reportage

Image of the day

 

A child sleeps peacefully on the floor of a newly constructed house in one of the areas badly damaged by the January 2010 earthquake.

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Child asleep, Port au Prince, Haiti.  Oxfam, 2010.

Haven, an Irish NGO working on building sustainable communities in Haiti is pioneering using rubble from the earthquake to build new houses.  Wire Gabion baskets are filled with rubble to provide new walls which are designed to withstand future quake event.

To learn more about Haven's work go to:

www.havenpartnership.com

To see what Oxfam are doing in Haiti go to:

http://www.oxfam.org.uk/what-we-do/countries-we-work-in/haiti

Mirtho. The story behind the image.

Mirtho Bellefleur.  Corail Camp, Port au Prince, Haiti. December 2010.

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Client: Oxfam

During the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on the 12th January 2010 Mirtho was one of the many thousands of people who's life was changed forever.  Trapped beneath the rubble of his house for 48 hours he was eventually rescued but his right leg was so badly damaged it was eventually amputated above the knee.  11 months on from the disaster Mirtho was still waiting for a prosthetic leg and unable to walk to school, his education was on hold.

Corail camp was one of the only official camps set up shortly after the earthquake.  Intended to provide temporary housing for approximately 10,000 people it now houses some 65-100,000 people on the barren rocky ground, the majority in unofficial shanties and most of whom have no intention of leaving.

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To see what Oxfam are doing in Haiti go to:

http://www.oxfam.org.uk/what-we-do/countries-we-work-in/haiti

An unorthodox Easter at Lalibela

Lalibela in Ethiopia is one of those places that once you've seen pictures of it you will always want to go there..  For years I've seen articles and images of the amazing monolithic churches carved out of the rock and thought that one day I'd have the chance to get there and see it for myself.  Fortunately that chance came a few years ago on a photo/research trip through northern Ethiopia with a writer/photographer friend of mine.  Not only did we get to spend a few days at Lalibela but we also chose to visit at one of the best times of year - during the Ethiopian Orthodox Easter celebrations when thousands of pilgrims come from all over the country to pray.

Lalibela-1

The 11 rock hewn churches at Lalibela are thought to have been built during the reign of Saint Gebre Mesqel Lalibela who ruled Ethiopia in the late 12th century and early 13th century.  Biete Giyorgis (above) is probably the best preserved and most finely executed and iconic of all the churches and is carved out of the top of a sandstone hill.

Over the Orthodox Easter period people flocked into Lalibela in their thousands, coming from all over Ethiopia as well as abroad to pray and attend the numerous services and processions that were taking place around the churches at all times of day and night.  The devotion of the visitors was incredible - sleeping in and around the churches, praying and studying the Holy scriptures seemingly their entire waking hours.

After dark the place took on an altogether different atmosphere.  Wandering around the churches in the near pitch black was an intense experience, at times you would be on your own trying to find your way down rock carved alleys from one church to another and the next moment you'd be surrounded by pilgrims walking in endless circles round one of the churches.  One particular moment I will never forget was hearing the distant drone of many people chanting and the sound of the brass rattles (sistrum) used throughout the churches in Ethiopia - following the resonating sound down the passages it led to a small carved out where I witnessed a scene that can barely have changed since the days when the churches were first chiseled from the sandstone.  A group of Deacons lit only by waxed tapers and clad in simple white robes rocked rhythmically back and forward in unison to the sound of drums and sistrum.  Off the main chamber another priest swung a glowing censer that permeated the air with the intoxicating smell of incense, the roof blackened with the waxy soot of nearly a millenium of prayer.

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Outside in the main areas surrounding the sunken churches, dozens of pilgrims wrapped in simple shawls curled up in whatever space they could find to try and snatch an hour or two of chilly sleep whilst those around carried on their prayers by the dim flickering light of a taper.

I shot everything during this trip on the Canon 5d mkll, my main camera at the time.  The cameras low light performance never fails to amaze - the 5dlll I now use is amazingly even better.  The ability to shoot in seemingly near darkness without having to resort to lighting is fantastic.

