education. Since then it has involved heading down to Gezi Park to protest against the government and helping out with a stand that Halkevleri set up there.

Closing the chapter on the space shuttle

Cape Canaveral, Florida

By Joe Skipper

The decades-long assignment started with covering the first space shuttle launch, Columbia, on April 12, 1981. A recent visit to Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39A wrapped up the story for me. Often we cover assignments not knowing how long it will take, and my part in coverage of NASA’s space shuttle program seemed as if it would last forever. With the landing of the shuttle Atlantis on July 21, 2011, however, we thought the assignment was over.

But it wasn’t complete yet. With the shuttles headed for public display, the assignment continued a bit longer in order to cover the preparation and their ultimate departure from the space center.

Longtime members of our Reuters shuttle photo team, Pierre DuCharme and Scott Audette, joined me for a final look at the historic pad before it would be demolished to be reconfigured for the next U.S. manned spaceflight program. We were hosted by NASA Photo Editor Ken Thornsley and our longtime NASA media escort and friend, Charlie Parker, a retired NASA engineer.

Switzerland’s next King?

Geneva, Switzerland

By Denis Balibouse

Prince Willem-Alexander was crowned King of the Netherlands in April, following the abdication of his mother, Queen Beatrix.

You might be wondering which country will be next to install a new monarch: England, Denmark or perhaps Sweden? I’ll give you a tip: it will probably be Switzerland, a country better known for its direct democracy, banks and chocolate than for having ‘royals’.

In fact, Switzerland has both a reigning King and Queen, although they are both quite different. Let me explain…

Macho gives way to metrosexual in Manila

Manila, Philippines

By Cheryl Ravelo

Filipino males have long been known as “macho,” preferring to go to barbershops rather than to salons for men and women to highlight their masculinity. But in the Internet and Facebook age, macho has given way to “metrosexual,” with aesthetic beauty clinics catering to men sprouting all over urban areas in the Philippines. Most of these clinics spend millions of pesos to get male celebrities and politicians to endorse their services and prove that being vain does not diminish one’s masculinity.

I sent out email requests to almost all major players in the aesthetic beauty industry, but it took about three months to get approvals, and only from a handful of clinics.

My first stop was Flawless, one of the pioneers in the aesthetic beauty industry in the country catering to both men and women. I am not a stranger to beauty centers, but bright pink tiles and couches in the reception area, and the same loud color for attendants’ uniforms could be a shock for most men.

One week in the life of a photojournalist

Deggendorf, Germany

By Wolfgang Rattay

Being a news photographer and a senior photo editor is never boring. The past seven days will, I think, impressively explain what I am talking about.

Last Saturday I went to Munich to edit Germany’s soccer cup final (the DFB Pokal). I finished at midnight after looking at some 3,000 files of which about 60 images hit our services following Bayern Munich’s historic “Treble” – victory in the Champions League, the national soccer championships and the Cup.

Early Sunday morning I went to Munich’s famous square Marienplatz to reserve a spot for my Reuters TV colleagues and myself at a podium in front of the balcony where the team was expected to show up a couple of hours later. I took an early picture of a hard-core bare-chested Bayern fan who had been waiting since 9am for the 5pm show. It had been raining all day and the thermometer reached a maximum of 7 degree Celsius (44 degrees Fahrenheit).

Tornado survivors of Moore

Moore, Oklahoma

By Lucas Jackson

Minutes, sometimes seconds, is all the time people get to shelter from a tornado. Rarely with that much time is it possible to feel safe, especially as one of the rare category EF5 storms that bore down on Moore, Oklahoma rages overhead. It is overwhelming to see what wind can do when it unleashes an unfathomable amount of energy on structures that we humans believe are solid and safe. Full sized trucks wrapped around trees, suburbans turned into an unrecognizable mass of metal void of any identifying features, and blocks of neighborhoods laid flat, down to the foundations. Seeing this almost complete destruction – for blocks and blocks – makes it hard to comprehend how anyone could live through something like this. My own difficulty in matching what I was seeing with the reality that hundreds of people had managed to survive this event led me to start recording the stories of survivors and taking portraits of where they took shelter.

