Photographers' Blog

Ashes to ashes; dust to dust

Gainesville, Florida

By Steve Johnson

“Ashes to ashes; dust to dust.”

Its origins come from Genesis 3:19 (King James Verison): “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

We celebrate death in so many different ways. From sky burials in Tibet, to hanging coffins in ancient China, how we honor the dead is varied and changing.

In the United States and Canada, vault burials have grown in popularity since the early 1900s. With more than 19,000 funeral homes and 8,000 embalmers in the U.S. alone according to the National Funeral Directors Association.

So when Reuters contacted me about a conservation cemetery, one of four in the country, I was intrigued with the very niche market.

After more than two months of research and repeated visits to the Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery, we found a source willing to work with us to document this process. Working on such a sensitive subject, it is hard not to feel for your source. Joseph Fitzgerald died at age 47 — just days after his granddaughter was born.

Left with more questions in Cleveland

Cleveland, Ohio

By John Gress

The setting sun shimmered off of wind swept waves on Lake Erie as my plane took off for Chicago and I headed back to normal life, knowing that the people who I covered over the past three days will need a lot more than a 400 mile flight to return to their normal life. I flew to Cleveland on Monday after three women, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, and a child escaped from the home of Ariel Castro after allegedly being held there for about a decade.

This was driven home to me on my last emotional stop in this northeast Ohio city, visiting Michelle Knight’s grandmother, Deborah Knight, at the end of a brick street that had more in common with a roller coaster than a freeway. While capturing her interactions with neighbor Sandra Guisao, I could tell that the news of Melissa’s escape was causing her to experience a range of emotions. One could only imagine the horror these women had to endure after allegedly being held captive and raped for about a decade and the excitement they must have experienced when they made their escape.

On the morning that I met Deborah Knight, I was also in the room with Castro as he was arraigned on the charges. He seemed meek, staring at the floor. I read in a newspaper that some observed him chewing the collar of his jump suit. His mouth was close enough in the photos, but I can’t say I saw it myself as I was too focused on trying to capture him when he looked up just enough so I could see his eyes. In these situations, the defendants never carry themselves the way you expect, leaving you with more and more questions… questions we will probably never get the answers to.

India’s missing daughters

New Delhi, India

By Mansi Thapliyal

Atika, 10, woke up early one morning in August 2008 and was sent by her mother to buy a few items from a nearby shop. She returned and told her mother she would prepare tea for her father before quickly going to use a communal toilet close to her house. She never returned.

Ambika was a feisty 15-year-old high school student who took wrestling classes. Her mother returned home from work late in the night on October 10, 2010. She woke up the next morning and found her daughter missing.

Atika and Ambika are among the thousands of children who go missing from India’s streets, schools and homes every year.

Kentucky Derby by the numbers

The Reuters pictures team of John Gress, Matt Sullivan and Jeff Haynes reflect on covering the past weekend’s Kentucky Derby.

By Jeff Haynes

Fast forward 25 years from 1988 and the Winning Colors victory to 2013 and Orb, include every Kentucky Derby winner in-between and you have a total of roughly 50 minutes of what I call a spring time tradition – photographing what many call the most photographed two minutes in sports. Just like in years past photographing the Derby for me is one of the most thrilling events I cover each year. 2013 was no different.

It was this annual event that got me hooked on becoming a wire service photographer. Covering the Derby is like no other event. You show up days before to go to early morning work-outs and photograph the horses training on the track, being groomed and bathed, and maybe catching a quiet moment where a trainer and horse just graze on Kentucky Blue grass on the back side of Churchill Downs.

Waves of fire

As wildfires rage through California, photographers Patrick Fallon and Jonathan Alcorn describe working on the fire line.

By Patrick Fallon

Driving up the 101 towards the Dos Vientos neighborhood in Newbury Park, California, I could see the fire’s thick, black smoke – a sign the fire was burning fresh brush, fueled by strong winds.

When I arrived the neighborhood was under an orange tint from the smoke in the air. Sheriff Deputies were going door to door, helping people evacuate, while a group of young men helped their neighbors, jumping from yard to yard to hose down the back yards as firefighters held back the fire on the hills above the home.

Bollywood dreams

Mumbai, India

By Danish Siddiqui

The Hindi film industry or Bollywood can make a star, a household name out of anyone overnight. It can bring instant money, fame and the fan-following of millions from across continents.

