Photographers' Blog

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.

We entered the emergency room of a local hospital and I could sense what he was talking about. It was packed with people, most of them from low-income neighborhoods, nurses and doctors were running around, trying to tend to everyone but it was obvious that there was neither enough medical staff nor materials to treat everyone.

I could hear screams from patients and the smell was suffocating.

Night had fallen and more and more patients with wounds inflicted by violence were arriving. A man with numerous stab wounds was brought in. His hand was almost dangling from his wrist – he had been attacked by members of the Mara 18 street gang who had wanted to kill him with machetes and then tried to dismember his body. He was crying while he was telling me how he had managed to escape to a road and how people helped him. But he moved and looked around as if nothing had happened to him. He seemed to be completely unconscious of his wounds and must have been in shock.

The lost dogs of Ciudad Juarez

Ciudad Juarez, Mexico

By Jose Luis Gonzalez

As a photojournalist living and working in Ciudad Juarez I’m used to seeing dead people being picked up off the streets.

The last few years have been brutal, with violence and shoot-outs every day and dead people everywhere. But it is much calmer now and corpses lying in puddles of blood are not as common a sight as they used to be. Nevertheless, some weeks ago I drove through a neighborhood and saw a couple of men dressed in hooded, white coveralls picking up another kind of corpse: a dead dog. They threw it into a container pulled by a truck and when they took off I started to follow them.

They stopped every so often, picking up another dead dog from the streets and throwing it into the container. They were collecting a lot of dead animals and when I approached the truck, I could see that there was a whole pile of them.

Chicago’s violent legacy gets personal

Chicago, Illinois

By John Gress

It’s not every day that an assignment teaches you something about your own childhood.

When I was 7 years old my father, who shared my name, passed away and when I looked down today, I saw a boy, Ronnie Chambers Jr., who is about the same age as I was back then, sitting at my feet with RIP carved in the back of his hair. He was there mourning the loss of his father, who also shared his name.

Ronnie Chambers was shot in the head on January 26. His mother Shirley Chambers, has lost all four of her children to gun violence.

Voices of women in India’s “rape capital”

New Delhi, India

By Mansi Thapliyal

My city is known as the so-called “rape capital of the country”. They say it’s unsafe, it’s dangerous, it’s full of wolves looking to hunt you down. A lot of it may be true. As a single woman working, living and breathing in New Delhi, I have had my fair share of stories. But the labels and opinions associated with the city were accepted on one level – no one questioned them, no one asked why – until a brutal tragedy one cold December night which shook the world and forced everyone (the authorities, the public, the lawmakers) to ask themselves uncomfortable questions and focus the on safety of women. It is still an ongoing, raging debate, thank heavens.

Meanwhile, I decided to focus on what Delhi’s women face and what they think about it. How do they go on with their lives, their work, their families? Just trying to understand the magnitude of how unsafe India’s capital is became one of the most challenging and emotionally exhausting assignments of my career.

SLIDESHOW: INDIA’S WOMEN DEFEND THEMSELVES

From call center executives to advertising professionals to tea stall workers, everyone has their stories and how they cope with it. Take the example of Chandani, 22, one of the few female cab drivers in the city. As she drove me around the city, a policeman stopped us at a barricade near India Gate. When he saw that a woman was driving the cab, he scraped his jaw off the floor. “You also drive a cab?” he said with an expression that suggested that he had spotted the Abominable Snowman. “I am doing a very unconventional job for women. Given that I do night shifts, I carry pepper spray and I’m trained in self-defense. Initially I faced a lot of problems but driving cabs at night has helped me overcome my fears,” Chandani said.

Heartbreak in Kenya

WARNING: CONTAINS GRAPHIC CONTENT

Garsen, Tana Delta, Kenya

By Siegfried Modola

When I got into photography and started my career as a freelance documentary photojournalist at the age of 29, I had to decide to either move from Kenya, the country where I lived and grew up for most of my life, or to stay.

I believe the latter choice has made an important difference in the way I perceive, follow and conceptualize the stories that I work on. Kenya feels like home. I know the region and speak the language. I feel an intimate connection with the country that comes with having a history with the place, years of building relationships and having enough time to go in-depth in my work.

