Photographers' Blog

The SWAT of Salt Lake

Draper, Utah

By Jim Urquhart

It was four in the morning and for the second day in a row I found myself on the highway headed for a photo assignment before the sun rose. Still a bit tired and sore from the day before, I was however in a decent mood. The day before at the same hour I was trying to get to the start line of the Salt Lake City Marathon in the pouring rain, sleet and hail. On that morning I was assigned to photograph security efforts at the marathon, the first since the Boston Marathon bombing.

That day I covered prevention, this morning I was covering the team that are called in to help when the situation has already gone bad. The Salt Lake City Police Department SWAT team was going to be running candidates through an obstacle course as part of a test of physical fitness.

It was day one of the department’s SWAT school. Candidates spent the next six days participating in exercises designed to educate and test their physical abilities along with their decision-making skills in stressful situations.

I have always been intrigued by these groups. They are some of the top cops who are licensed to kick butt while decked out in impressive gear. They save hostages, bust down doors and in general make it a bad day for the less than honorable among us.

Well before dawn I was at the site visiting with my police department contact, who was the same person that hired me for my first newspaper job 16 years ago, when I had a thought from the past.

Panning for gold

Braidwood, Australia

By Daniel Munoz

For 59 year-old Wal Krikowa his hobby has become his passion. The recent volatility affecting gold prices is the least of his concerns. After decades of doing what he calls “the business”, his passion for prospecting gold on weekends has remained unchanged. His experience tells him it all just comes down to luck. Worrying about whether he finds anything is just a waste of time.

Wal and his wife Liz always start their gold prospecting trips with a strict routine. I arrived at their beautiful house in North Canberra on a recent Saturday morning. We hit the road and a short time later we stopped at a local petrol station for what I first thought was a morning cup of coffee. But there was an different motive to this visit. Liz is hugely superstitious, and the stop was part of their ‘luck routine’ before prospecting. She admitted to me between sips of the local brew that another one of her superstitions is to place four soda cans into the same bag, the same way, at the same time before leaving the house. “Everything needs to be perfectly in place to find gold,” she said with a wry grin.

As a football fan, superstition is no stranger to me. I know of coaches who wear the same tie or smoke the same amount of tobacco before every match just to re-enact the same procedures of their previous victory.

Muscle men of China

Shaoxing, China

By Carlos Barria

Feng Qing Ji, 69, and his younger brother Yu, 61, look at themselves in a mirror. Li tries to help Yu with his pose. He tells him to straighten his back.

They are not in a park, hanging around with other Chinese seniors, who typically meet up to play Mahjong or dance. They are covered in oil and wearing tiny speedos as they prepare for an amateur bodybuilder competition in Shaoxing, Zhejiang province.

Bodybuilding is not a very popular sport in China, despite the efforts of sport supplement companies that have promoted bodybuilding here by touring stars like Ronnie Coleman, winner of eight Mr. Olimpia titles.

Who said farming can’t be fun?

Hohenzell, Austria

By Leonhard Foeger

“Sure, you can come and take pictures. We don’t have any secrets here and you will have a very special view of the sex life of breeding bulls nowadays,” Josef Miesenberger, head of the artificial insemination station in Hohenzell, told me on the phone when I asked to shoot a story about cattle breeding in Austria.

One might imagine cattle breeding involves green grass, some trees, and a cow and bull coming together in their natural world doing what they have done to procreate since the dawn of time.
But when I arrived at the insemination center near the village of Hohenzell at six in the morning I saw a farmhouse-like building with huge barns and a laboratory inside.

Johannes, one of the bull keepers, showed up and let me in. I had to change into green overalls and boots before I was allowed to enter the barn with about 50 breeding bulls. The smell of bulls hit me intensely. My lenses immediately fogged up due to the high humidity inside. I could see Austria’s most expensive and exclusive breeding bulls having breakfast. Josef, another bull keeper, told me to just act like a bull keeper and not take any pictures since the bulls were very sensitive if they don’t know the people in their barn. After a while I started to take some images and the bulls just looked as if they were wondering what was going on.

Dark side of the festival

Bangkok, Thailand

By Damir Sagolj

Totally unconcerned with incoming traffic, Khun Tuey powers the ambulance van through Bangkok’s narrow streets as fast as its engine can push it. Soon after the chase started, the pointer on the speedometer kisses the 120 mark and for a short moment I take my eyes off the road to look around. Next to the driver sits his beautiful, four month pregnant wife Amarin, ignoring what passes by the windshield as if she is watching a session of Bulgarian parliament on TV. To the left is Somat, a medic with 110 hours of training – the team’s expert for injuries. His eyes are closed and it looks like he is sleeping. I hope he is praying. Tonight, we all need prayers to come true.

