Photographers' Blog

Don’t rush for gold

Tien Shan mountains, Kyrgyzstan

By Shamil Zhumatov

“Don’t run! Slow down! Just don’t run!” I repeated this non-stop to myself like an incantation. Indeed, it is hard even to pace quickly – let alone run — when you have to breathe in the rarefied air and wear a supplied protective helmet and brand-new rigid boots with steel toes.

I also had to look out for giant trucks the size of three-story houses chugging around. It was difficult to keep my emotions under control during the few hours on this tight assignment. I was at an altitude of over 4,000 meters above sea level near the Chinese border, inside a huge open-pit gold mine at Kumtor, Kyrgyzstan’s largest gold asset, operated by Toronto-based Centerra Gold. Gigantic trucks and excavators worked non-stop in the snow-clad pit, looking like characters from a fantasy movie. As if playing a computer game, an excavator operator elegantly manipulated small joysticks – just five scoops full of ore, and almost 200 tones were loaded into a truck in about one minute.

In line with Centerra Gold’s tough requirements, I passed two medical checks before I started working at these giddy heights. A day before, we had to stay for the night at a guest house located at about 1,700 meters above sea level to get accustomed to high altitudes before ascending to Kumtor. The gold mine is the world’s second highest-altitude gold deposit after Peru’s Yanacocha mine. Some vehicles never even stop their engines in these ferocious conditions of Arctic tundra and permafrost.

Finally, the work of hundreds of workers, dozens of huge machines and the state-of-art gold-extracting mill reached its logical conclusion accomplished by just two workers. Moving like extra-terrestrials in their silvery heatproof overalls and helmets, they slowly poured dazzling, bright orange molten gold from a crucible into molds.

Minutes later, four bars containing around 80 percent pure gold and worth $2.6 million were ready for polishing. A worker wearing a mask closed the curtain of his glass booth to polish a 20 kg bar inside.

A necessary evil – the kangaroo cull

Canberra, Australia

By David Gray

I met Steven O’Donnell at his house in the outer suburbs of Canberra just before dusk. He had agreed to take me on what can be described as one of Australia’s most unpopular and controversial activities – kangaroo shooting.

FULL FOCUS GALLERY: A NIGHT ON THE KANGAROO CULL

By day Steve is a professional plumber, but by night he is a government-licensed kangaroo shooter whose job is to annually cull the kangaroo population, which is estimated at over 50 million. When we met Steve was quick to explain why the thousands of Eastern Grey Kangaroos, known locally as “roos” in the Australian Capital Territory, had to be culled. Mobs of kangaroos can quickly damage the environment and compete with livestock for scarce food, impacting the livelihood of farmers.

But Steve’s main argument that stood out most in my mind was this: “After Europeans settled in Australia some 220 years ago, they chopped down millions of trees, and created much more grassland which the kangaroos have thrived on. As a result, their numbers have increased dramatically, and so in order to keep the natural balance for the environment to be sustainable (especially during a drought), their numbers have to be reduced. So actually, it’s our fault.”

Clowns, rain and elephant droppings

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

By Randall Hill

Sweat was beading on the brow of Danny McRoberts as he ran through his chores as an animal handler in Myrtle Beach. McRoberts, an Augusta, Georgia native, had been on the road with the Cole Brothers Circus of the Stars for the last seven years. As he worked to scoop large piles of elephant droppings, he scurried in and out and between the large beasts as they performed their tricks. As his large shovel became a part of the action, it was almost as if it was an unintentional, choreographed part of the show.

Many of the behind-the-scenes workers are the same as McRoberts. Under the large red and yellow tent of the traveling circuses, the crews generally try to blend in with the background, buzzing everywhere to install and set-up the rigs performers require for the show.

“Just call me Meatball the Clown,” says Meriden, Connecticut native Josh Dummitt from his perch 3 feet above the crowd. Dummitt was standing on homemade stilts fabricated while traveling between shows. The extra height of the devices seemed to give Dummitt, 22, a bit of clown confidence, as he is the show’s youngest and most inexperienced clown. Near Dummitt stood his co-worker and veteran clown Perolito Jahir. At 5’2”, Jahir was in direct contrast to his co-worker in both size and experience. Jahir, from Pereira, Colombia, with his brother Kellan Bermudez, were 20-year veterans with the Cole Brothers Circus.

