Photographers' Blog

Collecting karma

By Damir Sagolj

An angel-like girl, dressed all in white carries a pack of toothbrushes on a Sunday morning. She walks slowly, smiles all around and seems not to be bothered by music so loud that one can’t hear his own thoughts. She is on her way to the Mang Teung Sua Jung Cemetery in Chonburi province – where members of a local Thai Chinese community will exhume unclaimed bodies. Toothbrushes will be used to clean the dirt from bones.

One of the first books I read after arriving in Thailand more than two years ago was Bizarre Thailand – a collection of strange tales from the “land of smiles”. It was a nice introduction to what I could expect here in Thailand but I thought to myself – I’ve seen enough elsewhere; bizarre things in other countries so nothing can surprise me.

Well, this is Thailand and things go well beyond expectations. On this day, unclaimed dead bodies are taken out of graves in the corner of a massive cemetery in Choburi province. It is a Thai Chinese ritual that has been going on for decades since diseases like malaria killed many people 90 years ago in the province. The legend goes that officials began haphazardly digging up corpses so the city could build an airport and stopped only when they were haunted by ghosts. Since then, residents have felt it necessary to leave the land untouched and to honor those who have died without loved ones.

Every ten years hundreds of people wearing white – a customary color for funerals and visiting temples – go to the cemetery, open the graves and clean the unclaimed bodies to offer them a proper burial. Later in the year, remains of the dead with no friends or relatives will be cremated, ashes spread at sea to make room in the burial ground for more unclaimed bodies in the coming years.

Collecting karma is big in Thailand and people at the cemetery believe this ritual helps them to do so. Also, they believe that the dead will not be able to move on and have another good life if they don’t have a proper funeral and cremation. So, despite the fear, heat and dirt – hundreds of people take care of the dead and their souls in another bizarre event in amazing Thailand.

Two worlds of Purim

By Nir Elias

As an Israeli and a resident of “ultra” secular Tel Aviv for most of my adult life, Purim — the celebration of the Jews’ salvation from genocide in ancient Persia, as recounted in the Book of Esther — has always been a time of partying and dressing up, for me.

Images of Orthodox Jews celebrating Purim were always very familiar. But being present at one of these celebrations was a different experience altogether.

This year I went to photograph the Vizhnitz Hasidic community in Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox city some 7 km (4 miles) from Tel Aviv. The Vizhnitz community members tend to emphasize the joyous gatherings and celebrations commemorated in the Jewish tradition.

Detroit’s glimmer of hope

By Mark Blinch

I’ve been to Detroit countless times over the years and though I’ve always known the city to struggle with poverty, I am usually sent to the city to cover another winning Detroit sports franchise, or the glitzy international auto show showcasing the years new cars from all the top auto makers.

As I drove down the highway from my hometown Toronto, I tuned into my favorite Detroit rock radio station 89x as I got close to the border crossing. The radio hosts began to plug an event where people with little means could go and get a free meal. It was just a few days until Christmas, and rockstar Kid Rock, a Detroit native, was putting up the funds to help support his hometown.

I was sent to Detroit to meet with the people who struggle the most during the holidays, to see the places where they seek comfort and to capture the spirit of the locals who reach beyond their own troubles to help out others.

Two sides of a living God

By Navesh Chitrakar

Born and raised in Kathmandu’s Newar community I am familiar with Lord Ganesh. His elephant head attached to a human body makes him easy to identify. Ganesh is honored at the beginning of rituals and ceremonies as we celebrate religious festivals.

This month, I had the opportunity to take pictures of Living God Ganesh after I asked one of my friends who was close to the living god’s family. I was pleased and surprised that the family was willing to accept me since they don’t normally allow pictures to be taken.

The first thing I saw was a six-year-old boy sitting on the sofa and yawning. The boy was the living god but he looked totally different from how he had looked when I saw him on the streets during festivals. In his home, the sofa was his throne.

The view from a volcanic edge

By Dwi Oblo

I’ve known about the annual Hindu Kasada Festival for some time now.

For years, I’ve been planning to go but for the past two there have been conflicting events that I needed to cover so this was my first time attending the festival. As I wanted to provide extensive coverage, I decided to arrive a day before the festival started. Along with four colleagues, I headed to Mount Bromo from Yogyakarta. It took us nine hours to drive the 500 km (310 miles) route.

On the morning of August 15, the sunshine slowly warmed me as it reached 16 degrees Celsius (60 degrees Fahrenheit). Coming from Yogyakarta, this was cold for me.

