Photographers' Blog

Drug war ghosts

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

By Tomas Bravo

The memory is still fresh. I close my eyes and I can feel the tension. First the explosions… then the screams… then the silence.

The trickles of blood on the concrete make their way as small, red rivers to form a puddle, quickly dried by the sun. The bodies lie there, surrounded by police tape, waiting to be checked by forensic technicians. The prying eyes of the neighbors are fixed on the laughing police officers and the reporters who are speculating on the reasons for the execution.

Moments later the bodies are bagged and placed in a van, ready for their penultimate destination. If they are lucky they have family members who will recognize them at the coroner’s office and are able to give them a burial. In the worst cases, they will end up in a mass grave, next to others without names but similar in their wounds and histories in a parallel world.

SLIDESHOW: MEXICO’S FRONT LINE

Once the forensic experts and police officers are gone, only murmurs uttered by the curious crowd are left. A girl dressed in a school uniform looks at the blood on the pavement in horror, at the impact of the bullets on the wall surrounding the school and at the signature the killers left behind to make sure everybody knows who are responsible for the killings: “Z”

When I was offered the job of covering Monterrey and the so-called “Narco Wars” I had no idea what was coming. I arrived in March 2007 to a thriving city, stained only by isolated cases of violence. But in 2011 the 1,000 executions in the previous 12 months had been surpassed and the situation was out of control. People’s behavior and their routines had changed drastically. Night life was prohibited; no one wanted to be a victim.

Saving the Canon 400mm f2.8

By Murad Sezer

All photographers make plans to deal with possible clashes. They are ready to protect themselves and their equipment when covering a potential riot (or a May Day demonstration as I did a few days earlier). But you don’t expect to be doing that before a soccer match, or any other sports events.

While covering the May Day protests I don’t carry a camera bag or a laptop. I head out with my two camera bodies, spare memory cards, a gas mask and a wireless lan transmitter attached to the camera body to file my pictures – that’s all.. It’s more comfortable and easy to cover if any riots break out. But to cover a soccer match is a different story. If it’s a cup final or a decisive match like last Saturday’s Fenerbahce – Galatasaray Turkish Super League Super Final, we bring along much more equipment. I pack a hardcase with a laptop, 3 camera bodies, four lenses including a 400 mm f2.8 super telephoto, remote control devices to set up a camera behind the goal, network cables, a mini tripod etc. And usually we don’t even think about the safety of ourselves or our equipment. Normally during half time or at the end of the game we set our cameras down and rush to file pictures from the field or in the photographers’ working room.



SLIDESHOW: SOCCER FANS GONE WILD

However, in the shadow of the season-long match-fixing scandal, tension was high before the Fenerbahce vs Galatasaray derby. Fenerbahce had to win, while a draw was enough for Galatasaray to lift the championship trophy. Remembering when fans rioted two years ago after Fenerbahce missed out on the league championships at home, all the photographers were worried about the end of this match. But I didn’t see any photographer friends take any precautionary measures. It looked like they had no plan B, but I had one. My plan B was a padlock! The game started. It was a rough-and-tumble season finale. The two teams did not score and in the five minutes of injury time I felt that the match would finish 0-0. That would mean Galatasaray would become the 2011-12 Turkish champions, which may trigger some violence by disappointed Fenerbahce fans both on and off the pitch.

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.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures 7 August 2011

After rioting in Xinjiang left 11 dead at the start of Ramadan the Chinese authorities stated that the insurgents who started the trouble had fled to Pakistan. Security forces quickly deployed in numbers to ensure that any further trouble was prevented or quickly quelled. Shanghai-based Carlos Barria travelled to Kashgar to shoot a story on the renovation of the old Kashgar centre, an example of China's modernising campaign in minority ethnic regions. A busy week for Aly Song, who is also Shanghai based, with taxi drivers on strike over rising fuel costs while Lang Lang had local fishermen preparing for typhoon Muifa to hit. In both pictures, the eye is cleverly drawn  to the distance to show in one image, a line of  striking taxi drivers, and in the other, rows of boats bracing for the imminent typhoon.

Ethnic Uighur men sit in front of a television screen at a square in Kashgar, Xinjiang province August 2, 2011. Chinese security forces blanketed central areas of Kashgar city in the western region of Xinjiang on Tuesday, days after deadly attacks that China blamed on Islamic militants highlighted ethnic tensions in the Muslim Uighur area.  REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Armed police officers are deployed at a square in Kashgar August 2, 2011. Chinese police have shot dead two suspects being hunted for a deadly attack in the restive western region of Xinjiang, which an exiled regional leader blamed on Beijing's hardline policies towards her people. The two suspects, Memtieli Tiliwaldi and Turson Hasan, were shot by police late on Monday in corn fields on the outskirts of Kashgar city, where on Sunday assailants stormed a restaurant, killed the owner and a waiter, then hacked four people to death, according to the Khasgar government website.  REUTERS/Stringer

Flies and politics

It took villagers in Guatemala’s El Aguacate 25 years of living with clouds of flies on the streets, in their homes, on their faces and on their food, before they decided to act. According to them, the source is the Rosanda 2 chicken farm that began to operate in the entrance to their village the same year the flies appeared. After just my first hour in the village, I too was repulsed by the sensation of the hundreds of flies that crashed into me.

