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Protests in Burundi

by Dai Kurokawa

A Burundian protester throws a rock on a burning barricade during an anti-government demonstration in the capital Bujumbura, Burundi, 22 May 2015. epa/Dai Kurokawa

A Burundian protester throws a rock on a burning barricade during an anti-government demonstration in the capital Bujumbura, Burundi, 22 May 2015. epa/Dai Kurokawa

“Hey Chinese!” An angry-looking young man shouts at me as I walk toward a group of anti-government protesters. I turn around, holding up my homemade press card with a Japanese flag printed on it, and tell them “Mimi sio Chinese, Japonais” in a combination of the only languages I could communicate with them half decently – Swahili and French. Someone would suddenly smile and say “Oh Japonais. OK OK.”

This small exchange of words with protesters had become my daily ritual from the day I entered Burundi – a small, impoverished central African nation – to cover the political unrest triggered by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s announcement to seek a third term in office, which has been called unconstitutional and a violation of the 2006 Arusha peace deal that ended the country’s 13-year civil war.

Burundian protesters react as they face police officers firing shots towards them during an anti-government demonstration in the capital Bujumbura, Burundi, 26 May 2015. epa/Dai Kurokawa

Burundian protesters react as they face police officers firing shots towards them during an anti-government demonstration against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term in the capital Bujumbura, Burundi, 26 May 2015. epa/Dai Kurokawa

Foreign journalists aren’t always welcome by the local population. And in many of the African countries I cover, journalists who look like me – East Asian – often face angry and hostile crowds who view China as “new colonialists” of their continent. In Africa, if people are against the government, then they are almost certainly against China. Burundians were no different.
Agency photographers were covering anti-government protests every day for weeks so I knew the protesters were not hostile toward us. My daily routine was going through the “ritual” and taking pictures of running battles between rock-throwing protesters and police.

A Burundian soldier fires a shot towards protesters during an anti-government demonstration in Bujumbura, Burundi, 25 May 2015. epa/Dai Kurokawa

A Burundian soldier fires a shot towards protesters during an anti-government demonstration in Bujumbura, Burundi, 25 May 2015. epa/Dai Kurokawa

One day, as I covered the daily protests, I found myself caught in a small alley between a group of young men throwing rocks and policemen firing shots toward them. I stepped aside and tried to take pictures of a policeman. The next thing I knew, a rock, the size of a fist, hit me in my chest and I went down for a very brief moment. When I looked back up, I saw the sky was filled with stones thrown by protesters, coming in my direction. There was nowhere to take cover with, so I ducked down hoping that it would not last long. I turned my face the other way, took my camera out in hopes of capturing something.

Rock-throwing Burundian protesters take cover as shots are fired towards them by police officers, during an anti-government demonstration in Bujumbura, Burundi, 28 May 2015. epa/Dai Kurokawa

Rock-throwing Burundian protesters react to take cover as shots are fired towards them by police officers, during an anti-government demonstration in Bujumbura, Burundi, 28 May 2015. epa/Dai Kurokawa

Then came this young protester running toward me. He wrapped his arms around to cover me, protecting me from the rain of stones. He used his whole body to cover me for about 30 seconds until there were no more stones thrown. At least three stones hit my head, protected by a helmet. When it was over, the young man said something, tapped my shoulder and told me to start moving. I got up and saw that the alley was littered with hundreds of rocks thrown by protesters. He was already running back to his fellow protesters. I caught up with him and thanked him. “Merci beaucoup”.

I wanted to make sure that he was not hurt, and if I could do something for him in return. But he just smiled, gave me a thumbs-up and left quickly. As he mingled back with others, I realised that he wasn’t even wearing a pair of shoes, let alone a helmet or any kind of protective gear, naturally. I have been beaten, robbed, or threatened by people while covering sensitive events in Africa. But I’ve never had anyone risking himself to protect me from harm.
I was very touched.

A Burundian protester faces soldiers as he holds rocks in his hands during a demonstration against President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third term in the capital Bujumbura, Burundi, 27 May 2015. epa/Dai Kurokawa

A Burundian protester faces soldiers as he holds rocks in his hands during a demonstration against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term in the capital Bujumbura, Burundi, 27 May 2015. epa/Dai Kurokawa

Burundian youths have been protesting against Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term for more than a month. They were not randomly hurting people, they were not looting any shops, and they were kind to journalists. They knew exactly what they were taking to the streets every day. They had a clear sense of purpose. And they knew the presence of journalists was important for them.

A young Burundian boy tries to cover himself as police officers beat him after dispersing protesters by firing shots during an anti-government demonstration in Bujumbura, Burundi, 26 May 2015. epa/Dai Kurokawa

A young Burundian boy tries to cover himself as police officers beat him after dispersing protesters by firing shots during an anti-government demonstration in Bujumbura, Burundi, 26 May 2015. epa/Dai Kurokawa

Some have warned that the current crisis could develop into an ethnic conflict between a Hutu majority and Tutsi minority and descend the country back into a civil war. Burundi fought an ethnically fuelled civil war (1993-2005) in which some 300,000 people have been killed.
When asked about their ethnic divide, protesters always told me that it wasn’t about ethnicity. Everywhere I go, the protesters were a mix of Hutu and Tutsi youths. One protester, a Muslim man, told me “It’s everyone. Hutus and Tutsis. Christians and Muslims.

Burundian Muslim women cry during a funeral service for the slain leader of the opposition party Union for Peace and Development (UPD), Zedi Feruzi, who had been shot dead on 23 May, 2015 together with his bodyguard  in the Ngagara district of Bujumbura, Burundi, 24 May 2015. epa/Dai Kurokawa

Burundian Muslim women cry during a funeral service for the slain leader of the opposition party Union for Peace and Development (UPD), Zedi Feruzi, who had been shot dead on 23 May, 2015 together with his bodyguard in the Ngagara district Bujumbura, Burundi, 24 May 2015. epa/Dai Kurokawa

A Burundian refugee boy sits inside a mosquito net in his family's makeshift tent room set up by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) in a refugee camp in Gashora, some 55km south of the capital Kigali, Rwanda, 18 May 2015. epa/Dai Kurokawa

A Burundian refugee boy sits inside a mosquito net in his family’s makeshift tent room set up by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) in a refugee camp in Gashora, some 55km south of the capital Kigali, Rwanda, 18 May 2015. epa/Dai Kurokawa

Despite the boycott by opposition parties, parliamentary elections were held on June 29th, 2015. Burundi is scheduled to hold presidential elections on July 15th, 2015.

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Civilian Hardship in Donetsk

By Sergei Ilnitsky
epa’s long-time staff photographer in Moscow, Sergei Ilnitsky, was awarded 1st Prize, General News World Press Photo Contest 2015 for a picture he took in Donetsk, Ukraine. The following is an abstract of his speech delivered to the contest jury at the award ceremony in Amsterdam in April, 2015:

I arrived in Donetsk in August 2014, a city besieged by the military. A city with modern infrastructure, factories, mines, universities, an airport, with a population of over one million, was deserted and quiet. It was a creepy and frightening sight – empty streets, no cars, no people. And the reason for this emptiness was obvious – several times a day the city and its outskirts were under rocket attack and mortar fire, hardly precision-guided munition.

Residents walk past a damaged house after Ukranian army shelling downtown of Khartsyzk (24km from Donetsk), Ukraine, 18 August 2014. epa / Sergei Ilnitsky

Residents walk past a damaged house after Ukranian army shelling downtown of Khartsyzk (24km from Donetsk), Ukraine, 18 August 2014. epa / Sergei Ilnitsky

The area residents who had not left the city were hiding in their cellars and bomb shelters. They lived there without light and with little food and water for weeks.

Locals live in shelters  in Ilovaysk (50km from Donetsk), Ukraine, 14 August 2014. epa / Sergei Ilnitsky

Locals live in shelters in Ilovaysk (50km from Donetsk), Ukraine, 14 August 2014. epa / Sergei Ilnitsky

The military fired arbitrarily – on residential areas, infrastructures and schools. There were hundreds of civilians killed on the streets, in their apartments and houses, in stores and markets, in public transport. There were weeks when more civilians were killed than military.

A wounded woman lies on the street  after a mortar attack by the Ukrainian army of the center of Donetsk, Ukraine, 14 August 2014. epa / Sergei Ilnitsky

A wounded woman lies on the street after a mortar attack by the Ukrainian army of the center of Donetsk, Ukraine, 14 August 2014. epa / Sergei Ilnitsky

I was horrified by the senselessness and brutality of this war. If I had not seen it I would not have believed that it was possible in the civilized world of 21st-century Europe.
I asked myself – What am I doing here? What is my ultimate goal? Why did I leave my comfort zone where everything is familiar, relatively safe, predictable? Here life and death are divided by only seconds, meters, chance and coincidence. My role in conflict zones is to be a witness, the intermediary who transmits visual information about events occurring in this part of the world at a particular time. But I also understand that I am a connection between the big world and those who are involved in this local conflict.
In showing the truth, becoming a witness of the suffering, death and hardship brought to their home by the civil war and showing it to the world, we do not let society forget what is unjust.

A wounded local man sits near damaged block of flats after Ukranian army shelling in downtown of Donetsk, Ukraine, 23 August 2014. epa / Sergei Ilnitsky

A wounded local man sits near damaged block of flats after Ukranian army shelling in downtown of Donetsk, Ukraine, 23 August 2014. epa / Sergei Ilnitsky

Our photos do not allow people to remain indifferent to the tragedies of others. It is visual evidence of cruelty and intolerance of one human being to another. Unfortunately, we and our terrible and wonderful visual evidence are powerless and cannot change anything. There always have been wars and will be.

The body of a dead local girl, 11 year old, near a damaged block of flats after Ukranian army shelling in downtown of Donetsk, Ukraine, 23 August 2014. epa / Sergei Ilnitsky

The body of a dead local girl, 11 year old, near a damaged block of flats after Ukranian army shelling in downtown of Donetsk, Ukraine, 23 August 2014. epa / Sergei Ilnitsky

When I studied photography at university, I was taught to find different images and symbols for conveying ideas and feelings that characterize a situation. And this is what I strive to communicate. These symbolic images instantly affect the mind subconsciously, stirring the senses, and making people think. It is a connection that people can make with their own misfortunes.

Personal belongings in a destroyed home in downtown Donetsk, Ukraine, 13 August 2014. epa / Sergei Ilnitsky

Personal belongings in a destroyed home in downtown Donetsk, Ukraine, 13 August 2014. epa / Sergei Ilnitsky

Often these were objects, apartments abandoned and destroyed by explosions -deserted, lifeless. I got inside, into the personal space of the people who had lived there before the explosion. And I was amazed to see the world of things was the same – beds, dishes, toys and interiors – it was as though I walked into my own house. And in those moments I felt as though I took on the mantle of this tragedy through the subject’s world destroyed by the war.

My picture [the last picture below], which was chosen by the World Press Photo jury as first prize, general news, is also some sort of war’s still life. For me it is a very personal, symbolic image. I took it on the last day of my work in Donetsk. The city was particularly cynically bombed on that day. Ten drops, a one hour break, repeated until the evening. The first ten shells were dropped in the central area of the city with private houses. When I arrived, I saw an ambulance and doctors giving first aid to a bleeding elderly man. He was crying and whispering – ‘Vera, Vera’ – it was the name of his wife, who had been taken to the hospital earlier with a serious wound in her belly.

Medics provide first aid to a wounded man in downtown Donetsk, Ukraine, 26 August 2014. epa / Sergei Ilnitsky

Medics provide first aid to a wounded man in downtown Donetsk, Ukraine, 26 August 2014. epa / Sergei Ilnitsky

Nearby was his son. He was not wounded, but he cried too. I took some pictures and then he took my arm and led me into the house, he wanted to show me the place where a mortar shell exploded. It blasted in the front of the window when his parents were preparing to have breakfast. Everything was riddled with mortar shrapnel. I went into the kitchen where on the floor there was a large puddle of blood, broken glass and squashed tomatoes. It smelled of dust and tomatoes.

WPP: Damaged goods lie in a damaged kitchen in downtown Donetsk, Ukraine, 26 August 2014. epa / Sergei Ilnitsky

WPP: Damaged goods lie in a damaged kitchen in downtown Donetsk, Ukraine, 26 August 2014. epa / Sergei Ilnitsky

I was born in Donbas in the town of Mariupol, which is 90 km from Donetsk. So this place is my homeland. And the appearance of the kitchen transported me to my childhood, to my grandparents’ house — the table covered with oilcloth, metal utensils, ground-down-to-zero knifes, an old tin of coffee and white lace curtains. Everything was exactly the same. But in my childhood everything was safe and peaceful. Over there was life. And here was tragedy, destruction and death.

This photograph is simple and complex at the same time – for me it has become the symbol of this civil war, the symbol of destruction of civilian life, senseless and merciless destruction. This is a very personal photo and to be honest I didn’t think it would be understood and felt by the others. And I am glad that I was wrong.

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Volcanoes in Chile

by Filipe Trueba

A general view shows Villarrica volcano seen from Pucon, Cautin Province, some 780 km south of  Santiago de Chile, Chile, 22 March 2015. epa / efe / Felipe Trueba

A general view shows Villarrica volcano seen from Pucon, Cautin Province, some 780 km south of Santiago de Chile, Chile, 22 March 2015. epa / efe / Felipe Trueba

Volcanoes represent the majestic power of nature. But they also are tricky bastards to photograph.
Chile is located on what’s called the Pacific “Rim of Fire” and has the second largest chain of active volcanoes in the world after Indonesia. On Wednesday, April 22nd, I was in the office filing pictures of a State visit when the first images were shown on TV. A 17km high column of ash was emerging over the city of Puerto Montt, 1000 km south of Santiago de Chile. The Calbuco, a dormant volcano for the past 40 years had erupted at six o´clock in the afternoon with no previous warning.
I checked flights south – none were available so late and shortly afterwards all flights for the next day had been cancelled. As I rushed home to pack my stuff and organize the trip by car with two other photographers, my colleague Mario was already trying to reach people in the area to get some images on the wire. Time was crucial with deadlines in Europe closing in. The pictures coming from the Calbuco were Dantesque: a giant sunset colored mushroom expanding over the villages around the volcano.

General view of Chilean Calbuco volcano from Puerto Montt, located at 1000 km southern Santiago de Chile, Chile, 22 April 2015. epa / efe / Alex Vidal Brecas

General view of Chilean Calbuco volcano from Puerto Montt, located at 1000 km southern Santiago de Chile, Chile, 22 April 2015. epa / efe / Alex Vidal Brecas

The journey south was an excruciating ten hour night ride – by one o´clock the mountain had started to unleash all its fury with lightning and fire raging from the crater. Images on twitter showed hell on earth… and we were still very far away.

General view of the Chilean Calbuco volcano from Puerto Montt, located some 1,000 km south of Santiago de Chile, Chile, 22 April 2015. epa / efe / Francisco Negroni

General view of the Chilean Calbuco volcano from Puerto Montt, located some 1,000 km south of Santiago de Chile, Chile, 22 April 2015. epa / efe / Francisco Negroni

The so called eruptive pulses are spectacular but usually don´t last long. We arrived just after nine o´clock in the morning when everything was calm again. The Calbuco was resting under thick fog and a milky grey sky.

View of the Calbuco volcano, which erupted on 22 April, from Puerto Varas village, in the region of Los Lagos, southern Chile, 24 April 2015. epa / efe / Felipe Trueba

View of the Calbuco volcano, which erupted on 22 April, from Puerto Varas village, in the region of Los Lagos, southern Chile, 24 April 2015. epa / efe / Felipe Trueba

This was my fourth time chasing a volcano and, once again, I turned up too late.
We got to a checkpoint 20 kilometers from the crater. We crossed it by foot and reached an area covered in ashes. After the hasty evacuation from the night before, dozens of residents had returned to collect some belongings or were shoveling the volcanic gravel from the roof of their houses to avoid them from sinking in. Taking pictures in the middle of a moonscape, I felt sorry for the Chilean people struck again by another disaster.

Men remove ash from a rooftop as the Calbuco volcano continues to spew clouds of ash in Ensenada village, in the region of Los Lagos, southern Chile, 24 April 2015. epa / efe / Felipe Trueba

Men remove ash from a rooftop as the Calbuco volcano continues to spew clouds of ash in Ensenada village, in the region of Los Lagos, southern Chile, 24 April 2015. epa / efe / Felipe Trueba

People remove ash from the Calbuco volcano which erupted on 22 April from the roof of their home, in Ensenada village, in the region of Los Lagos, southern Chile, 24 April 2015. epa / efe / Felipe Trueba

People remove ash from the Calbuco volcano which erupted on 22 April from the roof of their home, in Ensenada village, in the region of Los Lagos, southern Chile, 24 April 2015. epa / efe / Felipe Trueba

The coverage of a volcano compels you to concentrate all your efforts on a single spot. You drive around, you look for different angles, you discover the best timing for light on the mountain or you play with the exposure. You try different ways to portrait a fuming beast that doesn´t move. A few weeks earlier I had covered another volcano, the Villarrica, 300 km north of the Calbuco. There, I hung out with Franciso Negroni a freelance photographer based in Puerto Montt. Negroni is a real volcano hunter.

A general view of the volcano Villarrica erupting near Villarrica, some 750 kilometers south of Santiago de Chile, in Chile, 03 March 2015. epa / efe / Francisco Negroni

A general view of the volcano Villarrica erupting near Villarrica, some 750 kilometers south of Santiago de Chile, in Chile, 03 March 2015. epa / efe / Francisco Negroni

When you get obsessed with one of these stone creatures you bring the business to another level: you check its “breathing” by the plume… is it regular?; you talk to the elders and listen to their stories of previous explosions; you keep an eye on the lunar cycles, especially with full moon (for more light in night shots or unusual volcanic activity); you know you’re travelling times from one good spot to another; you stop-watch the minutes you have in order to pass a road before the authorities close it in case of an emergency; you notice when the plume changes from white to grey; you come up with tricks to get a sharp focus on the mountain when it´s pitch dark and the autofocus on the camera doesn´t work; you sleep rough in the car night after night waiting for the giant to wake up.

A long exposure picture shows a general view of Villarrica volcano seen at night from Pucon, Cautin Province, some 780 km south of  Santiago de Chile, Chile, 22 March 2015. epa / efe / Felipe Trueba

A long exposure picture shows a general view of Villarrica volcano seen at night from Pucon, Cautin Province, some 780 km south of Santiago de Chile, Chile, 22 March 2015. epa / efe / Felipe Trueba

The rule of “the closer, the better the picture” doesn´t apply to volcanoes. Apart from risking to get hit by pyroclastic material flying around, your angle from underneath won´t be the best. You should know how your “friend” likes to spit fire – is it a Hawaiian, a Strombolian or a Plinian eruption? In many Chilean volcanoes lightning appears during the most violent phase. No, it’s not the pure luck of a thunderstorm passing by at that precise moment. The electrical charges are generated by the collision of rocks, ash and ice particles in the plume that produce static energy. For the next five days in the zone I only saw the Calbuco twice as he hid above low clouds. Together with a fellow photographer we documented the northern parts of the volcano badly affected by the ashes. On the southern slopes of the mountain the destruction came in form of rivers of melted ice and rocks. Lahars had wiped out bridges, houses and salmon farms, an important industry in the area.

View of dead salmon in ponds of an affected fish farm after the eruption of Chilean Calbuco volcano in the area of Correntoso, close to Chamiza locality, Los Lagos region, at southern Chile, 25 April 2015. epa / efe / Felipe Trueba

View of dead salmon in ponds of an affected fish farm after the eruption of Chilean Calbuco volcano in the area of Correntoso, close to Chamiza locality, Los Lagos region, at southern Chile, 25 April 2015. epa / efe / Felipe Trueba

This time the volcano didn´t take any lives but severely affected the everyday life of the region. There had been 9000 evacuees, a curfew was still in place and authorities estimated a loss of 30% to the local economy. By the end of the week, the beast was still spewing but I had covered the most important angles of the story. I headed back to Santiago. Four days later the Calbuco erupted again.

Two sheep remain in a meadow covered with ash after the eruption of the Calbuco volcano, in the town of Ensenada, region of Los Lagos, in southern Chile, 26 April 2015. epa / efe / Felipe Trueba

Two sheep remain in a meadow covered with ash after the eruption of the Calbuco volcano, in the town of Ensenada, region of Los Lagos, in southern Chile, 26 April 2015. epa / efe / Felipe Trueba

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‪#‎Garissaattack‬ ‪#‎147isnotjustanumber‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

By Daniel Irungu

A Kenyan police officer runs to take cover as shots are fired from inside Garissa University in Garissa town,i, Kenya, 02 April 2015. epa / Daniel Irungu

A Kenyan police officer runs to take cover as shots are fired from inside Garissa University in Garissa town,i, Kenya, 02 April 2015. epa / Daniel Irungu

I recently covered the attack on Garissa University* for epa, through which I now have a special connection with some of the survivors.
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On April 2nd, 2015, I was alerted about the hostage situation by one of my contacts in Garissa working for a local media house. He was among the first people to get to the University. So I immediately contacted my senior colleague, Dai Kurokawa, and waited for his feedback. All the while, my contact in Garissa kept telling me it was a serious attack and we should go immediately. Finally, Dai decided that we should both go together, contacted a reliable cab driver and came to pick me up. It took us some 4-5 hours on the road to get to Garissa. Close to our destination, we all got arrested including the cab driver. This happened after I took some pictures of police officers on trucks as they were heading to Garissa to offer backup. Little did we know that police were therefore suspecting us of being “enemies”. They had made a phone call to the police headquarters in Nairobi and orders had been given out for us to be arrested at the last police check point before getting to Garissa. The police officers held us in their police station, interrogated us, and ordered me to delete the pictures in question. After finding we had no bad intentions and that we were accredited and genuine journalists, we were released and able to continue our journey. When we got to the scene of the attack, we found that no journalists were allowed into the university grounds, the operation was still going on. We could hear gun shots. Dai and I decided to part ways to find different angles to illustrate the story.

Kenyan soldiers prepare to sweep inside the building at Garissa University in Garissa town, Kenya, 02 April 2015. epa / Dai Kurokawa

Kenyan soldiers prepare to sweep inside the building at Garissa University in Garissa town, Kenya, 02 April 2015. epa / Dai Kurokawa

As I was roaming around, I happened to meet some local Somalia youths who asked me ‘Do you want to take pictures of police officers sleeping on the ground?’ in Swahili language. They took me to a place where officers were lying down along the fence of the university. I just walked towards the officers innocently without knowing I was right inside the battle line. As it turned out, the officers were taking cover, not sleeping as the locals had thought. As I got closer to the soldiers, several gun shots were fired by the terrorists aimed at the officers. When I realised I was in the middle of a battle field, I went down to take cover myself, right inside a thorny shrub along the fence. There I found a General Service Unit (GSU) officer. He had been among the first military men to respond to the attack at 6 am in the morning, he told me. The first thing he asked me for was drinking water. Luckily I had brought some water bottles with me. He was grateful and engaged me in a conversation while I took pictures of him.

