Photographers' Blog

Welcome to Chiberia

Chicago, Illinois

By Jim Young

It was dubbed “Chiberia” here in Chicago: record low temperatures with a wind chill in the -40 Celsius range (-40 Fahrenheit).

I knew it was coming. I had been dodging the bullet for two winters in Chicago and eventually “real cold” had to arrive here sooner or later. I had survived 30+ years of Canadian winters and lived through a -50C (-58F) wind chill in Ottawa, but I have had two of the nicest winters in my life in the Windy City. In February 2012 it was 80F and I was walking around in flip flops, but certainly not this week.

It started at sunrise on Monday morning. While driving along Lake Michigan to downtown I could see a “fog-like” haze over the water – it was arctic sea smoke caused by bitter cold air moving over the warm lake water. I parked down by the beach. It was a beautiful sunny morning and a balmy -42F. The biggest problem I had was with my fingers. Working with cameras even while wearing the warmest gloves is a challenge. I would take them off for just a few seconds but it would get incredibly painful, like needles stabbing into your hands. It would take 10 to 15 minutes back in the gloves just to get the pain to subside. I remembered hearing on the radio the early warning signs of hypothermia such as shallow breathing, drowsiness, shaking and stumbling…check, check, and check. The batteries in my cameras died so I tried to shoot an Instagram, but even though my iPhone was inside several layers of clothing, it was frozen like a brick and wouldn’t even boot up.

Not surprisingly, there weren’t many people out on the streets. I found places that could potentially make a photo but would wait 20 to 30 minutes for the right moment to happen or just someone to come along, and with these frigid temperatures, playing the waiting game was very difficult.

Gallery: Deep freeze

The next morning, I started the day dealing with a water leak in my house from the brutally cold overnight. Even though Tuesday provided some relief, it was still quite cold. But I found it to be actually quite tolerable. Occasionally working without gloves and an open jacket, I went to another spot along the lake to finally find people out enjoying the snow and ice.

Summer in NYC

New York City, New York

By Gary Hershorn

I think it can be said, all of us can look back at ourselves and recall specific moments that shaped the direction our lives went in. For me I can remember two such moments that even now, years later, seem like they happened just yesterday.

The first was as a nine-year-old when I attended my first NHL hockey game in Toronto. I will never forget entering the temple of hockey called Maple Leaf Gardens, walking along corridors that were lined with large photographs of all the great players and then down a darkened hallway towards a bright light that opened up into the bowl of the arena and the view of the ice surface. I remember thinking this has to be the brightest place on earth as the TV lights shone on the white ice and my heroes, the players, as they warmed up for the game.

Looking back I can only think this one moment has, in some way, subconsciously influenced me in the choice I made for a career, that being, a professional photographer for the past 35 years.

Hiking in to a stranded town

Jamestown, Colorado

By Rick Wilking

My rule in covering natural disasters has always been: Find the worst damage first. That’s what the reporters will be writing about and it’s what people want to see. It also may be the hardest to get to.

Such was the case in the Colorado floods of 2013 that started on September 11.

Word came in early that the Boulder County town of Jamestown was devastated and cut off from all road traffic. Three creeks converged right in the middle of downtown, sweeping away whole houses. A man killed in a house collapsed by the flood waters was the first reported death in the tragedy. But there was also (supposedly) no way to get to the town short of going in on a helicopter. National Guard CH-47 Chinooks were ferrying people out so the logical thing was to try and get on one of those. That ride was denied immediately so I decided I would take another route, coming in the “backdoor” as it were.

Jamestown isn’t that far from where I live, normally taking about an hour. But with road closures it took almost two and a half hours just to hit another road block six miles from the town. I was fully prepared for this, having planned on hiking in all along.

Singapore’s hazy skyline

Singapore

By Edgar Su

As someone who has lived in Singapore all my life, haze is not unusual, it is somewhat a seasonal event that I have become used to. But last Monday was different, I woke up to a slightly smokey smell in the air and the view outside my apartment was more hazy than usual. Immediately, I checked Facebook to see what my friends working in the city were experiencing. Many posted pictures of a very hazy skyline from the view in their office and remarked that even the air in the subway and malls smelled of smoke.

I immediately made my way to the business district to have a look. My first instinct was to get up to the rooftop of the Marina Bay Sands hotel to get the best vantage point available in the city. On the way up, a hotel staff member apologized to me in the elevator, “I am sorry for the view today”. He was right, from the observation deck, the haze was so thick that I could only see the outlines of landmark buildings.

There on the 57th floor, I could feel no breeze. It was very humid, my chest felt tight and I found it hard to breathe carrying all my gear with me. I needed that one picture showing a human element against the hazy skyline and I knew it was at the poolside which only hotel guests had access. My only option was to wait to join one of the three daily scheduled tours of the pool for the public. So I waited two hours in the humidity before a tour guide came along and brought us in. “Take as many pictures as you want” he said. The only problem was, it wasn’t exactly a tour of the pool, we were only allowed in a small 20 yard stretch shared among at least 40 other tourists with cameras and we had only about fifteen minutes. Worse still, many of the hotel guests were suddenly getting out of the pool because of all the tourists looking at them. But I was lucky, just before I was about to leave, a man began swimming in front of us…

Back for more in Moore

Moore, Oklahoma

By Rick Wilking

My wife and I were just about to open some little gifts celebrating our 36th wedding anniversary on May 20th when my cellphone rang.

I said “that’s going to be the Oklahoma call” without even seeing it was Bob Strong, North America Editor in Charge, on the other end. The presents went on hold and the packing began.

