Photographers' Blog

Front line female Marines

Ternate, Philippines

By Romeo Ranoco

Long before U.S. President Barack Obama allowed female soldiers to be deployed for combat duties, the Philippines has been doing exactly that for several years, in particular among those in the Marines.

I was excited to photograph some of the women during a military exercise at a Marine base south of the capital Manila. This was not the first time that I had taken pictures of female soldiers during training exercises, but I volunteered again because this time I would be documenting new recruits.

I arrived at the base in the afternoon and was immediately briefed by the training officers, discussing my interest and the pictures that I would like to take. I wanted to take pictures of female soldiers trying out to join the “few and proud” Marines, showing their capabilities and comparing their skills, stamina and endurance with male soldiers.

There were 30 new women soldiers, about a platoon-size, trying out to be part of a Marine reconnaissance company to be organized for deployment on a troubled southern island in the Philippines. I found them fumbling over a rubber boat as they responded with confusion to orders barked by a drill sergeant. But, as they kept on rehearsing how to position themselves in a rubber boat, they were able to perfect the drills with amazing precision.

That night, I visited the women’s barracks and my camera captured them cleaning their assault rifles. A female Marine who escorted me allowed me to take some more pictures of the recruits dismantling, cleaning and putting their assault rifles back together.

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.

Belles of the ball

By Olivia Harris

I had thought that ‘debs’ belonged to the pre-1960s days before the pill and equal pay. But at Queen Charlotte’s Ball last week there were eighteen young debutantes who had volunteered for the London Season, the symbolic right of passage to mark their entry into ‘society’ as young women.

The ball was the high point of ‘the season’; six months of parties where young women of money and class were premiered for the marriage market.

The young women at Friday’s Queen Charlotte’s Ball didn’t think it was old fashioned or sexist. None of them would admit they were looking for a husband – or not quite yet, anyway.

A mile in her shoes

By Stephen Lam

Call it goofy, weird, fun.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been tasked to photograph something with all the above. As photojournalists, we are always on the hunt for compelling images that give our audience a ‘feel’ of the scene. That said, it’s not an everyday event where your photo assignment puts a focus on people’s shoes.

I was given such an assignment recently to photograph the tenth annual Walk A Mile In Her Shoes annual event in the city of San Jose where men, women, teens, and adults walked a mile in high-heels around city blocks to raise awareness for sexual violence.

According to the Department of Justice’s 2010 National Crime Victimization Survey, 268,574 cases of rape and sexual assaults were reported. To put it in perspective, that translates into a case occurring every two minutes. While the numbers have fallen dramatically in recent years, there are still many unreported cases and it’s very sad to see such staggering numbers.

A hopeless situation

By Cathal McNaughton

Time is running out for Natassa Papakonstantinou – by August she could be homeless.

What becomes depressingly apparent as we sit in her tastefully decorated apartment in a middle class suburb of Athens, is that there is no plan B. Last August, 43-year-old Natassa was finally laid off from her job in telecommunications – she hadn’t been paid a penny for the previous six months so she had been living off her savings and hoping for the best.

She was made redundant and now gets by on 461 euros she gets each month in state benefits plus what little is left of her dwindling savings. By August she has calculated that she will be penniless and, with no money to pay her rent, she could be homeless.

Silent tears within the brothel walls

By Andrew Biraj

“Hashi cannot be sad ever. Sadness is a part of our lives, so we don’t bother with sadness. My parents will not be able to identify me anymore. There is a huge difference between my present appearance and the malnourished look of my childhood. I am healthier than before and fit to serve a lot of customers in a day.”
- Hashi (which means happiness), a seventeen-year-old sex worker at Kandapara brothel in Tangail

It was a quieter evening than in hectic Dhaka. The gentle breeze of spring surrounded the cold atmosphere of the small town of Tangail, a town in the north east of Bangladesh. A small walk through a calm neighborhood took me to a place which looked similar to any of the country’s slums.