A Kenyan Administration Police (AP) officer taking cover as shots are fired from inside Garissa University in Garissa town, Kenya, 02 April 2015. epa / Daniel Irungu

A Kenyan Administration Police (AP) officer taking cover as shots are fired from inside Garissa University in Garissa town, Kenya, 02 April 2015. epa / Daniel Irungu

He had witnessed his colleague being shot dead by the attackers when they first arrived to the scene in the early hours. Since then he had not been able to move from his position due to the heavy gun shots from a sniper attacker positioned on the upper floor of the hostel and aiming at them. It dawned on me that I would not be safe and decided to move and ended up hiding under a tree, from where I witnessed a soldier being shot. I was in shock, could not even take pictures and stayed glued to the ground until I started to relax a little and to take a few pictures of the Kenya Defence Force (KDF) soldiers breaking into the university compound using tanks.

A tank moves into Garissa University campus during a stand-off with militants, in Garissa town, Kenya, 02 April 2015. epa / Dai Kurokawa

A tank moves into Garissa University campus during a stand-off with militants, in Garissa town, Kenya, 02 April 2015. epa / Dai Kurokawa

Kenyan soldiers and ambulance workers run as they prepare to evacuate students who were rescued out of the building at Garissa University in Garissa town, Kenya, 02 April 2015. epa /Dai Kurokawa

Kenyan soldiers and ambulance workers run as they prepare to evacuate students who were rescued out of the building at Garissa University in Garissa town, Kenya, 02 April 2015. epa /Dai Kurokawa

I returned to where my colleague Dai Kurokawa was, in order to file the pictures I had taken. Dai had been worried sick about my whereabouts. When he saw the pictures, he went silent and helped me edit them. Our pictures were the first ones from the front battle line illustrating how intense the situation was. Later, we went together to the area I had been before. The situation was now getting even more serious. I never stayed for long in one place, but left to file pictures. At this point, the soldiers together with a special police unit called Recce squad were able to gain control of the situation. Luckily, my colleague Dai was there to capture the moment, and was able to go inside the university together with the soldiers, also shooting pictures of the students being rescued.

A woman reacts as she is rescued out of the building where she had been held hostage as Kenyan soldiers entered the university building after a fierce fights with attackers at the Garissa University in Garissa town, Kenya, 02 April 2015. epa / Dai Kurokawa

A woman reacts as she is rescued out of the building where she had been held hostage as Kenyan soldiers entered the university building after a fierce fights with attackers at the Garissa University in Garissa town, Kenya, 02 April 2015. epa / Dai Kurokawa

Once I had slowly recovered from the traumatic events, I came to think that this experience was like a turning point in my life. It taught me to let the people closest to me know how much I love and care for them. Life is short and the best you can do is live it happily and in one piece. To me wealth is not about how much you own or earn, but it is about how many lives you touch with what you have or do. Have you ever asked yourself how many lives you have touched or changed in a positive way?

Some of the Garissa University students who were rescued, comfort each other at the Garissa military camp, in Garissa town, located near the border with Somalia, some 370km northeast of the capital Nairobi, Kenya, 03 April 2015, the day after gunmen attacked the university in which the government says 147 people have been killed. epa / Daniel Irungu

Some of the Garissa University students who were rescued, comfort each other at the Garissa military camp, in Garissa town, located near the border with Somalia, some 370km northeast of the capital Nairobi, Kenya, 03 April 2015, the day after gunmen attacked the university in which the government says 147 people have been killed. epa / Daniel Irungu

Special thanks to Dai Kurokawa, and all other friends who have been there offering support through prayers and encouraging words, I value you all.

Daniel Irungu

Daniel Irungu on assignment covering the first opening of African Green Growth Forum (3GF) at the UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, 13 May 2015. Photo by Antony Karumba


*On 2 April 2015, gunmen stormed the Garissa University College in Garissa, Kenya, some 330 km east of Nairobi, killing 147 people, mainly students and injuring 79 or more. The militant group Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack. The gunmen took over 700 students hostage, freeing Muslims and singling out Christians who were shot. The siege ended after nearly 15 hours, when all four of the attackers were killed by Kenyan forces.

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Nepal Earthquake

By Narendra Shrestha

Nepal earthquake: People try to free a man called Bishnu Khadka from the rubble of a destroyed building after an earthquake hit Nepal, in Kathmandu, Nepal, 25 April 2015. epa / Narendra Shrestha

People try to free a man called Bishnu Khadka from the rubble of a destroyed building after an earthquake hit Nepal, in Kathmandu, Nepal, 25 April 2015. epa / Narendra Shrestha

I was on the top floor of my five-storey house and planning to take my daughter out since it was a Saturday. Suddenly, I felt the shake and naturally assumed that it was an earthquake. I went to my daughter’s room and positioned her under the door. At first I thought it might be a short quake like last year so we didn’t run. But this time it didn’t stop. All our belongings started falling from the rack and I could feel my house shaking left to right and right to left. My daughter started crying and I prayed to God for it to stop. “Please Stop!” But it didn’t. Left-right, right-left. It lasted 57 seconds, but was the hardest time of my life to pass.

After it stopped, I went to the rooftop with my daughter. There lay before us the surprising scene of the Kathmandu Valley. From the dust everywhere I assumed the density of this earthquake. I went for my camera to capture that view.

Dust can be seen during an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, 25 April 2015. epa / Narendra Shrestha

Dust can be seen during an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, 25 April 2015. epa / Narendra Shrestha

Later, my wife came to the roof to look after our daughter. In the streets people were panicking, running, some of them without clothes; army personnel and police were running, children were crying, and people were injured.

Almost about 100 meters from my home there was a construction site where almost 40 workers were trapped when the old houses next to the site had collapsed on them. They were trying to free themselves from the rubble as others rushed to rescue them.

People free a man called Kaaji Bogati from the rubble of a destroyed building after an earthquake hit Nepal, in Kathmandu, Nepal, 25 April 2015. epa / Narendra Shrestha

Nepal earthquake: People free a man called Kaaji Bogati from the rubble of a destroyed building after an earthquake hit Nepal, in Kathmandu, Nepal, 25 April 2015. epa / Narendra Shrestha

At another site a seven-storey tourist guest house had collapsed. I saw a man injured and bleeding. Local youths were trying to rescue him from the rubble. It was a catastrophic scene, something I had only seen in photos and movies, but for the first time in my life I was witnessing and photographing it live. At one point as I held my camera, I was unable to take more images.

I regained my composure when I saw an old lady lying on the ground and a young girl crying “Ba Ba ..” (father). Suddenly my thoughts turned to my daughter and I ran towards my home to find her safe with other family members. She was frightened and crying, asking for me “Where is Ba Ba?” When she saw me, she ran towards me, holding tightly onto me. I tried to calm her and stayed with her for almost 30 minutes. My younger brother arrived with news about the city; our historical monuments had collapsed. Hearing that, my daughter held me even tighter. I tried to withdraw her hand from mine but she wouldn’t let go. For the first time I disliked my job because it meant I had to leave when she needed me the most.

The aftershocks could be felt day and night. Everyone took shelter on the roads, fields and grounds. No one dared to enter their houses but I had to get in to file pictures since cable internet was only working and available at home. Till today [8th May, 2015], 157 aftershocks have been registered. People still get alarmed with the aftershocks.

From the next day, I travelled around Kathmandu valley. Seeing all the collapsed monuments and heritage sites made me sad, as these are the places I grew up with. After a few days, I flew to the most affected villages in Sindhupalchowk and Gorkha district. The sight made me feel that the nation had turned into a refugee camp. All the houses had collapsed and colorful tents could be seen on the ground.

Nepal earthquake: A mother kisses her baby daughter in front of their destroyed house in the Baluwa village, Gorkha district, Nepal, on 30 April 2015, where the epicenter of the 25 April earthquake was. epa / Narendra Shrestha

Nepal earthquake: A mother kisses her baby daughter in front of their destroyed house in the Baluwa village, Gorkha district, Nepal, on 30 April 2015, where the epicenter of the 25 April earthquake was. epa / Narendra Shrestha

Supportors and aide organisations from different countries have arrived in Kathmandu and started rescuing and providing their services.

After a week, I was glad to find Kaaji Bogati, the first person I had photographed on the day of the earthquake. Kaaji, a construction worker rescued from the rubble, was in hospital with his wife. He had broken his rib and was waiting for surgery.

Nepal earthquake: Nepalese construction worker Kaaji Bogati, aged 50, being taken care by his wife Ganga Maya Bogati, at Hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal. 02 May 2015. epa / Narendra Shrestha

Nepal earthquake: Nepalese construction worker Kaaji Bogati, aged 50, being taken care by his wife Ganga Maya Bogati, at Hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal. 02 May 2015. epa / Narendra Shrestha

Another worker who was rescued after almost being buried alive was Bishnu Khadka [shown in the very first photograph of this post]; his condition is still critical and he is on a ventilator at ICU in Teaching Hospital in Kathmandu.

Now, after 13 days, life in Kathmandu slowly returns to normalcy. I received a message on my phone stating that the official death toll now stood at 7,802. Some 6,088 people are still in hospital while another 15,911 sustained injuries. The number of disappeared persons is 322 and damaged houses 288,798. Tomorrow is Saturday again and I would like to plan a fun day for my daughter but she says she gets scared when she hears the word ‘SATURDAY.’

N.B. Just days before the earthquake hit Nepal, Narendra Shrestha had been working on a feature package about the Muktinath Temple in Nepal’s Mustang district: http://www.epa.eu/feature-packages/archive/2015/muktinath-temple
According to reports, the tremors did not cause damage to the Temple site.

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Wrestling – Cassandro El Exotico

By Ian Langsdon

Wrestler Cassandro El Exotico soars through the air in a daring acrobatic manoeuvre against Puma King (R) and Magnus (C)  during a Lucha Libre wrestling exhibition match at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, France, 03 November 2014. As part of his last tour before a two-year break, US-born Mexican wrestling welterweight champion, Cassandro El Exotico set up a fighting ring for a show dubbed Los Exoticos vs Los Luchadores.  epa/Ian Langsdon

Wrestler Cassandro El Exotico soars through the air in a daring acrobatic manoeuvre against Puma King (R) and Magnus (C) during a Lucha Libre wrestling exhibition match at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, France, 03 November 2014. epa/Ian Langsdon

Paris, for many, is the city of lights, high fashion and fine cuisine. For the news photographer, it is also the capital of international diplomacy – with an average of four visiting dignitaries per week, creating a steady supply of ‘grip & grin’ photo-opportunities. If there is one thing Paris is not renowned for, however, it is Lucha Libre Mexican wrestling. So when a press release appeared in my inbox one morning bearing the title “Cassandro El Exotico VS Luchadores in Paris”, I was unsure whether or not I was the subject of an elaborate prank.

After investigating further, it appeared that ‘Cassandro El Exotico’ was not only a real-life wrestler, but in fact somewhat of a celebrity within the realm of Lucha Libre. Oh, and Cassandro is a drag-queen. That was all I needed – this story was too strange to ignore.

Luchador Puma King holds Cassandro El Exotico upside down as the referee looks on during the first act of a Lucha Libre wrestling exhibition match at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, France, 03 November 2014. epa / Ian Langsdon

Luchador Puma King holds Cassandro El Exotico upside down as the referee looks on during the first act of a Lucha Libre wrestling exhibition match at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, France, 03 November 2014. epa / Ian Langsdon

The fight was to be held at the Cartier Foundation in central Paris. Upon my arrival on fight-night, it became apparent that the press was not expected to show up, judging by the bewildered look on the press relations personnel’s faces. Nevertheless I was welcomed in, and left with an ominous warning: “Don’t stand next to the ring. You’ll get squashed.”

Wrestler Cassandro El Exotico yells in pain as Puma King pins him down during the first act of a Lucha Libre wrestling exhibition match at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, France, 03 November 2014. epa / Ian Langsdon

Wrestler Cassandro El Exotico yells in pain as Puma King pins him down during the first act of a Lucha Libre wrestling exhibition match at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, France, 03 November 2014. epa / Ian Langsdon

With that in mind, I kept as far from the ring as humanly possible, opting to shoot with my 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, amidst the audience. The event drew a small gathering of around 200, mostly eccentric-looking folks, for whom this seemed to be a normal Monday night. What followed, was far from normal. Two colossal, shirtless, masked wrestlers (luchadores) faced off with two petite, drag-queen ‘exotics’ in tights. What ensued was a whirlwind of gravity-defying acrobatics, cabaret-style risqué showmanship and downright physical violence. Bodies flew, heads were slapped, and an array of Spanish swear words were thrown around. After taking a considerable beating, Cassandro and his equally feminine sidekick rose to the occasion and delivered the final blows, seizing their victory. The fight was over.

Performers wearing 'Lucha Libre' Mexican wrestler's masks take part in a choreographed dance ahead of an exhibition Lucha Libre wrestling match starring current Lucha Libre welterweight champion luchador, Cassandro El Exotico, at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, France, 03 November 2014. epa / Ian Langsdon

Performers wearing ‘Lucha Libre’ Mexican wrestler’s masks take part in a choreographed dance ahead of an exhibition Lucha Libre wrestling match starring current Lucha Libre welterweight champion luchador, Cassandro El Exotico, at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, France, 03 November 2014. epa / Ian Langsdon

Back home that night, I was reviewing the picture production and struggling with the edit, as many shots had distracting colourful clutter in the background. Suddenly a Facebook notification popped up inviting me to join ‘Black & White photo-challenge’ that had been going viral all week. This, along with Benjamin Legier’s support, inspired me to make an entire edit in black and white, which ultimately solved the background issue, allowing the photos to focus on the action and expressions instead.

The crowd cheer as Cassandro El Exotico celebrates defeating the Rudos team during a Lucha Libre wrestling exhibition match at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, France, 03 November 2014. epa / Ian Langsdon

The crowd cheer as Cassandro El Exotico celebrates defeating the Rudos team during a Lucha Libre wrestling exhibition match at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, France, 03 November 2014. epa / Ian Langsdon

A few days after the picture package release, Italian news website Panorama picked up the story, writing a full article about Cassandro, using the full feature as a slideshow.
This was a great surprise after what can only be described as a truly surprising assignment!

Cassandro El Exotico feature package on epa.eu

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Chile floods – a tsunami of mud in the Atacama desert

By Felipe Trueba

 A general view shows a coast zone destroyed by floods of last 25 March, in the locality of Chanaral, some 800 km north of Santiago, Chile, 26 March 2015. epa/efe/Felipe Trueba

A general view shows a coast zone destroyed by floods of last 25 March, in the locality of Chanaral, some 800 km north of Santiago, Chile, 26 March 2015. epa/efe/Felipe Trueba

Chile is a peculiar country. With an average width of 180 km and a lenght of 4300 km, the green and lush landscapes dominate the South, whereas the Atacama desert rules in the North – sand rocks and heat.

Two weeks ago it was just the opposite. The southern regions were suffering from drought with wildfires raging in some national parks. And then it started to rain in the North…

On Wednesday 25th March, I had just got back to the office after lunch when I saw my boss watching the breaking news on TV – the early reports were showing twitter pictures of cars stuck in water and rivers overflowing the streets in cities like Copiapo and Antofagasta. Intense raining in the upper part of the Andes and the impermeable soil of the desert caused huge masses of water to descend rapidly through wide ravines. “You’d better start packing…”, he said.

A view of a mud-covered car abandoned on a flooded road, in downtown Copiapo, 800 km north of Santiago de Chile, Chile, early morning 26 March 2015. epa/efe/ Felipe Trueba

A view of a mud-covered car abandoned on a flooded road, in downtown Copiapo, 800 km north of Santiago de Chile, Chile, early morning 26 March 2015. epa/efe/ Felipe Trueba

I scrambled up the gear, went home for some clothes and two hours later I was heading north in a little car with two fellow photographers and a videographer. The radio kept us informed of the scale of the unfolding disaster. Flash floods in areas where it hadn´t rained heavily for 20 years had swept whole villages away. As we were driving, Mario, my colleague in Santiago, was putting the first images on the wire, ringing friends and every possible contact in order to get some pictures.

People try to cross a street after a flood in Copiapo, Chile, 26 March 2015. epa / Felipe Trueba

People try to cross a street after a flood in Copiapo, Chile, 26 March 2015. epa/efe/Felipe Trueba

Eight hours and 800 km on single lane roads later, just after midnight, we got to the city of Copiapo. Here the river had burst the banks and flooded downtown. When the car got stuck in mud, we took the cameras and laptops and left for a short trip around the nearby streets. The task took us longer than expected as we didn´t get back to the vehicle for two days.

Chilean soldiers help a group of people that were crossing the river flow formed after torrential floods and rains in Charañal, 1000 km north of Santiago de Chile, Chile, 27 March 2015. epa / Felipe Trueba

Chilean soldiers help a group of people that were crossing the river flow formed after torrential floods and rains in Charañal, 1000 km north of Santiago de Chile, Chile, 27 March 2015. epa/efe/Felipe Trueba

For hours we waded through an empty city and rivers of mud, with cars and containers littered all around. We finally got to a school where neighbours were taking shelter. Somehow internet was working, so I sent the first images and a short video in underpants, as my trousers hung on a line to dry.

By dawn all four of us were back on the streets shooting. We managed to get a ride to a nearby village that had suffered the full force of the water. Whole houses had disappeared under tons of mud and people were helping each other in their search for relatives. Pictures were filed on the spot and we kept going.

A general view of the wreckage caused by the river flow formed after torrential floods and rains in Charañal, 1000 km north of Santiago de Chile, Chile, 27 March 2015. epa / Felipe Trueba

Chile Floods: A general view of the wreckage caused by the river flow formed after torrential floods and rains in Charañal, 1000 km north of Santiago de Chile, Chile, 27 March 2015. epa/efe/Felipe Trueba

We ran into two other photographers, joined forces and tried to get to Chañaral, a little village 200 km north of Copiapo. Located exactly where a ravine flows into the sea, its inhabitants have always been very aware of possible tsunamis after earthquakes, so frequent in this region. However, nobody realised the giant wave of water and debris coming from the mountains that hit them on Wednesday. Official warning came late and all the constructions on and near the once dry riverbed were obliterated. Footage recorded on mobile by neighbours shows mining trucks, iron tanks and whole houses being wiped out.

We got there by late afternoon. A third of the village had dissapeared. I moved hastily shooting pictures and video with the last rays of the day. With no power in town and under curfew we plugged the laptops into the car engine using a converter. Only one mobile internet connection was working, so we shared it and slowly -very slowly- the images were sent as soldiers on patrol walked past us from time to time. In the school converted into an improvised shelter we slept for a couple of hours, next to a group of volunteers preparing emergency food rations for those who had lost everything.

A group of people observe an area affected by floods of last 25 March, in the locality of Chanaral, some 800 km north of Santiago, Chile, 26 March 2015. epa / Felipe Trueba

Chile Floods: A group of people observe an area affected by floods of last 25 March, in the locality of Chanaral, some 800 km north of Santiago, Chile, 26 March 2015. epa/efe/Felipe Trueba

For the next two days we kept working in the same way: A group of photographers cramped in a car, editing in the back of the pick up while travelling from one village to another. We would work in the area for some hours and go out again in search for internet for our daily dispatch. During the first few days of chaos people helped each other at great length as the Government and the military had been caught on the hop. To this day, the official figures count 26 dead and 126 people missing.

A general view shows a pick up truck covered in mud after three days of torrential floods and rains, in Diego de Almagro, some 1,000 km north of Santiago de Chile, Chile, 28 March 2015. epa / Felipe Trueba

Chile Floods: A general view shows a pick up truck covered in mud after three days of torrential floods and rains, in Diego de Almagro, some 1,000 km north of Santiago de Chile, Chile, 28 March 2015. epa/efe/Felipe Trueba

I have always admired the stoicism Chileans show in moments of great adversity. But the woman I encountered trying to remove –literally- tons of mud from her home with a little shovel took me by surprise. She invited me to go inside and have a look around. “But, please… wipe your feet first!”, she grinned. At least, the water hadn´t taken everything from her.

A couple remove mud from their house after torrential rains and floods in Diego de Almagro, Chile, 28 March 2015. epa / Felipe Trueba

Chile Floods: A couple remove mud from their house after torrential rains and floods in Diego de Almagro, Chile, 28 March 2015. epa/efe/Felipe Trueba

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Sandhill cranes in central Nebraska

By Jim Lo Scalzo

Dozens of Sandhill cranes fly past the setting sun during their annual migration through central Nebraska just outside Gibbon, Nebraska, USA, 26 March 2014. epa / Jim Lo Scalzo

Dozens of Sandhill cranes fly past the setting sun during their annual migration through central Nebraska just outside Gibbon, Nebraska, USA, 26 March 2014. epa / Jim Lo Scalzo

When I first sought to photograph a feature package on Sandhill cranes in central Nebraska, I thought it would be a welcome respite from covering politicians at podiums in Washington, DC. I was only half right.

Every March, up to a half million of these large birds pause in Nebraska’s Platte River Valley to rest and refuel during their annual migration north to the Arctic. During the day, they feed in farmers’ fields on last year’s corn and are difficult to approach. But in the evening, they gather in groups, called sieges, and sleep in the braids of the Platte River—a defense against coyotes and other predators.

A Sandhill crane spreads its wings after spending the night on the Platte River during the bird's annual migration through central Nebraska just outside Gibbon, Nebraska, USA, 26 March 2014. epa / Jim Lo Scalzo

A Sandhill crane spreads its wings after spending the night on the Platte River during the bird’s annual migration through central Nebraska just outside Gibbon, Nebraska, USA, 26 March 2014. epa / Jim Lo Scalzo

Wilderness groups such as Audubon and The Nature Conservancy have bought up much of these riverbanks to help protect the birds—and they rent out a handful of one-person blinds (wooden boxes, 8-feet-long, 6-feet wide, and just 4-feet tall) with holes on one side from which the birds can be pictured.

Dozens of Sandhill cranes are seen before dawn through the windows of a viewing blind after the birds spent the night on the Platte River during their annual migration through central Nebraska just outside Gibbon, Nebraska, USA, 26 March 2014. epa / Jim Lo Scalzo

Dozens of Sandhill cranes are seen before dawn through the windows of a viewing blind after the birds spent the night on the Platte River during their annual migration through central Nebraska just outside Gibbon, Nebraska, USA, 26 March 2014. epa / Jim Lo Scalzo

However, the blind rental comes with a serious—perhaps even silly—number of restrictions. You are not allowed to drive out to the blinds on your own; instead, to minimize disturbance to the birds, the staff drive you out to your blind at 5 in the afternoon (well before the birds land), and they don’t pick you up until 9 the next morning (well after they’ve left). And in between you are not allowed to leave the box. That means you’re spending the night outside in winter—the dirt floor your bed, a bucket your bathroom. Should the birds not land near your blind, you have no recourse but to try again the next night.

