Photographers' Blog

Nights with the Bangkok protesters

Bangkok, Thailand

By Athit Perawongmetha

Thai anti-government protests have been going on for some three months and during weeks of political unrest my attention has been focused on the action of the daily news.

The protesters’ takeover of major intersections in the city harks back to a tumultuous April and May of 2010, when supporters of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra took to the streets. I now find myself in the same location near Bangkok’s central Lumphini Park where violent street battles between protesters and government security forces took place.

Today’s protesters are opponents, rather than supporters, of Thaksin and they are against his sister, the current Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. They mostly hail from the south of Thailand and from Bangkok, whereas Thaksin and Yingluck’s supporters are mostly poor, rural voters from the north and northeast. But despite that, the scene does not look dissimilar to 2010: tents and barricades abound, and I am shooting pictures in the same spot.

During these protests, I have increasingly begun to ask myself whether I am missing something with this new set of demonstrators. Who really are these people who support the protest? Where do they live? What do they believe in? And why have they come to Bangkok to camp out in the extreme heat under the city’s flyovers and near its imposing skyscrapers?

With all these questions swimming in my head, my boss gave me the green light to cover the lives of the demonstrators. I was one hundred percent ready and started preparing to spend several nights with them.

World Cup protest – flames and fear

Sao Paulo, Brazil

By Nacho Doce

I heard a loud scream and turned to see a Volkswagen Beetle on fire just a few meters away. I was covering the year’s first demonstration against the 2014 World Cup in Sao Paulo’s Roosevelt Square. The protesters’ slogan was, “The money spent on stadiums could give the country better education and health.” There were more than 2,000 people marching, many of whom belonged to the Black Bloc.

I ran to the burning car along with other colleagues and demonstrators, and inside I saw two woman and a young girl. I managed to shoot four pictures of their expressions of fear and panic while the driver and others helped them to escape from the fire.

I continued to photograph one of the women who ran with the girl, her daughter, in her arms.

Reasoning amid riots

Fortaleza, Brazil

By Paulo Whitaker

If the FIFA Confederations Cup is supposed to be about soccer, the latest edition in Brazil was really about so much else. Brazilians are passionate about the sport, but with all the public spending on stadiums for that and the 2014 World Cup, the people inaugurated the Confederations Cup with protests against poor public schools, hospitals and transportation. The protests began over a sudden increase in bus fares, but that was only the catalyst for a wave of protests that swept the country, especially near the stadiums where the world was watching soccer.

They were ten days of steady protests and riots, leading up to the semi-final between Spain and Italy in Fortaleza. I had the information that protests were planned near the stadium, and because of past experience covering I went earlier this time with colleague Kai Pfaffenbach to the stadium. But police had kept the demonstrations far from the stadium in a slum area dangerous to walk in with photo gear.

After leaving the hotel we passed in front of a university where some 300 students were already barricading the main road to the stadium. It was clear that clashes would be inevitable that day.

How would you like your doner, with or without a gas mask?

Istanbul, Turkey

By Marko Djurica

Everyone who has ever been to Istanbul knows their famed Turkish fast food restaurants, especially in Taksim Square. Doners, kebabs and other delicacies are on offer 24/7. The competition is vast and every vendor fights to lure customers. You can’t really go wrong: most of the places have friendly staff and tasty morsels of food. But in one restaurant I experienced a kind of service I could never have dreamed of.

Namely, on June 22 I was in Taksim Square covering the protests that had begun 20 days earlier when the government of Prime Minister Erdogan announced it would build a new shopping mall on Gezi Park, the last large green space in the city. A large number of protesters faced down a line of riot police armed with water cannons. No one needed to tell me what was going to happen; I have been in similar situations many times. The demonstrators shouted anti-government slogans, the police asked them to disperse because rallies are forbidden. Naturally, after a few hours, tensions rose and the police began to use water cannons and tear gas to evict the masses – now a common sight at Taksim.

Even though at first glance it was frightening, it seemed that both sides could get used to this. Tear gas rained down on all sides and so many canisters landed in front of the mass of kebab stands, the open kind which lack windows and doors to hide from the gas burning your eyes and throat. I decided to go inside and take photos, expecting empty tables, chairs flung pell-mell and charred food abandoned on the grill. But what I saw instead stunned me.

Between “Jogo bonito” and riots on the streets

Salvador, Brazil

By Kai Pfaffenbach

Football is the sport I most like to photograph.

Almost everybody in Reuters knows that. When I was assigned to head to Brazil to cover the FIFA Confederations Cup one of my dreams came a little closer: covering a soccer match at Rio’s famous Maracana stadium. After almost two weeks of following the tournament’s group stage matches I haven’t seen the Maracana (that only happens for the final). But I have had the pleasure of traveling in a team of three with my colleagues Jorge Silva and Paulo Whitaker from Brasilia to Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza and Salvador. The stadiums look great, they are ready for the big event next year, the spectators are as enthusiastic as expected and so far we have seen good games with an outstanding Brazilian superstar Neymar and spectacular overhead kicks from Hulk.

But I have to admit that my attention has been taken away from the stadiums, organization and the games by the huge demonstrations across Brazil. It is very obvious that the people are not happy about how things are happening here and it seems solidarity for the cause is rising.