The bright tungsten lights of grocery shops and the high volume of Bangladeshi pop music from the tea stalls mesmerize the whole area. Between those stalls the alleyways on the other side of wide drains are dark. Following my fixer I suddenly found myself inside one of those narrow lanes, where young girls with heavy makeup and colorful clothes were lined up. The girls of different ages, though mostly teenagers, try to draw the attention of men by laughing, chuckling and pulling their hands.

A mother’s sacrifice

By Bobby Yip and Cheryl Ravelo

DATELINE: HONG KONG

Like most of the domestic helpers from the Philippines, Imelda “Susan” Famadula smiles a lot. She has been working in Hong Kong for 15 years, waking early in the morning, dropping the kids off at school, going to the market, bringing the kids back, all along taking care of various household tasks which last until midnight, and for six days a week.

Imelda loves Sunday. She can meet friends in the city’s financial Central district, where bankers and office workers make way for domestic helpers. Imelda also goes to church, but most importantly, she is free to meet her family – via the Internet.

Every month she sends nearly all of her salary back to the Philippines for her family. Only once every two years does she manage to save enough to travel back to her hometown. “I may not go back this year, second year in a row, as my kid needs more money while studying in the university”, she said, still smiling.

Privileged witness to the start of life

By Vivek Prakash

It’s an experience I will never forget. I have no children of my own, but when the day does come, maybe I’ll be just a little bit more prepared for it.

I had come a long, long way from my usual cosmopolitan stomping ground of Mumbai, to a place just about as far interior as you can go in India. I was about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the Rajasthan border in the state of Madhya Pradesh, in a village of about 700 people. This is very, very small by Indian standards. There were dusty roads that a car could barely fit down, mud houses, a scorching heat during the day which turned to a deep chill at night.

I had many ideas in my head and many questions too – what kind of emotions was I going to experience and witness? Should I be excited, or should I feel like an intruder, given the subject matter I was here to shoot? I had come a long way to shoot this, but now, standing in this little rural community health center with my camera, I felt conflicted.

Lipstick security

By David Gray

When I was told about this assignment late last Friday in Beijing, the brief was simple – a group of young female Chinese college graduates training to be bodyguards; sounded interesting. Little did I know how interesting it would actually be.

Myself and a Reuters television crew were met in a shopping mall car park by two obviously former military-trained men wearing army fatigues and dark sunglasses. This for starters was an unusual scene in China; a foreigner being driven by what looked like army personnel as shoppers did ‘double-takes’ as we drove away. Thinking we would be driving to a distant, secret location I settled in for the long ride. Five minutes later, we pulled into a driveway. In front of us were soccer fields, complete with mini-goalposts. What were we doing here?

Sitting at the side of one of the small fields was a group of women eating lunch. As we got closer, I could see they weren’t your usual group of young Chinese girls. Looking like catwalk models but dressed in army fatigues, one of our two male escorts barked an order at them. They quickly finished their food and stood up in formation. From a small hut out walked the head instructor. He was short, but noticeably fit and strong. Almost instantly, he had the girls running laps around the soccer field, yelling at them constantly with words of encouragement, but mostly abuse. After a few laps, the girls formed a line again, and one girl was asked why she wasn’t wearing any gloves. I couldn’t make out what her reply was but the next moment she was on the ground doing push-ups. This was going to be an interesting afternoon.

Women take the bull by the horns

By Jose Manuel Ribeiro

“Hey, sports fans, think you’re tough? Then try out a growing Portuguese pastime that is like playing rugby with a runaway refrigerator. It’s bull tackling, and nearly 1,000 enthusiasts, or “forcados,” from all walks of life love to jump into the ring for a head-on collision with a maddened bull. A mixture of sport, spectacle, high testosterone machismo, male bonding and, some say, art, the rough-and-tumble event is as unique to Portugal as port wine or codfish ice cream,” Reuters Lisbon chief correspondent Ian Simpson wrote in August 2005.

At the time, if anyone mentioned the notion of women trying out to be a “forcado” you would have said they were dreaming or had no idea of the inner workings of the Portuguese bullfighting world.

But six years later it is no longer a dream as a group of young and graceful women tackle the bulls in central Portugal.