In March 2014, North American Photo Director Matt Campbell gave me the go-ahead to visit the area. On my first night in a blind, I unrolled my sleeping bag, mounted a 400 2.8 on a tripod, and waited. And waited. And waited.

A Sandhill crane takes flight on a misty morning after spending the night on the Platte River during their annual migration through central Nebraska just outside Gibbon, Nebraska, USA, 27 March 2014. epa / Jim Lo Scalzo

A Sandhill crane takes flight on a misty morning after spending the night on the Platte River during their annual migration through central Nebraska just outside Gibbon, Nebraska, USA, 27 March 2014. epa / Jim Lo Scalzo

Well past dusk I heard a terrific racket overhead, and watched the silhouettes of thousands of squawking cranes land several hundred of yards away, out of photo range. I was hosed. I slid into my sleeping bag, cold and frustrated, trying to make a pillow of one of my coats. It was 28 degrees, and I was just drifting off when a mouse ran across my face.

Dozens of Sandhill cranes are pictured after dusk flying above the Platte River during their annual migration through central Nebraska just outside Gibbon, Nebraska, USA, 26 March 2014. epa / Jim Lo Scalzo

Dozens of Sandhill cranes are pictured after dusk flying above the Platte River during their annual migration through central Nebraska just outside Gibbon, Nebraska, USA, 26 March 2014. epa / Jim Lo Scalzo

In the coming nights my luck improved somewhat, though with the birds not landing until well after dusk I found myself shooting increasingly desperate exposures: 30 seconds, three minutes, five minutes. In the end I felt my coverage was incomplete; Campbell agreed to let me give it another go the following year. So last week I again flew to Omaha, drove to the center of Nebraska, and spent three more nights in those wooden torture boxes.

A Sandhill crane takes flight after spending the night on the Platte River during the species' annual migration through central Nebraska just outside Alda, Nebraska, USA, 20 March 2015. epa / Jim Lo Scalzo

A Sandhill crane takes flight after spending the night on the Platte River during the species’ annual migration through central Nebraska just outside Alda, Nebraska, USA, 20 March 2015. epa / Jim Lo Scalzo

Some evenings and mornings worked, some didn’t. And therein lies the aggravation, and the fun—for me at least—of wildlife photography. Unlike photo-ops in DC, which run on schedule and look precisely as you expect, making pictures of cranes required a less predictable element: luck. And if I was short on it more often than I wished, the breadth of a feature package—less the coverage of a single event than an accumulation of minor successes—helped cover those cold nights when the pictures I wished to make were just out of reach.

Sandhill Cranes feature package on epa.eu

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Cape Town Fire

By Nic Bothma

Cape Town fire: Fire fighters decend the side of Silvermine mountain to tackle a blaze raging in the Tokai forest, Cape Town, South Africa, 03 March 2015. epa / Nic Bothma

Cape Town fire: Fire fighters decend the side of Silvermine mountain to tackle a blaze raging in the Tokai forest, Cape Town, South Africa, 03 March 2015. epa / Nic Bothma

Its all my wife’s fault. At 2am on a Sunday night I was woken by her exclaiming ‘aaargh ! the mountain is on fire’. I swore at her for waking me up and tried to go back to sleep. 5 minutes later cogs started turning in my head and I realised it was no time to sleep !

From my balcony I could see a massive swathe of red clouds from the light reflected from an entire mountain in flames as they raced over the mountain tops in a strong wind, it was dramatic, Armageddon like.

Cape Town fire: A bird flies through burning embers and smoke from a raging fire in Noordhoek, Cape Town, South Africa 02 March 2015. epa / Nic Bothma

Cape Town fire: A bird flies through burning embers and smoke from a raging fire in Noordhoek, Cape Town, South Africa 02 March 2015. epa / Nic Bothma

10 minutes later I was on my off-road motorcycle, a crucial piece of equipment on this story, and heading towards the light.

I followed ambulances into an old age home in the midst of an evacuation as the fire marched relentlessly towards them.

For the next week the fire raged on my back yard, so to speak, giving me a distinct ‘home game’ advantage. I know the areas around the mountains above my home well and using a motorcycle allowed me to get to where I thought would be best. The fire was burning on several fronts and establishing where the pictures would be was the challenge.

A firefighter tries to stop a blaze in Noordhoek Manor old age home, Cape Town, South Africa, 02 March 2015. epa / Nic Bothma

A firefighter tries to stop a blaze in Noordhoek Manor old age home, Cape Town, South Africa, 02 March 2015. epa / Nic Bothma

The scale and ferocity of this fire was unprecedented in Cape Town. The Cape is often referred to as the Cape of Storms as we are continually battered by strong winds. This wind causes a bush fire to rapidly turn into a raging, out of control inferno. The geography of Cape Town is also unique with mountain ranges meandering through communities making areas under threat varied and hard to predict.

Cape Town fire: The sun rises through thick smoke hanging over the Noordhoek Valley from a Fynbos vegetation fire on the World Heritage site Table Mountain National Park three days after it started in Muizenberg, Cape Town, South Africa, 03 March 2015. epa / Nic Bothma

Cape Town fire: The sun rises through thick smoke hanging over the Noordhoek Valley from a Fynbos vegetation fire on the World Heritage site Table Mountain National Park three days after it started in Muizenberg, Cape Town, South Africa, 03 March 2015. epa / Nic Bothma

Thick smoke filled valleys and gorges and motocross goggles and surgical masks were crucial pieces of equipment.

Social media on this story (and many others it seems these days!) did not really help in my opinion. In terms of the news reporting there were so many inaccurate posts with people saying ‘its all over we about to die’ but upon arriving at their locations I would find the fire still far away and not threatening at all! This happened all the time with panic and rumour thriving through the social networks actually impeding on the proper news reporting we needed.

A fire rages in the Tokai forest behind my Yamaha TTR 250 off-road motorcycle, a crucial piece of equipment in document this fire. epa / Nic Bothma

A fire rages in the Tokai forest behind my Yamaha TTR 250 off-road motorcycle, a crucial piece of equipment in document this fire. epa / Nic Bothma

Social media in my opinion was also to blame when some authorities did their best to block access to journalists. In this age of instant gratification, regardless of accuracy, everybody is a photographer, social media mayhem working as a bona fide journalist is difficult. At each police checkpoint they had already turned away a hundred ‘photographers’ wanting to get pictures of the fire so despite the correct credentials it was sometimes impossible to gain access.

Rescue personnel evacuate old-aged pensioners from Noordhoek Manor old-age-home in Cape Town, South Africa, 02 March 2015. epa / Nic Bothma

Rescue personnel evacuate old-aged pensioners from Noordhoek Manor old-age-home in Cape Town, South Africa, 02 March 2015. epa / Nic Bothma

On the fifth day I received a fine for ‘failing to comply with management authority’ as I accessed an area beyond a police cordon. I guess it was the authorities special way of saying thank you for the awareness spread by photojournalists during the week.

On the positive side, communities worked well together to co-ordinate their efforts through neighbourhood watch groups on radios liaising with rescue and fire personal to most effectively direct resources. Communities spontaneously started collection points for food and water to replenish the fire fighters who are largely made up of volunteers.

A very positive spin off from our work was seeing a massive outpouring of contributions to an elderly couple i photographed who had their entire home destroyed.

Eighty two year old resident Fran Collings sits amongst the remains of her destroyed home in Tokai, Cape Town, South Africa 04 March 2015. width=

Eighty two year old resident Fran Collings sits amongst the remains of her destroyed home in Tokai, Cape Town, South Africa 04 March 2015. epa / Nic Bothma

People phoned and mailed me for days asking for their contacts so they could donate. It felt good to have such a direct and positive effect from a picture.

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“I am convinced they are still alive.” – Relatives of the missing MH370 passengers

by Wu Hong

A shadow shows people hanging a message during the event 'Love U MH370' in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 30 March 2014. epa/Ahmad Yusni

A shadow shows people hanging a message during the event ‘Love U MH370′ in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 30 March 2014. epa/Ahmad Yusni

At 6pm on 09 February 2015, Xie Xiucui from Lianyungang, Jiangsu Province, and her husband, Feng Zhishan are having dinner in their make shift home. They live in a hut on the outskirts of Beijing, surrounded by a huge piece of farmland and sand mining sites. The hut is only lit by one single light bulb and costs them three hundred Yuan (44 Euros) a month. In their view, the rent has become their biggest daily expense.

Xie Xiucui, 45, from China's Jiangsu province, stands outside her rental room in rural Yizhuang of Beijing, China, 09 February 2015. epa/Wu Hong

Xie Xiucui, 45, from China’s Jiangsu province, stands outside her rental room in rural Yizhuang of Beijing, China, 09 February 2015. epa/Wu Hong

“The rice for the millet gruel is picked from the trash in the afternoon, the cabbage picked from the rotten ones thrown out in the next village, only the steamed bread I bought.” Xie Xiucui comments on their food sources for dinner, almost a little happily while helping me fill a small bowl of rice, having politely invited me for dinner. According to her, these almost free food supplies have greatly reduced their daily expenses. The taste of the porridge is musty.

Like so many of China’s 670 million farmers, Xie and Feng, though not well-off, used to live a peaceful life managing their family farmland. But all this changed on 08 March 2014 when their twenty-one year-old son Feng Dong, a construction worker living in Singapore, became one of the passengers of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 that disappeared an hour after taking off in Kuala Lumpur. “The money was borrowed from relatives. We have been here in Beijing for months now in order to find our son. The family farmland has been abandoned.” Feng and other relatives of the passengers of MH370 all buy tickets to fly to Kuala Lumpur on 11 February in order to be closer to their loved ones for the first anniversary of their disappearance.

Feng Zhishan (L), from China's Jiangsu province, selects a lucky day from a traditional Chinese almanac for their flight to Malaysia, in a rental room in rural Yizhuang of Beijing, China, 09 February 2015. epa/Wu Hong

Feng Zhishan (L), from China’s Jiangsu province, selects a lucky day from a traditional Chinese almanac for their flight to Malaysia, in a rental room in rural Yizhuang of Beijing, China, 09 February 2015. epa/Wu Hong

The very day they buy their tickets, the family members all travel together to Sanlitun Beijing Pacific Century, Malaysia Airline’s headquarters to protest. Hours later, I receive a message from the family saying that despite promises, there had not been an answer that day, and that no Malaysia Airlines senior official had come to see them.

To this day, family members of passengers of MH370 travel to the outskirts of Beijing to the Shunyi Malaysia Airline family support center three times a week every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to communicate with Malaysia Airline and government staff, to submit their doubts and protests. They also make periodic protests at the Malaysian embassy. On more than one occasion, scuffles ensued, where many of the protesters fell and ambulances had to be called in. There were repeated calls by the police for the family members to leave this ‘illegal rally’.

Relatives of Chinese passengers of the missing MH370 hold placards protesting Malaysia's declaration of the flight an accident without proof, as they try to reach the Malaysian embassy in Beijing, China, 06 February 2015. epa/Wu Hong

Relatives of Chinese passengers of the missing MH370 hold placards protesting Malaysia’s declaration of the flight an accident without proof, as they try to reach the Malaysian embassy in Beijing, China, 06 February 2015. epa/Wu Hong

Sixty-year-old Beijing native, Dai Shuqin, tells me that her sister’s family of five are all passengers of MH370. Dai Shuqin looks at her sister’s family photograph on the table and says: “I am just an ordinary person, no money, no background, retired, they have no handle on me. I am not afraid. I am convinced that they are still alive!”

Dai Shuqin, 62, displays a picture of missing relatives at home in Beijing, China, 01 March 2015. epa/Wu Hong

Dai Shuqin, 62, displays a picture of missing relatives at home in Beijing, China, 01 March 2015. epa/Wu Hong

Please see here the entire feature package by Wu Hong

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Alpine World Ski Championships

As the historic winter in Boston, Massachusetts, continued its pounding snowfall (currently less than 2 inches (5 cm) away from the greatest winter snowfall total ever!) what better assignment than to head to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado with an experienced team of epa photographers to cover the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships 2015 in Vail and Beaver Creek, Colorado!

epa San Francisco, USA staff photographer John Mabanglo, epa Sofia, Bulgaria staff photographer Vassil Donev and I who all were part of epa’s FIS Alpine World Ski Championships coverage team in Rosa Khutor during the Sochi Olympics were joined by epa Salt Lake City stringer George Frey for coverage of the more than 2-week-long event featuring men’s and women’s events including Downhill, Super-G, Giant Slalom, Slalom and a Nations Cup event to name a few.

epa's FIS Alpine World Ski Championships 2015 coverage team clockwise from top left: Matt Campbell, Vassil Donev, George Frey and John Mabanglo

epa’s FIS Alpine World Ski Championships 2015 coverage team clockwise from top left: Matt Campbell, Vassil Donev, George Frey and John Mabanglo

Several epa member agencies including dpa, APA and Keystone also had photographers covering the event.

John Mabanglo and I arrived in late January to work on the technical arrangements and set up. For starters, with an event of this magnitude, epa direct validates coverage of the event. The editor on site (me!) has hardware and software which allows me to edit and caption the photographers images and directly put those images into the epa system, rather than sending them first to editors in Frankfurt, Germany for processing and validation into the system and distribution to epa’s clients. This allows for a faster delivery of the images to clients and allows one on-site editor to deal with the considerable number of images over the course of such an event (in this case this was many thousands of transmits) and allows the desk operation to concentrate on the daily production from all over the world.

Matt Campbell editing during the 2015 Alpine Ski World Championship

Matt Campbell editing during the 2015 Alpine Ski World Championship

As is the case in most major events epa covers, the rapid delivery of images from photographers to an editor is a must. While epa ran hard lines from the editors to several photo positions in Rosa Khutor during the Sochi Olympics, in this case we were not able to do so and had to find solutions for near real-time delivery. The finish line main position was cabled by the organizers on-site and we were able to work with the techs at Safari Telecom to set up our line to drop directly to me in the media center. Filing from photo positions up on the mountain on the Birds of Prey and Raptor courses is of course much more challenging. As we learned with great happiness, the organizers were also able to arrange for some new cell towers to be installed by some of the major mobile phone companies and the 4G/LTE signals on site were excellent. Through the entire event, our photographers shooting from the course were able to file quite rapidly using MiFis on those 4G/LTE networks to nearly in real-time transmit images of skiers in action during the multitude of races.

Anna Fenninger of Austria during her run in the Ladies Super-G at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Beaver Creek, Colorado, USA, 03 February 2015. epa / George Frey

Anna Fenninger of Austria during her run in the Ladies Super-G at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Beaver Creek, Colorado, USA, 03 February 2015. epa / George Frey

Francis Bompard was chosen as the Photo Chief by Vail/Beaver Creek 2015 and working with Francis was an absolute joy! All of us had also worked with Francis a year ago as he was also the Photo Chief at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center during the Sochi Olympics. Not enough can be said about working with a chief who is a photographer, knows what photographers need and knows how to walk the line between photographers, organizers and safety rules and make everyone happy!

Jessica Vikarby-Lindell of Sweden during her second run in the Ladies' Giant Slalom at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Beaver Creek, Colorado, USA, 12 February 2015. epa / Vassil Donev

Jessica Vikarby-Lindell of Sweden during her second run in the Ladies’ Giant Slalom at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Beaver Creek, Colorado, USA, 12 February 2015. epa / Vassil Donev

Thankfully, the weather cooperated during virtually the entire event and there were almost no cancellations or postponements. The days were long with a men’s or women’s event every day on the mountain followed by a medal ceremony down in Vail Village every night. Probably the worst weather of the two weeks was during the second and final run of the Men’s Slalom on the final day of the event were heavy snow made it difficult to see some of the competitors even from a short distance!

While any event more than two weeks long does start to become a grind, especially with a 6 am alarm clock every morning, any job is that much more enjoyable with a talented and hard-working team and a technical side that goes off flawlessly! We were able to rent condos as well for the duration of the event which allowed us to cook at home almost every night, a great way to spend time with colleagues and bring down food costs too!

The event was great and we wish the best to the epa team covering the 2017 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

Tina Maze of Slovenia reacts after her run in the Ladies' Alpine Combined-Slalom at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Beaver Creek, Colorado, USA, 09 February 2015. epa/John G. Mabanglo

Tina Maze of Slovenia reacts after her run in the Ladies’ Alpine Combined-Slalom at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Beaver Creek, Colorado, USA, 09 February 2015. epa/John G. Mabanglo

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The Dakar – Chasing Dust and Pilots in the Desert

By Felipe Trueba

The first Dakar Rally took place in 1978 starting in Paris and finishing in the Senegalese city of Dakar. With the passing of time, the Paris-Dakar Rally has become the most famous race of its type, only available to wealthy motor loving adventurers. In 2008 the competition was cancelled at the very last minute due to terrorist threats in the African stages. The French organization decided to change continent and from 2009 this rally has been racing through South America.

Danish driver Jes Munk (R) and his French co-driver Sebastien Delaunay (L) of Polaris team during the start of the eighth stage of Rally Dakar 2015 between Uyuni, Bolivia and Iquique, Chile, 11 January 2015. epa / efe / Felipe Trueba

Danish driver Jes Munk (R) and his French co-driver Sebastien Delaunay (L) of Polaris team during the start of the eighth stage of Rally Dakar 2015 between Uyuni, Bolivia and Iquique, Chile, 11 January 2015. epa / efe / Felipe Trueba

The Dakar is not exactly a rally, it is more of a raid, as for two weeks professionals and amateurs (80% of the pilots) battle through different terrains in four categories – motorbikes, quads, cars and trucks. During the first two weeks of January, around 430 participants try to complete more than 10.000 kilometers riding off-road in scorching heat.

This year the course did a loop – starting in Buenos Aires, across the Andes into Chile and then heading north along the Pacific coast to the city of Iquique. From there it takes a short dip into the saltflat in Uyuni, Bolivia, and into the Atacama Desert again, before heading back to the Argentinean capital.

Russian Andrey Karginov from Kamaz team during the 10th stage of rally Dakar 2015 running between Calama (Chile) and Salta (Argentina), 14 January 2015. epa / efe / Felipe Trueba

Russian Andrey Karginov from Kamaz team during the 10th stage of rally Dakar 2015 running between Calama (Chile) and Salta (Argentina), 14 January 2015. epa / efe / Felipe Trueba

This was my third full coverage of the race. I have worked on big events such as the Olympic Games or the Football World Cup but nothing compares to the Dakar, by far the most demanding assignment I have done as a press photographer. It wears you down physically and it´s a constant headache in terms of covering it for a news agency where the quick sending of images is a must.

I have the privilege to be part of a very small group of photographers that work embedded in the race. Colleagues of other agencies covered it by helicopter but I did it by car. I traveled in a 4×4 vehicle provided by the organization, equipped with competition seats and anti-roll bars – special safety measures for off-road driving that makes the car a very uncomfortable space where we (two photographers and two drivers) spent an average of ten to twelve hours a day.

epa / efe / Felipe Trueba

epa / efe / Felipe Trueba

A normal day “in the office”: Each night photojournalists and drivers get together to examine the next day’s stage and choose a spot on the track to wait for the competitors. The route that the pilots follow is secret and the organization only provides three or four press points. These points are GPS coordinates that competitors have to pass. We would calculate the distance to that press point and how long it would take us to get there, most of the time off-road. Once we get to the spot, we wait. At some point the competitors will whiz past us (not much margin for error), we will shoot the pictures and then move on to the next bivouac.

You get up at 4 am, drive for hours to a single GPS point (in stages that average 800 km), take pictures, move on, arrive at the camp at night, send your images, have something to eat and sometimes a shower, have a nap, wake up in the middle of the night and start all over again.
That´s the easy part.

But there are times when you wait for hours at the press point and nothing happens because the stage has been modified. Another day you drive for four, five, six hours to get there and you miss the leading pilots by just three minutes. Sometimes you are on top of a dune and competitors drive past the next one – surrounded by sandy hills, you hear their engines but you don’t see them. You try to catch up with them by running up a big dune with two cameras on your shoulders and other gear. Good luck with that. Two hundred meters is a very long distance in the desert.

Bolivian rider Juan Carlos Salvatierra (L) and Dutch Hans Vogels compete during the second stage of the 2015 Rally Dakar, between Villa Carlos Paz and San Juan, Argentina, 05 January 2015. epa / efe / Felipe Trueba

Bolivian rider Juan Carlos Salvatierra (L) and Dutch Hans Vogels compete during the second stage of the 2015 Rally Dakar, between Villa Carlos Paz and San Juan, Argentina, 05 January 2015. epa / efe / Felipe Trueba

Filing pictures is another nightmare. In those remote places forget about wi-fi or any normal internet connection. I usually file the most important pictures with a satellite phone and the rest back at the bivouac when we arrive at night, way past the deadlines in Europe.

US driver Robby Gordon from Hummer in action during the 9th stage of rally Dakar 2015 running between Iquique and Calama, Chile, 13 January 2015. epa /efe / Felipe Trueba

US driver Robby Gordon from Hummer in action during the 9th stage of rally Dakar 2015 running between Iquique and Calama, Chile, 13 January 2015. epa / efe / Felipe Trueba

A good night’s sleep is something you cherish after just two days into the competition. I think I sleep an average of four hours each night. After three days I don’t even bother to open my sleeping bag and I am able to have a nap on top of just about anything – hard sand, rocks, you name it. After the initial tiredness your body adapts to the challenge. You have micro sleeps, travelling in the car or sitting on a rock waiting for the race. Two weeks after the end of the rally I am still not able to sleep six hours straight.

Portuguese rider Paulo Goncalves of the HRC team competes in the fifth stage of the Rally Dakar 2015 between Copiapo and Antofagasta in Chile, 08 January 2015. epa / efe / Felipe Trueba

Portuguese rider Paulo Goncalves of the HRC team competes in the fifth stage of the Rally Dakar 2015 between Copiapo and Antofagasta in Chile, 08 January 2015. epa / efe / Felipe Trueba

You and your gear suffer. A lot. Everything is permanently covered in dust and it doesn´t take long before your lenses sound like sand grinders. The cameras overheat and start malfunctioning in temperatures reaching 40ºC. Two weeks in the desert and your laptop is ruined. Guaranteed.

