Photographers' Blog

City of joy

By Rupak de Chowdhuri

It’s festive time in Kolkata, with the Durga festival celebrated across the city, before Diwali celebrations fill the city with light. Kolkata has been called the “City of Joy,” a title which was immortalized in a book by Dominique Lapierre. It tells the story of the poorest of the poor who still somehow find hope and joy in life. Little did I know I was about to come face-to-face with such a story.

I hunt for pictures every day. One day, I was looking for pictures when an old friend told me to go to a place where I was guaranteed to find a good story. Because of my curious nature, I started to walk in search of the story I’d been told about in the middle of Kolkata. I started searching among the food stalls because I wouldn’t believe it until I saw them myself.

At last I found them. And I stood stunned, like other customers in front of the food stall. I watched for half an hour.

The next day I came back and started talking to other people at the food stall. The other workers said they were a happy family once. They lived nearby for forty years. A few years ago, they moved to a village about 45 minutes away by train. I went home but I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I didn’t sleep at all that night.

Early the next morning, I went to the railway station to wait for them, I knew they came to Kolkata on the same train every day. I waited for a long time and at last I saw them come out of the crowded local train.

Painting a favela

By Nacho Doce

Before I was able to experience a Sao Paulo favela firsthand, my knowledge of that world was mostly defined by a movie I saw only a few weeks earlier called “Linha de Passe,” or “Passing Line” in English. The title is a metaphor of the concept of teamwork, the imaginary line that connects players passing the ball in soccer. In the movie the players are the four brothers of a family, and the ball is life itself. What I took away from the movie about a slum family’s struggle to survive, was an idea of what it’s like to live on the edge of life, on the edge of a precipice.

That movie and a newspaper article about a social graffiti project in one of the city’s largest favelas ignited my curiosity, so I searched out and met founding members of the project named OPNI, a Portuguese acronym for “Unidentified Graffiti Artists.” OPNI was founded in 1997 by 20 youths in the city’s marginal slums with the goal of transforming the streets into an open-air gallery where the community can express its gripes. Of the original 20 only Cris, Val and Toddy are left after most were either arrested, abandoned the activity, or died from drug abuse.

To reach OPNI in the Vila Flavia favela on the outskirts of Sao Paulo took me two hours by bus and train, the same time it takes for many of the slum’s mothers and daughters to travel to the city’s better-off neighborhoods where they clean homes for a living. That’s a four-hour round trip, every day.

Favela fighter

When I reached the Chapeu Mangueira favela in Leme, a slum that borders on Copacabana, I was expecting to do a story on a martial arts school for poor kids. But there I met “Nativo” (Native), expert in what is today called MMA/NHB, or Mixed Martial Arts/No Holds Barred fighting. Nativo is the nickname of Fabio da Conceicao Ventura, 25, a lifelong resident of the same slum. Nativo told me how he was born in Chapeu Mangueira, and when he was just five he watched his mother set fire to herself to escape her miserable life. Two years later his father kicked him out of the house and he found himself on the streets.

In the streets Nativo learned to steal before joining up with drug traffickers. He told me how he first liked to rob tourists on Copacabana Beach, but then how it was really being part of a drug gang that made him feel most protected. He made it obvious to me that the gang came to be his family. With them he would spend hours consuming drugs and taking care of business inside the slum.

I started to photograph him and accompanied him around the narrow streets of the favela that was “pacified” by police in June, 2008, as part of a government program. Nativo showed me the places where drugs used to be commonly sold, and where he sat with his rifle giving cover to the gang.

Boxing their own worst enemy

On some of my first trips around Sao Paulo after moving here, I caught glimpses of life under the city’s many highway viaducts, whether it was of people storing recyclable waste or even living under the bridges. I refer to my roaming excursions in this city as “trips,” because this massive city of nearly 20 million inhabitants is a world in itself.

The shadow of aspiring boxer Laercio is projected on a wall as he uses a discarded truck axle for weight training at a gymnasium under the Alcantara Machado viaduct in the Mooca neighborhood of Sao Paulo, March 28, 2011. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

One day, as I gradually widened my geographic range and knowledge of my new city, I spotted people practicing sports under one bridge. It was a brief view but long enough to register in my mind. So when I read soon after about a boxing school under a viaduct and went to search it out, I realized immediately it was the same one I had spotted that day.

Aspiring boxers train at a gymnasium under the Alcantara Machado viaduct as cars drive past in the Mooca neighborhood of Sao Paulo, March 28, 2011.  REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Aspiring boxer Laercio (R) trains with his coach Mauricio Cruz at a gymnasium under the Alcantara Machado viaduct in the Mooca neighborhood of Sao Paulo, March 14, 2011. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Under the bridge I met former pro boxer Nilson Garrido, the founder and owner of the school. Six years ago Garrido started a project in which he created several boxing academies under the viaducts of Sao Paulo. His goal was to take the sport to the poor and marginalized population. In the meantime the project attracted other people who started to contribute a small monthly fee for the use of the gym.

