Photographers' Blog

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.

Out here, in a remote place bordering a wild national park where camels from the Rajasthan deserts roam in search of water and foliage, medical services – let alone medical services for women – are at their most basic. Chharchh is big for this region. Most people are still living in tiny hamlets on the edges of fields and rivers, in small communities so isolated that when the rains come, they may not see other human beings for 3 months until the flooding recedes and the road becomes passable again.

I came to answer a question that had been in my mind since I did a story on a village full of bachelors last year – what about the flip side of the coin – what about women in rural India, what were maternity services like for them? I wondered how, in the deep interior of this vast country, anyone could provide meaningful and safe services. I worked in close coordination with a few doctors and facilitators from the state government, who were trailing an innovative idea in partnership with UNICEF.

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.

Signs of hope through music in Iran

For some people, here is the end of the world, but for some who live here, it is paradise.

The Kahrizak Charity Foundation in southern Tehran, is home to hundreds of mentally and physically impaired people who range in age from young and old. In this place, you can feel life and death, joy and woe, and people who love each other. For these people music is the only positive thing.

The first time I went to Kahrizak, I expected to meet people who didn’t know what they wanted in their life and were just waiting for the angel of death to arrive but it was not as I had presumed.

When images don’t happen, make them happen

A combination photograph shows tattooed women posing for photographs during the 2010 Taiwan International Tattoo Convention in Taipei July 31, 2010. REUTERS/Nicky Loh

Being a wire photographer, we often document things that are happening before our eyes. Sometimes these events happen so fast and we miss that one great picture or sometimes it may take 12 hours of waiting outside a courthouse to get that bread and butter shot to whet the appetite of newspaper clients.

The truth is that when wire photographers go out to shoot, we rarely have control over what happens during our assignments. We definitely cannot meddle with or control our subjects for the frame because that violates journalistic integrity.

Every now and then though, every news photographer wishes that the subject would do exactly what they have in mind for that particular shoot.

from Raw Japan:

Buff, bronze and beautiful

bodybuilding1

For the national holiday, Sports Day, I had a fitting assignment --  a women's bodybuilding competition in Tokyo.

It was my first time to cover bodybuilding, and as soon as I entered the venue I heard  cheers from the 1,500 spectators eyeing 68 athletes from across Japan.

I hurried backstage to catch the competitors’ last preparations before the judging, and followed a trail of plastic, blanketing the floor, walls and furniture to protect the surroundings from the oil and skin toner creams covering the contestants.

Women’s refuge in Afghanistan

Patooni Muhanna, who works at a women’s shelter in Kabul, speaks about women’s rights since the fall of the Taliban. Patooni says that despite some positive changes, domestic violence and self-immolation are still concerns.

Follow news from the Afghan election here.

Recurring images of Afghan women

Sometimes we Afghan photographers joke that an Afghanistan without burqas, would mean no more good images.
I was with Yannis Behrakis when he shot his version (top). It was the day after the Northern Alliance took over Kabul and the Taliban fled the city. Yannis wanted to shoot some images which could show a change after the fall of the Taliban. We came across a number of women who were waiting to receive some alms from a rich local businessman. Yannis stopped to take some pictures.

For my version (below), I went to cover President Hamid Karzai’s election rally in the south of the country on August 4. There were thousands of men but some females who were mostly covered in burqas, as usual. I wanted to show the women’s participation in this mainly male-run country.

One could draw the conclusion that years after the fall of the Taliban, women are still under burqas and pictures look the same. This is because the situation of women may have changed in the cities but not across the country. The reason is not that international communities failed to help women liberate but it is because that is how they live. The life style in most parts of Afghanistan is a unique one, it is an Afghan one. It is clear from the start that men work outside and women work inside the house, that is how centuries past by. This is how they choose to live, one can not just take their burqas off, put them in jeans or short skirts, tell them to go out and work and then say your situation has improved. With all due respect to the Western media, they are painting the wrong picture on the situation of women here. Let’s leave the Taliban era out of this, this is now eight years of “Operation Enduring Freedom”.

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