Spanish driver Nani Roma and his French co-driver Michel Perin of Mini team compete in the third stage of 2015 Rally Dakar between San Juan and Chilecito, Argentina, 06 January 2015. epa / efe / Felipe Trueba

Spanish driver Nani Roma and his French co-driver Michel Perin of Mini team compete in the third stage of 2015 Rally Dakar between San Juan and Chilecito, Argentina, 06 January 2015. epa / efe / Felipe Trueba

But then again I enjoy the Dakar for the adventure it is. Every day is different, with plenty of anecdotes, beautiful sunsets, and some extraordinary scenery that lifts your spirit. This year I crossed the Andes four times in less than a week and felt privileged to experience a sunrise in the middle of Uyuni´s famous saltflat. You are alone out there – no internet, no phone, no way to be contacted. But best of all, no health and safety rules. Out in the wild, nobody tells you where to stand or what to do. It’s you against a 300 HP beast coming roaring towards you. You decide if you move aside or not.

A car drives during sunset through the Salar de Uyuni salt flat, Bolivia, 11 January 2014. epa ( efe / Felipe Trueba

A car drives during sunset through the Salar de Uyuni salt flat, Bolivia, 11 January 2014. epa / efe / Felipe Trueba

I reckon I have traveled over 30.000 kilometers covering this race during the last three years. One more Dakar and I will have completed the equivalent of a full trip around the world, chasing cars and pilots through mountains and deserts.

I have suffered and enjoyed every meter of it.

Felipe Trueba, 11 January  2014 in Uyuni, Bolivia. Courtesy of Dean Mouhtaropoulos

Felipe Trueba, 11 January 2014 in Uyuni, Bolivia. Courtesy of Dean Mouhtaropoulos

Follow us on Facebook and on Twitter to stay in touch for more insightful stories from behind the scenes. Please also take a look at our Dakar 2015 slideshow on Youtube:

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New York Fashion Week

by Peter Foley

Russian model Vlada Roslyakova (front) and other models present creations from the Fall 2015 collection by Ralph Lauren during the New York Fashion Week (Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week) on 19 February 2015. epa/Peter Foley

Russian model Vlada Roslyakova (front) and other models present creations from the Fall 2015 collection by Ralph Lauren during the New York Fashion Week (Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week) on 19 February 2015. epa/Peter Foley

It was eleven or twelve years ago, having only been stringing for EPA a relatively short time when I got a call from Matt Campbell [then NYC Bureau Chief, now epa’s Director North America] who was coordinating US assignments, he said go down to Bryant Park and give Jason Szenes a hand with fashion. I remember exactly what I said; “you don’t have to ask me twice”. I get to photograph beautiful women and you pay me for that- well ok somebody’s got to do it. So I get to Bryant Park, find Jason and he say’s “have you ever photographed fashion before” I say no, he rolls his eyes and tells me when the model’s right foot crosses over the left, click the shutter, everything else looks like crap. It was one of the single best pieces of photography advice I ever received.

A model presents a creation from the Fall 2015 collection by Badgley Mischka during the New York Fashion Week (Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week) on 17 February 2015. epa/Peter Foley.

A model presents a creation from the Fall 2015 collection by Badgley Mischka during the New York Fashion Week (Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week) on 17 February 2015. epa/Peter Foley.

Jason had shot fashion for a few years for different agencies and was an old pro by then, I was the rookie but together we became epa’s New York fashion shooters. Fast forward to the luckiest day of the year, Friday the 13th February 2015. The second day of the fall/winter fashion shows at Lincoln Center and splashed on the front page of the New York Times ABOVE THE FOLD a beautiful image by our Bureau Chief Justin Lane taken on the first day of fashion. To let you know how rarely this occurs I can only remember two or three fashion pictures in more than 10 years ever on the front page of the NYT’s and they were below the fold. Justin is a unique talent and I’m always glad he’s on our team.

NY_Times

Every New York fashion season presents its own particular set of challenges, this season being no different. We start off with 10-15 below zero temperatures, I’m not complaining because a couple of hundred miles to the North, Boston I think has 10-15 feet of snow maybe not that much but it’s deep. New Yorkers are used to cold winters but this is Minnesota cold.

Well that’s enough history, chest thumping and weather reports, you all wanna know what is New York fashion week really like. I think from a photographer’s view point you either love it or hate it and I do love it. You do face a certain amount of small indignities like waiting long hours sometimes for the shows to start, being crammed into the “Pit” that can fit 50 photographers but somehow we manage to fit over 100. That everywhere you go, you need a special credential –runway-front row-backstage- but when it’s all said and done and the lights come up, the music starts to beat and those gene pool lottery winners start to strut their stuff- it’s really exciting and you as a photographer start to think maybe today I will catch that perfect moment. When the light, the subject and the composition magically appear through the lens and you capture it. All photographers live for that moment. Well that’s enough for now, next installment we’ll dish the dirt on those world famous fashion designers… and I will leave you with one of my favorite backstage pics from last season’s Malan Breton show, a little risqué!

A model checks her makeup in a mirror backstage before the Malan Breton fashion show Models present creations from the Monique Lhuillier Fall 2015 collection during the New York Fashion Week (Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week) on 06 September 2014. epa/Peter Foley

A model checks her makeup in a mirror backstage before the Malan Breton fashion show Models present creations from the Monique Lhuillier Fall 2015 collection during the New York Fashion Week (Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week) on 06 September 2014. epa/Peter Foley

More images from the Fashion Week in New York

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Australian Open

By Filip Singer

Andy Murray of Britain reacts against Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria in their fourth round match at the Australian Open Grand Slam tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, 25 January 2015. epa/Filip Singer

Andy Murray of Britain reacts against Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria in their fourth round match at the Australian Open Grand Slam tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, 25 January 2015. epa/Filip Singer

Australian Open was the first Grand Slam tournament for me. I knew it was going to be something different, something special. The first four days before the tournament we covered many training sessions of top seed players and press conferences. ‘Melbourne Park’ looked to me like a small tennis city with its 22 outside courts.

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Never Say Never – Super Bowl XLIX

by Tannen Maury

“It never rains like this in Phoenix!” This is what the epa team heard over and over during the week leading up to The Big Game, aka Super Bowl XLIX, in normally dry Phoenix, Arizona. Unfortunately for those of us who traveled from areas in the midst of winter’s grip looking forward to some bright sunshine and warm temperatures, this was not the case as it was cloudy, cool, and raining most of the week.

A pedestrian makes his way through the snow covered streets in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, 27 January 2015. A blizzard that could bring up to 36 inches (92 cm) of snow is blanketing the region. Boston's transportation services will be suspended, officials say. Regional train service between New York and Boston has also been cancelled. Travel bans were also put in place. epa/CJ Gunter

A pedestrian makes his way through the snow covered streets in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, 27 January 2015. A blizzard that could bring up to 36 inches (92 cm) of snow is blanketing the region. Boston’s transportation services will be suspended, officials say. Regional train service between New York and Boston has also been cancelled. Travel bans were also put in place. epa/CJ Gunter

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#jesuischarlie – Paris in January

by Ian Langsdon

People gather around the monument on Place de la Nation as millions of people march against terrorism in Paris, France, 11 January 2015. epa/Ian Langsdon

People gather around the monument on Place de la Nation as millions of people march against terrorism in Paris, France, 11 January 2015. epa/Ian Langsdon

As photojournalists, we’re usually conditioned to want to be where the breaking news is. We thrive on the adrenaline rush that big stories deliver. We enjoy the spotlight, when the world media turn their attention to our respective regions. This, however, was not something we wished to enjoy.

France has been expecting attacks for months now, with our ‘Vigipirate’ threat level remaining in the dark-red scale since France’s involvement in Mali three years ago. But these attacks were beyond anything we expected – not by its size, but by its cruelty, its sheer ruthless violence. We saw ourselves in the victims – they may have been cartoonists, not photographers – but it was the sense that freedom of speech, free press, and journalism was being attacked. This was personal.

The last few days tested us. As a nation, with overwhelming displays of unity and solidarity. As a team, pushing our Paris operation beyond its limits. And as individuals, maintaining endurance throughout an emotional ordeal. I’d like to think we emerged from these events stronger, and a big thanks is owed to all those involved and who assisted in the coverage of what was to be the most complex news story of my life.

A sign reads 'Not Afraid' as thousands gather for a candle light vigil on Place de la Republique in central Paris hours after the attack by two gunmen on the 'Charly Hebdo' headquarters in Paris, 07 January 2015. epa/Ian Langsdon

A sign reads ‘Not Afraid’ as thousands gather for a candle light vigil on Place de la Republique in central Paris hours after the attack by two gunmen on the ‘Charly Hebdo’ headquarters in Paris, 07 January 2015. epa/Ian Langsdon

I was still in bed when I received a news flash on my phone that shots were fired at Charlie Hebdo’s headquarters. As I was scheduled off duty and due to leave on vacation the next day, I was about to ignore the beeping phone, when a second, and then a third news flash quickly popped up – I imagined it must have been something big. It was.

The Charlie Hebdo headquarters are only 5 minutes away from my apartment – close enough that I would have clearly heard the gunshots had my windows been open. I called my colleague Yoan Valat, who was aware of the situation but was stuck at the Elysée Palace covering a pool and ended up staying there all day to cover the political response to the unfolding events – Etienne Laurent had been dispatched to the scene. At this point nobody seemed to know what exactly had happened, and the news was only reporting two injuries. I took it upon myself to walk over and pick up Etienne’s cards to edit back at my apartment, allowing him to stay on site. But upon arrival, it became clear this was bigger than what I thought. It was a mayhem of policemen, paramedics and firefighters running in all directions. Police had already established a first perimeter, just one block of buildings aways from the shooting, and were already working on establishing a second ‘outer’ perimeter. Liaising with Etienne, it became clear he would soon be needing a long lens because the police were going to push back media to the second perimeter, and a stepladder would also come in handy to see above the ever-increasing crowd of journalists.

As I made the return trip to my apartment to pick up the necessary gear for Etienne, I was informed that the suspects’ car had been found in North Paris. I rushed up there just in time to get the car lifted onto the back of a truck, while Etienne remained at the shooting site to cover the unexpected visit by President Francois Hollande – his picture of the president gaining play across the globe.

A sombre French President Francis Hollande arrives at the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris 07 January 2014. On right, wearing glasses, is Bernard Cazeneuve, Minister of the Interior. epa/Etienne Laurent

A sombre French President Francis Hollande arrives at the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris 07 January 2014. On right, wearing glasses, is Bernard Cazeneuve, Minister of the Interior. epa/Etienne Laurent

One of the biggest issues we faced that day was our dwindling power supply for camera batteries, phones and 4G wifi units. Etienne and I took turns staking-out the shooting site from the ‘media pen’ the police had allowed journalists to stay in – while the other would go charge up batteries.

As night began to fall, people began spontaneously converging on Place de la Republique, 10 mins away from the Charlie Hedbo headquarters. Upon arrival there, I was immediately taken aback by the eerie silence, as a sombre mood hung over the 5 thousand-strong crowd. The crowd was dense, and it was a struggle to make my way to the centre of the square where people were beginning to light candles at the foot of the monument. Hand-written signs started popping up in the crowd – it was the birth of the now renowned ‘#jesuischarlie’.

Thousands gather for a candle light vigil on Place de la Republique in central Paris, France, 07 January 2015. epa/Ian Langsdon

Thousands gather for a candle light vigil on Place de la Republique in central Paris, France, 07 January 2015. epa/Ian Langsdon

Nobody got much sleep that night. News flashes kept flooding in, and the knowledge that the gunmen were still out there, possibly mounting another attack kept most of the Paris press wide awake. Yoan had rushed to the town of Reims, after reports of a large-scale police raid under way – and he ended up spending the night there.

The next morning, it was looking abundantly clear that my departure for vacation was more and more unlikely. The Elysée palace was to be my destination, as the president was holding a crisis cabinet meeting at sunrise, and had also taken it upon himself to summon all rival political party leaders to the palace to show ‘political unity’. Meanwhile, a second shooting occurred in South Paris, mobilising Yoan. A national minute of silence was to be held at mid-day – so Etienne took up a position at Place de la Republique, which had become the symbolic epicentre for vigils. I headed to Notre-Dame Cathedral, where the bells had begun ringing to honor the memory of the fallen. As a large crowd gathered at the foot of the cathedral, the skies opened up, unleashing torrential rain upon us. This only amplified the heavy, sombre mood. Not a word was uttered as the bells continued to echo across the river Seine. I fought back tears as I worked my way through the immobile crowd, shooting portraits of the mourners. One girl stood out. Her head was bowed with vacant look on her face, and she held her arm up, clutching a pen. This was to become an iconic symbol of freedom of speech.

A young woman holds aloft a symbolic pen in a minute of silence in front of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, France, 08 January 2015. epa/Ian Langsdon

A young woman holds aloft a symbolic pen in a minute of silence in front of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, France, 08 January 2015. epa/Ian Langsdon

That afternoon became one of the major turning points of the story – and also the beginning of a logistical nightmare. Based on eyewitness accounts, the gunmen were spotted in north-eastern France, causing a large-scale manhunt involving hundreds of elite units of armed police. Yoan made his way to the remote countryside in a bid to track down the BRI, RAID and GIGN units who were in turn tracking down the gunmen. Meanwhile, Paris was preparing for a siege of its own, with armed police officers manning checkpoints at the key entry-points of the city (following surreal rumours that the gunmen were racing back to Paris to make their final ‘stand’). Etienne ‘embedded’ himself with one such team, as I remained in the city centre for ongoing political coverage and another spontaneous candle-light vigil on Place de la Republique.

At daybreak, the situation remained unchanged. News footage showed an entire county 50km north of Paris besieged by armed police commandos and journalists. I was back at the Elysée Palace for yet more political comings-and-goings, when I received unclear news alerts reporting a hostage situation, a car-jacking and a high-speed car chase allegedly involving the two gunmen, only a few kilometres away from where Yoan had been operating. Etienne was immediately dispatched to reinforce Yoan.

Snipers stand on the top of an opposite building to the CTD printing building in an industrial area where the suspects in the shooting attack at the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo headquarters were holding a hostage, in Dammartin-en-Goele, some 40 kilometres north-east of Paris, France, 09 January 2015. epa/Yoan Valat

Snipers stand on the top of an opposite building to the CTD printing building in an industrial area where the suspects in the shooting attack at the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo headquarters were holding a hostage, in Dammartin-en-Goele, some 40 kilometres north-east of Paris, France, 09 January 2015. epa/Yoan Valat

The news alert came at 13.30 h – “Gunshots in Jewish market on Cours Vincennes”. I grabbed a 200-400mm, a foldable step-ladder and rushed to the scene on my scooter, breaking just about every traffic law in Paris. I arrived just as ambulances whizzed past me in direction of Saint-Mande, the bordering suburb. The police had set up a first perimeter at least 600 meters away from the HyperCacher store, which could not be seen at all with all the emergency vehicles in our way. The shop was technically not in Paris, but on the other side of the expressway separating Paris from the suburb of Saint-Mande. After shooting a few pictures of the ambulances and armed police units gearing up as they arrived after me, I decided to walk clockwise around the entire police perimeter in a bid to find a position or apartment that would grant me a view of the shop. This task took well over an hour, negotiating police checkpoints of varying degrees of hostility towards journalists. An hour later, it was clear the police had established their roadblocks and checkpoints precisely far enough to prevent any view whatsoever of the HyperCacher. They had even gone as far as removing journalists from civilians’ apartments within the ‘exclusion zone’. Back to my original position, it turned out the press was allowed to move forward 150 meters to a second checkpoint – and was now contained between two police roadblocks. I had only just entered this ‘press zone’ when a deafening detonation was heard. The assault was under way.

Police set up a security perimeter near Porte de Vincennes in Eastern Paris after a gunman opened fire and took hostages in a Hyperkosher shop, 09 January 2015. epa/ Ian Langsdon

Police set up a security perimeter near Porte de Vincennes in Eastern Paris after a gunman opened fire and took hostages in a Hyperkosher shop, 09 January 2015. epa/ Ian Langsdon

Three fellow journalists and I spotted an elderly man walk out of an apartment building next to us. This was our chance. We ran through the entrance and clambered up the stairs banging on every door hoping a resident would kindly let us use their balcony. The building was under intense renovation, and many of the apartments appeared to be empty. As I neared the seventh and last floor, a woman flung open her front door revealing a room full of cameramen. She demanded 500 euros for the privilege of using her not-so-exclusive balcony. I declined.

I looked up and saw a skylight window on the corridor ceiling, leading to the roof. Luckily, a painter’s ladder was propped up against the wall. A photographer colleague climbed up, poked his head out, and immediately climbed back down: “No way!” he said. With the assault under way. I put aside my profound dislike of heights and climbed up, praying the roof would turn out to be a nice flat one. It was not. It was a typical Parisian slippery tin roof, slanted on both sides. Once I climbed out the skylight, the photographer handed me my camera gear before bidding me good luck and leaving. With one leg dangling on each side, I crawled on my stomach along the ridge of the roof to the edge of the building, and rested my 200-400mm lens on a chimney pot. It was almost dark, forcing me to push the ISO up to 12,800 and the shutter speed as low at 1/40s – not an easy setting to shoot pictures when my hands were shaking from the precarious position I was in! The climb onto the roof had taken me 4 or 5 minutes – valuable time when it comes to a police raid. I had a clear vantage point on the corner of the HyperCacher shop, and could see the BRI (special police unit) truck swarming with commandos. They were already inside the shop and the sound of heavy gunfire echoed over the rooftops. After shooting images for a few minutes, I copied all my pictures onto a second card, in case police officers decided to give me trouble for climbing onto a rooftop and potentially confiscate my card. I stayed about 30 minutes after which it became urgent to transmit with the remaining 5% battery power left on my laptop using a nearby cafe’s wifi. It was only inside the improvised cafe-turned-press centre that I learned that police had launched a simultaneous raid in Dammartin-en-Goele, neutralising the two Kouachi brothers responsible for the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

Members of the BRI police elite unit gather during an assault on the HyperCasher supermarket at Porte de Vincennes in Eastern Paris, 09 January 2015. epa/Ian Langsdon

Members of the BRI police elite unit gather during an assault on the HyperCasher supermarket at Porte de Vincennes in Eastern Paris, 09 January 2015. epa/Ian Langsdon

The double assault and elimination of the three suspects marked the end of the first chapter of this story. The killings, the manhunt, the hostage takings were over. It was now time for France to grieve.

Families and relatives walk and hold banners reading 'Charlie' during a march to honor victims of the terrorist attacks and show unity, in Paris, 11 January 2015. epa/Julien Warnand

Families and relatives walk and hold banners reading ‘Charlie’ during a march to honor victims of the terrorist attacks and show unity, in Paris, 11 January 2015. epa/Julien Warnand

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Tsunami anniversary – When the tsunami hit Bandah Aceh

By Hotli Simanjuntak


Panglima Polem Street near Peunayoung neighborhood in Banda Aceh, 26 December 2004 and 16 December 2014

Sunday morning, 26 December 2004 was very peaceful. As usual, I started my day watching television. It was a Christmas cartoon show on a local channel about an ugly and a beautiful Christmas tree.

At 8:35 am, an earthquake shook Aceh, starting with a small wobble, shortly followed by a harder shake. Then a few objects in the bedroom fell on me. Aware that the earthquake was very strong, I frantically tried to get out of the room to stand out in the open area.

The earthquake forced people to lie down on the ground. Trees and electric poles tipped over followed by a very loud roar. People started screaming and praying to God. About five minutes later the earthquake stops. People began to examine their homes for damage.

I checked the surrounding neighborhood near to where I lived, then grabbed a small camera and headed downtown.


Panglima Polem Street near Peunayoung neighborhood in Banda Aceh, 26 December 2004 and 16 December 2014

I started by the tallest hotel building in the city of Banda Aceh. The hotel basement had collapsed. Hotel guests tried to escape out the hotel windows, fearing that more aftershocks would bring the building down.

I received information that a large shopping center had collapsed with many casualties. I arrived to find hundreds of people gathered, trying to determine the condition of the building.

About 30 minutes later, dozens of people were running from the coast line in a panic screaming “Sea water rise up! Sea water rise up!”. I still did not realize that at the time a big wave was moving from the beach to where I was standing.

When I turned toward the river next to the shopping center, I saw that there were some fast-moving wooden boats being brought by the water flow in the opposite direction. Some of the boats hit the bridge. People tried to jump into the dirty, black water that carried the ruins.

That’s the moment when I realized that my own life was threatened. I panicked and tried to find a high spot to save myself. Along with me were hundreds of people seeking refuge in tall buildings.


Baitulrahman Mosque in Banda Aceh, 26 December 2004 and 16 December 2014.

I ran toward a pole monument at a crossroads. At the time, from a distance, I saw a roll of water coming quickly, overturning dozens of parked cars and crashing them onto the roadside, such was the power of the oncoming rush.

I tried desperately to save an old man from the water, grabbing his hand. Finally, he was safe.

Moments later the water flow totally stopped. People scurried to find a safe place, should another wave come in.

I did not fully realize what was happening. At the time I was really confused, trying to take pictures of those wanting to save themselves and helping those who were injured. Ruins and garbage was strewn along with piles of human corpses.

I was shocked and did not suspect that it was the tsunami. I kept walking and photographing some places nearby that were still under water.

When I arrived at the river bank, I was stunned to see that thousands of houses were no longer there; they were all washed away. From where I stood I just saw a stretch of empty land and collapsed buildings. I now had a clear view to the sea.

It was at this moment that I began to realized the size of the disaster in Aceh. I did not yet know that it was the biggest tsunami of the century with the death toll reaching more than 200,000, gone in just a few minutes.

I was so sad. Seeing the piles of corpses and wailing people calling the names of their relatives lost to the tsunami was overwhelming. Tears fell from my eyes; I almost couldn’t hold my camera. I was paralyzed by the situation, as people desperately looked at corpses, trying to find their loved ones.


Aceh River near Peunayoung neighborhood, 26 December 2004 and 16 December 2014.

Now, ten years after the tsunami, life has returned to normal. Reconstruction has been completed. People who survived the tsunami have returned to a somewhat normal life. But ten years is a very short time. The tsunami still feels as if it only happened yesterday.

It was unbelievably sad, but I felt that I was one among the lucky 200,000 people who survived the catastrophe of the century. December 26, 2004 is an unforgettable moment and I am sure I survived because of my journalistic instincts to cover the situation.

Hopefully the survivors have been able to put back their lives together. As for those who died, may they be in the hands of God.

epa photographer Hotli Simanjuntak in Incheon, South Korea, 02 October, 2014. credit: epa / Mast Irham

epa photographer Hotli Simanjuntak in Incheon, South Korea, 02 October, 2014. credit: epa / Jeon Heon-Kyun

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Best photos of 2014

A protester uses a catapult during clashes with riot police in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, 19 February 2014. epa / Sergey Dolzhenko

A protester uses a catapult during clashes with riot police in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, 19 February 2014. epa / Sergey Dolzhenko

epa presents a collection of the best photos of 2014 highlighting a few of epa’s Yearender 2014 images including pictures that defined 2014. The selection is as diverse as the year itself. epa photographers have captured events around the globe: the Ukrainian Revolution, the Israel-Gaza conflict, the Ebola outbreak in western Africa, the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the FIFA Soccer World-Cup in Brazil and fashion shows around the world – to name but a few. In order to get the whole picture, we recommend you take a look at our more comprehensive Yearender 2014 collection.