These images and many others from this and other assignments are available direct from me or through the various agencies I'm represented by, including: Axiom Photographic, Getty Images and DesignPics

A Grand Day Out

As a photographer who spends several months of the year shooting on location in remote areas one of the things that always astounds me is the amount of time one can seem to waste in the back of a 4WD vehicle getting around in country.  Almost inevitably the best parts of the day (the morning and evening) are spent bumping along dirt roads while you can frequently be tasked with getting your story or images in the heat and intense light of the midday sun.  There is also the frustration of being on route to a particular location with a time schedule to keep to and passing countless good photo opportunities as you go - all highly annoying.

On some rare days though, when you have a little more time on your hands, you have the chance to stop and take advantage of the the location and the journey and get the images that normally pass you by.

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AGDO-3

On this particular day we had been photographing in the village of Longwa that straddles the border of Nagaland and Myanmar.  The people of the village are of the Konyak tribe and were extremely hospitable despite their not too distant past history of head hunting.  Facial tattoos are pretty common among the older men of the area and this along with the beauty and remoteness of the region is what draws in the few visitors who make it here.

Village headman - Longwa, Nagaland/Myanmar border
Village headman - Longwa, Nagaland/Myanmar border

I shot a few portraits including the one above of the new village Headman (lit with a speedlight and shoot through brolly held at full extension in my left hand - my 'go to' quick and dirty lighting in these sort of situations).

Leaving the village in the early afternoon we were faced with the usual long drive to get back to the only guest house in the area but this time had a few hours to kill and spend on the journey.  The first stop was for this guy who was standing beside the road on the edge of a scruffy little village. Come on......, how could you pass up the opportunity to go and chat to a man with horns?

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AGDO-4

After the usual pleasantries we broached the subject of shooting a few pictures and as typical in this region it was met with a smile and a nod of the head.  We were then ushered into the mans nearby house and invited to sit in the near darkness whilst the fire was re kindled and the tea made.  With a sweet brew in hand it began to dawn that we were in fact sat in a smokey little opium den with a few other quietly staring reclining figures tucked away in the shadows.

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The man with the horns began to prepare his next pipe, explaining as he did so how he got the opium from the Myanmar side of the border and how he could afford little else other than his habit.  Things then took a peculiar twist.  Our host put both feet behind his head - resting on the dirt floor on just his bottom.  He then stuck his opium pipe in his mouth and took a burning branch from the fire to light it - but then rather than throwing it back on the fire he rubbed the flaming branch up one arm after another explaining as he did that the continued use of opium had completely de-sensitized his skin.  It seemed to have no effect on him at all.  Looking back at the images now I realize I missed capturing the moment concentrating more on shooting portraits rather than documentary images - maybe the smoke had clouded my judgment?

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Leaving the smoke and drugs behind we soon picked up a character we'd given a lift to earlier in the day.  With his bright red waistcoat and blue beads around his legs this was a local village chief who we'd picked up in the morning.  With nothing more than a live chicken in a basket he was on his way by foot to a funeral in a village some 30km away.  Luckily for him it was a day with time in hand so we'd stopped and offered a lift.  It was now the chiefs opportunity to reciprocate and invited us back to his village for tea.  Having accepted we suspected there might have been an ulterior motive as this then took us miles out of our way down dirt paths to deliver him home - again without the time in hand we would never have gone.

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AGDO-8

Leaving the chief and by this stage late in the afternoon we passed several hunters on their way into the forest - needless to say it was another encounter too good to pass up.  Young guys with guns - hunters or insurgents?  Nagaland has several insurgent factions demanding regional independence but also involved in kidnapping, extortion, smuggling and inter-factional clashes.  Maybe stopping and shooting the breeze with these guys was not a good idea but again encounters like this are for me what make travel interesting.

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AGDO-9

As is so often the case these young guys were flattered to be stopped and have the attention - 2 minutes of chat and then we had the all clear for as many photographs as wanted.  As is so often the case if you just have the time to stop and chat and make time for people you soon realize that there are interesting encounters to be had had even when you are driving along dirt roads in the middle of nowhere.