The next day I was back in Moore, Oklahoma, waiting for the weather to clear enough to fly in a Cessna 172 over the path of the storm. I say “back in Moore” because I covered the massive tornado that hit the same place in 1999 and again in 2003. The locals call the 1999 version “the May 3rd storm.” That F-5 storm killed 44 people and destroyed more than 300 homes.

In too deep

Fox Lake, Illinois

By Jim Young

Heavy rains brought flooding to the Chicago area this week. Though most people were already starting the clean-up process, there was still some flooding just north of the city.

I headed up to see how they were coping since the Fox River had yet to crest. As I pulled into town, most of the area looked fairly dry but once you got closer to the lake, some of the streets were several feet under water. As I came around a corner, I could see an American flag hanging over a half-sunken retro soda machine sitting in what looked like a lake, but it was actually someone’s backyard.

The family seemed unusually calm about their circumstances. Though they had been stuck in the same flooded state for four days with more rain on the way, they had several layers of sandbags around their house and a couple of pumps going at full speed. They were just trying to hang in there and hope for the best.

No happy endings in nature

County Antrim, Northern Ireland

By Cathal McNaughton

When the snow started falling on Thursday afternoon nobody in the Glens of Antrim could have predicted the devastating impact it would have on the farming community. Sub-zero temperatures and heavy snow fall combined with strong easterly winds produced 30 foot snowdrifts.

The rolling hillsides, where just a week previously daffodils had swayed in the breeze in the watery spring sunshine, now lay covered in an unseasonable layer of deep snow. But below the beautiful winter wonderland landscape the tragic reality of nature lay hidden – thousands of sheep buried with their farmers unable to reach them.

Many of the ewes were ready to lamb and were buried alive as the snow blew into drifts several feet high. When I met with family friend Keith McQullan and his farm manager Donald O’Reilly at his hill farm in Aughafatten in Glenarm Glen on Tuesday morning they were unusually quiet. Keith owns several hundred sheep across the remote north Antrim hills – only accessible by quad or by tractor – where he has farmed all his life.

Faced with the hand of death

Guatemala City, Guatemala

By Jorge Dan Lopez

Lately, I’ve begun to think about death in a different way. Maybe it has something to do with taking photographs at the central cemetery every day for the last four months. It has become part of my daily routine, like getting up in the morning and brushing my teeth. Sometimes when I go, I don’t even take a picture, I just listen to the workers or enjoy the cemetery’s own sounds.

The other day it became quite cold during the night, temperatures dropped more than ten degrees Celsius and continued to descend. It was the coldest night of the year so far and while I was sitting at the cemetery, I thought I should take some photos about the cold weather. It was a frivolous thought, especially when I heard a little later that a person had died of hypothermia. I received the tip from a firefighter about the first dead person to have died due to the cold weather.

The body was found in the conflicted neighborhood Zona 18. It has been practically militarized by the Fuerza de Tarea Maya, a joint force made up of soldiers and police officers.

A dramatic rescue outside my window

Athens, Greece

By John Kolesidis

Today I woke up to the deafening sound of thunder. The rain was pouring hard.

I made myself a cup of coffee and watched the rain out the window flood the surrounding streets. I was at a loss as to how I would get to the office without getting soaked, so I decided to stay put until things calmed down a bit. When I finished my coffee, I looked out the window again, and things had taken a dramatic turn.

GALLERY: SAVED FROM A FLOOD

A bit further down the street I could see an immobilized car getting swollen by the flood. Then I heard some muffled voices. I put on my galoshes and raincoat, took my cameras, and tried to get there. I walked through a small park, but that led me behind barbed wire which I couldn’t get over. I saw a woman trying to hold on to her car door, while the water was at waist level. I called out to her not to be scared, urging her to hold on to the door until I could get closer.

I took some pictures behind the barbed wire, and then I tried to find a way to cross the flooded park so that I could get to her. When I got in front of the fence, there was a cascade between me and the woman, as she was on the other side of the road. People were looking on from their balconies, and I started shouting out to them to call the fire brigade. Then a man on the same side of the street climbed on top of her car, and another man managed to approach as well.

Notes from the pole of cold

Oymyakon valley, Russia

By Maxim Shemetov

One loses all bearings when faced with the shroud of white that obscures all things mid January in the Siberian city of Yakutsk. Only the traffic lights and gas pipelines overhanging the roads help you to find your way. Wrapped in frosty fog the city life seems frozen in a sleepy half-light. It is -48 C (-54 degrees Fahrenheit) outside.

Before venturing out, I put on two layers of thermal underwear, trousers, two-sweaters, pants winterized up to my waist, and huge low-temperature boots. I pull close the hood of my down jacket and fasten it so that only my eyes are exposed. Lastly, I slip on two pairs of gloves and head for the entrance hall – the airlock. Now only the ice-bound door separates me from the cold. There is Space outside and I feel like an astronaut.

However I do not have enough time to freeze today – the minibus is waiting for me at the corner and I pile in with my gear. Our routes lies along a Stalin-era road that is officially called “Kolyma Federal Highway”. Locals call it “the road on bones” after the thousands of Gulag prisoners who built it in the middle of the 20th century perished. The sights that it passes by are “terra incognita” even for the most of locals. As we travel further and further northeast towards the snowy foothills from the provincial capital of Yakustk, the signs of life appear less and less frequent. Down the road, one can travel over 200 kms (124 miles) without seeing a homestead. The cell phone coverage cuts out when we arrive at Handyga. Fifty kilometers (31 miles) later we load up on tanks of fuel at the petrol station that is the last human outpost at the edge of the vast and mountainous taiga. Only the occasional UAZ minibuses (bukhanka – bread loaf as it is called there and trucks break the monotony of the endless, empty road.