A model presents a creation from the Spring/Summer 2014 Haute Couture collection by Charlie Le Mindu during the Paris Fashion Week, in Paris, France, 20 January 2014. epa / Yoan Valat

A model presents a creation from the Spring/Summer 2014 Haute Couture collection by Charlie Le Mindu during the Paris Fashion Week, in Paris, France, 20 January 2014. epa / Yoan Valat

Jan Matura of Czech Republic soars during the official practice session of the FIS World Cup ski jumping large hill individual competition in Sapporo, northern Japan, 24 January 2014. epa / Kimimasa Mayama

Jan Matura of Czech Republic soars during the official practice session of the FIS World Cup ski jumping large hill individual competition in Sapporo, northern Japan, 24 January 2014. epa / Kimimasa Mayama

Adams Precious from the US (L) uses her phone as she waits for the results after performing at the final of the 42nd Prix de Lausanne in Lausanne, Switzerland, 01 February 2014. epa / Keystone / Valentin Flauraud

Adams Precious from the US (L) uses her phone as she waits for the results after performing at the final of the 42nd Prix de Lausanne in Lausanne, Switzerland, 01 February 2014. epa / Keystone / Valentin Flauraud

The illuminated Olympic Rings appear during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games at the Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi, Russia, 07 February 2014. epa / Tatyana Zenkovich

The illuminated Olympic Rings appear during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games at the Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi, Russia, 07 February 2014. epa / Tatyana Zenkovich

Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers of Canada perform during the Pairs Short Program of the Figure Skating event at Iceberg Palace during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, Sochi, Russia, 11 February 2014. epa / How Hwee Young

Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers of Canada perform during the Pairs Short Program of the Figure Skating event at Iceberg Palace during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, Sochi, Russia, 11 February 2014. epa / How Hwee Young

Ultra-Orthodox Jews dance as they gather for a mass prayer in protest to the government's army conscription laws in Jerusalem, 02 March 2014. epa / Abir Sultan

Ultra-Orthodox Jews dance as they gather for a mass prayer in protest to the government’s army conscription laws in Jerusalem, 02 March 2014. epa / Abir Sultan

Code Pink activist Tighe Berry protests what Code Pink claims are Democratic Senator from California Dianne Feinstein's 'two-faced stance on spying' outside her office in the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, DC, USA, 12 March 2014. epa / Jim Lo Scalzo

Code Pink activist Tighe Berry protests what Code Pink claims are Democratic Senator from California Dianne Feinstein’s ‘two-faced stance on spying’ outside her office in the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, DC, USA, 12 March 2014. epa / Jim Lo Scalzo

Japanese Formula One driver Kamui Kobayashi of Caterham F1 Team in the gravel bed after crashing during the 2014 Formula One Grand Prix of Australia in Melbourne, Australia, 16 March 2014.  epa / Diego Azubel

Japanese Formula One driver Kamui Kobayashi of Caterham F1 Team in the gravel bed after crashing during the 2014 Formula One Grand Prix of Australia in Melbourne, Australia, 16 March 2014. epa / Diego Azubel

Two men pass by a crack in a highway between the localities of Iquique and Alto Hospicio, Chile, 03 April 2014. epa / efe / Felipe Trueba

Two men pass by a crack in a highway between the localities of Iquique and Alto Hospicio, Chile, 03 April 2014. epa / efe / Felipe Trueba

A baptized Sikh man prays in the pre-dawn hours as he visits to pay obeisance at the Golden Temple, the holiest of Sikh shrines, on the occasion of Visakhi festival in Amritsar, India, 14 April 2014. epa / Raminder Pal Singh

A baptized Sikh man prays in the pre-dawn hours as he visits to pay obeisance at the Golden Temple, the holiest of Sikh shrines, on the occasion of Visakhi festival in Amritsar, India, 14 April 2014. epa / Raminder Pal Singh

A young woman smokes cannabis during a demonstration calling for cannabis to be legalized at a 420 Day event in Hyde Park in London, Britain, 20 April 2014. epa / Andy Rain

A young woman smokes cannabis during a demonstration calling for cannabis to be legalized at a 420 Day event in Hyde Park in London, Britain, 20 April 2014. epa / Andy Rain

Thai Star Wars fan, Udomsak Ratanotayanonth, 29, dressed as a Stormtrooper donates his blood to celebrate the upcoming Star Wars Day with good deeds, at the Thai Red Cross in Bangkok, Thailand, 28 April 2014. epa / Rungroj Yongrit

Thai Star Wars fan, Udomsak Ratanotayanonth, 29, dressed as a Stormtrooper donates his blood to celebrate the upcoming Star Wars Day with good deeds, at the Thai Red Cross in Bangkok, Thailand, 28 April 2014. epa / Rungroj Yongrit

A woman cries inside the Trade Union building after a deadly fire broke out during clashes in Odessa, Ukraine, 04 May 2014. epa / Alexey Furman

A woman cries inside the Trade Union building after a deadly fire broke out during clashes in Odessa, Ukraine, 04 May 2014. epa / Alexey Furman

A miner leaves the area after searching for survivors of an explosion near Soma, Manisa province, Turkey, 14 May 2014. epa / Tolga Bozoglu

A miner leaves the area after searching for survivors of an explosion near Soma, Manisa province, Turkey, 14 May 2014. epa / Tolga Bozoglu

Smolderings remains of overnight fires on the hillsides of San Marcos, San Diego county, California, USA, early 16 May 2014. epa / Stuart Palley

Smolderings remains of overnight fires on the hillsides of San Marcos, San Diego county, California, USA, early 16 May 2014. epa / Stuart Palley

A girl flees as a riot police officer beats her with a baton, after chasing protesting students into the Nairobi University campus in Nairobi, Kenya, 20 May 2014. epa / Dai Kurokawa

A girl flees as a riot police officer beats her with a baton, after chasing protesting students into the Nairobi University campus in Nairobi, Kenya, 20 May 2014. epa / Dai Kurokawa

An 83-year-old Ukrainian man exercises at the Kachalka outdoor gym on the banks of the river Dniper in Kiev, Ukraine, 29 May 2014. epa / Filip Singer

An 83-year-old Ukrainian man exercises at the Kachalka outdoor gym on the banks of the river Dniper in Kiev, Ukraine, 29 May 2014. epa / Filip Singer

Afghan voters whose inked fingers were cut off by Taliban miliitants as punishment for casting their votes, receive medical treatment at a hospital in Herat, Afghanistan, 15 June 2014. epa / Jalil Rezayee

Afghan voters whose inked fingers were cut off by Taliban miliitants as punishment for casting their votes, receive medical treatment at a hospital in Herat, Afghanistan, 15 June 2014. epa / Jalil Rezayee

A young boy walks past a burning fire used to keep evicted families warm overnight after police and private security evicted families from a commercial property in Johannesburg, South Africa, 05 June 2014.  epa / Kim Ludbrook

A young boy walks past a burning fire used to keep evicted families warm overnight after police and private security evicted families from a commercial property in Johannesburg, South Africa, 05 June 2014. epa / Kim Ludbrook

Luis Suarez of Uruguay celebrates after scoring the 2-1 goal during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group D preliminary round match between Uruguay and England at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo, Brazil, 19 June 2014. epa / Diego Azubel

Luis Suarez of Uruguay celebrates after scoring the 2-1 goal during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group D preliminary round match between Uruguay and England at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo, Brazil, 19 June 2014. epa / Diego Azubel

British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend a ceremony marking the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, in Ypres, Belgium, 26 June 2014. epa / Julien Warnand

British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend a ceremony marking the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, in Ypres, Belgium, 26 June 2014. epa / Julien Warnand

A German soccer fan waves the German flag among spectators in Paris, France, 04 July 2014, who attend the public viewing of the FIFA World Cup 2014 quarter final soccer match between France and Germany on a giant screen in front of Hotel de Ville (Town Hall). epa / Ian Langsdon

A German soccer fan waves the German flag among spectators in Paris, France, 04 July 2014, who attend the public viewing of the FIFA World Cup 2014 quarter final soccer match between France and Germany on a giant screen in front of Hotel de Ville (Town Hall). epa / Ian Langsdon

Fernandinho of Brazil reacts after a goal scored by Toni Kroos of Germany  during the FIFA World Cup 2014 semi final match between Brazil and Germany at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 08 July 2014.  epa / Robert Ghement

Fernandinho of Brazil reacts after a goal scored by Toni Kroos of Germany during the FIFA World Cup 2014 semi final match between Brazil and Germany at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 08 July 2014. epa / Robert Ghement

A Brazilian fan shows his dejection after the FIFA World Cup 2014 semi final match between Brazil and Germany at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 08 July 2014. Germany won 7-1. epa / dpa / Thomas Eisenhuth

A Brazilian fan shows his dejection after the FIFA World Cup 2014 semi final match between Brazil and Germany at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 08 July 2014. Germany won 7-1. epa / dpa / Thomas Eisenhuth

A Palestinian man cries as he holds the dead body of his younger brother in the Shifa hospital morgue in Gaza after he was killed in an Israeli naval bombardment in Gaza City 16 July 2014. epa / Oliver Weiken

A Palestinian man cries as he holds the dead body of his younger brother in the Shifa hospital morgue in Gaza after he was killed in an Israeli naval bombardment in Gaza 16 July 2014. epa / Oliver Weiken

A Palestinian family who fled their homes is en route to seek shelter in a UN school in Khan Younis, central Gaza Strip, 18 July 2014.  epa / Oliver Weiken

A Palestinian family who fled their home is en route to seek shelter in a UN school in Khan Younis, central Gaza Strip, 18 July 2014. epa / Oliver Weiken

Journalists look at debris from the Boeing 777 Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, that crashed into a field while flying over the eastern Ukraine region, some 100 km east of Donetsk, Ukraine, 19 July 2014. epa / Robert Ghement

Journalists look at debris from the Boeing 777 Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, that crashed into a field while flying over the eastern Ukraine region, some 100 km east of Donetsk, Ukraine, 19 July 2014. epa / Robert Ghement

People dive into the Mediterranean Sea on a hot summer's day in Nice, southern France, 21 July 2014. epa / Sebastian Nogier

People dive into the Mediterranean Sea on a hot summer’s day in Nice, southern France, 21 July 2014. epa / Sebastian Nogier

Smoke rises from Tuffah neighbourhood after Israeli air strikes in the east of Gaza City, 29 July 2014. Violence escalated overnight, as Israel renewed intense airstrikes on Gaza in response to barrages of Palestinian rockets after an attempted unofficial truce for the three-day Eid al-Fitr holiday crumbled.  epa / Mohammed Saber

Smoke rises from Tuffah neighbourhood after Israeli air strikes in the east of Gaza City, 29 July 2014. epa / Mohammed Saber

Divers train before the competitions at the 32nd LEN European Swimming Championships 2014 in Berlin, Germany, 23 August 2014. epa / dpa / Maja Hitij

Divers train before the competitions at the 32nd LEN European Swimming Championships 2014 in Berlin, Germany, 23 August 2014. epa / dpa / Maja Hitij

A Ukrainian soldier rests as he patrols territory close to a Ukrainian checkpoint near town of Gorlovka, Ukraine, 28 August 2014. epa / Roman Pilipey

A Ukrainian soldier rests as he patrols territory close to a Ukrainian checkpoint near town of Gorlovka, Ukraine, 28 August 2014. epa / Roman Pilipey

A mechanic of Scuderia Ferrari carrying a tire during the second practice session at the Italian Formula One circuit in Monza, Italy, 05 September 2014. epa / Valdrin Xhemaj

A mechanic of Scuderia Ferrari carrying a tire during the second practice session at the Italian Formula One circuit in Monza, Italy, 05 September 2014. epa / Valdrin Xhemaj

Liberian health care workers on an Ebola burial team collect the body of an Ebola victim at a motor vehicle garage in Paynesville on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia 09 September 2014. epa / Ahmed Jallanzo

Liberian health care workers on an Ebola burial team collect the body of an Ebola victim at a motor vehicle garage in Paynesville on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia 09 September 2014. epa / Ahmed Jallanzo

An Ebola sign placed in front of a home in West Point slum area of Monrovia, Liberia, 25 September 2014.  epa / Ahmed Jallanzo

An Ebola sign placed in front of a home in West Point slum area of Monrovia, Liberia, 25 September 2014. epa / Ahmed Jallanzo

A baby shark is hauled onto a  rickshaw for transportation  to the fish market in Banda Aceh, Indonesia 14 September 2014. epa / Hotli Simanjuntak

A baby shark is hauled onto a rickshaw for transportation to the fish market in Banda Aceh, Indonesia 14 September 2014. epa / Hotli Simanjuntak

Models present creations from the Spring/Summer 2015 Ready to Wear Collection by Belgian designer Dries Van Noten during the Paris Fashion Week, in Paris, France, 24 September 2014. epa / Etienne Laurent

Models present creations from the Spring/Summer 2015 Ready to Wear Collection by Belgian designer Dries Van Noten during the Paris Fashion Week, in Paris, France, 24 September 2014. epa / Etienne Laurent

Seventeen-year-old student leader Joshua Wong outside the Hong Kong government offices on the second day of the mass civil disobedience campaign Occupy Central, Central District, Hong Kong, China, 29 September 2014.  epa / Alex Hofford

Seventeen-year-old student leader Joshua Wong outside the Hong Kong government offices on the second day of the mass civil disobedience campaign Occupy Central, Central District, Hong Kong, China, 29 September 2014. epa / Alex Hofford

Syrian refugees wait in a bus at the Syrian-Turkish border near Sanliurfa, Turkey, 30 September 2014. epa / Sedat Suna

Syrian refugees wait in a bus at the Syrian-Turkish border near Sanliurfa, Turkey, 30 September 2014. epa / Sedat Suna

Park Jisoo of South Korea falls from the uneven bars during the Women's All-Around Artistic Gymnastics qualification at the 45th FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Nanning, China, 06 October 2014. epa / Rungroj Yongrit

Park Jisoo of South Korea falls from the uneven bars during the Women’s All-Around Artistic Gymnastics qualification at the 45th FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Nanning, China, 06 October 2014. epa / Rungroj Yongrit

An Indian fish vendor carries a fish at a wholesale market during early morning in Bhayander near Mumbai, India, 08 October 2014.  epa / Divyakant Solanki

An Indian fish vendor carries a fish at a wholesale market during early morning in Bhayander near Mumbai, India, 08 October 2014. epa / Divyakant Solanki

A worker climbs out of a tank in a leather factory where the skins of animals slaughtered during Eid al-Adha are processed, in Hazaribagh Dhaka, Bangladesh, 08 October 2014. epa / Abir Abdullah

A worker climbs out of a tank in a leather factory where the skins of animals slaughtered during Eid al-Adha are processed, in Hazaribagh Dhaka, Bangladesh, 08 October 2014. epa / Abir Abdullah

The moon shines with a reddish glow as it rises during a total lunar eclipse in Kathmandu, Nepal, 08 October 2014.  epa / Narendra Shrestha

The moon shines with a reddish glow as it rises during a total lunar eclipse in Kathmandu, Nepal, 08 October 2014. epa / Narendra Shrestha

Mount Sinabung spews hot lava and volcanic ash as it is seen from Karo, North Sumatra, Indonesia, 09 October 2014. epa / Dedy Sahputra

Mount Sinabung spews hot lava and volcanic ash as it is seen from Karo, North Sumatra, Indonesia, 09 October 2014. epa / Dedy Sahputra

Teen education activist Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan delivers a statement in the Library of Birmingham, Birmingham, England, 10 October 2014, after being named as a winner of the 2014, Nobel Peace Prize. epa / Facundo Arrizabalaga

Teen education activist Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan delivers a statement in the Library of Birmingham, Birmingham, England, 10 October 2014, after being named as a winner of the 2014, Nobel Peace Prize. epa / Facundo Arrizabalaga

A business man looks at a blocked road during the mass civil disobedience campaign Occupy Central in Admiralty, Hong Kong, China, 10 October 2014. epa / Mast Irham

A business man looks at a blocked road during the mass civil disobedience campaign Occupy Central in Admiralty, Hong Kong, China, 10 October 2014. epa / Mast Irham

Rain pours down as President of Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin (2-R) attends a military parade accompanied with Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic (R) in Belgrade, Serbia, 16 October 2014. epa / Srdjan Suki

Rain pours down as President of Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin (2-R) attends a military parade accompanied with Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic (R) in Belgrade, Serbia, 16 October 2014. epa / Srdjan Suki

Hong Kong police clash with pro-democracy protesters from the Occupy Central movement using umbrellas for protection, just before midnight in Mong Kok District of Hong Kong, China, 17 October 2014. epa / Rolex Dela Pena

Hong Kong police clash with pro-democracy protesters from the Occupy Central movement using umbrellas for protection, just before midnight in Mong Kok District of Hong Kong, China, 17 October 2014. epa / Rolex Dela Pena

Rescuers try to save a sinking boat in the harbour of Harlingen in northern Netherlands, 22 October 2014, during the first autumn storm of the year. epa / anp / Catrinus Van Der Veen

Rescuers try to save a sinking boat in the harbour of Harlingen in northern Netherlands, 22 October 2014, during the first autumn storm of the year. epa / anp / Catrinus Van Der Veen

Syrian refugee Bargin Efendi 11, poses as he works in a repair shop in the Suruc district in Sanliurfa Turkey, 23 October 2014.  epa / Ulas Yunus Tosun

Syrian refugee Bargin Efendi 11, poses as he works in a repair shop in the Suruc district in Sanliurfa Turkey, 23 October 2014. epa / Ulas Yunus Tosun

Marcel Hirscher of Austria in action during the first run of the Men's Giant Slalom race of the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup season on the Rettenbach glacier, in Soelden, Austria, 26 October 2014. epa / Keystone / Jean-Christophe Bott

Marcel Hirscher of Austria in action during the first run of the Men’s Giant Slalom race of the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup season on the Rettenbach glacier, in Soelden, Austria, 26 October 2014. epa / Keystone / Jean-Christophe Bott

Wrestler Cassandro El Exotico soars through the air in a daring acrobatic manoeuvre against Puma King (R) and Magnus (C)  during a Lucha Libre wrestling exhibition match at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, France, 03 November 2014. epa / Ian Langsdon

Wrestler Cassandro El Exotico soars through the air in a daring acrobatic manoeuvre against Puma King (R) and Magnus (C) during a Lucha Libre wrestling exhibition match at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, France, 03 November 2014. epa / Ian Langsdon

Passenger air balloons fly over temples and pagodas in the ancient city of Bagan, Myanmar, 19 November 2014. epa / Lynn Bo Bo

Passenger air balloons fly over temples and pagodas in the ancient city of Bagan, Myanmar, 19 November 2014. epa / Lynn Bo Bo

Protesters gesture in front of a burning building in Ferguson, Missouri, USA, 25 November 2014. epa / Tannen Maury

Protesters gesture in front of a burning building in Ferguson, Missouri, USA, 25 November 2014. epa / Tannen Maury

A protester in the crowd at Times Square, New York City 25 November 2014 listens to the outcry against the St. Louis County grand jury decision not to bring criminal charges against Darren Wilson, the white police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. epa / Justin Lane

A protester in the crowd at Times Square, New York City 25 November 2014 listens to the outcry against the St. Louis County grand jury decision not to bring criminal charges against Darren Wilson, the white police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. epa / Justin Lane

Pope Francis releases a white dove  as he arrives at St Esprit church for a service in Istanbul, Turkey 29 November 2014. epa / Tolga Bozoglu

Pope Francis releases a white dove as he arrives at St Esprit church for a service in Istanbul, Turkey 29 November 2014. epa / Tolga Bozoglu

South African model Candice Swanepoel takes to the catwalk during the 2014 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show at the Earls Court Exhibition Centre in London, Britain, 02 December 2014.  epa / Facundo Arrizabalaga

South African model Candice Swanepoel takes to the catwalk during the 2014 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show at the Earls Court Exhibition Centre in London, Britain, 02 December 2014. epa / Facundo Arrizabalaga

Filipino residents wade on floodwater in Borongan city, Samar island, Philippines, 07 December 2014.  epa / Francis R. Malasig

Filipino residents wade on floodwater in Borongan city, Samar island, Philippines, 07 December 2014. epa / Francis R. Malasig

A Filipino boy collects salvageable materials among debris following a fire that razed a slum area in Malabon City, north of Manila, Philippines, 10 December 2014. epa / Dennis M. Sabangan

A Filipino boy collects salvageable materials among debris following a fire that razed a slum area in Malabon City, north of Manila, Philippines, 10 December 2014. epa / Dennis M. Sabangan

Costumed senior citizens march at the Macy's 88th Annual Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, New York, USA, 27 November 2014. epa / Peter Foley

Costumed senior citizens march at the Macy’s 88th Annual Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, New York, USA, 27 November 2014. epa / Peter Foley

The best photos of 2014, our world in all its complexities. Follow us on Facebook and on Twitter to stay in touch for more insightful stories from behind the scenes.

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Lignite Mine in Northern Greece

By Yannis Kolesidis

A general view of the lignite center of western Macedonia, near the city of Ptolemaida, northern Greece, 04 October 2014. epa / ana / Yannis Kolesidis

A general view of the lignite center of western Macedonia, near the city of Ptolemaida, northern Greece, 04 October 2014. epa / ana / Yannis Kolesidis

The mine looks like a huge city which daily mutates. As it is endlessly extended, the roadmap constantly changes. The roads that take you from one place to another disappear. New roads are created that will later also disappear and so on. Charavgi, the “ghost” village that was expropriated along with its inhabitants who were removed to extend the mine, stands like a scene from a movie. In the ruined houses one can still see details that reveal a human presence: a damaged kitchen, two abandoned cups, an open window … Mines are a huge living organism inhabited exclusively by people who work under adverse conditions.

Workers removing soil and mud from an electric powered stacker, at the lignite center of western Macedonia, near the city of Ptolemaida, northern Greece, 06 October 2014. epa/ ana / Yannis Kolesidis

Lignite Mine in Northern Greece: Workers removing soil and mud from an electric powered stacker, at the lignite center of western Macedonia, near the city of Ptolemaida, northern Greece, 06 October 2014. epa/ ana / Yannis Kolesidis

It did not stop raining during my stay in the area. Smeared faces, dirty hands, muddy boots were the everyday scenery.
The landscape around the thermal power station was grey and smoke clouds covered the sky. Nevertheless, nothing could prepare me for the working conditions there. In a dark basement, workers were cleaning the ash from conveyor belts and shoveling dust from the lignite wearing only a simple protective mask. Their blackened faces were all that stood out in the stuffy atmosphere.