Some of these protests unfortunately turned into riots and violence. Being quite experienced with this and even used to rough police enforcement for the last few days I found myself outside the stadiums to cover the street fights before heading back in to cover the matches. The situation develops very quickly here. Most of the protesters were calm, only shouting slogans and holding up placards and flags but some of them were ready for trouble. Stones flew everywhere, barricades were set on fire and it turned into proper civil unrest.

Dispatch from Taksim Square

Istanbul, Turkey

By Murad Sezer

Taksim Square is the heart of Istanbul. It’s the meeting point for lovers, tourists and protesters.

On the weekends if you stroll around the square and crowded Istiklal street, a hub for shopping and bars, you can witness various political demonstrations. Women protest against domestic violence, soccer fans gather, anti-government far leftists groups rally and on Saturdays mothers demand to know the fate of their missing relatives. Riot police are never far away, so it’s no big surprise if you smell tear gas all of a sudden in the middle of Taksim.

This time-lapse video shows demonstrators at Taksim Square, Istanbul, over a 24-hour period on June 5, 2013.

In the face of tear gas

Istanbul, Turkey

By Osman Orsal

I am always prepared for these kind of protests before I arrive.

I wear shirts that cover my arms and of course I carry a gas mask. After all, during protests I can safely predict through my experience when police will use tear gas.

So, I took a secure, good position for shooting images. After taking 3-4 photos it is hard for everyone (even if you have a gas mask) to continue taking pictures because of the tear gas. I followed exactly this procedure with this protest.

After the demonstration was over I saw other people affected by tear gas pouring fresh lemon in their eyes. It is believed to be a kind of a healer after tear gas. But I couldn’t see this woman around. She probably went somewhere to wash her face and refresh herself for the next battle. The protesters said they wouldn’t let destruction crews cut down the trees.

Protesting – Beijing style

By David Gray

Starting last Wednesday, I have been riding my bike to the Japanese embassy in Beijing to cover protests against the Japanese government purchasing disputed islands in the East China Sea. These protests started off with just a few people – perhaps a few dozen – as ‘Beijingers’ are not used to being allowed to voice their opinions loudly (and most importantly, in large numbers) on the streets about anything.

SLIDESHOW: CLASHES OVER DISPUTED ISLANDS

The day it was announced that Japan had bought the islands, small groups of protesters were ushered into position by officials outside the main entrance to the embassy, and allowed to yell slogans and hold banners for around 10 minutes at a time. Some occasionally threw a water bottle or small stone over the gate, but they were quickly led away by plainclothes police with what can only be described as a ‘friendly’ warning.

So, we turned up on Saturday, thinking it would be yet another day of monotonous chanting and yelling. We carried our ladders, which had become necessary because the area that officials had deemed ‘adequate for press requirements’ was of course ridiculously small and we needed them to see over the top of each other. At first, a few groups arrived, but not in substantial numbers. But the word must have got out that protests were being ‘allowed’, and quite unexpectedly, thousands of people appeared and began pushing the outnumbered riot police guarding the embassy’s main entrance.

Femen gets naked for Putin

By Denis Sinyakov

“Young silly girls” that’s how Vladimir Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov referred to Ukrainian Femen movement activists Oxana Shachko, Anna Deda and Irina Fomina. The three were sentenced to 5-12 days jail for appearing topless at an election site during the presidential vote in Russia on Sunday and imitating an attempt to steal the ballot box, which Putin had used to vote earlier in the day.

It was the first time Deda and Fomina had been in jail.

One wouldn’t be able to tell it was Fomina’s first ever protest the night before, when the women gathered to practice in a hostel room overlooking the Moscow river. I had never covered this intimate process of preparation for an act of protest before. Moreover, it was the first time I met the activists, and I barely knew their leader Anna Hutsol. That left me slightly confused.

The day before the elections, Hutsol replied to my request to come and photograph them, saying she would most likely agree. All day long, in my head I was going through pictures of Femen shot by Alessandro Bianchi in Italy, Gleb Garanich in Ukraine, photos that had won at the World Press Photo and POYi, trying to make mine different. My fears about repeating what had been shot already proved groundless, thanks to the interior of the Soviet-style apartment made into a hostel.

The femen phenomenon

By Gleb Garanich

I have been shooting Femen protests for five years and the girls have become a real Ukrainian brand now, like Chernobyl, the Klitschko brothers, footballer Andriy Shevchenko and Chicken Kiev. Colleagues in the office were always jealous when we left to cover the protests and many of my acquaintances from abroad were willing to go and watch them. Before taking pictures of the girls’ regular lives outside the protests, I asked myself: what do I know about them? I only knew their names. The public has two ideas of them, “funny girls” or “damn prostitutes, I wonder who’s paying them”. I personally do not care if their actions are moral or immoral, wrong or right. They do not kill or steal or promise to make voters’ lives better. Shooting their protests is much more interesting than, say, covering a briefing by the prime minister. These girls at least appear honest. Who pays for that is a question for the Financial Times, not me.


REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov

I chose the three most prominent Femen activists, Oleksandra Shevchenko, Inna Shevchenko and Oksana Shachko, and decided to spend a few hours with each one on a regular day. Two problems I faced were a queue of foreign reporters waiting to meet them and the flu, which brought the girls down. But once they recovered, I paid them a visit.

I spent the morning with Inna Shevchenko.

Inna, 21, was born in the city of Kherson and studies journalism in Kiev. She had worked for the press office of the Kiev mayor’s office, but was sacked for taking part in Femen protests. Inna likes to hike in the mountains and read Chekhov. She rents a room in a downtown Kiev apartment.