Photographers' Blog

Chavez’s latest K.O.

By Jorge Silva

Before the recent election campaign in Venezuela, the last time that I had been close enough to Hugo Chavez to use a wide angle lens was last February when he left for Cuba to be treated for a recurrence of his cancer.  That farewell began as a solemn procession through the streets of Caracas, with Chavez dressed in black, riding in a dark van with open sunroof and an image of Christ on the windshield. His supporters showered him with flowers on the way to the airport, as he left his followers in suspended animation, and his future full of doubt.

This campaign was a re-encounter with him; one that many didn’t believe would happen again. His cancer disappeared from the agenda, and Chavez was back. For his followers it was the difference between night and day, or the idea of a Venezuela without him contrasted with his reappearance in power, where he had been for the last 14 years.

Whenever Chavez appeared the masses screamed wildly. If he were a boxer he would be an undefeated veteran, with many blows against him and without the same youthful agility, but with his own solid punch intact. To his faithful, Chavez remained the synonym of hope.

His motorcades turned into carnivals with salsa, merengue, and ritual drums sounding almost religious, where he received good wishes as well as petitions from the deafening noise and the sea of hands, through which his vehicle navigated each afternoon. At different times he pretended to play the electric guitar, joked on stage, surrounded himself with pop stars to become youthful for a few moments, only to finish by singing his favorite rancheras. One evening in Valencia, Chavez ended one energetic and emotional speech by flinging his microphone several meters to be caught by his aide-de-camp, leaving him triumphant like a bullfighter after the bull’s last pass.

Many women cried upon seeing him and used all their strength to force their way past the guards to reach him. For most it was impossible to do more than make visual contact, but it impressed me how Chavez seemed to make contact with each person as he passed them.

Rare Amazon encounter

By Carlos Garcia Rawlins

When I show him a photo I’ve just taken of a fellow tribe member, he smiles. He’s fascinated and can’t believe it. When I point the lens at him and then show him his own image on the screen, his body retracts. He frowns, confused.

In the depths of the Amazon jungle, just 19 km (12 miles) from the Brazilian border, is the village of Irotatheri of the Yanomami tribe, that still groups around a fire. They live barefoot, semi-naked, and free. Until last week they had not seen any humans that didn’t look like they do. Never had they seen any outsider, let alone a bearded one.

We had flown five hours from Caracas with the Venezuelan Army to accompany them as they investigated the alleged massacre of 80 members of the tribe by Brazilian miners. We landed at a small shapono, or Yanomami village, consisting of a ring of houses in a jungle clearing. I immediately recognized that nothing would be the same for them ever again. There was going to be something irreversible about this meeting.

Hugo Chavez: One year battling cancer

By Jorge Silva

About a year ago, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez surprised us during a routine coverage at his Miraflores palace in Caracas. He appeared with a walking cane.

That was the first time he had ever shown any hint of a physical problem, or indeed any notion of fragility. A few days after that, he left on a tour of Ecuador, Brazil and Cuba where he was hospitalized and received emergency surgery in Havana. Weeks later, Chavez confirmed that a malignant, baseball-sized tumor had been removed from his pelvis, and the saga began.

I’ve been covering Chavez for the last eight years – a long, grueling but utterly fascinating assignment for a photojournalist.

Passing seven billion

By Jorge Silva

It was during my eternal search for unique moments to capture that I was witness to the most spectacular and magical event – the arrival of a new life.

The United Nations announced the pending birth of the planet’s inhabitant number 7,000,000 for October 31, and that gave me the chance to work on a series of photos that became the most emotional and satisfying of my career.

The moment a baby is born is doubtless one of the most intimate and special in the life of a woman and her family, and sharing that intimacy as a privileged observer was sensational. To live that experience without having become a father yet was even more moving.

Rehabilitating each other

By Carlos Garcia Rawlins

The day William decided to change his life was when he woke up on the street soaked in gasoline and engulfed in flames. I met him at the Nosotros Unidos (Us United) Christian shelter in Caracas a year later. William, 39, doesn’t remember how many years he lived on the streets, stealing to feed his drug habit. He also doesn’t know who set him on fire. But he does remember the year he spent in a hospital recovering from the burns.

Surrounded by one of the biggest slums of one of the world’s most violent cities, the walls of Nosotros Unidos have, over the past 15 years, sheltered more than 20,000 people in search of a way out of the self-destructive cycle of drugs. With high ceilings and little light, and rows of bunk beds occupied by people whose worldly possessions fit into a small locker, the center run by a Protestant church offers free rehabilitation to people with problems of drug abuse and indigence.

The main therapy to those who enter the program is religion through prayer.

Douglas is on his third and longest stay in the center. Among the several violent incidents in his street existence was the time someone shot him with a homemade shotgun that used screws and nails as ammunition. His abdomen still retains the deep gouges from the blast. Inside the shelter it’s impossible for him to hide his joy when his mother and 15-year-old daughter come to visit him. He admits they are the only motivation he has to find a way out of the world in which he was immersed.

Hugo Chavez, image icon

Despite all the opportunities I’ve had to witness the passionate support that followers of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez show their leader, it was a profound moment for me when I photographed a sobbing woman at an emotional Mass called to pray for his health after he vanished from public sight following an operation in Cuba.

Venezuelans had more than 20 days of deep uncertainty at the end of June during which no one seemed to know what had happened to the charismatic but tough 56-year-old.

Rumors swirled, fueled by the official secrecy, with the only line given by the government that the socialist leader had undergone surgery in Havana to remove a pelvic abscess, but would be coming home soon.

Venezuela’s healthy city

One of the daily activities I enjoy most is arriving home in the evening after a long shift at the office, grabbing my iPod and going out running. It makes me feel good, keeps me active, and more important still, it banishes all of the stress of the day.

But I don’t like running in a park or some other quiet place, much less shutting myself away in a gym to jog on a machine, which bores me very quickly.

What I love to do is run through the city, through the streets, without worrying about the traffic, skipping around pedestrians on the sidewalks. I always thought I was a bit crazy because of that, and then a friend told me about a big group of people who don’t just run in the streets, but they do it in packs at night. So I decided to document them.

Simple people, proud actors

The inhabitants of a Caribbean fishing village with no cinema, have become movie stars.

When I was invited to attend the screening of the movie “The Kid Who Lies” (El Chico que Miente) in the same village on Venezuela’s Caribbean coast where it was filmed, I had no doubt it would be a fantastic experience.

I could just imagine the excitement of its inhabitants seeing themselves and their familiar places on the big screen. But when I reached Ocumare I discovered that this was a place that hadn’t seen a movie screening since its last theater closed 40 years ago, and that this one would be truly special.