Hunter, Nagaland, India
Hunter, Nagaland, India

Oxfam America/Rockefeller Foundation commission

Earlier in the year I had a 3 week shoot in a number of East African countries for Oxfam America and the Rockefeller Foundation.  Material from the shoot was ultimately destined for presentation at at the recent summit on "Realizing the Potential of African Agriculture: Catalytic Innovations for Growth" held in Abuja, Nigeria.  The summit was attended by not only numerous African ministers prime ministers but also former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan.

Some of the material used is shown below.

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Maize-maize
Maize-maize
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Maize-Nyamig
Cassava_ernesto
Cassava_ernesto
Mobile-Cassava
Mobile-Cassava

A short walk before breakfast

Whilst visiting the Suri people in Southwestern Ethiopia one of the things I was particularly keen to document was the traditional practice of taking and drinking cattle blood early in the morning. 

Cattle are of enormous significance to Suri men with a man's worth  judged by the number of cows he has.  In fact it's not uncommon for Suri men to risk their lives in protecting their cattle from raiders.  Typically adult men might own 30 or 40 cows, saving for the day when having amassed 60 head they are considered of marriageable status. 

Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM

Setting off just after dawn and guided by our armed escort Arbulo (meaning Black Bull) we waded the Kibbish river and headed up into the bush on the far bank.  After a brisk 40 minute walk we arrived at the corral of a man we had met and photographed on the river bank the previous evening and who had invited us to visit him with his cattle. Scanning the cattle with a very knowledgeable eye a young cow was selected and quickly cornered by the young herd boys who then held it ready for blood to be taken. 

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Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM

Strangely the cattle were not particularly disturbed by any of this - perhaps used to this near daily activity.  A leather thong was quicky passed around the cows neck and tightened - it's jugular vein by this stage very pronounced but still a tiny target for for the bow and arrow held by one of the elder herd boys. 

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Surma-9

One quick shot with a sharp arrow into the bulging jugular was all it took to release a throbbing stream of blood into the gourd bowl held ready.  Seconds later with the bowl full of vivid red blood the thong was removed and a small handful of mud pressed into the tiny cut.  The blood clotted almost instantly and the cow was released and trotted off to join the rest of the herd seemingly none the worse for it's experience.

Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM

With only minutes before the fresh blood would start to clot, two of the young herd boys quickly polished off the blood in a matter of seconds and then without another word the gate of the corral was opened and they quickly left and vanished into the bush with the cattle.

Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM

Photographing this event was always going to be at least a little bit tricky - with little or no verbal communication possible between me and the subjects there was no real way of telling what was about to happen and there was no option to say hang on a second whilst I change lenses or recompose.  With an already bright sun causing the usual problems of photographing black skin in broad daylight I chose to shoot with off camera fill in flash triggered through a Canon ETTL cable and shot through a combination of white brolly or small softbox.  Trying to get well composed images whilst slipping around in ankle deep cow shit is not the easiest thing to do and as always with hindsight there are always things you might do differently but in general I think I more or less caught the flavor of the morning if not the smell.

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Surma-15

With the cattle gone it was back down to the river to wash off the the knee high reminder of the mornings experience and then back to the tents for our own altogether less adventurous breakfast.

The Nagas are coming

The Nagas are coming..!

The 2013 Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad has recently come to an end.  The 55 day festival held at the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati river brought together the largest gathering of humanity the world might ever have seen.  Some estimates suggest that over 100 million people attended over the course of the festivities.  Whatever the real number is almost irrelevant – it was without doubt a one of a kind event and an amazing thing to be part of, if only for a few incredibly tiring days.

I went to photograph the festival as a result of a long chain of events beginning about 14 years ago in Ecuador.  I was surfing on the coast having finished a shoot for Oxfam in Colombia and there met a writer/photographer/surfer who was staying in the same guest house.  In the course of conversation the subject of the Kumbh Mela came up and it was there that the seed was sown.  In 2001 the last Maha Kumbh Mela was held and for some long forgotten reason I didn’t go – I guess work probably got in the way.  That meant a long 12 year wait until the festival came around again and the next opportunity came to photograph the largest religious gathering on earth.

The most auspicious bathing day, known as Mauni Amavasya, was this year on the 10th February.  It is then that the Sun and the Moon enter into the sign of Capricorn and it’s believed to be the day when the universe was created.  The day holds extreme religious importance and taking bath on this day in the holy waters is deemed immensely significant and auspicious.