Workers remove mud and lignite from conveyor belts, inside a power plant of Kardia, at the lignite center of western Macedonia, near the city of Ptolemaida, northern Greece, 07 October 2014. epa/ ana / Yannis Kolesidis

Lignite Mine in Northern Greece: Workers remove mud and lignite from conveyor belts, inside a power plant of Kardia, at the lignite center of western Macedonia, near the city of Ptolemaida, northern Greece, 07 October 2014. epa/ ana / Yannis Kolesidis

You have to see it in order to believe it. Even the boss who accompanied me did not want to follow me down to the basement. “I will be waiting here to continue the tour,” he said. Before going down, I asked him if I needed to wear rubber boots and a mask so as not to get dirty. “No, it is not necessary,” he replied. When I came out, my shoes were full of mud and my clothes dirty. My face was black and had I not been wearing a mask, I would not have been able breathe.

Paschalis Papaioannou, 51, posing in front of a conveyor belt transferring lignite, inside a power plant, at the lignite center of western Macedonia, near the city of Ptolemaida, northern Greece, 07 October 2014. epa/ ana / Yannis Kolesidis

Paschalis Papaioannou, 51, posing in front of a conveyor belt transferring lignite, inside a power plant, at the lignite center of western Macedonia, near the city of Ptolemaida, northern Greece, 07 October 2014. epa/ ana / Yannis Kolesidis

These people have the most dangerous jobs, risking their lives by working under abominable conditions. And it is thanks to them that our lives have become simpler so that by flicking on a switch we can flood our lives with light.

Worker Alexandros Moutos, 40, poses next to a conveyor belts transferring ashes coming out from the power plant to the area where they will be buried, near the city of Ptolemaida, northern Greece, 07 October 2014. epa / ana / Yannis Kolesidis

Worker Alexandros Moutos, 40, poses next to a conveyor belts transferring ashes coming out from the power plant to the area where they will be buried, near the city of Ptolemaida, northern Greece, 07 October 2014. epa / ana / Yannis Kolesidis

A worker takes off his dirty clothes after his shift at a changing room, inside the power plant, at the lignite center of western Macedonia, near the city of Ptolemaida, northern Greece, 07 October 2014. epa / ana / Yannis Kolesidis

Lignite Mine in Northern Greece: A worker takes off his dirty clothes after his shift at a changing room, inside the power plant, at the lignite center of western Macedonia, near the city of Ptolemaida, northern Greece, 07 October 2014. epa / ana / Yannis Kolesidis

The full feature package can be viewed and downloaded here.

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Kerim Okten – In Memory of My Brother

By Tolga Bozoglu

On April 10 this year, epa photographer Kerim Okten died in a tragic motorcycle accident. Kerim’s friend and colleague, Tolga Bozoglu, remembers him:

A protestor is hit by water sprayed from a water cannon during clashes in Taksim Square, Istanbul, Turkey, 11 June 2013.  epa / Kerim Okten

A protestor is hit by water sprayed from a water cannon during clashes in Taksim Square, Istanbul, Turkey, 11 June 2013. epa / Kerim Okten

I met Kerim for the first time in a Turkish newspaper called Yeni Yuzyil* (New Century) in 1994. When we first started, we were both young and inexperienced. All the photographers in the newspaper had many years of experience, but were merciless in their behavior towards us. Whenever we carried out an assignment they always screened our films before us, ridiculed our photos, then threw the films in the trash bin. Instead of weakening us, this attitude and treatment gave us more energy to work even harder and constantly improve ourselves. We were always willing to go out for news items nobody else cared for in the newspaper. This hostile environment brought us closer together. We started supporting each other in everything we did.

A protestor runs through tear gas during clashes at Taksim Square Istanbul, Turkey on 11 June 2013. epa / Kerim Okten

A protestor runs through tear gas during clashes at Taksim Square Istanbul, Turkey on 11 June 2013. epa / Kerim Okten

Kerim had an extraordinary talent in photography. When you worked with him, even if you had the exact same equipment in the exact same situations, he would come back with totally different photos and frames that you would not have noticed before. Which left you wondering “How on earth did he do that?”

A masked rioter is seen in front of a burning car in Hackney, North London, Britain, 08 August 2011. epa / Kerim Okten

A masked rioter is seen in front of a burning car in Hackney, North London, Britain, 08 August 2011. epa / Kerim Okten

But he knew that it wasn’t enough to be talented, you also had to keep educating and bettering yourself. Kerim was always open to learn and above all he wanted to teach and pass on his knowledge to anyone eager to learn. He had so much intellectual capacity and used this ability in his photos. Because of this his photos had different meanings to different viewers. He was so good at telling a story in his photography even if it was an ordinary, standard assignment. In fact, for him there was no such thing as a standard situation.

A protestor balances on top of a pole wearing a 'Guy Fawkes' mask and waving a Turkish flag with a Mustafa Kemal Ataturk portrait on it during an anti-government demonstration at Taksim Square, in Istanbul, Turkey, 09 June 2013. epa / Kerim Okten

A protestor balances on top of a pole wearing a ‘Guy Fawkes’ mask and waving a Turkish flag with a Mustafa Kemal Ataturk portrait on it during an anti-government demonstration at Taksim Square, in Istanbul, Turkey, 09 June 2013. epa / Kerim Okten

Kerim taught me so many things and he was my best friend. He never hurt anybody or said anything bad in his life. He was always cheerful and spread positive energy around him. I do miss him so much.

The author, Tolga Bozoglu (L) and Kerim Okten in Istanbul, Turkey on 21 November 2009. epa / Diego Azubel

The author, Tolga Bozoglu (L) and Kerim Okten in Istanbul, Turkey on 21 November 2009. epa / Diego Azubel

*Yeni Yuzyil was a Turkish newspaper published from 1994 to 1998.

A selection of Kerim’s best photographs can be found here.

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Mandela’s people

A journey to the Eastern Cape in search of Mandela’s legacy
by Kim Ludbrook

Mandela's people: Traditional Xhosa dancer Nowandile King, 42, poses in the family's communal hut in the hills near Coffee Bay, South Africa, 06 November 2014.  "We are very sad that Nelson Mandela died but we are very happy he gave social grants to our children."

Mandela’s people: Traditional Xhosa dancer Nowandile King, 42, poses in the family’s communal hut in the hills near Coffee Bay, South Africa, 06 November 2014.
“We are very sad that Nelson Mandela died but we are very happy he gave social grants to our children.”

The wall of flowers outside Nelson Mandela’s house in Houghton, Johannesburg growing bigger every day is a memory still vivid on my mind: Thousands of people from all walks of life had taken time out of their days to lay flowers, write a poem, leave a card, a photograph or simply stand and look on as each in their own way paid respect to a great soul, leader and human who had died in the house days before aged 94 on 5 December 2013.

The burial of Mandela took place in his home village of Qunu. There was very little accommodation to be found in the area at the time as innumerable guests, security personnel and media representatives had occupied the “normal” rooms in town. So the epa coverage team decided to rent a hut from the Zenani family on a ridge very close to the burial site of Madiba.

Nomtule Zenani (C), 64, and relatives prepare to watch the funeral of the late Nelson Mandela nearby at a public viewing point in her home village of Qunu, South Africa, 15 December 2013. epa / Kim Ludbrook

Nomtule Zenani (C), 64, and relatives prepare to watch the funeral of the late Nelson Mandela nearby at a public viewing point in her home village of Qunu, South Africa, 15 December 2013. epa / Kim Ludbrook

With the Zenani family in mind I decided to return to Qunu and the Eastern Cape almost exactly a year later. The idea was to shoot a portrait series on the normal men and women in the poor rural communities of Rhodes, Hogsback, Coffee Bay and Nieu-Bethesda and to find out how they remembered Mandela one year after his death. I wanted to touch base with the heart and soul of the area Mandela originated from and which he had once described as “the sweet home where I had spent the happiest days of my childhood.”

What ensued was an amazing 3000 km journey of discovery of my own country.

Two wild dogs play fight in Coffee Bay, South Africa, 05 November 2014. epa / Kim Ludbrook

Two wild dogs play fight in Coffee Bay, South Africa, 05 November 2014. epa / Kim Ludbrook

Using a Canon 5D Mark III, 35mm F2 lens and a hand held LED lighting system, the images where all shot hand held aiming to show the environment as much as possible in these portraits. Working in rural Africa often means hiring a ‘fixer’ or helper not only to find the people you want to photograph but most importantly to translate from local Xhosa tribal language into English. South Africa has 11 official languages.

The basic framework of the story was to ask one identical question to all the tribesmen and women: ‘What does Nelson Mandela mean to you…”

What I found was an incredible love for Nelson Mandela that runs deep in the veins and souls of every person interviewed. The exact answers can be found in the captions of the series here.

Mandela's people: Local tourist guide, Jacob van Staden (58) pictured with one of his dogs overlooking the tiny Karoo town of Nieu-Bethesda, South Africa, 10 November 2014. "I remember the day he was released from prison. Every time he was on TV as president I used to run to a TV to watch his speeches. I thought there would be war between whites and blacks when he was released but he saved us all. I will die one day but Mandela will never die. He left us all such a fortune"

Mandela’s people: Local tourist guide, Jacob van Staden (58) pictured with one of his dogs overlooking the tiny Karoo town of Nieu-Bethesda, South Africa, 10 November 2014.
“I remember the day he was released from prison. Every time he was on TV as president I used to run to a TV to watch his speeches. I thought there would be war between whites and blacks when he was released but he saved us all. I will die one day but Mandela will never die. He left us all such a fortune”

One of the barriers that needed to be overcome while on this assignment was the cultural difference between ‘western’ views and that of local Xhosa tribes people. For instance before walking in the huge mud huts that are the norm in the area around Coffee Bay, one has to take off ones shoes and leave them outside the hut. Men have to sit on the right hand side of the hut and women on the left.

Retired grandfather and subsistence farmer, Nzimeni Zenani, 80, holds one of his puppies in Nelson Mandela's village of Qunu, South Africa, 07 November 2014.  "I miss Mandela very much but I am crying with happiness that he is back in Qunu for good."

Retired grandfather and subsistence farmer, Nzimeni Zenani, 80, holds one of his puppies in Nelson Mandela’s village of Qunu, South Africa, 07 November 2014.
“I miss Mandela very much but I am crying with happiness that he is back in Qunu for good.”

Most of the time, as soon as they heard my story and the idea behind the portrait series, they would start to talk and give me their life story from the bottom of their hearts.
Many people here had never been photographed or seen themselves in images before. Hence, it is not surprising that a camera looking at them often leaves them very nervous and ‘stiff’ in the portrait. In order to overcome this initial unease, I just kept trying to make them feel good and showed them their images as soon as I had shot a couple of frames. Most of the time this worked wonders and they were overjoyed to see their own pictures.

Mandela's people: epa photographer Kim Ludbrook on assignment in the hills near Coffee Bay, South Africa.

Mandela’s people: epa photographer Kim Ludbrook on assignment in the hills near Coffee Bay, South Africa.

Mandela brought a ray of light to my country at a time when a full blown racial civil war was a possibility. I hope these images can in some way bring the memory of the great man in the forefront of our minds as well as provide a moral compass for us all on how to live our lives: forgiving, loving and sharing.

A file picture dated 20 July 2005 shows Nobel Peace Prize winner and iconic political prisoner Nelson Mandela  during his birthday party at the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund, Johannesburg, South Africa. epa / Kim Ludbrook

A file picture dated 20 July 2005 shows Nobel Peace Prize winner and iconic political prisoner Nelson Mandela during his birthday party at the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, Johannesburg, South Africa. epa / Kim Ludbrook

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Mount Sinabung – The Volcano and I

By Dedi Sahputra

Mount Sinabung spews hot lava and volcanic ash as it is seen from Karo, North Sumatra, Indonesia, 09 October 2014. epa / Dedi Sahputra

Mount Sinabung spews hot lava and volcanic ash as it is seen from Karo, North Sumatra, Indonesia, 09 October 2014. epa / Dedi Sahputra

I first became acquainted with Mount Sinabung in my senior year in high school in 2002. I spent my holidays there, hiking with my friends. In college I joined the Ranger Gunung Sinabung (RGS), an environmental community that also volunteers on rescue operations in Sinabung. When I began my job as a photo journalist in 2006, I kept in contact with my colleagues in RGS.

In August 2010 Mount Sinabung started to show significant changes; in 2013 the volcano erupted and become a danger to the villagers in the area. The experience I had and my knowledge of the villages around the volcano made it easier for me to get good, safe shooting positions.

It was almost midnight on 08 September when I got the first information from my contact in Karo, a small town in North Sumatra province, saying that the Sinabung volcano activity was increasing. I arrived in Tanah Karo around 1:00 a.m. The sky was so bright, no clouds or fog so I could see the mighty volcano clearly. As luck would have it, there was a lunar eclipse, making the sky even brighter. I tried to find a good shooting location and decided to go to Tiga pancur village, located some six kilometers from the crater.

After arriving in the village, I prepared all my equipment, a Canon EOS 7D camera with a 70-200 mm lens, a tripod and a cable release, as the volcano’s activity increased. This excellent position gave me a good distance, clear visibility and almost aligned me with the crater. At 02:00 a.m. Mount Sinabung started to erupt, spewing hot material and ash up to the air. The activity continued to increase so I kept shooting with the 70-200mm lens and 800 ISO setting until I had the best frames. The bright, cloudless sky was the key factor that helped me catch this spectacular moment of the volcanic eruption. It is one of my best ones from Mount Sinabung.

And it was an amazing feeling when I found that the picture was widely used by the major media, such as TIME lightbox and the New York Times Lens blog.

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Typhoon Haiyan – One Year Later

By Dennis M. Sabangan

A year ago, I bore witness to the immediate aftermath of Supertyphoon Haiyan in Tacloban City in the province of Leyte. The strongest storm recored ever at landfall had decimated this once vibrant place in the Philippines. Now, as the anniversary of the calamity nears, I once again headed to Tacloban and saw that though things have much improved, the scars left by Haiyan still run deep.

#1 – Damaged Chapel: December 2013 and November 2014 credit: epa / Dennis M. Sabangan

I still remember my arrival at the Tacloban airport, just a day after the typhoon hit. The damaged terminal was where many residents congregated, all hoping to hop on a C-130 plane out of the devastation. To this day, the port remains busy, as a continuous stream of foreign and local aid workers flow in and out of the province.

#2 – Tacloban Airport: November 2013 and November 2014 credit: epa / Dennis M. Sabangan

The city itself, which had once been flattened, no longer looks like it had been bombed. But the space where the remains of thriving fishing villages once stood is now occupied by thousands of tents that temporarily serve as home for the storm’s survivors. Until now, 14,000 families have yet to receive permanent housing — but still, they are the lucky ones.

#3 – Magallanes Village: November 2013 and November 2014. credit: epa / Dennis M. Sabangan

Supertyphoon Haiyan claimed over 6,000 lives, many of whom were placed in mass graves. Last year, bereaved relatives had already erected makeshift crosses for their dead loved ones in Palo town. Now, flowers have begun to bloom over all the graves.

A sense of normalcy has begun to return to Tacloban. Of the eight cargo ships that had washed ashore on Barangay (Village) Anibong, only three remain; two are in the process of being dismantled, while one has been deemed sturdy enough to return to the sea.

#4 – Stranded Cargoship: November 2013 and October 2014 credit: epa / Francis R. Malasig

The debris that once littered the city’s streets are being cleared, little by little. Still, it’s surreal to remember the devastation wrought by Haiyan. A year has passed, but residue of the tragedy still remains. Despite this, I saw that hope and progress are overcoming the grief dealt by the disaster. It will be a long time before the city is fully back on its feet, but it’s clear that its residents are determined to rebuild a better Tacloban.

#5 – Tacloban province of Leyte: November 2013 and November 2014 credit: epa / Dennis M. Sabangan

#6 – Magallanes Village: November 2013 and November 2014. credit: epa / Dennis M. Sabangan

#7 – Tacloban Chapel: November 2013 and November 2014. credit: epa / Dennis M. Sabangan

#8 – Street in Tacloban: November 2013 and November 2014. credit: epa / Dennis M. Sabangan

#9 – Anibong village: November 2013 and November 2014. credit: epa / Francis R. Malasig

#10 – Village of San Jose: November 2013 and October 2014. credit: epa / Dennis M. Sabangan

#11 – Tacloban Store: November 2013 and November 2014 credit: epa / Francis R. Malasig

#12 – Joshua Cator: Typhoon Haiyan survivor Joshua Cator in November 2013 and November 2014. Joshua Cator lost twenty-three relatives including his mother and younger sister. credit: epa / Dennis M. Sabangan

#13 – Bea Joy: Emelie Sagales and her baby Bea Joy in November 2013 and November 2014. credit: epa / Dennis M. Sabangan

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Poaching in Kenya

By Dai Kurokawa

As a child growing up in a highly industrialized society, it had always been my dream to see the wild animals in their natural habitat of the African Savannah or the Amazon rain forests. When the media in Japan started talking about disappearing rain forests in the 1980s, I simply thought that it was not “fair”: Why might my generation be banned from ever seeing them just because some people were cutting down trees for money? I used to ask my parents and they would tell me that I had to do something about it if I wanted to see these animals in the future.

Bull elephants lock their tusks to greet each other at dawn in the Amboseli National Park, southern Kenya. epa / Dai Kurokawa

Bull elephants lock their tusks to greet each other at dawn in the Amboseli National Park, southern Kenya. epa / Dai Kurokawa

These childhood memories resurfaced in December 2012, when I met a high ranking man from an international wildlife NGO and was later told that this very person was said to be deeply involved in poaching and trafficking of ivory. I was puzzled that people in a position to protect animals are the ones actually involved in killing them.
Poaching had already been a big issue in Kenya/Africa at that time so I thought this was a good chance to do something meaningful both personally and professionally, and started my research and preparation in mid 2013.

A ranger of Narok County Government's rhino protection team stands at the observation point to spot black rhinos during the evening patrol in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, south-western Kenya. epa / Dai Kurokawa

A ranger of Narok County Government’s rhino protection team stands at the observation point to spot black rhinos during the evening patrol in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, south-western Kenya. epa / Dai Kurokawa

Poaching is not a sport but an environmental crime. In Kenya, about 280 elephants and almost 60 rhinos have been killed by poachers in 2013 according to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). Elephants and rhinoceros are targeted for their tusks and horns. Ivory is used in mass productions for souvenirs and jewelry. The tusks of one elephant are worth tens of thousands of euros. Especially Asian clients pay good money for rhino horns to use in their traditional medicine as it is believed it can cure almost everything. But actually, biting nails would have the same effect. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) estimates that the illicit wildlife trade is worth at least 14 billion Euros per year, ranking it the fourth largest global illegal activity. And Somalia’s Islamist militant group al-Shabab is believed to derive some 430,000 Euros a month, or up to 40 percent of its revenue, through the ivory trade to fund their terrorism activities, as claimed by wildlife NGO Elephant Action League (EAL).

A sedated white rhino is blindfolded and strapped with a rope by veterinarians and rangers of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS)  near Naivasha, Kenya. epa / Dai Kurokawa

A sedated white rhino is blindfolded and strapped with a rope by veterinarians and rangers of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) near Naivasha, Kenya. epa / Dai Kurokawa

As a wire photographer, I didn’t have the luxury of spending seven consecutive days on a feature story. Therefore the story had to be worked on an on/off basis. To take a photograph of a poached rhino in Lewa, for instance, I acted on a tip off from a local source. As soon as I heard the news, I hit the road to Lewa.

A mutilated corpse of a seventeen-year-old, three-months pregnant poached black rhino with horns removed is left to decay on a hillside in the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Isiolo, northern Kenya, 20 November 2013. epa / Dai Kurokawa

A mutilated corpse of a seventeen-year-old, three-months pregnant poached black rhino with horns removed is left to decay on a hillside in the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Isiolo, northern Kenya, 20 November 2013. epa / Dai Kurokawa

For me, this is one of strongest pictures in this series because it’s rare to get these pictures in Kenya, and it took a lot of preparation and setup. Authorities never want you to photograph them for fear it would make them look like they weren’t doing their job.

I covered the rangers in Maasai Mara because I wanted to show what is actually being done on a daily basis on the ground, as opposed to “official” PR events that are actively promoted by authorities. Through my contacts inside the KWS, I was invited and allowed to cover the chip implanting operation.

A veterinarian of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) saws off the tip of wild elephant's tusk during an elephant-collaring operation near Kajiado, southern Kenya. The tips are sawed off to take DNA samples so that they can track/match them later. For example, if the ivories were confiscated in Hong Kong, the DNA samples can be used to track its origin. epa / Dai Kurokawa

A veterinarian of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) saws off the tip of wild elephant’s tusk during an elephant-collaring operation near Kajiado, southern Kenya. The tips are sawed off to take DNA samples so that they can track/match them later. For example, if the ivories were confiscated in Hong Kong, the DNA samples can be used to track its origin. epa / Dai Kurokawa

I was surprised to see how many resources – time, money, people and their expertise- are devoted to put one microchip into one rhino – while on the other end of the spectrum some poachers use very basic and primitive techniques to kill animals and are so successful at it and often walk free even when discovered.

A ranger of Narok County Government's rhino protection team stands at the observation point to spot black rhinos during the evening patrol in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, south-western Kenya. epa / Dai Kurokawa

A ranger of Narok County Government’s rhino protection team stands at the observation point to spot black rhinos during the evening patrol in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, south-western Kenya. epa / Dai Kurokawa

From talking to rangers, poachers, conservation activists and members of local communities, I have come to think that no matter how well their rangers are equipped or how much international campaign they put out, the big task of conservation will be impossible without engaging local communities more closely and team up with them as partners. After all, it would be impossible for poachers to operate without being tipped off by the local population and insiders who are aware of rangers’ patrol routes, times, number of rangers etc.

Rangers of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and Kenya Forest Service (KFS) receive instructions from British Army Corporal Andrew Smith (L) of the 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment, during an anti-poaching training demostration near Nanyuki, 200km north of Nairobi, Kenya, 05 December 2013. epa / Dai Kurokawa

Rangers of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and Kenya Forest Service (KFS) receive instructions from British Army Corporal Andrew Smith (L) of the 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment, during an anti-poaching training demostration near Nanyuki, 200km north of Nairobi, Kenya, 05 December 2013. epa / Dai Kurokawa

For one thing, the local population in the poaching prone areas are the ones living side by side with the animals and often with first-hand information regarding illegal activities. Yet some of them are reluctant to help authorities because they feel let down by the government in the first place. They believe authorities only care about the animals’ welfare, and neglect theirs. For example, the Maasai herdsmen are banned from grazing their cattle inside the parks so as not to bother wild animals or disappoint tourists. When wild animals kill their people or their cattle, they are rarely compensated. So locals come to feel unfairly treated in the name of conservation. I think it would be important for the government to listen to the locals’ concerns and make them feel they will actually benefit from conservation.