I felt it was important to record these stories as they could help future tornado victims prepare a location inside of their home to better withstand a storm like this. The voices of Robert, Scott, Matt, Corey and Donna capture this experience that most of us can not even imagine and I thank everyone who was kind enough to share their memories. Almost every person I spoke with was watching the news to see where the tornado was heading as they sought shelter somewhere in their home. As the reality of the storm bearing down on them became clear and they ran for shelter in their homes, almost all of them remember hearing the phrase “If you are not underground, you will not survive this storm. You have run out of time,” said by Gary England, a meteorologist for News Channel 9 in Oklahoma City as the world began to rumble around them. These are their stories.

“We were in the living room and all of us was in there, watching Channel 9. And he said that we needed to take cover immediately and also stated that it needed to be underground because it probably wasn’t going to be good if we took it on top of ground.

Dispatch from Taksim Square

Istanbul, Turkey

By Murad Sezer

Taksim Square is the heart of Istanbul. It’s the meeting point for lovers, tourists and protesters.

On the weekends if you stroll around the square and crowded Istiklal street, a hub for shopping and bars, you can witness various political demonstrations. Women protest against domestic violence, soccer fans gather, anti-government far leftists groups rally and on Saturdays mothers demand to know the fate of their missing relatives. Riot police are never far away, so it’s no big surprise if you smell tear gas all of a sudden in the middle of Taksim.

This time-lapse video shows demonstrators at Taksim Square, Istanbul, over a 24-hour period on June 5, 2013.

A country armed to the teeth

Jihana, Yemen

By Khaled Abdullah

If you are looking for an AK-47, a sniper rifle or even an anti-aircraft gun, it takes only half-an-hour of shopping around in this arms market, one of Yemen’s biggest weapons markets, to find one.
The market is located in Jihana, a village some 30 kilometers (18 miles) southeast of the Yemeni capital Sanaa.

Yemen is one of the countries most heavily armed with deadly weapons.

Although this is mainly a tribal society where tribes are armed to the teeth, there are still too many guns for sale in the country’s robust arms markets, as if the entire population must be armed. “Here, you can get fully armed as you can be,” Jihana arms dealer Mohammad Sharaf said. An AK-47 can cost between $700 and $1,700 depending on age, make and quality. The only man shop owners do not welcome is a photojournalist. Many of them believe that the more publicity their market gets the more government crackdown they receive.

“Please go away!” shouted one trader in Jihana. “We don’t need more problems because of you mediamen!” shouted another. But some were happy to display their goods; machine guns, assault rifles and pistols to the camera.

Garbage recycling: Chinese style

Beijing, China

By Kim Kyung-Hoon

When I heard that the rate of recycling PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic bottles in China is almost 90%, I was surprised. Because I have noticed since moving to Beijing that the Chinese have no real concept of separating trash for recycling.

So, how do they accomplish it?

The first place I visited in tracking down the recycling process of PET bottles was Asia’s largest recycling factory, INCOM Resources Recovery in Beijing, which processes 50,000 tons of used PET bottles every year. In this factory, abandoned plastic bottles are transformed into clean PET plastic material for making new bottles. But what struck me the most was neither its automated machinery nor its huge piles of compressed plastic bottles stacked almost to the height of a two-story building. The more remarkable fact was that this high-end facility relies on thousands of garbage collectors rummaging through trash cans for more than one third of its supplies

The important role of this cheap labor in China’s recycling industry was apparent when I visited one of the estimated 20,000 small recycling depots on the outskirts of the capital. Different types of plastic garbage turned in by refuse collectors is sold to the recycling centers where it is converted into money after backbreaking work by the workers in the centers. Sitting next to the mountain of plastic bottles, the low-paid laborers are too busy to find time to breathe while removing labels from the bottles and separating them according to type of material.