Photographers' Blog

The search for a mosque in Athens

Athens, Greece

By Yorgos Karahalis

Some say that to come in contact with “God” is a spiritual matter that has nothing to do with the particular spot or place where such contact takes place. Well, if it were that simple then there would be no need to build churches or mosques.

In the Greek capital Athens, where almost half the country’s 11 million people live, there is a 500,000-strong Muslim community, mostly immigrants from Asia, Africa and eastern Europe. Many of those are faithful and want to express their faith by praying in an appropriate place. Well, there is no such place – there isn’t a single “official” mosque in the wider area of the Greek capital.

Instead, they have to rent flats, basements, old garages and all kinds of warehouses and transform them into makeshift mosques to cover their need for a place to hold religious ceremonies. There are lots of these types of “mosques” around town but they’re not easy to spot and whenever I arrived at one of those addresses I had to double-check it was correct as there was no way to identify these flats or warehouses from the outside. I could not say that they’re miserable places but I could better describe them as hidden places, places that do not want to get noticed. During most of my visits people have been very welcoming and very keen to express their concerns about the lack of a recognizable place of worship as well as their fears about the threats they get from some locals.

“Soon there won’t be a single Muslim in Athens,” joked Egyptian Rabab Hasan when I asked her to comment on the lack of a mosque in Athens, obviously pointing to the rise of extreme-right ideas, mostly expressed by the Golden Dawn party, which won 18 seats in the 300-seat Greek parliament in the second of two thrilling elections last year.

The Greek government recently cleared the funds needed to build a mosque in Athens, even though it will not have a minaret. They have also finally found the place to erect it – in an old naval base, next to a church. But the story of the construction of a mosque in Athens dates back decades and is full of postponements and many changes of location.

On the lifeblood of Cairo

Cairo, Egypt

By Asmaa Waguih

On a bridge that overlooks the Nile, a couple stands close to one another, planning for their future. A fisherman passes under the bridge in the boat his sons are rowing and a larger vessel approaches blaring loud music, with young people dancing inside and enjoying a cruise. Elsewhere, school children stand on the bank near some rocks and take a dive into the water to cool off. Everything’s happening on the Nile – this is the lifeblood of Cairo.

I wanted to shoot a story about life on the river because in Cairo it attracts everybody, rich and poor. There are expensive places where you can go and hang out, have dinner and see a belly dancer, but the Nile is also a huge attraction for the majority of the population who are less well off and who can pay two or three Egyptian pounds (around 30 or 40 cents) to take a cheap shared cruise down the river at night.

You could spend your whole life taking pictures of the Nile and there would still be more to see, so I had to try and choose my subjects. Some of my images show the huge contrasts in Egyptian society, from the huge buildings in central Cairo, to life in the shantytowns towards the outskirts, where I photographed a man washing his horse in the water.

From Confederations Cup to Demonstrations Cup

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

By Sergio Moraes

It took them 21 years but they’re back. Brazilians began to hit the streets last week to protest the lack of investment in health, education, public transportation, and security, and against corruption and the exaggerated spending for the Confederations Cup, World Cup and Olympic Games. The last time I saw a nationwide movement of this type was in 1992, during the impeachment of President Fernando Collor de Mello. He ended up resigning.

Two decades later Brazil’s youths have again provoked the entire country to fight for their rights. The difference between these protests and the ones in 1992 is the level of violence from both the police and the demonstrators. I covered them back then, and those now in Rio and Belo Horizonte, and there’s no way I can agree with those who say that it’s just a small group from each protest that confronts the police. I’ve seen the protests divided into huge groups between those who are fighting for better infrastructure and services, and others who just want to fight the cops, but they are all in the battle.

The first protests were against the increase in public transportation fares, but with the movement’s success suddenly other issues have made the list of demands much longer. Since they began during the FIFA Confederations Cup, a warm-up to next year’s World Cup, the protests gained much more visibility than normal. One of the biggest complaints is the amount of public money being spent on the construction of stadiums, and for that reason many of the demonstrations are held on match days, and even inside the stadiums as fans hold up posters with phrases like, “We want FIFA-standard hospitals,” or “No more corruption.” It’s worth noting that FIFA prohibits demonstrations inside stadiums during its competitions, but this time Brazilians managed to dribble around FIFA and get their posters inside.

