Photographers' Blog

Riding India’s railways

Across India

By Navesh Chitrakar

My journey on the great railways of India began on October 23, 2012. The trip not only marked my first visit to India, it was also the first time that I had ever travelled on real trains because my home country, Nepal, does not have a proper rail network.

Everything about the trains was new to me, which made it really exciting. I started out from Hazrat Nizamuddin railway station in Delhi and headed towards Agra with the help of a railway atlas, a train map and a fixer. I had been provided with the fixer’s assistance for a couple of days thanks to my chief photographer Ahmad Masood, one of the generous people who gave me a lot of help to complete this story. It didn’t take me long to get used to train travel; I understand and speak Hindi, and most of the people on the trains were very friendly and helpful. Most of the time I was doing what I was there to do: observing and trying to capture the most significant and fascinating aspects of India’s railways.

In a country that is the seventh largest in the world by area and the second largest in the world by population, the Indian railway network reaches almost everywhere and carries commuters from one end of the country to the other. The network is a lifeline for India and for the Indians who use it. And why not take advantage of it? People prefer trains because they are a cheaper and faster way to travel. When you travel India by rail, everything is going on around you; it seems like the railway has created its own world and the running of that world depends on the running train.

GALLERY: INDIA’S TRAINS

Every time a train arrives at a platform with its horns blasting, everything suddenly gets going. It feels like the train brings life to the station and when it leaves it carries that life elsewhere; the station falls back to sleep and waits for another train to come along and wake it up again.

I had great hopes when I reached Mumbai, but it was not an easy place to shoot pictures, especially in a train station. I had to get authorisation to shoot and that would have been impossible without the hard work of my two good colleagues, Vivek Prakash and Danish Siddiqui.

More soup for more poor

Buenos Aires, Argentina

By Enrique Marcarian

I first photographed a soup kitchen in 1998, in a parish in one of Buenos Aires’ famous “villas miserias,” which literally means “misery towns” in reference to its large slums. At that time I only saw children taking their daily rations and often smiling at my camera.

I assumed that the sheer number of children depending on soup kitchens was just circumstantial, and the next governments would improve the situation for them and there would be more being fed at home instead of by charities.

I was wrong. A couple of years later the country entered into one of its worst economic crises. Suddenly I no longer saw just more children in the soup kitchens but I saw them even more malnourished, to the extent that they were at risk of starvation. In fact, I came to find out that some children did die, although official versions didn’t say it was starvation.

A dramatic rescue outside my window

Athens, Greece

By John Kolesidis

Today I woke up to the deafening sound of thunder. The rain was pouring hard.

I made myself a cup of coffee and watched the rain out the window flood the surrounding streets. I was at a loss as to how I would get to the office without getting soaked, so I decided to stay put until things calmed down a bit. When I finished my coffee, I looked out the window again, and things had taken a dramatic turn.

GALLERY: SAVED FROM A FLOOD

A bit further down the street I could see an immobilized car getting swollen by the flood. Then I heard some muffled voices. I put on my galoshes and raincoat, took my cameras, and tried to get there. I walked through a small park, but that led me behind barbed wire which I couldn’t get over. I saw a woman trying to hold on to her car door, while the water was at waist level. I called out to her not to be scared, urging her to hold on to the door until I could get closer.

I took some pictures behind the barbed wire, and then I tried to find a way to cross the flooded park so that I could get to her. When I got in front of the fence, there was a cascade between me and the woman, as she was on the other side of the road. People were looking on from their balconies, and I started shouting out to them to call the fire brigade. Then a man on the same side of the street climbed on top of her car, and another man managed to approach as well.

How to survive in the jungle: a drop of cobra blood with Khun Norris

Chon Buri province, Thailand

By Damir Sagolj

“Gentlemen, that was excellent!” said a young American called Richard as he downed a glass of snake’s blood in a room full of cobras and tough-looking Asian men. “Never refuse the invitation, never resist the unfamiliar.”

But those lines come from a movie called The Beach, and Richard was played by Leonardo DiCaprio. A few days ago, another young American, this time a real-life U.S. Marine training in Thailand, told Reuters what cobra’s blood really tasted like. “Terrible. Really terrible. But it’s a good experience. It’s something I can always tell my grandchildren about.”

And that sums it all up. For troops attending this strange training exercise, it’s something to tell grandchildren and friends at home. And there is Facebook, of course – many thumbs-up for bad-ass Marines.

An amendment revisited

Old Town, Florida

By Brian Blanco

You feel a moment. I’m not certain if it’s a second lost or a second gained, but in that moment the Earth stops. It’s the moment you watch a child, a young girl in purple shoes, pull a loaded AK-47 assault rifle from the cab of a pick-up truck.

The child, 9-year-old Brianna, had no ill intentions with the weapon of course. She was simply retrieving the gun for a man she affectionately calls “Uncle Jim”. He is Jim Foster, a 57-year-old former police officer and the leader of the North Florida Survival Group. The organisation teaches children and adults alike to handle weapons, and Jim refers to it as a ‘militia”.

