Photographers' Blog

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.

In an attempt by the Yemeni government to control the arms trade, it launched a nationwide campaign in 2007 to close arms bazaars, including Jihana, and although police forced around 300 weapons shops in 18 arms bazaars to close, the shops were allowed to reopen just six months later.

Yemen is struggling to restore normality following the armed confrontations in the capital Sanaa and other cities amid the Arab Spring-style uprising that forced former president Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down. Although one of the main hindrances to restoring security and stability is the weaponry in the hands of civilians, militiamen and tribesmen, a visitor to one or more of the weapons markets around Sanaa can easily realize how business is still booming at those markets.

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.

A Zeppelin flashback

By Larry Downing and Jason Reed

Moments after musicians Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham stepped onto the creaky stage inside the old Boston Garden forty-four years ago it was obvious 16,000 teenaged baby boomers were witnessing the infancy of one of rock and roll’s greatest acts.

“Led Zeppelin” opened 1969’s “Tribal Rock Festival” with a throbbing, “Good Times Bad Times,” and the world changed forever for those inside; most of whom had been schooled under the shadows of strict, conservative innocence in the 1950’s and early 60’s. The band played with such primal passions and steady bass rhythms it generated enough vibration to free decades of tired dust from the tops of the aging rafters; waterfalls of filth drifted below and continued during the entire performance.

None of those New England fans would ever see, or hear, music the same after those loud layers of complex notes and vigorous lyrics were let out of the genie’s bottle and took possession of every happy toe-tapper inside that ancient structure built back in 1928.

Homeless in Greece

Athens, Greece

By Yannis Behrakis

Marialena’s tears ran down her face onto the dirty mattress where she and her boyfriend Dimitrios have been sleeping day in, day out, for over a year, under a bridge in one of Athens’ most run-down neighborhoods.

Marialena, 42, is a homeless AIDS patient and a former drug addict on a Methadone rehab program.

Athens is full of sad stories like hers – of once ordinary people with a job and family who have found themselves on the fringes of society after the country’s economic crisis began in 2009. Up until a few years ago, homelessness was relatively unusual in this country of close family ties, but nowadays stories like Marialena’s are increasingly common.

Food Bank SOS

Bronisze, Poland

By Kacper Pempel

When I started working on a story about food waste, I was shocked by the estimates provided by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization that 1.3 billion tonnes of food – equivalent to the amount produced by the whole of sub-Saharan Africa – is wasted every year.

That is why I started thinking of ways to prevent such waste and it’s what led me to a food bank organization and to a volunteer who works for them in Bronisze agricultural market, not far from Warsaw.

Wanda is a 71-year-old volunteer who collects food, mostly vegetables, for Food Bank SOS, which then distributes it to charity organizations. I’d met her twice at Bronisze market, where she was walking around and pushing her cart between farmers, asking them if they had any goods for charity.

The new soulless Maracana

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

By Sergio Moraes

Last Sunday, June 2, I returned to Maracana to cover Brazil and England playing a friendly soccer match that was also the re-inauguration of this iconic stadium. The first sensation I felt when entering the building was nostalgia for the old Maracana. The new one is beautiful and modern with fantastic lighting, but it didn’t move me. The truth is, it’s no longer Maracana, but rather a different stadium built for the 2014 World Cup. Even the acoustics are different.

It is no longer, as legendary player Nilton Santos called it in the 50’s, “an enormous pressure cooker.”

My first experience with Maracana was when I was 6 years old. That was in 1968, a magic year for a boy who just began to become passionate about soccer and with the Botafogo club, known in Rio as “O Glorioso,” or The Glorious One. That year I witnessed Botafogo being crowned champion of the state championship, and winning the Brazil Cup the following year.

Georgia’s one student school

Makarta, Georgia

By David Mdzinarishvili

Bacho Tsiklauri is a normal nine-year-old boy, no different from any other child his age, and he wouldn’t stand out in a schoolyard among other third-grade students. But in his school he does stick out because there are no others: Bacho is the only child at elementary school in the Georgian village of Makarta.

