Photographers' Blog

Portraits of Olympic preparation

Park City, Utah

By Lucas Jackson

It’s that time of year again. All around us the leaves are changing, the air is getting crisp, and while most of us are enjoying one of the nicest times of the year around the world, thousands of world class athletes are entering the final phases of their training to compete in the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.

GALLERY: TEAM USA

This past week I was assigned for the second time in as many years to take portraits of more than a hundred members of the U.S. Olympic team before they finish their training and head to the Olympics. These media weeks organized by the U.S. Olympic Committee are an amazing opportunity for media outlets from all over the country to sit down, interview and photograph our athletes with little disruption to their training schedules or personal lives before one of the biggest events of their athletic careers. For the photographers it is a whirlwind three days where we spend anywhere from 30 seconds to five minutes trying to capture a portrait of every athlete who attends.

In 2012 at the summer Olympic media summit in Dallas, Texas I thought of a series I wanted to work on during my last day photographing. Luckily, I able to expand upon that idea this trip. In Dallas I began asking the athletes to stretch as they would before a competition or training session, to think or visualize as their would prior to performing. Instantly I noticed their faces changed and the look of focus that got them to this point took over their expression. At this point I asked the athletes to ignore me for a few minutes so that I could photograph moments that to each athlete was as routine as sleeping and eating, but to me were honest moments that I was not directing.

It was this concept I decided to work with going into this year’s portrait session. I decided that for the entire summit I would ask each athlete to imagine that they were minutes from competing in their sport and to try and enter the mental head space that they do just before they go out onto the ice or hurdle themselves down the mountain. For a number of athletes I asked them to put their gear on in the same order they would for a competition and then to envision a run or going out on the ice. By doing this I was able to capture personal routines and small rituals that manage to capture a tiny slice of the focus that these athletes have demonstrated to get to this point. For me, these portraits achieve a level of honesty that can be difficult to capture and it is exciting to have done so successfully.

With this idea in place I also knew that in order to highlight their physique or their equipment I needed a relatively simple setup. It started with a grey seamless backdrop shoehorned into a small curtained off space in a room with six other photographers and their respective mini-studios. I then set up one Profoto Acute2R 2400 pack with two heads and medium strip softboxes on each side of the studio at a relatively low setting to highlight the athletes profile and add depth to the images.

Weapons at hand

Belfast, Northern Ireland

By Cathal McNaughton

As I was driving home one night after covering civil unrest in Belfast, I looked at the objects sitting on the passenger seat. There was a golf ball and two snooker balls: objects thrown at members of the police and media by rioters.

I decided that it would be interesting to see how many of these items I could collect over the coming months at the various riots that were sure to follow. The idea was interesting but the difficulty was going to be adding some life to these inanimate objects. They ranged from the ridiculous (a ball covered in insulating tape) to the lethal (a petrol bomb and a hammer).

There were some things I could not collect, such as scaffolding and even a bedside cabinet, due to their size and the dangers of trying to retrieve them.

The parents left behind

Warsaw, Poland

By Peter Andrews

I remember my mother taking me to the airport on June 10, 1981. In theory, everyone knew I was leaving for three weeks, but both of us really knew that I would not be coming back. I was nineteen at the time and wanted to see a different world, a world outside the so called Iron Curtain.

My mother didn’t show sadness but I could see tears in her eyes when she said good bye to me. I saw her twice in ten years. Once after four years, when she visited my new home, Canada, and later in Germany when the Berlin Wall was coming down. Our contact was scarce. In those days, it was very difficult to call out of Poland, especially after martial law was introduced. Later, when martial law was lifted, it was a bit easier, but still there were only land lines. No mobile phones, no Internet, no Skype – only written letters put inside envelopes, with a postage stamp and sent from the post office. It was only when the Soviet Union collapsed and the so-called evil empire ceased to exist that I was able to see her freely. It is only when you are not able to see your parents often that one notices how age works on people.

At the time when I was leaving Poland no one knew that ten years down the road the world’s geo-political situation would change and that eastern European countries would join NATO and later, in 2004, the European Union would allow many young people to travel freely, without any restrictions or prosecution.

