Photographers' Blog

Swiss code of arms

Geneva and Zurich, Switzerland

By Denis Balibouse

I have quite a simple relationship with firearms. I don’t like them: their power scares me.

Unlike most Swiss men of my age I did not take part in compulsory military service in the Swiss Army (thanks to a torn knee ligament that saved me from a possibly awkward session with the Army psychologist during the recruitment process).

GALLERY: SWISS GUNS

When I was starting out as a photographer in my late teens I did some work for the French-language section of the Swiss Shooters newspaper. I had never felt so out of place in my life, what with everyone from teenagers to grandfathers wearing special outfits resembling some kind of Robocop get-up and armed to the teeth. Even with the hearing protection I would flinch with every one of their shots. It wasn’t the best environment in which to concentrate on getting my shot (pun intended), with hundreds taking part in the competition.

Firearms are everywhere in Switzerland, but go largely un-noticed by the general population.

A few years ago my wife-to-be was visiting Switzerland for the summer from Australia. We were having a BBQ by the lake with a couple of friends when I saw her expression change as she glanced over my shoulder. She was looking at two young men, one wearing casual clothes, the other in his army fatigues and carrying his SIG-550 assault rifle in one hand, an open can of beer in the other. As they went to sit down on the grass he casually tossed his weapon to the ground.

Voodoo alive and well

Souvenance, Haiti

By Marie Arago

There is much beauty in Haiti. There are mountains, the countryside, the sea and beaches, but what I find most beautiful is the culture of this country. There are many elements that contribute to Haiti’s rich culture and Voodoo (also spelled Vodou and Voudou) is definitely one of them.

This past week I spent three days documenting the annual Voodoo festival at Souvenance, a small village outside of Gonaives. Souvenance was formed by escaped and freed slaves from Dahomey (present day Benin) about two hundred years ago. During this week at Souvenance all of the Rada Iwa, or Voodoo spirits of Dahomey origin, are honored through different ceremonies, song and dance.

The first day begins with a ceremony that leads into a dance for the lwa, or spirit, named Legba. The dancing is led by three drums and the song lyrics are a mix of the Kreyol and Dahomey languages. These songs and dances have been passed on for generations and, judging by all of the children who were singing along, the traditions are not in danger of being lost.

Adventures on the western frontier

North Dakota

By Shannon Stapleton

It had been a couple months since I traveled somewhere to cover an assignment and I have to admit I was really looking to get out of town.

So when I heard that the Reuters text operation was covering a story in Williston, North Dakota on the Bakken Oil boom I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to visit a place that I had never been before. That same day I picked up the month’s edition of National Geographic and saw on the cover that one of my favorite photographers Eugene Richards had spent some time there this past summer. I was excited to embark on an adventure to the western frontier and see for myself this modern day gold rush.

GALLERY: NORTH DAKOTA BOOMING

I should have known that the average daily high temperature in March doesn’t exceed 35 degrees Fahrenheit in western North Dakota with a wind that bites right through you. But I was getting out of town and having the opportunity to work on a story that had significant news value. So, on Monday I took a 6:30 am flight from New York to Minneapolis for a layover then on to the wild frontier of Williston, North Dakota. During the layover I noticed that I was the only guy wearing sunglasses and a North Face jacket. I was surrounded by burly guys in Carhartt work clothes waiting to head back to a place that I found was a home away from home that afforded these men the opportunity to provide for their families that most of them had left back in areas all over the United States. I arrived in Williston and the temperature was a balmy 23 degrees. I picked up my rent a car and drove to my “luxurious” weekly rental located right off the main drag of Highway 85.

The lithium triangle

LITHIUM MINING

Argentina, Bolivia and Chile hold the planet’s largest reserves of lithium, a key component in batteries used to power a range of technologies from cell phones to laptops to electric cars.

Industrial production from the so-called “lithium triangle” is already high. Chile is the world’s leading source of the metal, turning out around 40 percent of global supply, and Argentina is another significant producer. Output from the Andes may soon rise after Bolivia – the country that holds an estimated 50 percent of the world’s lithium reserves – opened its first lithium pilot plant in January.

Reuters photographers recently traveled to the research and production sites in those three countries, all located in high altitude salt flats at around 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) above sea level, and wrote about their experiences.

Life and death in the murder capital

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

San Pedro Sula, Honduras

By Jorge Cabrera

“Come in if you would like to and try to leave when you still can.”

Some weeks ago, I went to cover a soccer match in San Pedro Sula, considered the industrial capital of Honduras. It also bears the less honorable title of being the most dangerous and violent city in the world.

San Pedro Sula, the country’s second largest city after Tegucigalpa, has a homicide rate of 169 per 100,000 people and was named the world’s most violent city for a second year in a row. Lax laws allow civilians to own up to five personal guns, and arms trafficking has flooded the country with nearly 70 percent illegal firearms. Eighty three percent of homicides are by firearm compared to 60 percent in the United States.

FULL FOCUS GALLERY: SHOT IN SAN PEDRO SULA

I arrived when most of San Pedro Sula’s residents escape to the beach. Temperatures were hitting 40 degrees C (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in the shade and the heat was overpowering. I went out for a walk with a fellow journalist who only covers crime and while we were walking he described San Pedro Sula like a supermarket for journalists looking for dangerous stories.

Anxious for peace

Cizre in Turkey’s Sirnak province, near the border with Syria

By Umit Bektas

Turkey’s fledgling peace process with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group is all over the headlines. After three decades of war, 40,000 deaths and a devastating impact on the local economy, everybody seems ready for peace. TV news channels and newspapers are saturated with opinions and commentary from politicians, officials, academics and journalists on what appears to be the best hope yet of building a lasting peace agreement with Kurdish militants.

But what about ordinary people in Turkey’s southeast, those most directly affected? How do they view the peace process and how might their lives change?

Eager to find out, I traveled to southeastern Turkey to cover Newroz, the Kurdish New Year celebrations, on March 21. In the town of Cizre, near the border with Syria, with the help of a local journalist, I found the Savun family and spent the weekend with them. Theirs is not an extraordinary story, but sometimes the least extraordinary stories reveal the most.

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.

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.

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