Broken and showing

Indianapolis, Indiana

By Jeff Haynes

I was on the court when Louisville basketball player Kevin Ware went to block the three-point shot of Duke’s Tyler Thornton and landed wrong on his right leg suffering a compound fracture with the shin bone protruding through the skin, with about 3 inches showing.

It is being called one of the most gruesome sports injuries ever to be seen on live TV and then replayed again.

I guess I was one of the lucky ones to have not seen it on TV and didn’t actually see the bone exposed from my view from the court, but I knew right away something was wrong from the reaction of Louisville head coach Rick Pitino.

The turkey shoot

Vancouver, Canada

By Andy Clark

It was a cold, damp autumn day, as I remember it, sitting in a cinder block bunker terrified I was going to loose my hand as I loaded black clay disks into the machine in front of me. Seconds later I would hear a muffled voice shout, and the machine’s springs and mechanism would suddenly and violently let go, flinging the disk out of the bunker followed by another muffled boom, boom. I would then quickly lean down, take another disk from the box and gingerly place it in the machine. It was at this point my fear would take over, worried one of the distant voices would shout too soon and thus catch and propel my severed hand out of the bunker instead of the disk. Of course this never happened and once I got the rhythm, my fear slowly subsided, well sort of.

FULL FOCUS GALLERY: SHOOTING CANADA

I think I was about 12 years old at the time and I was helping out at the annual Thanksgiving Turkey Shoot at the local Trap Shooting Club just outside Ancaster, Ontario. Each year the contest was held on the weekend before the holiday as a dozen or so members, including my dad, all vied to hit the most clay pigeons and go home with a freshly cleaned turkey donated by a local farmer. Though my dad and grandfather had versed me well in the handling of guns by that age I was still too young to take part so was therefore drafted to load the machine.

That was a long time ago now, but something I thought about as I made my way to the Vancouver Gun Club in Richmond, British Columbia recently. This was the first of two visits to gun ranges I had organized as part of Reuters pictures series on guns. The Vancouver Gun Club dates back to 1924 and is nestled amongst farmland on 39 acres of open and wooded property. The outdoor range is shotgun only and offers trap, skeet and Olympic trap shooting. It also has sporting clays plus another type of shotgun sport shooting called Five Stand. The club has an annual membership of about 400 but also offers day passes to non-members.

New Mexico’s Holy Week

New Mexico

By Brian Snyder

The high desert of northern New Mexico, with Taos as its unofficial capital, is a confluence of cultures and eras.  Native American, Spanish, Mexican and American cultures co-exist and show themselves in both modern and old ways. Holy Week in this area is celebrated in a very public manner within the safety of the region, beyond the notice of much of the rest of the United States. The rites and customs are very much of the place and cultures found there.

On Holy Thursday a youth group re-enacted the Stations of the Cross at the Sanctuario de Chimayo. The Sanctuary is a church built over a source of sacred dirt that is believed to have healing powers. It is also the destination for thousands of pilgrims from all over during Holy Week. The youth group from Our Lady of Sorrows church in nearby Bernalillo has been doing the performance for years, with new teenagers replacing the previous year’s every year or two. The whips hitting the man playing the role of Jesus are real (though the blood is make-up) and the teens are convincing in their roles as Mary, the women of Jerusalem, Veronica and Roman soldiers.

If the pilgrimage at Chimayo is well-known and better publicized, the pilgrimage in Ranchos de Taos and Talpa on Good Friday is a very local, traditional and communal activity. The several mile walk begins at the famous San Francisco de Asis church in Ranchos and from there the Stations of the Cross are marked in various fields, front yards, moradas, and capillas along the route. Four men carry a large cross and lead the procession, with several hundred believers following behind. In many ways Good Friday is the apex of Holy Week. Worshipers, including many young people, pray out loud, sing, and even chat and laugh with one another as they make their way through the countryside.

Cyprus, it’s all Greek to me

Nicosia, Cyprus

By Yorgos Karahalis

I’ve been working in the media industry since 1986 and I can’t recall the last time Cyprus, the small divided Mediterranean island, attracted so much attention since the 1974 invasion by Turkey, which stills keep the island and its residents separated.