Tornado survivors of Moore

Moore, Oklahoma

By Lucas Jackson

Minutes, sometimes seconds, is all the time people get to shelter from a tornado. Rarely with that much time is it possible to feel safe, especially as one of the rare category EF5 storms that bore down on Moore, Oklahoma rages overhead. It is overwhelming to see what wind can do when it unleashes an unfathomable amount of energy on structures that we humans believe are solid and safe. Full sized trucks wrapped around trees, suburbans turned into an unrecognizable mass of metal void of any identifying features, and blocks of neighborhoods laid flat, down to the foundations. Seeing this almost complete destruction – for blocks and blocks – makes it hard to comprehend how anyone could live through something like this. My own difficulty in matching what I was seeing with the reality that hundreds of people had managed to survive this event led me to start recording the stories of survivors and taking portraits of where they took shelter.

I felt it was important to record these stories as they could help future tornado victims prepare a location inside of their home to better withstand a storm like this. The voices of Robert, Scott, Matt, Corey and Donna capture this experience that most of us can not even imagine and I thank everyone who was kind enough to share their memories. Almost every person I spoke with was watching the news to see where the tornado was heading as they sought shelter somewhere in their home. As the reality of the storm bearing down on them became clear and they ran for shelter in their homes, almost all of them remember hearing the phrase “If you are not underground, you will not survive this storm. You have run out of time,” said by Gary England, a meteorologist for News Channel 9 in Oklahoma City as the world began to rumble around them. These are their stories.

“We were in the living room and all of us was in there, watching Channel 9. And he said that we needed to take cover immediately and also stated that it needed to be underground because it probably wasn’t going to be good if we took it on top of ground.

Staten Island’s stories of Sandy

Staten Island, New York

By Mike Segar

As New York braced for the arrival of Hurricane Sandy three weeks ago, I was in California for a long-planned personal event. But I wasn’t about to miss what was shaping up to be a major story. I was determined to get back. I found a united flight to Detroit, Michigan, that was still listed as “on-time.” How far a drive would that be to New York? 10 hours? Through a hurricane?… I’ll take it, I thought. Seven hours later I was on the ground in Michigan driving through the night towards New York as winds howled and Sandy was coming ashore. I made it back to a region knocked to its knees by this storm.

The next seven days were a blur of finding and photographing those worst hit by the storm and hunting for gas for vehicles to keep going (not to mention returning home to a house without power, heat or hot water and without my wife and children who had evacuated to Massachusetts). Together Reuters photographers Lucas Jackson, Shannon Stapleton, Brendan McDermid, Keith Bedford, Adrees Latif, Andrew Kelly, Tom Mihalek, Carlo Alegri, Steve Nesius, Chip East, Adam Hunger and myself covered the immediate aftermath of Sandy in countless locations. We documented places and people affected by this massive natural disaster, one of the most destructive ever to hit the Northeast U.S. Our team made amazing pictures throughout and our collective photographic documentation of this disaster speaks for itself.

GALLERY: A STORM NAMED SANDY

I found myself mostly covering the particularly hard hit borough of Staten Island where at least 23 people died. Many Staten Islanders say they live in New York City’s “forgotten borough.” On Staten Island’s south shore there are several long low-lying communities of mostly working class New Yorkers, many with civil service jobs. With a mixture of ethnic backgrounds of long-time residents and recent immigrants, this area consists of mostly beach bungalow style homes. The homes are mostly single story and packed closely together near the shore that stretches for about six miles and faces the Atlantic Ocean.

Two minutes with David Spade

By Mario Anzuoni

I was invited to Sony studios to shoot a portrait of actor David Spade during a lunch break from the taping of his television series “Rules of Engagement”.

I anticipated this would be quite a quick opportunity, after being told to be ready promptly at 2 pm to catch David before his lunch. Once there I was told I would be able to set up in their green room, an office type of room (not the most exciting setting for a portrait). As my allotted time approached I kept thinking that it would have been ideal if I would have been able to photograph him on the actual set, placing him into the context of the tv series. As I watched from the sidelines, right before the break, I was introduced to the stage manager.

I couldn’t waste any time in emphasizing how much more relevant it would be to portray him on set rather than in a simple room. It was doable! But we still had to seek approval of the Union crew to keep the lights on for a couple of extra minutes. Thankfully everyone agreed and I was able to photograph David in the two iconic settings — his office and the diner — stealing only about 2 minutes and 30 seconds from his lunch break. Needless to say he was very pleased and said “finally someone who’s quick!”
Lights out.