Once arriving in Ngadisari, the last village before Mount Bromo, we decided to rent a four-wheel-drive Jeep. These vehicles were provided for visitors who wanted to reach the volcanic crater of Mount Bromo on foot. After the last eruption in December 2010, the track heading to the crater became sandier, which made it even harder for non-4WDs to navigate. I wore a mask and sealed eyeglasses as strong winds made volcanic dust fly everywhere. My photo equipment also had to be securely protected from the dust when it was not in use. This was the exact same situation I was confronted with when I covered the 2010 eruption of Mount Merapi.

Strange assignment: Buddhists and lobsters

By Brian Snyder

Every story and photograph that goes out on the Reuters wire has a ‘slug,’ which is a short, one or two word way of coordinating  and categorizing pictures and stories.  For example, photographs from a Red Sox baseball game are slugged BASEBALL.   But the slug for a recent story I photographed, BUDDHISTS/LOBSTERS, combined two words I never thought I would see together.

Reporter Lauren Keiper and I recently joined a group of practicing Buddhists in Gloucester, Massachusetts for a ceremony to release over 500 lobsters back into the ocean.   The ceremony coincided with the Buddhist holiday “Chokhor Duchen” or “Wheel Turning Day.”  Buddhists believe animal liberation helps them live longer, especially when performed on holidays when they believe the consequences of their actions are multiplied.  The lobsters, which would have otherwise been headed to restaurants, were bought at a local wholesaler.

Full disclosure: I’m an omnivore, and living in Boston, my diet includes lobster.

How I became a pilgrim

I grew up in a country with deep Catholic traditions. I was just a year old in 1978 when Polish cardinal Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II. It was a huge surprise in the then‐communist country, a satellite of the Soviet Union, that a son of Polish soil could become the head of the Catholic Church – which was painfully divided by the Iron Curtain.

Over the years, it became a natural feeling that the pope was Polish. The words ‘pope’ and ‘Pole’ becoming synonyms in my mind. John Paul II visited Poland eight times as the pontiff but I only had one chance to see him live when his papa‐mobile passed my home in 1991. I was 14 years old and took a picture of the event.

Unfortunately, during my professional career I never took a picture of Pope John Paul II. My first such assignment came only after the late pope passed away and I was sent to Rome for his funeral. It was a really hard time with no sleep, no time for eating or bathing. I just wandered about taking pictures of thousands of pilgrims sleeping along the Vatican streets and waiting for several days to attend the funeral ceremony. The air was full of grief. I also queued for hours to get to the St.Peter’s Basilica following an endless stream of people who wanted to honor John Paul II and to take a picture of his body exhibited to the public.

Utah gets Holi, Photographer gets dirty

People throw colored powder during Holi, the festival of colors, at the Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, Utah March 26, 2011.   REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

By Jim Urquhart

The Holi Color Festival is a yearly event in Utah that for years I have known of but never attended myself. I would be reminded of it after the fact when seeing it in images by other photojournalist friends. It is rooted in a Hindu tradition of celebrating the end of winter and beginning of Spring and takes place at the Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, Utah.

What makes this festival so amazing is not just the crowds of people and the color but also that it is taking place in Utah County. The same county as the LDS Church’s Brigham Young University. In my mind, Utah County is not known as a mecca of culture and was really only a melting pot of white bread, sugar and milk. I was about to have my stereotype blown away.

Revellers cover their faces as they stand in a midst of coloured powders during Holi, the festival of colors, at Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, Utah March 26, 2011.   REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

It has always puzzled me and in the days before the event I was asked to speak to communication students at BYU. I asked the professor of the class, who is also a good friend, why it is that so many Mormon youth and young adults attend the event. It is not part of my picture of white Utah county. He explained that the event draws the students and families from the area because not only is it an experience in another culture’s traditions but it also a safe fun outlet for them.

Religious Imam, reality TV star and dream son-in-law?

When a friend told me about the “Young Imam” reality TV show, I thought it must be just another ‘preaching and nagging’ religious program.

But when another friend of mine jokingly said “the young imams are dream son-in-laws”, I decided I should take a peek into this phenomenon. While I could understand why Mawi became a heartthrob of teenage girls after he won the Malaysian version of American Idol but, a religious TV program doesn’t usually catch on in Malaysia.

After locating “Imam Muda” (“Young Imam” in Malay) on one of the our cable TV channels, I found it to be interesting.

Tibetan mountain spirits

 

Every summer the green hills of Rebkong are home to unique celebrations during which local Tibetans believe the mountain gods visit villagers -- and each other -- through human mediums.

Reuters photographer Christina Hu documents the celebrations in the multimedia presentation above. To read the full story click here.

  • Editors & Key Contributors