Being the busiest day of the festival meant the crowds were incredible – no forget that – beyond incredible.  Setting of from our camp on the Western side of the river it took in excess of 3 hours to walk to the main bathing area at the Sangam – the river had to be crossed several times via the numerous tightly packed temporary pontoon bridges end everywhere was a solid mass of humanity.  The sheer number of people and density of the crowd is almost impossible to describe, at times the crush was literally breathtaking – it seemed as though entire villages of people were walking together hand in hand – the women all holding the hand or sari of the woman in front and impossible to pass through without getting carried away by the flow.  Tempers were tested to the limits but remarkably there were incredibly few signs of any anger or aggression.

Having got close to the Sangam (the main bathing area) by 4:30am is was time to get into position to photograph the procession of the Naga Sadhus – the naked, ash covered ascetics devoted to a life of austerity and prayer.  Police were everywhere – restricting access to the main procession route but a bit of sweet talking soon got me the right side of the barriers.

Just before dawn the fenced pathway was cleared by police and officials and the cry “the Nagas are coming” was heard.  Lots of locals advised to stay clear of the Nagas – they have swords – they are uncontrollable – they might hurt you – these were all warnings that police and other told us.  As the first hint of the sun appeared so the first wave of Nagas came down the road – difficult to photograph with rapidly changing light – a mix of tungsten floods, dawn light and a  bit of off camera fill flash.  Waves of excited (probably cannabis fuelled) Nagas were followed by their Gurus riding on tractors and trailers with thousands of devotees behind.

By dawn it was time to battle the crowds and move to another location – but this was a experience that will be hard to forget.

Stand still and let it happen..

Old Havana, Cuba

Finding good subject matter is sometimes difficult as a traveling photographer - some days everything seems to fall into place easily and interesting things pop into your viewfinder one after another whilst on other days you scratch around looking hopelessly for some kind of inspiration.  A useful approach I quite often adopt is the 'stand still and let it happen' technique.  It goes like this: Find an interesting background and then sit back and wait for the subject to come to you!  Simple but often effective.  If you wander around aimlessly hoping to come across interesting images you can strike lucky but if you identify an interesting backdrop to an image then at least you have one element in place and a degree of control of your final image.  Another advantage of this technique is that you can blend into the scene and become less visible particularly if you pretend to be shooting pictures of something other than your approaching subject.

The following pictures hopefully illustrate the point.

Walking around the narrow alleys in the beautiful city of Harar in Ethiopia I came across this door and section of very colorful wall.  As a graphic image on it's own it's OK - nothing special but a good starting point for a better image yet to come.  There were few people around and in the confined space those that there were very aware of a me and my camera.

So stand still and let it happen... Just blend into the wall as best you can and wait - when someone comes down the alley rather than chase them with a camera just start shooting architecture and wait for the moment to happen when person and wall fall into place.

OK still not perhaps the best images in the world but standing in that same spot for 5 or 10 minutes gave me quite a few useable images.

Here are a couple more images shot in the same way in Ethiopia, Kurdish Iraq and Cuba.

Making the most of an opportunity

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Sometime as a photographer things happen very quickly and often you need to decide whether there is something in front of you that is worth photographing or not - will it make a good picture, or an interesting picture - or perhaps one that tells a story you are interested in telling?  Sometimes it's as simple as a young girl on her way to school with an umbrella in hand on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere.

On this particular day I'd already been driving for several hours through the Western Highlands of Ethiopia and to be honest by this stage was looking for an opportunity to stop and stretch my legs - a toilet stop is always the most obvious excuse but in this instance the sight of the young girl with matching clothes and umbrella were the perfect reason.

Having persuaded the girl to allow me to shoot a couple of frames we were then rapidly joined by a quickly growing group of her school friends who having seen the image on the back of the camera were all keen to be photographed as well.  What followed was an exercise in patience - what you can't see in the images are the 25 or so other kids who all wanted to be in every shot and lined up forming a tight human corridor between me and the subject.  I shot a single frame of each kid at 200mm in order to avoid the sea of encroaching faces.

Individually none of the images are great but together (and as a little reminder of a fun half an hour with some friendly kids) they work quite well.