Destination Cuba: Alongside empty seat 17A

Havana, Cuba

By Maxim Shemetov

I’ve never been to Cuba before. Frankly speaking, today is my first visit. It’s a very short one of only 24 hours, of which now I have only half left to walk around Old Havana and to swim in the ocean while the global hysteria over the uncatchable Edward Snowden carries on.

For me, this story started on Sunday when I woke up and slowly went to the office. It was supposed to be a usual working weekend when almost nothing happens. Almost… Incoming calls suddenly started to light up my cell phone. The big story with Snowden as the lead actor flying somewhere via Moscow began. It is hard to describe all of the next 24 hours spent in the airport, with expensive tickets booked to get inside the transit zone at Sheremetyevo and disappointment that a lot of energy was wasted on information that turned out to be wrong.

The next morning I headed to the airport again to take the same flight as Snowden. It looked suspicious that everyone knew when and how a top secret target was going to leave Russia. The flight number, even the fugitive’s seat on the plane, was known 24 hours ahead of departure! I met around 30 reporters flying to Cuba near gate 28. All were filming a newly arrived plane while arguing with airport security.

On holiday in Gaza’s summer camps

Gaza City

By Mohammed Salem

Since the summer vacations started, every morning as I go to the office I see lots of children on the way to their summer camps, travelling either on foot or by bus. Based on my previous visits to these different camps, the stark contrast between the various activities on offer occurred to me as an interesting subject for a story.

I started my exploratory tour by visiting a Hamas-run summer camp, where I spent about 20 minutes watching the youngsters and seeing what they were really interested in. My attention was caught by their tough determination and ability to perform military-style exercises under the heat of the sun.

The scenes I watched in that camp were in complete contrast to what children are offered by the U.N. fun weeks. So for my story I planned to find two schoolchildren who were at the different camps, and document their daily activities in order to illustrate their personal lives.

The Nik Wallenda show – from a distance

Grand Canyon, Arizona

By Mike Blake

The world loves an intriguing story and if television can wrap it up into a prime time event – then the show must go on.

That said, sometimes history is uneventful. This is why I was off to Flagstaff, Arizona to cover Nik Wallenda walking across the Grand Canyon on a tight rope. Details were sketchy at first. The Discovery Channel was in control of access and waivers and releases had to be cleared before we would sign on to cover. A media position was being set up, but we were told it was a distance away.

GALLERY: WALKING OVER THE GRAND CANYON

After a couple of flights and an overnight at a Motel 6 I met up with the Discovery handlers and a small group of local and international media including our correspondent Tim Gaynor who was writing the story. We all climbed onto a bus and motored up a few hours to a portion of the Grand Canyon on Navajo Nation land where Nik Wallenda would make his historic walk. There was a transfer from the bus on the side of a windy road to a smaller van/SUV that took us along a dirt road through a sheep farm and to a set of media risers perfectly placed to give you a great view of the action, with the exception that we are about half a mile away from the location of the crossing. So far that you were actually unable to see the tightrope with your naked eye, or for that matter, Nik walking on it.

Singapore’s hazy skyline

Singapore

By Edgar Su

As someone who has lived in Singapore all my life, haze is not unusual, it is somewhat a seasonal event that I have become used to. But last Monday was different, I woke up to a slightly smokey smell in the air and the view outside my apartment was more hazy than usual. Immediately, I checked Facebook to see what my friends working in the city were experiencing. Many posted pictures of a very hazy skyline from the view in their office and remarked that even the air in the subway and malls smelled of smoke.

I immediately made my way to the business district to have a look. My first instinct was to get up to the rooftop of the Marina Bay Sands hotel to get the best vantage point available in the city. On the way up, a hotel staff member apologized to me in the elevator, “I am sorry for the view today”. He was right, from the observation deck, the haze was so thick that I could only see the outlines of landmark buildings.