It is the crazy wet Songkran, as the week-long Thai New Year is known. Earlier in the day, we all enjoyed the festival – I sprayed water, wore powder on my face, drank beer and played fool with friends.

But the fun part is over. Tonight is another Songkran night; one of seven dangerous ones when an already high number of traffic-related deaths and injuries surge. Experts say Thailand has the greatest number of road deaths in Southeast Asia per capita, due to a combination of lax road laws and careless driving habits.

Augusta: A tournament like no other

Augusta, Georgia

By Phil Noble

It was the author Mark Twain who wrote “Golf is a good walk spoiled” and although the persistent rain that dogged the final round play at this years Masters certainly made it tough for both players and photographers alike, the amazing photographs at the final hole of regular play and the subsequent thrilling playoff certainly ensured our “good walk” wasn’t ruined.

I was lucky enough to be asked to return to the Augusta National golf club this year for my second Masters tournament. Along with my Reuters colleagues Mike Segar, Bryan Snyder, Mark Blinch and 24 year Masters veteran Gary Hershorn, who would edit our pictures, we pitched up again at the Mecca of golf to cover a tournament unlike any other.

At most other golf championships we cover, photographers are allowed to work inside the ropes that hold the spectators back, making the job of following play and getting into a good position to photograph the golfers a relatively easy one. At Augusta however, we are accorded no such privilege, the hallowed, well manicured and vibrant green turf being preserved only for those playing in the tournament, meaning we are in with the spectators, or in the case of Augusta, the ‘patrons’.

“Are you al-Shabaab or soldiers?”

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

Mogadishu, Somalia

By Feisal Omar

At 11:30 on Sunday morning I was sipping a cup of coffee at the Village restaurant near the palace when I heard a blast followed by gunshots.

I walked out onto the street and could see pickup trucks with anti-aircraft guns mounted on them, rushing toward the Mogadishu court. I started my vehicle and drove speedily in the direction of the court. I arrived moments later at the court building where there was an intense exchange of gunfire.

I could not believe armed fighters had broken into the court, killed the soldiers that guarded it, the lawyers and others. “How did al-Shabaab take over such a well-guarded building in the heart of the town!’ I whispered to myself as I got closer to the building.

KZ: Two letters, literally hell

Weimar, Germany

By Lisi Niesner

U.S. troops arrived at German KZ (concentration camp) Buchenwald, near Weimar on April 11, 1945. The hands of the tower clock on top of the entrance gate are exactly set to a quarter past three: the time of liberation.

Walking through a memorial side of a former concentration camp feels indescribably oppressive. Between July 1937 and April 1945 a quarter of a million people were imprisoned in KZ Buchenwald with a death toll of around 56,000. This is a place as inhuman as it may be possible, full of sorrow, torture and death.

Prisoners had to endure a dreadful extent of humiliation, starvation, coldness and disease. Many worked to death, others died in medical experiments or were murdered arbitrarily. Here on the grounds of the former concentration camp, you become even more aware of the terrible magnitude of the systematic genocide by the Nazis.

Indians, or farmers-to-be?

Maraiwatsede, Mato Grosso, Brazil

By Paulo Whitaker

Sixty years ago Brazil’s Indians had their territory demarcated, when they lived in a rich forest from which they extracted their food. Their rivers were teeming with fish, and their jungles with wild animals.

Today, in the 21st Century, many Brazilian Indians live a completely different situation, trapped in corners of their land by settlers who are large and powerful farmers that invade native territory to plant soybeans, sugar cane, and pasture to raise cattle.

We recently visited the Indian village of Maraiwatsede in the central western state of Mato Grosso, a region dominated by cattle ranches and soy farms. Little remains of the native forest that belonged to the Xavante tribe. Much of this land is not officially registered so it was invaded by ranchers trying to expand their holdings. There is even a clandestine city with nearly 1,000 inhabitants built on Indian land.

Born in the world’s newest country

Juba, South Sudan

By Andreea Campeanu

“Go look inside and then come back and tell us what you think,” the doctor responsible for the maternity unit at the Juba Teaching Hospital in South Sudan told me. “We are many years behind”, was his own assessment.

I had arrived in Juba, South Sudan, a few weeks earlier with feelings of trepidation but also with a great deal of excitement. Since 2010 I had wanted to come here. At that time I was living in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum – before the South’s independence in July 2011.

South Sudan is the world’s newest country, but according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) it also has the far less welcome accolade of having the planet’s highest maternal mortality rates.