As one of the most important elections of the country’s history is approaching on March 4, 2013, with the outcome determining Kenya’s path for years to come, I decided to cover the inter-communal violence that seems to be intensifying in some regions.

I’m still losing friends

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

By Ricardo Moraes

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

Rio de Janeiro is a truly diverse city where people of different types and economic classes live side by side. Many of its slums, or favelas, are strongholds of drug gangs who openly operate with high powered weapons in full view on the streets.

Despite the violent scenario, this mix of races and economies is the beauty of our city, and on the streets we are all the same people, and our friendships are as diverse as the city.

Being raised in a typical neighborhood, I’ve had my share of sad experiences related to violence, mostly in my adolescence by losing friends who became involved with bandits, or seeing some wonderful people losing their way with drugs. Every day we heard stories about young neighbors who had bad luck or made bad choices, and ended up in jail or were killed by the police.

“I felt like it was the end of the world”

Beirut, Lebanon

By Maria Semerdjian

Joziane Shedid – that was her name.

After a difficult search, we had managed to identify the blood-soaked young woman in a picture taken by Reuters photographer Hasan Shaaban in the wake of a powerful bomb explosion in Beirut.

We found it difficult to identity the girl because at first we didn’t realize she was the older sister of Jennifer Shedid, another bomb victim Hasan photographed that fateful day, who was even more severely injured and almost lost her life.

We searched from clinic to clinic and finally found out that the young woman we were looking for was at the Lebanese Canadian Hospital. When we arrived, we saw Jennifer’s mother and asked if she knew the girl from the photograph. “That’s my daughter,“ she replied immediately, and pointed over at Joziane.

Burnt under the sun

By Damir Sagolj

(WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT)

The bottom picture is of a dead man killed by who-knows-who and left alone in the desert. I shot this image almost ten years ago from atop a U.S. Marines tank speeding towards Baghdad.

It immediately got lost, the photo itself, amongst others illustrating what would be celebrated as the liberation of a country from a tyrant. Other images of fighting and those of U.S. soldiers doing this and that played well in the papers. Somewhere near Nassiriya, this man was left forgotten to rot under the desert sun — and on our hard drives.

Not long after, I realized that was probably my best shot from the short invasion from Kuwait to Baghdad. This was a simple but powerful picture of an unknown man killed by whomever and left alone among tank trails, surrounded by nothing but dust and the noise of war. Everyone was too busy with their personal wars at the moment, I suppose. People had to survive, to run away, while others had to win battles and justify their leader’s decisions. I had to take more pictures that seemed more important for the world of news that is always hungry for answers to those questions.

Emotional toll of covering Mexico’s dead

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

By Jorge Luis Plata

I’ve been a photojournalist for the last 11 years. As a photographer from the Mexican provinces and working for a local newspaper, we do it all. We cover everything from political events to fashion, natural disasters, gun battles between police and narcos, executions to commercial ads.

Since 2006 I have increasingly been covering the dead; the players and the victims of the drug war. Sometimes one is not aware how badly this can affect you emotionally.

There was a moment when I realized I couldn’t sleep very well. Although I was tired I just couldn’t sleep. I remembered that as a small boy my grandmother would take me to visit these women who perform “limpias” (spiritual cleansings) to banish the bad spirits or the “malas vibras” (bad vibes) that had taken over a person’s body and mind.

Witness to the Lonmin shootings

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

By Siphiwe Sibeko

When people ask if I enjoy my job, I usually tell them: “Who wouldn’t – I always have a different view from my mobile office each day”.

But the view I had on August 16 of the deadliest South African police security operation since apartheid ended will be difficult, if not impossible, to erase from my mind.

SLIDESHOW: SOUTH AFRICA’S “HILL OF HORROR”

I’d been sent to cover a tense stand-off between police and striking platinum miners at a dusty mine northwest of Johannesburg. Little did I know that I would witness a police operation that led to 34 miners shot dead and more than 70 injured.