Photographers' Blog

My day with the Naked Cowboy

New York City, NY

By Darren Ornitz

Having lived in New York for eight years, Times Square is nowhere near the top of my list of places to photograph. In fact, it’s probably close to dead last. Just the other day however, I got an assignment to roam the chaotic streets trying to find a feature story. Walking through the revolving doors of the Thomson Reuters building, I wondered where I would even begin. While something exciting could happen at any moment, the chances of running into Elmo getting arrested seemed improbable.

After only a few blocks I found myself wedged between a family trying to take photographs of the apparently fascinating Nasdaq building and a bunch of men screaming at me while waving pamphlets in my face about how much fun I’d have sitting on top of a red bus in the middle of bumper to bumper traffic touring the city.

Among the throngs of people I spotted in the middle of the road was an African American man wearing white briefs, cowboy hat, boots, and a guitar. It was a “Naked Cowboy!” Everyone has heard about the original Naked Cowboy, but I had never seen this particular cowboy before. He was a young guy, rocking out on his guitar in the middle of the road, with a grin on his face and a little swag to his strut. I decided to follow him around a bit. At the very least I could snap a few fun photos of him interacting with tourists, all the while getting a little humorous entertainment.

Stopping to interact with giggly, bashful girls requesting pictures with him, it wasn’t long before he made his way across 7th Ave, turning left down a ramp into a parking garage. Now this could be very interesting, I thought to myself. He must be planning to leave in his car and maybe I could photograph his transition back to normal civilian life.

I was not expecting what I came across next. As he walked through a few cars into a cornered nook of the garage, I noticed two other people behind a dimly lit white Escalade. A man emerged from behind the car, the fluorescent light illuminating the rim of his cowboy hat. It was Robert Burke, the original Naked Cowboy! Next to him was his wife, Patricia Cruz, who he had met on the street and who now performs with him as a Naked Cowgirl.

Orlando’s elves

By Jose Miguel Gomez

We plunged nearly 80 meters down a wood-lined tunnel while listening to Orlando Arias, the guide who brought us to Nemocon, an Andean village nestled between mountains and natural salt deposits just north of Bogota. His stories allowed us to focus our minds in the dark mine, and we could feel the dampness of that cold place.

Orlando caught my attention when he claimed to have seen elves there. I asked what they were like, and he answered, “They’re small with elongated ears, very mocking, the size of children, and very ugly.” He showed us a photo of them, and in a ghost-like image I could see seven small green creatures with big ears.

I doubted it all as we continued on our tour. He guided us around all the main sites in this mine that attracts some 80,000 tourists each year. That day we were only a few, so it was easier to take photos. Orlando told us how he likes photography, and he convinced us by pointing out the best points from which to photograph the mine and the reflections on the pools of water. He also showed great patience to wait for us to do our job.

Five stars or no stars, life is a beach

By Desmond Boylan

The variety of options and price range for vacationing in Cuba, for either Cubans or foreigners, is vast. Let’s take the average Cuban family, with an income of roughly $20 (500 pesos) per month from the husband and around $10 from the wife. Summer comes and they need a break with their two children.

SLIDESHOW: BEACHSIDE CUBA

For the equivalent of $5 (120 pesos), this family can have a short, three-day break in a popular campismo, or rural cabin for four people in a natural park or near the sea, with round trip transportation included. Conditions are spartan and unsophisticated, but clean and agreeable. Obviously the Cuban state is not making a profit on this and subsidizes the cost to make it possible for average people to enjoy a holiday. Average still means the vast majority of Cubans, as in this communist economy there are still few incomes above or below the mean.

At one campismo I asked if foreigners were allowed to pay the same $5 for a stay, and the person in charge, Arelis, answered, “Of course everyone now is welcome. Before, only Cubans were allowed, but now anyone can enjoy these facilities.”

Guilty of tourism

By Desmond Boylan

Recently I was at the beach on a very hot and sunny day in the province of Matanzas, east of Havana, when a group of tourists arrived in a bus. As I watched, two of them sneaked behind a bush, stripped to their underwear, slipped their clothes to their companions, and had a quick dip in the sea. They were obviously nervous, watching out so that they wouldn’t be spotted by their minders. I realized that they were Americans, and that by taking a swim and committing an act of tourism, they were breaking the laws of the U.S embargo. They were breaking the law in their own country, and they knew it.

United States citizens are now allowed to fly in directly to visit Cuba under a cultural program bound by strict conditions, the main one being that they are not allowed to practice tourism. By following the rules they will not be breaking the 60-year trade embargo imposed on the island under U.S. law. At last U.S. citizens are allowed to visit this forbidden country, listed by the U.S. as a sponsor of terrorism along with Iran, Syria, Sudan, and North Korea, but they have to behave themselves.

The sneaky swimmers spoke in a nervous whisper, twisting their mouths as if someone could read their lips from the distance. As they glanced over their shoulders, it was like a massive crime was being committed with a long prison sentence as punishment for being caught. There were rumors among them that minders were infiltrating their groups and posing as one of them. If it were true, anyone could be a minder reporting back to the U.S. congress on illegal tourist activities engaged by American travelers with the aim of stopping these tours and tightening the embargo once again.

Grand Canyon tug of war

By Bob Galbraith

A light dusting of snow has just landed on the farthest peaks of the southwest reaches of the Grand Canyon, viewed from a clear glass, horseshoe shaped skywalk on the Hualapai Indian Reservation in northwest Arizona. Bus loads of domestic and foreign tourists, many arriving from Las Vegas over bumpy dirt roads scraped out of the desert scrub and Joshua Trees of this remote stretch of the American West.

As tourists hurry off the buses and scramble for prime snapshot locations along the rim of the canyon, most make their way along a temporary, covered boardwalk to the polished glass protrusion that provides a view to the snow covered peaks in the distance and the muddy Colorado River flowing below.

Photographers snap pictures of visitors with outstretched arms, all wearing protective slippers as to not scratch the glass. The view is stunning as the canyon and river appear in sight lines below and the white peaks above. Many meander at the top of the horseshoe for the penultimate view and feeling of being suspended in mid-air.

Angels & Demons by bus tour

With all the fuss kicked up about the premiere in Rome of director Ron Howard’s film Angels & Demons, I thought it would be fun to hop on a bus tour based on the novel by Dan Brown. I must stress that I am not a fan of Brown’s writing, but it’s surely a different way to see many of the Eternal City’s sights.

In the following audio slideshow the tour guide, who can’t be named due to his company’s policy, discusses the book and how it relates to the landmarks of Rome

Angels & Demons by bus in Rome from Chris Helgren on Vimeo.

from Raw Japan:

Japan expats clean up Paris

FRANCE/JAPAN-WASTE

"Japan syndrome" hits about 10 Japanese tourists to Paris a year. The victims are so disappointed at the dirty streets and rude waiters that they succumb to a nervous breakdown at the idea of having wasted a week of leave and savings on a trip to the City of Lights.

There is said to be a psychologist, Japanese of course, who treats these despondent compatriots at the embassy. So when I read about a group of Japanese volunteers who gather once a month to clean the famously cobbled streets of Paris I saw a story.

Place de la Concorde is a busy intersection of ferocious drivers in underpowered cars hurtling past some of the most beautiful architecture in the city. At the epicentre I find a group of 20 Japanese dressed in green tops holding tongs and brooms, with cameras and gloves, waiting for their leader Osamu-san to start the slow march up the Champs Elysees.