Photographers' Blog

The other Pakistan

Islamabad, Pakistan

By Zohra Bensemra

A fist slams into a punching bag. Sparks flare from a saw as a punk carves a huge guitar from a block of stone. A female climber dangles precariously from a cliff.

A Pakistani interior designer Zahra Afridi uses a circular saw as she sculpts a guitar outside the classic rock cafe she designed in Islamabad

Welcome to Pakistan, a country of 180 million people whose residents are as varied as they come. Among them are millionaires and beggars, child brides and female executives, the Taliban and an ultra-chic international jet set.

Many Pakistanis feel angry that headlines about their beloved nation are dominated by violence and extremism, saying that a number of troublemakers has been allowed to define their country’s image.

Everyone has heard of Malala, the schoolgirl activist shot by the Taliban, but few outside the country know about the exploding private education sector. The private Beaconhouse School System, for example, has established around 150 schools across the country.

Aleena Raza  who manages her mother's business reads a book at her bedroom in Lahore

People are familiar with images of burning American flags but beyond the photo frame, in the newly-built gated community of Bahria Town, stands a new Classic Rock café likely to be home to latte-sipping Twitterati, not far from a luxury cinema and American-style houses.

Documenting the wealth gap in China

Beijing, China

By Kim Kyung-hoon

Showing the great contrast between China’s rich and poor in photos should be simple. After all, both exist just a few blocks away from each other or sometimes in the same place in any city. A poor family rides a rusty tricycle as a shiny Ferrari passes by. Just around the corner from an expensive restaurant, poor migrant workers eat cheap meals and take naps on the street.

But trying to get people to agree to be photographed was much more difficult than I expected. In six months of roaming around Beijing, visiting places where the rich congregate, such as luxury brand fashion boutiques and cocktail parties at fashion shows and even a luxury car maker’s promotional event, I tried all sorts of things, hoping that someone would open up their lifestyle to my lens.

But no rich person welcomed me and my camera. No one invited me to record this growing reality in China. Perhaps some were afraid that news of their wealthy lifestyle might go viral. Rich Chinese have reason to be shy of the cameras and interviews. The country’s new leader, Xi Jinping, has told people to cut out displays of ostentation. Moreover, the spending habits of wealthy Chinese have often sparked the ire of China’s microbloggers.

Rich and poor in the Philippines

Manila, Philippines

By Erik De Castro

Taking photos of poor people is nothing unusual for me, as the poor comprise more than a fourth of the Philippine population of nearly 97 million. They are also the most vulnerable during disasters such as typhoons, landslides and fires that frequently dominate the headlines in the country.

Late last month, the Secretary General of the state agency National Statistical Coordination Board wrote in an article that the gap between the country’s rich and poor is widening, with the country’s strong growth, the fastest in Asia so far this year, benefiting high-income earners more than those from the middle- and low-income classes. The article said the rich were enjoying significantly faster growth in incomes compared with people from lower income classes.

That helped me build the idea to juxtapose the lifestyles of the rich and poor in the country through images. I thought in the beginning that it was easy to document the rich and poor divide, but I found out as I was doing my picture story that it was a complex matter. I spent more than three weeks doing a picture story concentrating on two families with similar age brackets but from different income classes. I followed each of the two families as they went about doing their daily activities, spending lots of time with them even during ungodly hours of the day.

Gold rush

Vienna, Austria

By Heinz-Peter Bader

Remember the James Bond film Goldfinger and how the characters handled the gold bars without even thinking of their weight? Each gold bar at Fort Knox weighs about 12 kilos (24 pounds), as much as six six-packs of beer. But they could certainly buy you a lot more Champagne!

I witnessed gold bar production at Austria’s Oegussa company. A one kilo (two pound) gold bar is only about the size of a small mobile phone. It was impressive to hold something of so much value – as of November 15, each of the Oegussa 1 kilo gold bars would sell for 43,854 euros ($61,264).

The other side of the coin (or should I say gold bar) is where the plain gold comes from. All kinds of golden rings, bracelets, and necklaces are poured into the furnace, melting together and leaving no trace of the private stories behind the former jewellery.

Coffin, sweet coffin

By Damir Sagolj

Just around the corner from where Blade Runner met Bruce Lee, in the neighborhood where Hong Kong’s millions are made, 24 people live their lives in coffins. They call it home – but they’re only 6 by 3 feet wooden boxes, nicknamed coffins and packed into a single room to make more money for the rich.

SLIDESHOW: LIVING IN COFFINS

In a crazy chase for more dollars, landlords in the island city are building something unthinkable in the rest of the world – a beehive for people collected from the margins of society. Math is a rat; pitiless and brutal. Twenty-four times 1450 Hong Kong dollars a month is more than anyone would pay for this just over 500 square feet room.

Mister T, the only inhabitant of these coffin homes who did not want his picture taken (“I have a grown daughter, she would be ashamed”) calls it the bottom. After spending time in the States, with a few years behind bars, this is as low as it gets for him. He spits through broken front teeth, like the routine of a street gangster, and continues bitching about the life – “better than nothing, but not as good as the real life.”

One step at a time

By Carlos Barria

When I was a kid in the south of Argentina, we used to say that if you dig a very deep hole to the other side of the earth, you will end up in China. In my case, China was literally on the other side of the planet; about as far from Patagonia as you can get. Thirty years later, I made it here. I didn’t come through a tunnel, but on a plane that flew over the North Pole.

I moved to China one year ago in the position of staff photographer in Shanghai, China’s biggest and most cosmopolitan city. The challenge was enormous: a foreign culture, and a very foreign language.

I spent my first couple of days walking around the city, just wandering; something I hadn’t done in a long time. Before coming to China I lived in Miami, where I didn’t have much of an urban experience, unless you count sitting in traffic for long periods of time.

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