Photographers' Blog

In Caracas – The business of death

Caracas, Venezuela

By Carlos Garcia Rawlins

As a photographer I’ve been present at many funerals and I’ve often found myself, in one way or another, surrounded by death and all that it entails.

One of the more gruesome things that I have witnessed is the sight of a victim of violence being embalmed.

The pungent odors of formaldehyde and decomposition, and the way that they make your eyes itch, are nothing compared to the moment when the embalmer methodically removes the seal that closed the head-to-belly incision following the autopsy.

He then places the organs inside a bag, stuffs the abdomen with newspaper, and sews it up again before placing it in a coffin. This was the process I saw performed on a person who died several days earlier from multiple gunshot wounds.

When I begin a new photo story, it fascinates me to think about what new places it will take me to, what new experiences I will live, what new people I will meet, and to what new limits I will be pushed.

In a spiral of violence

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

Bangui, Central African Republic

By Siegfried Modola

I landed in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, for what was going to be the most intense four weeks of my career. I would be covering a sectarian conflict that has left thousands dead and around a million people displaced.

Nothing could have prepared me for the extent of this crisis. I witnessed the cold reality of people fleeing, losing their belongings and being killed because they belonged to a certain religion and found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

As soon as we touched the runway at Bangui’s Mpoko International Airport, it was obvious that something was wrong. From the windows of the plane, we had a view of plastic sheets set up as shelters by the United Nations Refugee Agency – an image synonymous with conflict around the world.

Courage in the face of brutality

San Salvador, El Salvador

By Ulises Rodriguez

The clock on the wall marked four in the morning. It was a cold and wet Saturday in July, but I was sitting in the warm offices of El Salvador’s Red Cross. Suddenly, the relative calm and silence in the emergency unit was interrupted when the phone rang. The loud noise made me jump. The phone operator said: “What is your name? If you don’t identify yourself, we can’t help you.”

I went to the operator and asked him what was happening. He said that there had been a report of a woman who had been beaten, raped several times and then left for dead in a ditch. He said that they would take her to hospital because of the severity of her injuries and I asked to go along.

When I got to where she had been found, I saw a woman dressed in a baby blue dress that was dirty all over, with a face disfigured by the blows she had received. She was disoriented and her gaze seemed lost in a void. She kept on repeating that her name was Claudia.

Opening a blind eye to femicide

Guatemala City, Guatemala

By Jorge Dan Lopez

Violence and death are always present and tangible in Guatemala. The population seems to accept it as normal, even more so when women are the victims. In many cases, society simply ignores it, sits in silence or turns a blind eye.

Many men treat women as if they have no rights, thinking it unusual that someone should be punished or fined for beating, raping or killing them.

In Guatemala, violence against women generally starts behind the walls of their own homes. The aggressors in most cases are the men closest to them: fathers, brothers, cousins and partners.

Witnessing the Nairobi mall massacre

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

Nairobi, Kenya

By Goran Tomasevic

(Editor’s Note: Goran Tomasevic is a veteran war photographer, covering conflict for over 20 years in countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Egypt and Syria. As Reuters chief photographer for East Africa, Goran is now based in Nairobi, Kenya. This is his story of the attack on the Westgate shopping center on September 21, 2013.)

I was at home when I heard from a friend about something happening, but we weren’t sure what it was. I went to the Westgate mall and saw some bodies lying in the car park and realized it was serious. I saw some police so I hid behind the cars to take cover and slowly got closer to the gate.

An injured child was being pushed in a supermarket trolley. The woman said to me, “Please, take this child”. But the police jumped in and helped her. I took some pictures and then saw a couple of plainclothes and regular police. I asked when they would be moving and they said they were going to try and enter the shopping mall from the top. I went with them.

Weapons at hand

Belfast, Northern Ireland

By Cathal McNaughton

As I was driving home one night after covering civil unrest in Belfast, I looked at the objects sitting on the passenger seat. There was a golf ball and two snooker balls: objects thrown at members of the police and media by rioters.