Bollywood is an addiction for many that attracts thousands of aspirants to the breeding grounds, the city of Mumbai, everyday. I was keen to look at this other side of the glamour world. The side that entails the struggle to enter the world of aspiring dreamers and their struggles to become a star.

There is no time limit to becoming a nationwide sensation, a star in Bollywood. As one of the aspirants told me it’s a gamble you take, forgetting all your worries about the results.

Parallel world of Chechnya

Grozny, Chechnya

By Maxim Shemetov

What did I know about Chechnya before last week? For someone who grew up in the 1990s the very word Chechnya meant a string of grainy images on TV showing people in battered camouflage outfits, shooting at each other amid destruction and ruin. Fear, wahhabis, Shamil Basayev, terrorism, mountains: these were the words that used to spring to my mind when someone mentioned Chechnya.

It still has a reputation as a frightening place where people get kidnapped and entire villages are razed. When I told my friends I was leaving for Chechnya on assignment they asked me in jest if I would need an armored vehicle. Many of then were visibly worried. But then I spoke to a colleague who had worked there for more than 15 years. He said: “You won’t find a safer place in Russia, be smart and you’ll be okay”.

I flew to Grozny, with mixed expectations. When we got there and I stepped out of Grozny’s Severny Airport, I knew this wasn’t Russia. It was a totally different, parallel world, a cross between Singapore and the Middle East, with veiled women, men in camouflage, Islamic skull caps and long beards, and armed police on every street corner. There was a mosque outside the main airport terminal. A huge portrait of Chechnya’s strongman leader Ramzan Kadyrov was just across the street, and another, smaller portrait of Russian president Vladimir Putin close by. The streets were spotless, a rarity in Russia where many cities are full of potholes and crumbling buildings. I got into a taxi and plunged into Grozny.

A piece of the past with the present

New York City, NY

By Shannon Stapleton

Every time I have to cover a story related to the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center I always hope that I will be able to forget that day and the so many lives affected by the tragedy.

Today was not different. It’s a beautiful spring day and being down near the Ground Zero site was probably the last place I wanted to be. But covering one of the last pieces being hoisted onto One World Trade Center did provide a glimmer of closure.

It’s taken way too long but the site is being transformed into more of a place of remembrance – a place, at least for me, that I can go near and not be totally engulfed by the memories of what I saw and what happened on that tragic day.

A world without smiles

By Lunaé Parracho

The northeastern city of Salvador, Brazil’s third-largest, is a major tourist destination thanks to its beautiful beaches and popular festivals. Its Carnival is considered the world’s largest street party.

In spite of being idyllic in so many ways, this city suffers from an unprecedented explosion of violence in recent years, part of a national phenomenon with the migration of violence towards the north. While the murder rate has dropped more than 63% in the southeast in the past ten years, it has increased 86% in the northeast. That is according to the 2012 Map of Violence compiled by the Brazilian Center for Latin American Studies.

GALLERY: FAVELAS IN ARMS

In Salvador, the murder rate has risen over 250%.

One of the police officers I spoke to summed up the situation clearly with his own personal tragedy. “We’re living in the middle of a war. I try not to leave home, and  when I do I’m armed,” he said, asking to remain anonymous. He knows what it’s all about – his son was killed recently by a thief to steal his iPad. Just a teenager, he died as he was returning from school on the street near their home in an upscale neighborhood.

In the shadow of Mexico’s guns

Mexico City, Mexico

By Edgard Garrido

Days before last Christmas, city authorities initiated a program of voluntary disarmament for citizens encouraging them to swap their pistols, revolvers, guns and the occasional 60mm mortar round for bicycles, tablets or cash. Thousands flocked to the swapping stations set up in different neighborhoods by the police and military.

Some weapons were destroyed on site but I wondered where the rest of the collected weapons would land. So, I decided to issue a formal request to the Mexican Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA) asking if I could access their storage facilities to take pictures.

The military is in charge of storing and destroying weapons, not only those handed in by the civilian population sometimes including those inherited from an ancestor who might have fought in the revolution but also the weapons confiscated in the six-year-long, ongoing drug war that has so far killed some 70,000 people. Those are generally larger calibers than great-granddad’s Winchester Rifle from the early 1900s. They confiscated everything from custom-made, gold-plated Colt Super 38 Automatic to rocket-propelled grenade launchers and lots of Kalashnikov AK-47s, the narcos’ weapon of choice.