Photographers' Blog

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.

Question for the interested news consumer: who are these people?
Question for a news photographer: how to show this?

A pow-wow with the Russian Reuters TV and pictures team and regional chief photographers came up with the idea of picture postcards of normal Russians. As it turned out there was a series of protests/support rallies planned the week before voting, maybe a last chance to see. We thought – keep it simple, let the contrast between the different types of people, if there are any, speak for themselves. Typologies, collections of similar images, are often used photographically as a way to find similarities and differences not clear when looking at individual subjects in isolation. Applications of this approach are legion, Hiroshi Sugimoto’s series of long exposure images of cinemas, or Bernd and Hilla Becher’s black and white grids of industry.

Russia’s untouchables

By Denis Sinyakov

I don’t remember a time when Moscow hasn’t been flooded with them – migrants from Central Asia.

When I moved here in 1997 they were already here. They had started appearing more than 20 years ago, the time when the Soviet Union was falling apart. Some fled civil wars, but more often they were escaping the awful economic situation in their homelands. Not exactly an escape, but they came to make some money, leaving their families at home. The economic situation in Russia even now isn’t enviable, at the beginning of the 1990’s it was woeful, but none the less better than there.

Muscovites have got used to living with them, used to regarding them as low qualified workers, as street sweepers and lorry loaders, cheap muscle on building sites. People are used to calling them “churki” and “sheep” and not finding those words in any way offensive.

Quiet moment of glory

By Peter Andrews

I woke up on the morning of August 19, 1991 after staying at my friends’ apartment in Warsaw. I was on my way back from holidays in Canada and had just sold my car before departing to the Soviet Union to start my new job at Reuters in Moscow. Previously, I worked for the Associated Press in the then-Soviet Republics of Lithuania and Georgia as well as in Moscow itself where Reuters’ former Chief Picture Editor Gary Kemper and Moscow Chief Photographer Frederique Lengaigne recruited me for Reuters.

A neighbor stopped me on the staircase saying: “Do you know what happened in Moscow?”. There was a military coup and the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was overthrown by Soviet Vice President Gennady Yanayev. It seemed impossible to me, I had just left Moscow two months earlier. Nevertheless, I immediately arranged the first available plane ticket to Moscow. The plane was almost empty and the only people on board were my colleagues from Poland with whom I had spent the previous year working with in Vilnius. The atmosphere on the plane was tense, but full of excitement. The change was happening in front of our eyes, but not the way we were expecting.

Upon landing at the Shermetyevo airport in Moscow I went straight to the Reuters office which was then on the Sadovaya Samotechnaya Ulitsa part of the Sadovoye Koltso in the center of Moscow. We exchanged quick greetings and I was on my way to the White House, a building which then housed the country’s parliament, where everything was happening. The Reuters picture crew already working on site included Sean Ramsey, Michael Samojeden, Genady Galperyn, Grigory Dukor, and Viktor Korotayev.

Amid fires the air is thick with prayers

Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, wearing headphones, sits in the cockpit of a firefighting plane in Ryazan region August 10, 2010.   REUTERS/Ria Novosti/Pool/Alexei Nikolsky

The Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin occupied the nation’s TV screens while reports of his bravado in fighting forest wildfires littered the media. The rest of the country were dead on their feet, choking with smoke as they fought the disaster.

Residents attempt to extinguish a fire near the village of Polyaki-Maydan in Ryazan region, some 380 km (236 miles) southeast of Moscow, August 9, 2010.  REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov

Unable to depend upon Putin, government authority or new luxury equipment for assistance, locals grew weary as they defended their houses using an arsenal of tractors, farm equipment and shovels.

A man drinks water as he tries to extinguish a forest fire near the village of Polyaki-Maydan in Ryazan region, some 380 km (236 miles) southeast of Moscow, August 9, 2010.   REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov

Some relied on their prayers.

A priest blessed firefighters in the village of Berestyanka before they continued on. Local residents conducted religious services asking God for rain to prevent new wildfires like the one that partially destroyed the village of Kriusha on August 5.

from FaithWorld:

Russian Orthodox take icy plunges to celebrate Epiphany

Russian Orthodox believers washed away their sins by taking a plunge into icy waters on the feast of the Epiphany, which fell on Monday according to the Orthodox calendar.  The traditional triple dip commemorates the baptism of Jesus Christ in the River Jordan.  Here are several Reuters photographs and a Reuters video of Russians braving the winter cold to perform the ritual.

dip 1

A man prepares to dip in icy waters during an Orthodox Epiphany celebration, with the air temperature at about -26 degrees Celsius ( -14.8 degrees Fahrenheit) in Pereslavl-Zalessky, some 140 km (87 miles) northeast of Moscow January 19, 2010/Sergei Karpukhin

dip 2

A man gets out of the water during an Orthodox Epiphany celebration, with air temperature at about -24 degrees Celsius (-11.2 degrees Fahrenheit) in Suzdal, some 200 km (124 miles) northeast of Moscow January 19, 2010/Denis Sinyakov

dip 3

A man helps a woman out of the Bazaikha river during Orthodox Epiphany celebrations, with air temperature at about -28 degrees Celsius (-18.4 degrees Fahrenheit), in the suburbs of the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk January 19, 2010/Ilya Naymushin

Der Ball ist rund und das Spiel dauert 90 Minuten

“Der Ball ist rund und das Spiel dauert 90 Minuten” – the ball is round and the match lasts 90 minutes - words of wisdom from Sepp Herberger, known as the ’Miracle from Berne’, most famous as German national coach of the team which won the 1954 World Cup. 

The other night we had something like a miracle from Vienna – Michael Ballack struck a thunderbolt free kick to send an unconvincing Germany through to the quarter-finals of the European Soccer Championshop 2008 with a 1-0 win over co-hosts Austria. Ballack’s free kick, right-footed into the top corner and clocked at 121 kilometres an hour by a German TV station exactly describes, what acording to another German saying, is the whole point of the game, “das Runde muss ins Eckige – the round thing must go in the rectangular thing.

So that is easy enough – isnt it??

1
  
1. Germany’s Michael Ballack (4thL) scores from a free kick during their Group B Euro 2008 soccer match against Austria at the Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna, June 16, 2008.     REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach.  2.  Austria’s goal keeper Juergen Macho fails to save a free kick by Germany’s Michael Ballack during their Group B Euro 2008 soccer match at the Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna June 16, 2008.     REUTERS/Christian Charisius

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