School on Wheels

In a corner of Western Avenue Elementary School’s yard, a dozen children excitedly circle Charles Evans at the end of their day.

Regional coordinator Charles Evans (C) picks up children from school to take them to an after-school program at South Los Angeles Learning Center in Los Angeles, California March 16, 2011. The center is run by School on Wheels, which uses volunteers to tutor homeless children in shelters, parks, motels, and two centers. There has been a surge in the number of homeless children in Los Angeles in the last five years, due to persistent unemployment and mounting foreclosures. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

One child bounces a ball, another picks a handful of play slime out of a jar as the others chirp with enthusiasm.

While other children have gone home for the day, Evans rounds up this group who have no homes. He leads them down the street to South Los Angeles Learning Center, where he runs an after-school program for homeless children.

The people of the Mae Sot dump site

MYANMAR-REFUGEES/

LONDON (AlertNet) – The poignant story of Myanmar’s refugees living in and around a putrid rubbish dump on the Thai border town of Mae Sot speaks volumes about the resilience of human nature.

Despite the poverty, health risks and harassment they face from the Thai authorities on a constant basis, many refugee families have lived at the site for years, struggling to earn minuscule wages for the plastic they collect for recycling.

“Every human rights violation on the planet is there in its worse element,” Reuters photographer Damir Sagolj told me in a phone interview.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures January 23 2011

As India heads towards their Republic Day celebrations, Prime Minister Singh makes minor adjustments to his cabinet while outside on the streets people demonstrate over food and fuel price inflation and corruption. Adnan Abidi produces a great picture as a middle-aged demonstrator gets to feel the full force of a police water canon. In stark contrast, B Mathur gets a glimpse of the dress rehearsal of the full military parade planned to celebrate India's independence where the security forces are deployed in a somewhat different manner.  Danish Siddiqui added to the file this week with a well seen picture to illustrate a government spending initiative with a man pulling a pipe across a building site, the shadow creating an eye like image that almost seems to wink at the viewer.  

INDIA/

Police use water canons to disperse supporters of India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) during a protest in New Delhi January 18, 2011. Thousands of the supporters on Tuesday in New Delhi held a protest against a recent hike in petrol prices and high inflation. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

INDIA/

Indian Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers ride their camels during the full dress rehearsal for the Republic Day parade in New Delhi January 23, 2011. India will celebrate its Republic Day on Wednesday. REUTERS/B Mathur

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures 12 December 2010

This week the blog should be called A Week (and a few extra hours ) in Pictures as I wanted to share a couple of images that came in late last Sunday and evaded my net as I trawled through the file. Both are from Thailand and both were shot by Sukree Sukplang. The first is a strong portrait of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej as he leaves hospital in a wheelchair to attend a ceremony to celebrate his 83rd birthday. The picture seems to me to mirror the respect that the Thai people have for their King. What makes me think this I am not sure; maybe its the side light which creates studio-like modelling on the king's face highlighting every detail of his appearance, the crispness of the clothes, the beauty of the ceremonial medals and the rich colour of the royal sash. Or maybe it's just the way he is looking back into the lens, his eyes full of dignity and determination.

THAILAND/

 Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej leaves the Siriraj Hospital for a ceremony at the Grand Palace in Bangkok December 5, 2010. King Bhumibol celebrates his 83rd birthday on Sunday.   REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang

 The picture of people releasing balloons into the air has amazing diagonal composition with the eye being led up into the darkened sky by the use of the disappearing lanterns as they float up into the darkness, the black space on the left holding in the picture so we don't float away too.

Hardship deepens for South Africa’s Poor Whites

SAFRICA-WHITES
Children walk through a squatter camp for poor white South Africans at Coronation Park in Krugersdorp, March 6, 2010. REUTERS/Finbarr O’Reilly

Sitting in a deck chair at a white South African squatter camp, Ann le Roux, 60, holds a yellowing photo from her daughter’s wedding day.

Taken not long after Nelson Mandela became the country’s first black president in 1994, it shows Le Roux standing with her Afrikaans husband and their daughter outside their home in Melville, an upmarket Johannesburg neighborhood.

from Africa News blog:

PHOTOBLOG: Children in Kenya and Haiti forced to grow up fast, if they survive

I had a flashback the other day when I was looking at photographs from Haiti of 15-year-old Fabianne Geismar, shot dead in the head after stealing wall hangings from a Port-au-Prince store, crushed in the Jan. 12 earthquake.

The image of Fabianne sprawled on the ground, blood trailing over the paintings she'd grabbed, took me back to my own childhood in Nairobi and the sight of a 7- or 8-year-old-boy - probably the same age as me at the time - who was caught stealing sweets from a street vendor and was beaten and burnt with rubber tyres. They called it mob justice.

REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

To this day, I'll never understand why that poor boy had to die such a violent and senseless death for something so trivial. I feel the same way about Fabianne - she survived one of the most catastrophic events in living memory, only to be shot in the head for petty theft. And for stealing wall hangings where there are no walls.