I heard about Bacho by chance, and I wanted to meet him to find out what it is like to be the only kid in the classroom and the only one in the school.

The journey from Georgia’s capital Tbilisi to Makarta is 100 kilometers (62 miles), including 80 kilometers (50 miles) on one of Georgia’s main roads. The remaining 20 kilometers (12 miles) is on a dirt track through the Gudamakari gorge, and covering this leg of the trip took me about the same amount of time as the first stretch. This is the road that separates Makarta from the rest of the country.

Portugal’s love affair with canned fish

Lisbon, Portugal

By Jose Manuel Ribeiro

Canned fish: poor people’s food, gourmet cuisine, souvenir or just healthy fast food?

It was late when I arrived home, tired and starving. I opened the kitchen cupboard looking for some late-night lazy-man food, and there, they were: my friendly and colorful fish cans.

My oldest memory of canned fish brings me back to primary school when both children and teachers were asked to bring basic food that could be packed in boxes to send to starving people in the south of Nigeria during the Biafra war in the late sixties. I had not seen that many cans of fish together in my life since that day, until I visited a factory.

Behind the snakehead legend

Mt. Vernon, Virginia

By Gary Cameron

Spending time on the water pursuing fish is one of my favorite, relaxing pastimes. Spending time on the water pursuing fish as part of my job comes in as a close second.

In a city that requires plenty of time having photographers covering men in suits behind microphones with lots of blah-blah-blah, going out on a Virginia Department of Game and Inland fisheries biologists “stunboat” for a day of chasing, capturing, monitoring, studying, dissecting and releasing the once-feared northern snakehead fish was an assignment I looked forward to.

The northern snakehead (Channa argus, for those of you who stayed awake in Latin class), became an instant, and feared, celebrity in the Washington, D.C. area back in the summer of 2002. It was reported that someone had discovered a snakehead in a pond in suburban Maryland and this intruder would search, spread, and destroy other species found in local waters, specifically, the Potomac River. Adding to the “fear factor” of the snakeheads very aggressive disposition, an extremely slimy coating, and a mouthful of sharp teeth, was the fact that snakeheads are obligate air breathers. Not only are they comfortable under water, they, like turtles, can spend time breathing air OUT of water as well. Locals were told to kill any snakeheads to stop the spreading of the species, and while you’re at it, hide the women and children as well. This was one bad-ass fish.

Fishing in Fukushima

Hirono town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan

By Issei Kato

After some tough negotiations with local fishermen cooperatives I was allowed on board a fishing boat sailing out to check fish radioactive contamination levels in waters off the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Commercial fishing has been banned near the tsunami-crippled complex since the March 11, 2011 tsunami and earthquake disaster. The only fishing that still goes on is tied to contamination research carried out by small-scale fishermen contracted by the government. The fishermen set out to sea every two weeks remembering the good old days, as they seek to reestablish their livelihoods and anxiously hope they will be able to go back to full-time fishing again.

I began thinking about the best way to take as many versatile pictures as possible in a tough environment – on a tiny boat which is slippery and keeps rocking back and forth with waves of water splashing all over the bouncing deck. I was told that the fishermen were going to use gill nets which take up quite a bit of space on the deck. This spelled out more dangers and obstacles for my equipment and I, as I knew I would have to try hard not to get caught up in the nets or trip up and fall into the sea. I was worried that had I stepped on one of the nets I would get scolded by a gruff fishermen and the whole effort would be in vein because of my own thoughtlessness.

I decided to use a remotely operated camera on a monopod to take close-up pictures of the fishing net overlooking the boat. This unusual technique also enabled me to take dynamic photos from right above the water surface as well as under water. I attached my favorite Canon EOS5D Mk3 to the top of a monopod, across a ball head platform to avoid image rotation. I covered it with plastic waterproof material and connected a remote switch with a long cable to the camera to operate it from the safety of the deck.