Residents speak with rage and impotence of the flies, which they blame for sickness and even death. Even to a casual visitor it quickly becomes incomprehensible how economic interests supersede the health of a population, and how it’s easier to accept rising infant mortality rather than enforce basic sanitary rules on the farm. It’s especially puzzling now during election season when at each political rally and written on each street poster are promises of improvements for society.

It was a radio news story about a group of armed men standing guard at the entrance to the village that brought me to El Aguacate for the first time. My first photo was probably my favorite of all I had taken in the few weeks since moving to the country; a man who looked both surprised and ashamed wore an old clown’s mask and thick gloves, while patrolling with a rusty shotgun.

The trouble with Northern Ireland

Tradition is something that is celebrated, enjoyed and handed down to the next generation, but in the small corner of western Europe where I was born, it has led to shootings and bombings and the loss of thousands of lives.

For 16 years I’ve worked as a photographer covering ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland and in this time I’ve come to realize that what one side of the political and religious divide sees as celebration, the other sees as triumphalism.

The Twelfth of July parades are one such tradition that sparked disturbances on the streets of Belfast this week with rioters throwing petrol bombs and police responding with plastic bullets as Catholics and Protestants once again clashed.

“Welcome to Sarajevo again”

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

It was June 28, 1995, when Sean Maguire and I arrived in Sarajevo for another few months of covering the conflict in the Bosnian capital.

The drive was uneventful as we left Split on the Adriatic Sea and drove overnight over Mount Igman. As always, Sean drove the car. Upon arrival in Sarajevo we went to sleep to be woken up by huge blasts. Two aircraft bombs attached to four rockets were launched from the ground from Serbian positions towards Sarajevo. One of them hit the TV station where all the local and foreign TV crews were working out of and the second an apartment block nearby.

Still half asleep we jumped into our armored Land Rover and drove in that direction, only to find another tragedy unfolding in front of our eyes. “Welcome to Sarajevo again”, I said to myself not knowing that it was going to be a very long and eventful summer. Almost every day we took pictures of one tragedy or another, as people tried to cope with life in the besieged city.

Srebrenica: The story that will never end

I’ve been to more than one hundred mass graves, mass funerals and witnessed the long, exhaustive process of victim identification. I took pictures of bones found in caves and rivers, taken from mud, recovered from woods and mines or just left by the road.

Most of these terrible assignments were around the small, used to be forgotten at-the-end-of-the-road town called Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia.

The international criminal court said the most terrible crimes of genocide were committed in Srebrenica area when the Bosnian Serb forces massacred thousands of Muslims after the enclave, ironically under U.N. protection as a safe heaven, was overrun by an army led by its ruthless commander.

Repressed fear in a transgendered world

“Even Obama cares about us! The last time a gay leader was assassinated in Uganda, Obama asked [President] Pepe [Lobo] to protect us and investigate the crimes against us in Honduras,” says Bessy, a 31 year-old transsexual who does volunteer social work with the homosexual community during the day. For the last 11 years, Bessy has also been working nights as a prostitute on the streets.

Transgender Bessy, 31, puts on make up in Tegucigalpa March 10, 2011. According to leaders of LGBT organizations (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders), 34 people have been murdered in the last 18 months. The U.S. embassy and United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) have requested the government to investigate the murders and safeguard the rights of the LGBT community, local media reported. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Honduran government sources have documented the assassination of 34 gays, transvestites, and transsexuals in the past 18 months. Some of them were killed with great sadism and cruelty. Three days before Christmas, murderers tied Lady Oscar to a chair and set fire to her. A week earlier the body of Luis Hernandez was found in a ditch, her face beaten until it was unrecognizable.

I meet them in the basement of a pool hall located in a dangerous neighborhood of Tegucigalpa. There, along narrow and dark stairways, are several rooms where Bessy, Patricia and Tiffany live.

A happy snap from the land of smiles

This picture will be printed big on glossy paper, framed and hung.

Sarina and Kunisem, the Thai Muslim bride and groom, sit in golden sofa after the chief of the village of Nisha in southern Yala province was shot dead during their wedding party March 29, 2010.   REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

It’s the wedding of Sarina and Kurisem: the moment they’ve been waiting for. Excitement and pride radiates from their families as Sarina’s parents send their daughter to a good family and for Kurisem’s parents, their son becomes a man.

The photo shows happiness, joy and a hope for a better future. Two beautiful young people smile in front of a golden background, plastic flowers and gifts. A synthetic carpet covers the mud and a silent fan prevents the scene from melting in the heat of southern Thailand. Two hearts, their names and the date are written in a strange combination of languages to remind us of a happy day.

Or, maybe, the day was not that happy?

The official wedding photographer, over whose shoulder I shot this very frame, was not really interested in what was happening outside of the golden moment. However, it was what made me rush to the wedding after hearing the news of violence on the police radio. I was driving when I heard about the shooting so I rushed to the scene. The wedding photographer is accustomed to the violence; he focuses on what photos sell instead. The age-old journalism expression “No bleed, no lead” doesn’t work here in southern Thailand. In the photo album, that filtered reminder of our past, this smiling wedding portrait will be the only picture.