And here is some more food for thought: In his book “2052 A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Yeaers”, Norwegian scholar Jorgen Randers gives readers his personal advice on how to live happily in the future- “Don’t teach your children to love the wilderness” and “If you like great biodiversity, go see it now”
“When you see your child sitting in front of the computer and think that she should rather be by the campfire in the great outdoors, you should constrain your temptation to interfere. By teaching your child to love the loneliness of the untouched wilderness, you are teaching her to love what will be increasingly difficult to find. And you will be increasing the chance of her being unhappy- because she won’t be able to find what she desires in the future world of eight billion people and a GDP twice that of today”.

Despite my childhood worries, my generation has been lucky enough to be able to witness the great biodiversity of the world. But what about our children? Will they be lucky like us? It’s up to all of us and our responsibility to prove Mr Randers wrong.

The feature package is available in epa webgate. Follow us on Facebook and on Twitter to stay in touch for more insightful stories from behind the scenes.

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Kobane – my assignment along the Syrian border

By Sedat Suna

Once I learnt that I was supposed to go to the Syrian border I called the local journalists and the people I knew in the area. I started arranging for accommodation and transport, and left for the border near Kobane. When I first arrived, the intensity of the conflict was still rather low, so I concentrated mainly on covering the refugees who had entered Turkey. I did so for a week and a half. When the situation worsened and combat action increased, I started to take photos of the refugees during the day and then turned to the combat area near the border.

Syrian refugees are watched by Turkish gendarmerie police forces as they wait to cross the Mursitpinar border gate from Turkey to join their families on the Syrian side of the border, near Sanliurfa, in the Suruc district, Turkey, 28 September 2014. epa / Sedat Suna

Syrian refugees are watched by Turkish gendarmerie police forces as they wait to cross the Mursitpinar border gate from Turkey to join their families on the Syrian side of the border, near Sanliurfa, in the Suruc district, Turkey, 28 September 2014. epa / Sedat Suna

I set up my daily plan, made contact with the people at the border and was informed by them before any action took place. In a second phase, the fighting moved closer to the border, so I decided to cover the conflict from the vantage point of a hill from where Kobane city could be seen best. Once the US-led coalition started bombing, I mostly took pictures in the safety along the border line.

A picture taken from Turkey shows smoke rises after an airstrike by an allegedly allianz war plane to Islamic State targets at the west of Kobane, Syria, where Kurdish fighters YPG are trying to defend the city, near Suruc district, Sanliurfa, Turkey, 08 October 2014. epa / Sedat Suna

A picture taken from Turkey shows smoke rises after an airstrike by an allegedly allianz war plane to Islamic State targets at the west of Kobane, Syria, where Kurdish fighters YPG are trying to defend the city, near Suruc district, Sanliurfa, Turkey, 08 October 2014. epa / Sedat Suna

In all my moves, security came first. Once safety was established, I set out to work. That was the theory. However, on the first day of bombing, bullets sprayed the hill I was working on and one of the bullets got stuck in the very place where I had been sitting just a few minutes earlier. The day all the journalists had been kept away from the frontier zone, three howitzers hit the ground near where we used to be standing.

Syrian refugee Hacer Abdul with her new born baby Bewar and some of her other children in a refugee camp in the Suruc district, Sanliurfa, Turkey, 20 October 2014. epa / Sedat Suna

Syrian refugee Hacer Abdul with her new born baby Bewar and some of her other children in a refugee camp in the Suruc district, Sanliurfa, Turkey, 20 October 2014. epa / Sedat Suna

I did not go there after that time for security reasons. While border clashes near Kobane were continuing, the protests in the city center continued to escalate. I was getting information from the local press, going to the regions of protests to take some photos and turning my back to the frontier zone right after that. After the tent city for the refugees in Suruç had been set up, I went there in the evenings. In brief, I divided my days into three parts: In the mornings, I took pictures of refugees, then moved on to the clashes along the border line and in the evenings before sunset, I worked in the tent cities. All in all, I spent 18 days in the frontier zone near Kobane.*

*stop press: Since writing this, Sedat Suna was called back to the area covering the situation in Kobane and the refugee camp in Suruc.

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American Oktoberfest – a little taste of the German Alps in the southern United States

By Erik S. Lesser

Several years ago I had a brief encounter with Oktoberfest in the quaint north Georgia town of Helen. Now that I work for a company with headquarters in Germany, I decided to take another jaunt to the Alpine village.

Wade Norton, 85, of Doraville, Georgia, enjoys his beer inside the Festhalle festival hall during the 44th annual Oktoberfest celebrations in Helen, Georgia, USA, 26 September 2014. epa / Erik S. Lesser

Wade Norton, 85, of Doraville, Georgia, enjoys his beer inside the Festhalle festival hall during the 44th annual Oktoberfest celebrations in Helen, Georgia, USA, 26 September 2014. epa / Erik S. Lesser

Once a sleepy logging town in the Blue Ridge Mountains, city business leaders decided in 1968 that an economic face-lift was needed to bring in the tourists and money. They were correct, and while some people make fun of Helen, many others enjoy visiting for the day or longer. Most of all the economic revival has created many jobs.

American Oktoberfest: The downtown tourist district during the 44th annual Oktoberfest celebrations in Helen, Georgia, USA, 26 September 2014. epa / Erik S. Lesser

American Oktoberfest: The downtown tourist district during the 44th annual Oktoberfest celebrations in Helen, Georgia, USA, 26 September 2014. epa / Erik S. Lesser

Now in their 44th year, far behind Munich, Oktoberfest and all things Bavaria is big business in Helen. Candy shops, German and northern European themed restaurants, imported gifts and even an Heidi Hotel dot the landscape. Helen is even a sister city with Füssen, Germany.

Visitors celebrate the season inside the Festhalle festival hall during the 44th annual Oktoberfest celebrations in Helen, Georgia, USA, 26 September 2014. epa / Erik S. Lesser

Visitors celebrate the season inside the Festhalle festival hall during the 44th annual Oktoberfest celebrations in Helen, Georgia, USA, 26 September 2014. epa / Erik S. Lesser

American Oktoberfest: A man walks by a mural on the Festhalle festival hall during the 44th annual Oktoberfest celebrations in Helen, Georgia, USA, 26 September 2014. epa / Erik S. Lesser

American Oktoberfest: A man walks by a mural on the Festhalle festival hall during the 44th annual Oktoberfest celebrations in Helen, Georgia, USA, 26 September 2014. epa / Erik S. Lesser

I don’t own a pair of Lederhosen and luckily they are not required. There are plenty of people who proudly wear Lederhosen and other German-style clothing, but you also see locals wearing cowboy boots. In fact, there are many people who return year after year, paying the entrance fee to the Festhalle to raise their commemorative mugs and steins to German toasts and participate in polkas and the chicken dance and celebrate their heritage. There are even retired couples who have moved to the area to be closer to the action and volunteer.

People dance inside the Festhalle festival hall during the 44th annual Oktoberfest celebrations in Helen, Georgia, USA, 26 September 2014. epa / Erik S. Lesser

People dance inside the Festhalle festival hall during the 44th annual Oktoberfest celebrations in Helen, Georgia, USA, 26 September 2014. epa / Erik S. Lesser

Other German traditions are heartily celebrated in Helen throughout the year including Fasching and the dropping of the Edelweiss on New Year’s Eve.

So, willkommen to a little taste of the German Alps in the southern United States.

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On Covering the United Nations General Assembly

epa’s New York Bureau Chief on the annual whirlwind

By Justin Lane

In the General Assembly Hall, I’m wondering aloud if that guy walking through the room isn’t the President of France and hey, isn’t he shaking hands with the Foreign Minister of Germany who just said hello to that prime minister I’m having a hard time immediately identifying? It’s a study of excess – too many leaders to keep careful track of, too many security checkpoints, and too many journalists from around the world who all woke up too early.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (R) shakes hands with US actor Leonardo DiCaprio (L) during his designation ceremony as the UN Messenger of Peace at the United Nations headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 20 September 2014. epa / Jason Szenes

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (R) shakes hands with US actor Leonardo DiCaprio (L) during his designation ceremony as the UN Messenger of Peace at the United Nations headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 20 September 2014. epa / Jason Szenes

Men in a control booth control the feed of Hassan Rouhani, President of Iran, speaking during the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly at United Nations headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 25 September 2014. epa / Justin Lane

Men in a control booth control the feed of Hassan Rouhani, President of Iran, speaking during the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly at United Nations headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 25 September 2014. epa / Justin Lane

The first few days are always a dance of scheduling as we try to determine how to be in all the right places. There are four of us: myself, Andrew Gombert, Jason Szenes and Peter Foley. Four of us to identify and cover leaders from the 193 member countries. It’s like a game, racing to identify the major political players. And of course, it’s an amazing thing to be a small part of an opportunity to share a room with some of the most powerful people in the world.

US President Barack Obama (L) speaks during the general debate of the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly at United Nations headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 24 September 2014. epa / Peter Foley

US President Barack Obama (L) speaks during the general debate of the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly at United Nations headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 24 September 2014. epa / Peter Foley

The best part of these events are the small unpredictable moments. Of note to me this week was a Security Council meeting held on Wednesday, chaired by President Obama.

United States President Barack Obama walks off stage after addressing the Climate Summit 2014 at United Nations headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 23 September 2014. epa / Justin Lane

United States President Barack Obama walks off stage after addressing the Climate Summit 2014 at United Nations headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 23 September 2014. epa / Justin Lane

Among those in the relative intimate space were the presidents of France, Chile, Argentina, the Prime Minster of the United Kingdom, and the King of Jordan. At one point in this high-level meeting on worldwide terrorism, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner took out a small container of snacks—I think they were nuts—and offered them to her delegation and to a few other leaders, who politely declined. She then left them on her desk. Just one small moment.

I loved it.

Cristina Kirchner (R), the President of Argentina, offers nuts to her delegation during a high-level United Nations Security Council meeting about worldwide terrorism during the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly at United Nations headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 24 September 2014. epa / Justin Lane

Cristina Kirchner (R), the President of Argentina, offers nuts to her delegation during a high-level United Nations Security Council meeting about worldwide terrorism during the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly at United Nations headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 24 September 2014. epa / Justin Lane

We need to deliver the expected pictures, the handshakes, the overalls of a world figure leading the hall but it’s the moments like the President of Argentina offering snacks from her purse to Obama that make the early mornings and hectic long days most worth it, when we can humanize the enormity of the event.

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Deadly Deluge – Covering the Pakistan Floods

By Omer Saleem

It all started when the monsoon system entered from the Himalayas on 03 September and triggered torrential rains in most populous province of Punjab and disputed Kashmir region. By the evening reports of causalities from rain related-incidents started to come in.
Over the next three days the rain never stopped for a single minute. Lahore City, the provincial capital of Punjab province, had all major roads inundated.

Traffic was jammed at all major roads by the afternoon.

Pakistan Floods: Vehicles are stuck in a traffic jam after heavy downpour in Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab province, Pakistan, 05 September 2014. epa / Omer Saleem

Pakistan Floods: Vehicles are stuck in a traffic jam after heavy downpour in Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab province, Pakistan, 05 September 2014. epa / Omer Saleem

As the rains continued for the last 24 hours, most people opted to stay at home. Nevertheless some parents were anxious to take their children to school.

Pakistan Floods: School children ride a bike to school during heavy downpour in Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab province,  Pakistan, 05 September 2014. epa/ Omer Saleem

Pakistan Floods: School children ride a bike to school during heavy downpour in Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab province, Pakistan, 05 September 2014. epa/ Omer Saleem

It was my first experience in covering flooding, standing in the middle of an inundated road, holding an umbrella with one hand to cover my gear and capturing images with the other.

Pakistan Floods: People with their vehicles make their way through a flooded road during heavy downpour in Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab province,  Pakistan, 05 September 2014. epa / Omer Saleem

Pakistan Floods: People with their vehicles make their way through a flooded road during heavy downpour in Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab province, Pakistan, 05 September 2014. epa / Omer Saleem

After three hours I came back home to file my images, but for the whole day even when I slept I felt as if it continued to drizzle on my face.
By that evening the death toll reached 100 with unconfirmed reports that neighboring India would release the flood water into Chenab river of Pakistan — another blow to an already devastated situation.

Flash floods during the monsoon are common in Pakistan, where the worst deluge in 2010 submerged one-fifth of the country, killing more than 1,700 people and affecting more than 20 million people. This time residents had the same haunting memories of 2010 but were not willing to leave their homes where their life’s earnings are their cattle and belongings. These people have lived for generations in such a simple lifestyle, without access to clean drinking water or other basic needs. Most work as farmers cultivating the major crop of the region, rice and wheat. However this flood also destroyed cultivated land along with crops.

Pakistan Floods: An aerial view of flooded areas in Jhang, Punjab province, Pakistan, 10 September 2014. epa / Omer Saleem

Pakistan Floods: An aerial view of flooded areas in Jhang, Punjab province, Pakistan, 10 September 2014. epa / Omer Saleem

On 5th September our coverage expanded to other cities of Punjab province where people started to flee following flash floods. I went to Jhang district some 250 kilometers from Lahore.

In Chiniot city I accompanied the colleagues of Rescue 1122, the provincial government’s rescue agency that helped evacuees from flooded villages near the Chenab River, then further on to Jhang City where the army was called in.

Omer Saleem while covering the floods in Pakistan

Omer Saleem while covering the floods in Pakistan

It is not always easy to get access to such rescue operations conducted by the Army, so I was grateful when the army major in charge of the operation granted me permission to go on board with the proviso that we not interview victims.

Pakistan Floods: shooting pictures from a helicopter

It is quite risky to photograph aerial views standing at helicopter door where sheer wind pressure can pull you out. The only remedy you have is to get a hold onto a cord with one hand and shoot with the other.

Omer Saleem while covering the floods in Pakistan

Omer Saleem in a helicopter while covering the floods in Pakistan

Finally the efforts paid off. We were the only agency to have the privilege to show the aerial views of the flooded areas to the world.
The next few days we continued to cover the floods as they reached the historic Multan city of Punjab province some 400 kilometers from Lahore City. Luckily this time the Army accommodated the media on their helicopters, and I had a warm welcome from Army pilots who recognized me.

Pakistan Floods: A Pakistani Army soldier distributes food bags in flooded areas in Shujabad, on the outskirts of Multan, Pakistan, 15 September 2014. epa / Omer Saleem

Pakistan Floods: A Pakistani Army soldier distributes food bags in flooded areas in Shujabad, on the outskirts of Multan, Pakistan, 15 September 2014. epa / Omer Saleem

Pakistan Floods: People affected by floods are rescued in Shujabad, Punjab province, Pakistan, 14 September 2014. epa / Omer Saleem

Pakistan Floods: People affected by floods are rescued in Shujabad, Punjab province, Pakistan, 14 September 2014. epa / Omer Saleem

Pakistan Floods: An aerial view of flooded areas in Jhang, Punjab province, Pakistan, 10 September 2014. epa / Omer Saleem

Pakistan Floods: An aerial view of flooded areas in Jhang, Punjab province, Pakistan, 10 September 2014. epa / Omer Saleem

A woman effected by the floods waits to be evacuated in Chiniot, Pakistan, 09 September 2014. epa / Omer Saleem

A woman effected by the floods waits to be evacuated in Chiniot, Pakistan, 09 September 2014. epa / Omer Saleem

Flooding in Pakistan has now begun to subside as raging waters headed towards the Arabian Sea in the south. Sadly nearly 320 people died and another three million were affected, with some 45,000 houses damaged and roads, bridges and crops destroyed.

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Visa pour l’Image Perpignan 2014 – The royal African welcome

By Nic Bothma

A royal African welcome greeted me in Perpignan by French police who escorted me out of the arrivals lounge and took me to a room to search my luggage. It made me feel at home! We got chatting and once they realised I was a photographer attending the 26th edition of the Visa pour l’Image, the premier international festival on photojournalism, they smiled, stopped searching and welcomed me into Perpignan.

epa photographers Nic Bothma (l) and Dennis M. Sabangan (r)

epa photographers Nic Bothma (l) and Dennis M. Sabangan (r)

There is a lot happening in Visa pour l’Image’s professional week and impossible to take it all in. But we tried.

#dysturb city exhibit in Perpignan during the Visa pour l'Image 2014

#dysturb city exhibit in Perpignan during the Visa pour l’Image 2014

One of the highlights for me was seeing the Vietnam war through the eyes of Vietnamese photographers Doan Cong Tinh, Chu Chi Thanh, Mai Nam and Hua Kiem. The world’s perception of the war was largely shaped by the imagery provided by American photographers. Under extreme conditions these Vietnamese photographers worked and produced an excellent photographic record of events from a very different perspective. I wonder how things would have turned out if their images had received a global audience like the Americans and not surfacing at a photojournalism festival 50 years later.

One night whilst having dinner these humble gentlemen walked past our table and we were able to shake their hands and have a chat through their interpreter. It was a very special moment and a veteran American photographer dining with us was brought to tears after meeting them.

A tribute exhibition for Chris Hondros at Hotel Pams during the Visa pour l'Image 2014.

A tribute exhibition for Chris Hondros at Hotel Pams during the Visa pour l’Image 2014.

It was an honor and a privilege to attend this years Perpignan festival with friends from epa Frankfurt and around the world. I saw a host of excellent photography and attended inspiring talks and presentations. The only thing missing for me was a show of our brother Kerim Okten’s work. Kerim was the finest photographer to grace epa and I would have loved to see his work shown there. Perhaps it can sometime in the future.

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Tour de France 2014 – from the back of a motorbike

By Kim Ludbrook

If you don’t like hard work, living in 25 hotels in three weeks, driving 10.000 km in total and working from the back of a motorcycle careering through the French country side; don’t apply to cover The Tour de France!

Nothing prepared me for the incredible event that is The Tour de France 2014.

In our first three days of coverage in England, an estimated three million people stood by the side of the road to watch the world’s best cyclists ride the 101st Tour.

Motorbikes carrying TV and stills photographers are seen following previous Tour de France winner, Alberto Contador, ride back to the peleton after he crashed. epa / Kim Ludbrook

Motorbikes carrying TV and stills photographers are seen following previous Tour de France winner, Alberto Contador, ride back to the peleton after he crashed. epa / Kim Ludbrook

epa has three photographers covering the race and one professional motorcycle rider.

During each stage the two photographers in the car drive to the finish of that day’s stage and start to edit the images coming from the photographer on the motorcycle.

Photographers from the news agencies of epa, AP, AFP and Reuters wait on the finish line in The Mall in London during Stage 3. epa / Kim Ludbrook

Photographers from the news agencies of epa, AP, AFP and Reuters wait on the finish line in The Mall in London during Stage 3. epa / Kim Ludbrook

They also photograph the winner of that stage crossing the line and the podium because each day of the 21-day race has a podium ceremony.

Lotto Belisol procycling team rider Tony Gallopin of France celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the 11th stage of the 101st Tour de France 2014 cycling race, over 187.5 km from Besancon to Oyonnax, in France, 16 July 2014.  epa / Kim Ludbrook

Lotto Belisol procycling team rider Tony Gallopin of France celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the 11th stage of the 101st Tour de France 2014 cycling race, over 187.5 km from Besancon to Oyonnax, in France, 16 July 2014. epa / Kim Ludbrook

The photographer on the motorcycle covers the start of the stage with features, while on the bike he shoots the action of that day’s stage as well as feature images of the riders cycling through the landscape. The backseat of the motorcyle is his office for the day because he shoots and edits on the camera while riding at 50-60km/h and then transmits via 4G card and wireless transmitter attachment to the camera. The images are sent via FTP to the photographers editing his work at the finish.

Covering the race from the back of the motorbike is without question one of the hardest but most rewarding experiences I have had in my career.

The break away group in action with Omega Pharma Quick Step Procycling team rider Tony Martin (L) of Germany during the 10th stage of the 101st Tour de France 2014 cycling race, over 161.5 km from Mulhouse to La Planche des Belles Filles, in France, 14 July 2014. epa / Kim Ludbrook

The break away group in action with Omega Pharma Quick Step Procycling team rider Tony Martin (L) of Germany during the 10th stage of the 101st Tour de France 2014 cycling race, over 161.5 km from Mulhouse to La Planche des Belles Filles, in France, 14 July 2014. epa / Kim Ludbrook

It is really taxing on the body and very tiring in the mind as you are not only concentrating on shooting and editing but also trying to follow the events of the race with Guy, the professional motorcycle rider.

Guy is critical to the coverage as he has covered 20 TDF and not only knows cycle racing and its nuances but also all the riders, teams and many of the passes. He has race radio on his motorcycle so as the race progresses he is not only visually looking at break-aways and crashes but also listens to race radio who inform teams, media and TDF staff what is happening on the course.

While working in the peleton there are ‘regulators’ riding motorbikes who control the movement and access of the photographers, team cars and TV cameras covering the race. There are strict rules that we are not allowed to break.

A 'regulator', wearing red, is seen telling the motorbike riders carrying TV and stills photographers where they must ride during Stage 10. epa / Kim Ludbrook

A ‘regulator’, wearing red, is seen telling the motorbike riders carrying TV and stills photographers where they must ride during Stage 10. epa / Kim Ludbrook

This is all for rider safety and also to make sure that there are no motorbikes in the live TV shots that are beamed to millions around the world.

Like any outdoors sport covering cycling means that you are working in every weather condition from rain and cold to sun and heat: The Tour de France 2014 is like a 3,664km long ‘stadium’.

Saxo Tinkoff procycling team rider Alberto Contador (C) of Spain in action during the 4th stage of the 101st edition of the Tour de France 2014 cycling race between Le Touquet-Paris-Plage and Lille Metropole, in France, 08 July 2014.  epa / Kim Ludbrook

Saxo Tinkoff procycling team rider Alberto Contador (C) of Spain in action during the 4th stage of the 101st edition of the Tour de France 2014 cycling race between Le Touquet-Paris-Plage and Lille Metropole, in France, 08 July 2014. epa / Kim Ludbrook

Equipment wise on the motorbike I used a Canon 70-200 f4, Canon 16-35 f2.8 and a Canon 14mm with 2 Canon EOS 1DX while at the finish line I used a Canon 400mm.

What is amazing about The Tour de France 2014 is that each day of the Tour is a race on its own for the riders so it is an ever changing event with many winners, lots of crashes, lots of drama and many ‘news’ related angles on a sports event.