GALLERY: TRAINING CHILD SURVIVALISTS

Jim was the man who, after feeling out my intentions in a two-hour meeting at a chain restaurant a few weeks earlier, had granted me permission to photograph his group’s field training exercise. It was an opportunity I snatched up without hesitation. It’s not every day that a photojournalist gets an invitation to shoot a militia gathering. Understandably, they tend to be fairly secretive groups who don’t exactly keep the media on their Christmas card lists.

Skiing nostalgia

Neuastenberg, Germany

By Ina Fassbender

When I was a child and winters were really powerful dropping one or two meters of snow, my four sisters and I used to spend every afternoon after school at the snow-covered cow meadow with our wooden, candle-waxed skis, wearing black leather ski boots with shoelaces. Parallel turn was an unknown expression and if our skis were not waxed well with candles, it was impossible to ski down the hill – one could only walk with them.

Years later when I had my first ski holidays in the Alps with modern ski gear, I did not miss my old equipment. I learned to downhill ski with elegant parallel turns and carve up the snow faster and faster. What progress!

Last Tuesday I went with my family for a day of alpine skiing at the Sauerland ski area complete with 20 lifts and the longest track of about 1200 meters. When I saw a placard announcing a ‘Nostalgic Ski Race’ in the neighboring village, I remembered my own experience with old wooden skis and asked the Berlin pictures desk for permission to go there and cover the event, expecting to get some nice winter features.

Carnival, from film to Paneikon

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

By Sergio Moraes

I remember it as if it were yesterday. I was a staff photographer at the Isto É news magazine when I was assigned for the first time to cover the Carnival parade of samba schools. The year was 1986, and I was 24.

GALLERY: BRAZIL’S CARNIVAL

From then to now coverage of the event changed a lot, I changed a lot, and even Carnival changed a lot. By coincidence that was the first year that the parade was organized by LIESA, Rio’s Independent League of Samba Schools, which still organizes it today.

I felt as if I had received a present.

I went to the parade with the joy and excitement of someone going to a World Cup or Olympics. Back then 14 samba schools competed in one long night, while today there are 12 split across two nights. When the last school hit the runway I was on my 48th roll of film as if it were my first. Such was my joy at covering.

Jazz night at the Apollo

New York City, N.Y.

By Zoran Milich

It was a blistery cold day in New York City as I shuffled in with hundreds of other locals to the historic Apollo Theater to document a rehearsal performance of the Apollo’s new production, Apollo Club Harlem.

An older crowd obediently lined up in the dark corridor of the theater lit by grand chandeliers. They pointed at the wall of pictures of great musicians that performed at the Apollo such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, James Brown, Sarah Vaughan, Michael Jackson and many more.

Guests at the rehearsal would be replaced that evening with those arriving in long black limousines, none the less they trembled with excitement knowing they were about to be transported back in time with music, dance and song of the Jazz era that seeded at the Apollo in the 30′s and 40′s.

Back in time biathlon

Dalton, New Hampshire

By Jessica Rinaldi

Every year for the past ten years “The Dalton Gang” has held a primitive biathlon at their shooting club in Dalton, New Hampshire. If you’ve never heard of this before, here’s the rundown.

A primitive biathlon is what happens when you strap snowshoes to your feet and grab a muzzleloaded weapon (rifle or pistol) and race around a track through the woods, in this case 1.75 miles long, to different stations where you load the weapon and shoot at the target. You are scored by how fast you can make it around the track and how accurately you can hit the nine targets spread out across the four different stations scattered throughout the course.

The wildcard in the race is the muzzleloader, a gun in which the ammunition is loaded into the muzzle or the opening at the front of the gun. The contestants carry gun powder, round ball ammunition, and a ramrod to help push the ammunition down into place with them as they race through the course. All of this is difficult enough under normal situations but when you’ve been running up the side of a mountain it becomes even more challenging not only to load the gun but to lower your breathing enough to actually hit the target.

Countdown to Sochi 2014

Sochi, Russia

By Kai Pfaffenbach

There are a few things you expect as a German photographer from cozy Frankfurt when your boss sends you to cover the test events for the upcoming 2014 Sochi Olympic winter games in Russia.

Will it be heavy snow and cold you have to brave? How difficult will communication be (as I don’t speak Russian)? How will the general feeling of Russians be about Germans a few days after they celebrated the anniversary of their big victory over Hitler’s sixth army in Stalin-(Wolgo)grad during WWII in 1943? Well, after nine days within the 70km (43 mile) perimeter of the 2014 Olympics I can say it is a bit of everything but it is definitely a balancing act between extremes.

When you read the invitation letter of the Organizing Committee you learn that “Sochi2014 will be the most compact Winter Games in the history of the Olympic Movement”. The Games will be held in two clusters. The coastal cluster where all indoor events (speed skating, curling, ice hockey etc..) will be held and the mountain cluster around the (former) village of Krasnaya Polyana and the alpine resort of Roza Khutor where the outdoor venues are located. When the Games start on February 7, 2014, a new rail track should connect the coastal cluster with the mountains. With less than one year to go construction works are well under way but for now a narrow bumpy road is the one and only way to get up and down. Dozens of tunnels and bridges need to be built through the valley along the “wild water” river. Sometimes it seems bizarre when the graveyard of the little suburban village of Krasnaya Polyana is less than 100 yards away from the Olympic lane.