There on the 57th floor, I could feel no breeze. It was very humid, my chest felt tight and I found it hard to breathe carrying all my gear with me. I needed that one picture showing a human element against the hazy skyline and I knew it was at the poolside which only hotel guests had access. My only option was to wait to join one of the three daily scheduled tours of the pool for the public. So I waited two hours in the humidity before a tour guide came along and brought us in. “Take as many pictures as you want” he said. The only problem was, it wasn’t exactly a tour of the pool, we were only allowed in a small 20 yard stretch shared among at least 40 other tourists with cameras and we had only about fifteen minutes. Worse still, many of the hotel guests were suddenly getting out of the pool because of all the tourists looking at them. But I was lucky, just before I was about to leave, a man began swimming in front of us…

Between “Jogo bonito” and riots on the streets

Salvador, Brazil

By Kai Pfaffenbach

Football is the sport I most like to photograph.

Almost everybody in Reuters knows that. When I was assigned to head to Brazil to cover the FIFA Confederations Cup one of my dreams came a little closer: covering a soccer match at Rio’s famous Maracana stadium. After almost two weeks of following the tournament’s group stage matches I haven’t seen the Maracana (that only happens for the final). But I have had the pleasure of traveling in a team of three with my colleagues Jorge Silva and Paulo Whitaker from Brasilia to Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza and Salvador. The stadiums look great, they are ready for the big event next year, the spectators are as enthusiastic as expected and so far we have seen good games with an outstanding Brazilian superstar Neymar and spectacular overhead kicks from Hulk.

But I have to admit that my attention has been taken away from the stadiums, organization and the games by the huge demonstrations across Brazil. It is very obvious that the people are not happy about how things are happening here and it seems solidarity for the cause is rising.

Some of these protests unfortunately turned into riots and violence. Being quite experienced with this and even used to rough police enforcement for the last few days I found myself outside the stadiums to cover the street fights before heading back in to cover the matches. The situation develops very quickly here. Most of the protesters were calm, only shouting slogans and holding up placards and flags but some of them were ready for trouble. Stones flew everywhere, barricades were set on fire and it turned into proper civil unrest.

Where in Hong Kong is Mr. Snowden?

Hong Kong

By Bobby Yip

Hong Kong became the focus of the world’s media this week after Edward Snowden, a former contractor at the National Security Agency (NSA) who leaked classified NSA information, gave The Guardian newspaper an exclusive interview and then went to ground somewhere in the financial hub – a town more used to a focus on money-making matters.

With more than 6,000 people living in every square kilometer, Hong Kong is one of the most crowded cities in the world. After checking out of the Mira Hotel where he first stayed, the public has no idea where Snowden’s current “safe house” is. One magazine article even suggested Snowden head ‘offshore’ and hide on one of the island’s iconic “junks”.

After The Guardian’s world scoop, there were failed attempts to chase after Snowden or chase after the few journalists who had met him. As the media chased after images, still photos and TV footage of Snowden (The Guardian released a few of their own to the media) have bombarded citizens here: on the front pages of newspapers and magazines, on local websites supporting him, on banners displayed on the streets, in the hands of protesters, on transportation, in shopping malls, and outside the famous Chung King Mansion.

Last days in a Siberian prison

Outside Krasnoyarsk, Russia

By Ilya Naymushin

Boris Kovalyov is not my hero – not at all. I have never understood such people, the way they think, the way they live. But journalists work with all kinds of people, and to me, people in extreme circumstances have always been of particular interest. And so Kovalyov, a non-hero, became the hero of my photo story, which might be called “The Last Ten Days in a Siberian Prison Camp.”

Boris is 32 years old. He was first jailed for theft, and was sent to a prison camp near Krasnoyarsk. After a few years he was granted early release, with the understanding that he had learned his lesson. Under Russian law, a relapse into crime means the convict serves the time he was spared by early release, and is often sent to a higher-security prison.

Boris was not out long before he was arrested again, for drug trafficking, and sentenced to eight years in a high-security prison camp. He was sent to a prison near the village of Ariysk where most of the inmates are recidivists. After two and a half years he was moved to an even stricter camp north of Krasnoyarsk.

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