Photographers' Blog

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.

Hotsol called me to say the hostel only allowed guests until 23:00. The complicated thing was that the FIS Snowboard World Cup, which I was covering that day, did not end until 21:00. By 21:40, I was at the address Hutsol had sent me. A few male hostel guests lazily sat in front of a TV set in their sweat pants, clueless about what was being prepared next door.

The host, who had no idea about the organization the good-looking young women belonged to, asked them to take photos of themselves in the interiors of the hostel and write a review about it. She wanted to use them for advertisements in the future. We laughed as we found the offer funny given Femen’s growing popularity in Russia and abroad.

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.

Chaos descends on Occupy Oakland

By Stephen Lam

It all started like a normal day covering Occupy Oakland. But little did I know it was going to be one of the most intense protests I’ve ever covered.

I arrived at Oakland City Hall around 1pm and there was already a sizable crowd gathered in preparation for the march. I was a bit surprised to see people carrying shields, but I didn’t think much of it and proceeded to photograph the protest as I normally would.

The march began as the group announced that they were headed towards their sound truck which was supposedly pulled over by the police. Sensing a bit of tension, I instinctively went back to the car to grab my gas mask and helmet.

In the eye of the Greek storm

By Yannis Behrakis

(View a slideshow of Yannis’ photos from the Greek financial crisis here)

In the past 20 months the Greek financial crisis has been one of the world’s top stories. Day in, day out words like, IMF, ECB, and Troika are mentioned as some of the most common words in my country. People who knew nothing about economics and had never heard of strange words like “spreads”, “haircut” and “bailout”, now seem to have become almost experts in financial matters. Everywhere you go in Greece people talk about the same issues — an upcoming default, the economic meltdown, the misery the unemployment, the rising prices, the possible loss of their deposits in banks if Greece goes back to its old currency, the drachma.

According to the latest polls, Greeks are the most unhappy people in Europe and it’s easy to see why. On the streets of my home town Athens, people don’t smile much, they argue a lot and on some days it seems that misery looms over the capital. If you add to that the terrible traffic jams caused by one or more protests that occur every single day, on top of the increased number of beggars, drug addicts, illegal immigrants and homeless, Athens seems in its worst shape ever. According to another study last year, the center of Athens was “closed” for 2-3 hours daily due to protests, resulting in, according to shop owners, a financial catastrophe for many in the once booming downtown Athens.

Born free

By Adnan Abidi

The joy of being born in a free country is a gift I received from those who sweat and bled in the struggle for Indian Independence. I accept the fact that I do very little to appreciate that gift. The most I do is fly a kite on August 15th, like many others. Quite a few of my fellow ‘post-independence born’ countrymen have little clue about the struggles our martyrs undertook to achieve what, today, we enjoy with much ingratitude. Freedom has been taken for granted.

The first struggle of Indian Independence was unknown to me, the second, as popular support named it, was the one I witnessed. It was when a 74-year-old Gandhinian, Anna, mobilized a crowd of over a million to crusade against corruption they say has infiltrated to the very roots of the Indian administration.

It was a much-watched movement that kept most of the country glued to their televisions for thirteen days. The media became a window for the 1.21 billion population. And I, as part of that window, got a chance to hold up Anna Hazare’s campaign to the world. The call against corruption came on the same day that India achieved its independence back in 1947, and in the same month as Ramadan, which fell in August this year. Following tradition, I was celebrating my independence by flying a kite when I received two calls — one from a fellow colleague, who informed me that Anna Hazare was praying at Rajghat, and the second from my Amma (mother), who asked me to get dates and fruits, traditionally eaten to end the day’s fast. I was at a crossroads and I had to choose my path.

Click and kiss

Good kisses are like good pictures, they come in the most natural way, without words or permission. What would happen if you asked permission for a kiss or a picture? The answer would likely be ‘no’.

On the streets of Australia, stealing a kiss can sometimes be a lot easier than taking a photo.

The nation has an obsession with rules and a fear of media, a very bad combination for press freedom. Warnings are everywhere: “No trespassing, offenders will be prosecuted,” “No entry,” “Private.” Every time you put a camera to your face in a public place, some local official will intervene: “What are you taking pictures of? You can’t take pictures here without permission.”

Life inside “red” Bangkok

Anti-government "red shirt" protesters gather in front of a closed down shopping center in the main shopping district in Bangkok, April 14, 2010.  REUTERS/Vivek PrakashBangkok’s retail and commercial heart has been under occupation for 7 weeks. Anti-government “red shirt” protesters have occupied the Rajprasong intersection, which is bound by glitzy high-end shopping malls and five star hotels, many of which have been forced to close. But inside the stronghold of the red shirts, business continues in a strange but usual way.

I’ve been in Bangkok for just on 3 weeks, part of the multimedia team covering everything from anti-government and pro-government rallies to bloody clashes and grenade attacks right in the commercial district. Pictures and video show Bangkok out of control and in chaos. I want to provide an insight into ‘Red Bangkok’, a square mile self-sustained area that the “red shirts” have taken over and promise to stay in indefinitely.

Each morning at 5.30am, I walk towards the reds’ fortified zone to look for pictures in morning light. Surrounding the area is a tribal-looking fence built from tires and bamboo poles, something that belongs more in a post-apocalyptic movie than real-life Bangkok.

If no one shows up, is it still news?

Photographers covering protests in many parts of the world need to consider logistics, politics and, above all, their personal safety. In Australia, one of the main considerations is whether to cover the event at all.

Last week my colleague Ahmad Masood wrote a noteworthy blog highlighting the stark difference between a protest he covered recently in Germany and the many demonstrations he covered in Afghanistan. His words were in my mind last Saturday as I set off to cover an anti-consumerism rally in Sydney, part of international “Buy Nothing Day.”

It was a fine, sunny day. There should have been plenty of protesters. The announcement said to expect hoards of demonstrators dressed as zombies, chanting anti-capitalist slogans while cutting up credit cards.

Protests: A study in necessity and choice

Kabul-based, Afghani photographer Ahmad Masood, is spending a month based in Berlin.

On my first day of work in Berlin: a very different city from my city, Kabul, Afghanistan, I covered a demonstration by students demanding improved conditions at schools and universities. I have covered some hardcore protests in Afghanistan, where about 8 out of 10 resulted in death or serious injuries. This time I was in Germany and I didn’t expect any violence.

We arrived at the scene. There were many young men and women gathered with banners and some armed with whistles in their mouths. People were laughing and smiling. There was music playing on a loud speaker.  If that was not enough, some protesters were blowing their own trumpets and other instruments. It was just like a party. The students looked to be in pretty good condition, so I was wondering “Why? What are you complaining about?”.

Surrounded by demonstrations in South Korea

It was October, 1990 when I was on a street in central Seoul for the first times as a news photographer. My first job: to cover an anti-government demonstration by students and workers. Protected by a helmet and gas mask, I shot pictures with a Nikon FM2 without the help of a motor drive. It was a battle. The protesters, hundreds of them, had steel bars, stones and petrol bombs. They were forced back by riot police, armed with tear gas, heavy sticks and hard-edged shields.

It was in those last days of the country’s period of autocratic rule, riots and mayhem had become almost daily routine. Sometimes, the photographers, including me, were victims of attack from both sides

By 1997, news photography had become my full-time job. By then too, South Korea had a democratic government in power and major protests were less common. When they did happen, the tear gas may have gone but the tactics were tough and people got hurt. But now there was public opinion to worry about. There was an unwritten rule that members of the media should not be attacked.

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