What an Olympian eats

By Umit Bektas

I have always wondered how athletes, who must exert incredible amounts of energy in whichever sports discipline they compete in, handle the issue of nutrition. As the London Olympics approached us, we Reuters photographers began to make our photo stories. I decided to create a photography project stemming from this curiosity of mine. I planned to interview some of the Turkish athletes preparing to compete in the Games and take pictures of what they ate. Sometimes you think a project that sounds good will also be easy to carry out and this is very exciting but when you actually become involved that euphoria is replaced by anxiety. This is exactly what happened to me.

SLIDESHOW: AN OLYMPIC DIET

The hardest part was to persuade the athletes to spare a few hours in the studio which meant taking a break from their exercise program. I wanted to take photos of six athletes but I was rejected by at least three times that number of other athletes. Some said they were training abroad, or in other cities. For others, their trainers rejected my request saying their charges would “lose their concentration”.

I had to get permission from the sports federation involved, then from the coaches or trainers of the athletes I wanted to photograph and finally from the athlete themselves.

London: A great city because of its people

By Stefan Wermuth

In my view, London is a great city because of its cosmopolitan people who live and work there every day. I wanted to know what they think about this big event called Olympics, which will take place for two weeks in their city.


Laim Carter, a 19 year-old guardsman who has lived in London for two month, poses for a picture in Chelsea. When asked what he felt about London hosting the Olympics, Carter said: “It’s good.”

I went with my camera and a basic voice recorder to the streets of Balham, Westminster, The City of London, Brixton, Wandsworth, Shoreditch, Battersea, Lambeth and Chelsea and met all kind of different people.

A hopeless situation

By Cathal McNaughton

Time is running out for Natassa Papakonstantinou – by August she could be homeless.

What becomes depressingly apparent as we sit in her tastefully decorated apartment in a middle class suburb of Athens, is that there is no plan B. Last August, 43-year-old Natassa was finally laid off from her job in telecommunications – she hadn’t been paid a penny for the previous six months so she had been living off her savings and hoping for the best.

She was made redundant and now gets by on 461 euros she gets each month in state benefits plus what little is left of her dwindling savings. By August she has calculated that she will be penniless and, with no money to pay her rent, she could be homeless.

Portraits of Russian voters

By Will Webster

Russia goes to the polls on March 4, in a presidential election that present Prime Minister and former two term President Vladimir Putin is widely expected to win. Russian politics is a strange beast, opaque is the most constructive word to describe the process of moving and shaking that goes on in the corridors of power. A whole class of analytical Kremlinologists aim to shed light on the minutiae of the process, although opinions widely differ, and the outcome appears to be the same – 6 more years of Putin in top spot. In this atmosphere behind closed doors, with one outcome highly probable, it’s difficult to illustrate the campaign trail, if such a thing exists. However in this story of same old, same old, there is a group of individuals that stand out, that no one seems to ask about: the Russian people – they are the ones that cast the votes. People like Anatoly, an artist from Moscow.

Following a parliamentary election in December, one of the typical plays of allegiance shifting and maneuvering in the top levels of the power vertical something changed. Widespread claims of vote falsification brought out around 5,000 people onto the street in Moscow, a show of opposition to the authorities that hasn’t been seen for years. The movement grew, organized and strenghtened in the fertile fields of social networks. It provided leaders that in principal have no political leverage apart from a following online. People like Alexey Navalny, anti corruption blogger, and Yevgrnia Chirikova, an environmental activist battling the destruction of her local forest to make way for a new highway. Would they be able to maintain their voice of protest and public displays of opposition throughout the winter (a bigger problem for those not aware of it – ask the Grande Armee of 1812) in order to make a difference in the presidential vote? The protests did grow, a couple more followed, the numbers swelled – up to 100,000 came out to call for fair elections in January. The authorities seemed to be at a loss on how to snuff out this unplanned voice of opposition. Official plans were immediately drawn up to make the voting process more transparent, webcams in polling stations, symbolically see-through ballot boxes. Still, the unrest persisted. Another strategy was started – organized supporter events for United Russia, let the people know (on state run television networks) that actually most people are with Putin. By necessity these shows of support must be more impressive than that of these Muscovites wearing white condoms (Putin’s initial response when the white ribbons appeared on the street).

Aha – we have an angle, the people are moving, thousands and thousands of them, showing their support with their feet. But rather than faceless pawns, they are real people. People who want their vote to count.