A decision by the European Union for a “haircut” on deposits in all Cypriot banks made the country one of the top stories in the region and across the world. Various scenarios for Cyprus’s financial meltdown appeared everywhere.

After the vote by the Cypriot parliament, who delivered a loud ‘No’ to the proposal to seize depositors’ money, and the government’s decision to close banks all over the island to avoid a bank run, the idea of a violent uprising started gaining traction. The capital Nicosia, with its population of just 300,000 people, saw journalists, TV crews, photographers and famous analysts drinking coffee on the pedestrian Ledras street in the old part of town.

A day at the gun range

Los Angeles, California

By Jill Kitchener

If a guy wanted to take me to a gun club for a date, I don’t know how I’d react. Growing up near Toronto, Canada, guns have never played a role in my life – most certainly not my dating life. Shooting guns as a recreational activity has never caught on in my social circle.

Yet I found myself at the Los Angeles Gun Club with photographer Lucy Nicholson while on vacation.

After a nice lunch at a neighborhood cafe we thought we’d try our luck in getting permission to shoot at the gun club – with our cameras. To my surprise, the manager was more than happy to have us document the action. She kindly provided us with headphones to save our eardrums.

No happy endings in nature

County Antrim, Northern Ireland

By Cathal McNaughton

When the snow started falling on Thursday afternoon nobody in the Glens of Antrim could have predicted the devastating impact it would have on the farming community. Sub-zero temperatures and heavy snow fall combined with strong easterly winds produced 30 foot snowdrifts.

The rolling hillsides, where just a week previously daffodils had swayed in the breeze in the watery spring sunshine, now lay covered in an unseasonable layer of deep snow. But below the beautiful winter wonderland landscape the tragic reality of nature lay hidden – thousands of sheep buried with their farmers unable to reach them.

Many of the ewes were ready to lamb and were buried alive as the snow blew into drifts several feet high. When I met with family friend Keith McQullan and his farm manager Donald O’Reilly at his hill farm in Aughafatten in Glenarm Glen on Tuesday morning they were unusually quiet. Keith owns several hundred sheep across the remote north Antrim hills – only accessible by quad or by tractor – where he has farmed all his life.

Riot of color

Vrindavan, India

By Vivek Prakash 

It’s one of those things that you just have to do. Ever since I moved to India, I’ve always wanted to photograph Holi celebrations in north India. As a kid growing up here, I played with colored powders and water in the streets with my friends. As an adult, I’ve been lucky enough to have the chance to return with my camera. I had been looking forward to this assignment. I was expecting a riot of a different kind, a riot of color and noise – and that’s exactly what I got.

GALLERY: FESTIVAL OF HOLI

Holi is celebrated widely across India, but it is more popular in the north of the country. The epicenter of all the action is in a triangle of villages around the city of Mathura – the fun begins at Barsana, then moves to Nandgaon, Vrindavan, and Dauji before finally finishing a week of rolling celebrations in the region where the Hindu god Krishna and his consort Radha are thought to have been born and lived. It’s a festival that celebrates the arrival of spring, but in this region it also has special significance as it celebrates the story of Radha and Krishna and their love for each other. The enthusiasm of the people is unmatched – the energy combined with sheer numbers make for fantastic scenes drenched in water and color. It makes for delicious pictures. But I have to admit, after having covered it for the first time, it’s harder than it looks to get a great picture. Keeping your equipment dry and operational is a big challenge.

On my first day of coverage, I arrived at the village of Barsana early in the morning and headed straight for the main temple where celebrations would take place. I was at first disappointed as the morning session at the temple was a bit subdued. However, by the time the temple re-opened at 4pm it was a different story. There were thousands of people waiting to storm the entry doors. Inside, a sea of bodies heaved against each other, amid projectiles of colored powder and buckets of orange colored water being flung everywhere. It was hard to hold your position steady enough to shoot pictures, let alone compose something nice. At one point, there was so much powder that photographers were completely caked in it – nostrils and lungs were full of red dust. I wished I had brought a surgical mask instead of a scarf to shield myself.