I decided that it would be interesting to see how many of these items I could collect over the coming months at the various riots that were sure to follow. The idea was interesting but the difficulty was going to be adding some life to these inanimate objects. They ranged from the ridiculous (a ball covered in insulating tape) to the lethal (a petrol bomb and a hammer).

There were some things I could not collect, such as scaffolding and even a bedside cabinet, due to their size and the dangers of trying to retrieve them.

Reasoning amid riots

Fortaleza, Brazil

By Paulo Whitaker

If the FIFA Confederations Cup is supposed to be about soccer, the latest edition in Brazil was really about so much else. Brazilians are passionate about the sport, but with all the public spending on stadiums for that and the 2014 World Cup, the people inaugurated the Confederations Cup with protests against poor public schools, hospitals and transportation. The protests began over a sudden increase in bus fares, but that was only the catalyst for a wave of protests that swept the country, especially near the stadiums where the world was watching soccer.

They were ten days of steady protests and riots, leading up to the semi-final between Spain and Italy in Fortaleza. I had the information that protests were planned near the stadium, and because of past experience covering I went earlier this time with colleague Kai Pfaffenbach to the stadium. But police had kept the demonstrations far from the stadium in a slum area dangerous to walk in with photo gear.

After leaving the hotel we passed in front of a university where some 300 students were already barricading the main road to the stadium. It was clear that clashes would be inevitable that day.

Helpless in an explosion’s wake

Kabul, Afghanistan

By Omar Sobhani

Last Friday was a public holiday here in Afghanistan but I was on call and had gone for lunch in Kabul with my friends. Our relaxing day was interrupted by a huge explosion.

It took little time to figure out what was going on. As on most days, working or not, I carry my cameras so I jumped in my car and rushed towards the noise. My colleague Mohammad Ismail, who was enjoying a day off also, heard the explosion and called me as I headed towards the scene saying that he was coming to help cover the story. I spoke to my text and TV colleagues at Reuters bureau although the sound of the attack was too loud to hear easily but they were well aware of the incident.

As a safety measure I kept colleagues in the bureau informed of our plans and movements.

“Are you al-Shabaab or soldiers?”

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

Mogadishu, Somalia

By Feisal Omar

At 11:30 on Sunday morning I was sipping a cup of coffee at the Village restaurant near the palace when I heard a blast followed by gunshots.

I walked out onto the street and could see pickup trucks with anti-aircraft guns mounted on them, rushing toward the Mogadishu court. I started my vehicle and drove speedily in the direction of the court. I arrived moments later at the court building where there was an intense exchange of gunfire.

I could not believe armed fighters had broken into the court, killed the soldiers that guarded it, the lawyers and others. “How did al-Shabaab take over such a well-guarded building in the heart of the town!’ I whispered to myself as I got closer to the building.

Life and death in the murder capital

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

San Pedro Sula, Honduras

By Jorge Cabrera

“Come in if you would like to and try to leave when you still can.”

Some weeks ago, I went to cover a soccer match in San Pedro Sula, considered the industrial capital of Honduras. It also bears the less honorable title of being the most dangerous and violent city in the world.

San Pedro Sula, the country’s second largest city after Tegucigalpa, has a homicide rate of 169 per 100,000 people and was named the world’s most violent city for a second year in a row. Lax laws allow civilians to own up to five personal guns, and arms trafficking has flooded the country with nearly 70 percent illegal firearms. Eighty three percent of homicides are by firearm compared to 60 percent in the United States.

FULL FOCUS GALLERY: SHOT IN SAN PEDRO SULA

I arrived when most of San Pedro Sula’s residents escape to the beach. Temperatures were hitting 40 degrees C (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in the shade and the heat was overpowering. I went out for a walk with a fellow journalist who only covers crime and while we were walking he described San Pedro Sula like a supermarket for journalists looking for dangerous stories.