Garmin Sharp procycling team rider Andrew Talansky (3-R) of US falls as he makes the sprint on the finish line of the 7th stage of the 101st Tour de France cycling race, over 234.5 km from Epernay to Nancy, in France, 11 July 2014. epa / Nicolas Bouvy

Garmin Sharp procycling team rider Andrew Talansky (3-R) of US falls as he makes the sprint on the finish line of the 7th stage of the 101st Tour de France cycling race, over 234.5 km from Epernay to Nancy, in France, 11 July 2014. epa / Nicolas Bouvy

This year for instance saw both main contenders crashing out of the race and the images from the bike of those two crashes got the best usage around the world.

Saxo Tinkoff procycling team rider Alberto Contador of Spain is seated inside his team car as he abandons the race after crashing during the 10th stage of the 101st Tour de France 2014 cycling race, over 161.5 km from Mulhouse to La Planche des Belles Filles, in France, 14 July 2014. epa / Kim Ludbrook

Saxo Tinkoff procycling team rider Alberto Contador of Spain is seated inside his team car as he abandons the race after crashing during the 10th stage of the 101st Tour de France 2014 cycling race, over 161.5 km from Mulhouse to La Planche des Belles Filles, in France, 14 July 2014. epa / Kim Ludbrook

Orica Greenedge Procycling team rider Simon Gerrans (C) of Australia and Omega Pharma Quick Step Procycling team rider Mark Cavendish (bottom L) of Great Britain crash during the sprint of the 1st stage of the 101st edition of the Tour de France 2014 cycling race between Leeds and Harrogate, in United Kingdom, 05 July 2014.  epa / Yoan Valat

Orica Greenedge Procycling team rider Simon Gerrans (C) of Australia and Omega Pharma Quick Step Procycling team rider Mark Cavendish (bottom L) of Great Britain crash during the sprint of the 1st stage of the 101st edition of the Tour de France 2014 cycling race between Leeds and Harrogate, in United Kingdom, 05 July 2014. epa / Yoan Valat

As the peleton rides through the French country side at speed the motorbikes, team cars and helicopters on course, have a life of their own. Rushing through small villages and up mountain passes watched by millions of people who stand for hours simply to catch a glimpse of this most epic of human endeavours.

Special thanks to the amazing epa Photo team of Yoan Valat, Nicolas Bouvy and Guy Devuyst for helping me through my first tour. Bravo!

epa team covering the Tour de France 2014: (L-R) Kim Ludbrook, Nicolas Bouvy, Yoan Valet and motorbike rider, Guy Devuyst.

epa team covering the Tour de France 2014: (L-R) Kim Ludbrook, Nicolas Bouvy, Yoan Valet and motorbike rider, Guy Devuyst.

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The Show Must Go On, But Not Without the Fans!

By Robert Ghement

    ‘There’s lots of pretty, pretty ones
    that want to get you high.
    But all the pretty, pretty ones
    will leave you low, and blow your mind.’

    ‘The Dope Show’- by Marylin Manson

For Brazilian people, soccer is more than just a phenomenon, it’s almost a religion.
Organizing a world cup in such a place could be compared to setting up a religious pilgrimage for
a broad mass of followers, with all its implications.
Members from various ‘congregations’ will come to support their idols and saints, full of hope and believing that their support is crucial for their beloved ones; stadiums will be their churches, and
players their hopeful healers.

Brazil supporters react during the FIFA World Cup 2014 third place match between Brazil and the Netherlands at the Estadio Nacional in Brasilia, Brazil, 12 July 2014. epa / Robert Ghement

Brazil supporters react during the FIFA World Cup 2014 third place match between Brazil and the Netherlands at the Estadio Nacional in Brasilia, Brazil, 12 July 2014. epa / Robert Ghement

Either called ‘hermanos’ or the ‘red devils’, watching the game from their seats, or at home on their couches or
trembling in front of the Fan Fest stages, soccer fans are the most important factor in a World Cup equation.
No one could deny that.
Soccer fans can be hopeful, sad, daring, bold, enthusiastic or violent, but they could not replace the Big Show!

Brazilian fans react while watching the FIFA World Cup 2014 group A preliminary round match between Brazil and Mexico at the FIFA Fan Fest in Salvador, Brazil, 17 June 2014. The match at the Estadio Castelao in Fortaleza ended 0-0. epa / Guillaume Horcajuelo

Brazilian soccer fans react while watching the FIFA World Cup 2014 group A preliminary round match between Brazil and Mexico at the FIFA Fan Fest in Salvador, Brazil, 17 June 2014. The match at the Estadio Castelao in Fortaleza ended 0-0. epa / Guillaume Horcajuelo

They could just watch it, encourage it, coming to despair or exultation, but never play it.
And that’s the role of the team players. Sometimes, expert commentators refer to them as ‘the twelfth player’.

A German soccer fan waves the German flag among spectators in Paris, France, 04 July 2014, who attend the public viewing of the FIFA World Cup 2014 quarter final soccer match between France and Germany on a giant screen in front of Hotel de Ville (Town Hall).  epa / Ian Langsdon

A German soccer fan waves the German flag among spectators in Paris, France, 04 July 2014, who attend the public viewing of the FIFA World Cup 2014 quarter final soccer match between France and Germany on a giant screen in front of Hotel de Ville (Town Hall). epa / Ian Langsdon

The Brazilian team had its twelfth man in every stadium they played, as they were playing all the games in their own yard.
One could call this an advantage, but ‘the twelth player’ never listens to or obeys the head coach!
Sometimes, when eager, they can do more damage than good to a team.
That was not the case with the Brazilian team, who was supported at all times consequently and religiously.
Even at 5-0, Brazilian fans still had energy to encourage a desperate ball recovery or an almost brutal stop of their opponents. But, at a certain point, their love for soccer was greater than that for their own team, when, without any warning, Brazilians started to cheer each passing shot exchanged by the German players. As if the Germans
were Brazilians and vice versa. That was beyond common belief: they praised much more the Beauty of The Game than their favorite players.

A Brazilian fan shows his dejection after the FIFA World Cup 2014 semi final match between Brazil and Germany at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 08 July 2014. Germany won 7-1. epa/dpa/Thomas Eisenhuth

A Brazilian fan shows his dejection after the FIFA World Cup 2014 semi final match between Brazil and Germany at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 08 July 2014. Germany won 7-1. epa/dpa/Thomas Eisenhuth

Some Brazilians were saying that the football shirts of their team were smaller than those of their opponents!
After the historic semi-final Brazil vs Germany ended, the streets of Belo Horizonte were set on fire:
parties were held on street corners in Devassi Square in a way that made you believe Brazil had won the game that night! Police were watching supporters dancing and drinking from close range, but spirits were never heated up in a bad way. From time to time, small groups of German supporters crossed masses of Brazilians. Dressed in their white T-Shirts they stood out like lanterns in the dark, drinking their beers and enjoying the street fiestas. Sometimes they were cheered by the Brazilians by voice or hand clapping, but never pushed, bullied or cursed at.

Fernandinho of Brazil react after a goal scored by Toni Kroos of Germany  during the FIFA World Cup 2014 semi final match between Brazil and Germany at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 08 July 2014.  epa / Robert Ghement

Fernandinho of Brazil react after a goal scored by Toni Kroos of Germany during the FIFA World Cup 2014 semi final match between Brazil and Germany at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 08 July 2014. epa / Robert Ghement

After 7 to 1.

I don’t know if seven is a magic number, but for sure Brazilian soccer fans are magic, same as the game of the German team who defeated their beloved team.
I think now, not many Brazilians believe into their own team, but for sure they will never lose faith in The Game!

I really want to make the followers of this blog understand that we as photographers are humans too, sometimes pushy, at other times stressed or impulsive. We are not just machines who push a button, but beings who care and who filter surrounding information and stimulus before transforming our perception and feelings into a digital pixel, to share our vision on soccer and the true fans who never had a chance to watch a game from pitch level!

Because we are The Transformers.

Robert Ghement is a staff photographer in Bucharest and has been with epa for 15 years.

UPDATE: Upon his return from Brazil, he was immediately called to a new assignment to cover the recent events in Ukraine.

Malaysia Airlines plane crashes in eastern Ukraine.

Malaysia Airlines plane crash in eastern Ukraine. Pictures by epa / Robert Ghement

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A goal accomplished – FIFA World Cup 2014

By CJ Gunther

This was the moment I had dreamed of for over 26 years. I was going to the FIFA World Cup, Cupo de Mundo. But my flight was cancelled and I was sitting in Boston’s Logan Airport rather than flying to Sao Paulo and I wondered if I would make it to Curitiba on time.

David Villa (C) of Spain scores the opening goal during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group B preliminary round match between Australia and Spain at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 23 June 2014. epa / CJ Gunther

David Villa (C) of Spain scores the opening goal during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group B preliminary round match between Australia and Spain at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 23 June 2014. epa / CJ Gunther

I didn’t set out to be a sport photographer, I wanted to shoot architecture and art when I first began to make pictures. But in college I discovered that I enjoyed the sport image too, and I enjoy soccer, played it as a child and through high school, I know the game so I found it easy to shoot. I was once asked, ‘How awesome was it shooting the NCAA Final four with the UConn men’s basketball team?” – “Not as cool as it would be to shoot the World Cup,’ I answered.

In 1994, I got really close to achieving that goal. I got to shoot one of the friendly matches between Ireland and Columbia when Boston was one of the World Cup host cities. But no real matches for me. Yes, in Boston we have the occasional friendly match between some National teams, or Premiere league teams, but the FIFA World Cup is not on the line when those games are played. So the level of play is not as intense. I also got really close in 2012 when I was asked to be part of epa’s team for the UEFA Euro 2012 Cup, but health reasons kept me away.

This time I was really going. I was part of the epa team. I signed up for Brazilian Portuguese classes, I studied the culture and the politics of the country. I was going and a dream goal was going to be achieved. But here I was sitting at the airport only 20 miles from home, with no flight yet.

Abdelmoumene Djabou (C) of Algeria celebrates with his teammates after the FIFA World Cup 2014 group H preliminary round match between Algeria and Russia at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 26 June 2014. The match ended 1-1. epa / CJ Gunther

Abdelmoumene Djabou (C) of Algeria celebrates with his teammates after the FIFA World Cup 2014 group H preliminary round match between Algeria and Russia at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 26 June 2014. The match ended 1-1. epa / CJ Gunther

Having never shot a FIFA World Cup match before, I was a little anxious. This soccer was going to be a faster pace than what I had ever seen before, and unlike the majority of the other photographers in attendance, my experience level would be much less. If this were baseball, there would be no anxiety at all. Top that with going to a country where everyone tells you, ‘do watch out, you are going to be held up,’ anxiety was at a high level.

Enner Valencia (C) of Ecuador scores the 1-1 equalizer against goalkeeper Noel Valladares (L) of Honduras during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group E preliminary round match between Honduras and Ecuador at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 20 June 2014. epa / CJ Gunther

Enner Valencia (C) of Ecuador scores the 1-1 equalizer against goalkeeper Noel Valladares (L) of Honduras during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group E preliminary round match between Honduras and Ecuador at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 20 June 2014. epa / CJ Gunther

My nervousness about Brazil was relieved immediately upon my arrival. I already knew to tell everyone at the airports and immigration, ‘FIFA World Cup,’ and I would get rushed through to my connecting flights, no delays at customs. It was in the queue at the last flight check-in when I began to meet people from Curitiba and felt welcomed to Brazil. At nearly every step of the process, I was met with smiling faces, and even got the beefy security official at the Media entrance to eventually smile on my arrival each day. All of this led up to covering some of the best soccer matches I had ever been to.

Dmitry Kombarov (L) of Russia in action against Islam Slimani (R) of Algeria during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group H preliminary round match between Algeria and Russia at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 26 June 2014. epa / CJ Gunther

Dmitry Kombarov (L) of Russia in action against Islam Slimani (R) of Algeria during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group H preliminary round match between Algeria and Russia at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 26 June 2014. epa / CJ Gunther

My colleague Rungroj Yongrit had been to the FIFA World Cup before and met up with me a few days after my arrival. I think he tried to relieve my nervousness by suggesting an early arrival time to the media center on the day of my first match, Iran V Nigeria. It was a big day for me, and I was a bit tense. We did go too early, but soon it was time to take our positions and set up the remotes. ‘Shoot it well,’ he encouraged me.

Iran's Ashkan Dejagah (L) and Nigeria's Joseph Yobo (R) vie for the ball during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group F preliminary round match between Iran and Nigeria at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 16 June 2014. epa / CJ Gunther

Iran’s Ashkan Dejagah (L) and Nigeria’s Joseph Yobo (R) vie for the ball during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group F preliminary round match between Iran and Nigeria at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 16 June 2014. epa / CJ Gunther

The first game.

I know soccer and knew very well that as soon as the match started I would get into my groove and make good photos. And I did. The Australian photographer next to me at the end of the match was surprised at my enjoyment. “That was not such a fine match. The action was minimal, the play could have been more exicting, hmph,” he said slyly.
‘You don’t understand.’ I replied. ‘The best I get on a regular basis is MLS. I only see this level of play on TV. To be here and see it live in person on the pitch level! With Moses right in front of me? Boom! That was awesome.’

Nigeria's Victor Moses controls the ball during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group F preliminary round match between Iran and Nigeria at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 16 June 2014. epa / CJ Gunther

Nigeria’s Victor Moses controls the ball during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group F preliminary round match between Iran and Nigeria at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 16 June 2014. epa / CJ Gunther

Now it was in the past, my first FIFA World Cup match. I was so excited about being there to work that it passed so quickly. I faired well; had good action images, covered the bases on getting the key players and plays of the game. Features before the game were hard not to find. The remainder of my time in Curitiba was a great experience as well. I met many local folks, discussed politics and football, tried the food of the region, became a regular at a pub near the Arena da Baixada even spending one evening behind the bar helping make and serve caipirinhas, was invited to several homes and explored much of the city on foot all the while photographing the people and places with never a feeling of danger.

The next two matches the nervous excitement was gone, I was no longer a FIFA world cup virgin. Honduras’ Costly celebrated his goal in front of me in the match again Ecuador.

Algeria's Islam Slimani (back C) scores the 1-1 equalizer during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group H preliminary round match between Algeria and Russia at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 26 June 2014. epa / CJ Gunther

Algeria’s Islam Slimani (back C) scores the 1-1 equalizer during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group H preliminary round match between Algeria and Russia at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 26 June 2014. epa / CJ Gunther

David Villa and Iniesta toyed with the Cahill shorted Australian boys for 90 minutes. The routine feeling of those two matches was long gone when Algeria faced Russia. With the streets and stands filled with several thousand Algerians, their World Cup party started early. It was a excting match; the goal by Kokorin (RUS) and the equalizer by Slimani (AGR) on my end of the pitch, the hard fought action through out the game. Algeria advanced for the first time out of the Group Play and the fans and team celebrated as if they had won the whole of the tournament. Flares and smoke bombs in the crowd, something that would never happen in the States, added to the excitement for me – I felt as if I was in Estadio do Maracana watching Algeria celebrate the FIFA World Cup Final.

Australian referee Benjamin Williams (R) sprays a marker line during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group E preliminary round match between Honduras and Ecuador at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 20 June 2014. epa / CJ Gunther

Australian referee Benjamin Williams (R) sprays a marker line during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group E preliminary round match between Honduras and Ecuador at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 20 June 2014. epa / CJ Gunther

Bittersweet was the feeling the next morning, headed back to Boston, but my children wanted me home, and the television there is big enough to make me feel like I was still on the pitch. Thanks Gernot.

epa photographer CJ Gunther and Rungroj Yongrit in the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 26 June 2014.

epa photographer CJ Gunther and Rungroj Yongrit in the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 26 June 2014.

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Paranoia at the FIFA World Cup, or the similarities of sports coverage and war reporting

By Dennis M. Sabangan

Weeks before we left for Brazil, an American photographer gave a warning through his Facebook account that some of his cameras and equipment for the World Cup were stolen in an airport in Brazil.

That this scenario is devastating to a photographer is a gross understatement, since so much of our work relies heavily on the proper set of tools in our arsenal. The loss of equipment is crushing since it affects not only his profession but also his psychological welfare.

Equipment for FIFA World Cup, epa Manila office, Philippines 07 June 2014. epa / Ritchie B. Tongo

Equipment for FIFA World Cup, epa Manila office, Philippines 07 June 2014. epa / Ritchie B. Tongo

Learning about the theft took me back to my 2001 war assignment in Afghanistan. After the 9/11 attack in America, a few days before the Capital of Kabul was set free, other Filipino journalists and I secured a vehicle to get around the city. The only way we communicated with our driver was through sign language and hand gestures. He couldn’t speak English nor could we speak Pashtun. Despite that, we bravely entered Kabul, leaving our fate in the hands of some higher being. Batman, maybe. Unfortunately for us, no one seemed to be listening to our prayers that day, as five armed Afghans stopped our vehicle between Kabul and Jalalabad.

I whispered to my fellow journalists, “Damn, I think this is where we will die. But it’s so cold, at least we won’t even rot”.

There we were at gun-point and forcefully held up. Thankfully, I brought three wallets. I deceived them with my “Philippine Dollars”– in reality worth a lot less in their currency. I also had a similar experience when I entered Jolo, Sulo and entered the camp of the bandit group Abu Sayyaf to accompany the negotiator to free some German, African, Finnish, Malaysian and Filipino captives. The terrorists forcefully asked for my equipment. Good thing that those weren’t mine. Still, these are moments that we would never in our wildest dreams wish to happen. Yet perhaps due to the twisted nature of fate, we can’t avoid such mishaps.

So instead of being depressed, or be rattled in these situations, I believe these are opportunities where we can learn, and develop the critical skills needed to survive, whether in a literal sense, or a professional one.

Such is the irony that when things fall apart, we as people and as photojournalist get put together.

Anyway, the FIFA World Cup.

June 9, 2014, we arrived in Sau Paolo after more than 24 hours of flying. I flew with my collegues, Rungroj Yongrit from Thailand and Mast Irham from Indonesia. We met in Singapore before going to Brazil. From there, we ventured to our own assignments, they will go to Manaus while I will go to Belo Horizonte.

Belgium's Vincent Kompany (L) and Argentina's Lionel Messi (R) vie for the ball during the FIFA World Cup 2014 quarter final match between Argentina and Belgium at the Estadio Nacional in Brasilia, Brazil, 05 July 2014. epa / Dennis M. Sabangan

Belgium’s Vincent Kompany (L) and Argentina’s Lionel Messi (R) vie for the ball during the FIFA World Cup 2014 quarter final match between Argentina and Belgium at the Estadio Nacional in Brasilia, Brazil, 05 July 2014. epa / Dennis M. Sabangan

The air of excitement over a big coverage hung above us when we met. Yet along with that, there was also another feeling–the underlying fear of what we may experience when we get there.

From Sau Paolo, I flew to Belo Horizonte. Even then I admit I felt fearful bringing my equipment out. It’s my habit that all my important things, particularly cameras, lens and some clothes are hand-carried so that whatever happens with the equipment I check in, it’s not something that I will primarily need covering the World Cup.

In Belo Horizonte, I was with my partner Peter Powell from Liverpool, Great Britain, from where modern soccer emerged. Peter is passionate over and familiar with covering football. It’s perhaps understandable that he asked me if football was a popular sport in the Philippines.

I said that boxing and basketball are the most popular sports in the Philippines. But in recent years, some provinces and sectors have begun to appreciate and keep a close watch on football. I even joked that if our former colonizers had taught Filipinos how to play soccer instead of basketball, then Lionel Messi of Argentina with a height of only 5’7” or Neymar of Brazil with 5’9” would have a Filipino to match their skills. Still in a country that is heavily influenced by American culture, basketball continues to be the sport of choice, no matter that Filipinos lack the height to be truly competitive at it.

At the World Cup, our first coverage was Match 5, Colombia vs Greece, where Greece lost with the score of 3-0. But it wasn’t just the losing Greeks who cried that night. Along with them were two photographers from an International agency, after two sets of lens and cameras were stolen – a unit of Canon 1DX 400mm, 1DX and 70-200 were lost from inside the Media Center despite it having tight security.

Lionel Messi (C) of Argentina in action against Andranik Timotian (R) of Iran during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group F preliminary round match between Argentina and Iran at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 21 June 2014. epa / Dennis M. Sabangan

Lionel Messi (C) of Argentina in action against Andranik Timotian (R) of Iran during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group F preliminary round match between Argentina and Iran at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 21 June 2014. epa / Dennis M. Sabangan

Their gear was stolen while they were editing at the Stadium Media Center. It certainly sparked paranoia in all of us there. After all, who else can enter the media center aside from accredited FIFA officials and the media? Minutes after the incident, everyone was already alerted.

I was going to the canteen when a photographer informed me that somebody lost equipment. I immediately went back to my desk and kept all my things in my bag and locked it. It is annoying and heart-breaking that this kind of situation can occur. For us in such an active profession, it can also be paralyzing– even if you get really angry, you can’t do anything about it. Hopefully this equipment were insured and the company can easily replace them.

Germany's Thomas Mueller (L) and Brazil's Luiz Gustavo (R) vie for the ball during the FIFA World Cup 2014 semi final match between Brazil and Germany at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 08 July 2014. epa / Dennis M. Sabangan

Germany’s Thomas Mueller (L) and Brazil’s Luiz Gustavo (R) vie for the ball during the FIFA World Cup 2014 semi final match between Brazil and Germany at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 08 July 2014. epa / Dennis M. Sabangan

While reflecting on what had just happened, I couldn’t help but think that if the thief victimized some poor Filipino newspaper photographers (photographers whose newsroom change equipment more slowly than the passing of four leap years) then they would have no choice but to stare blankly at the walls. That or, the more logical alternative, they will always fall in line in the Canon Booth to have temporary equipment to continue covering the World Cup. Still, even if the equipment can be replaced, you will go nuts because you’ve already lost your footing even as the coverage is just starting.

After the second theft, you would notice that most of the journalists, especially photojournalists, became extra vigilant and careful. Sometimes even if they needed to go to the bathroom, they would bring their equipment, while others take turns in taking care of the things if people need to leave the table. With my team, we often kept our things locked, if we had to leave them. There was a shortage of lockers because everyone wanted to keep their things under lock and key, afraid that they might get stolen.

During the next days of coverage, I realized that the threat does not only exist inside the media center, but also outside in the streets of Brazil. If we needed to shoot for a feature, we would do it from inside a taxi. That’s how it really is if one isn’t familiar with the culture, even more so if the city you are covering has a high crime rate.

After staying for more than a month in Brazil, we have covered 6 matches. Nearing the quarterfinals in July 5 in Brasilia, our two teams was beefed up to four, with Shawn Thew from the US and Robert Ghement from Romania completing the lineup. We flew to Belo Horizonte to finish the last few chapters of our mission in Brazil. The semi-finals between, Brazil and Germany was particularly memorable, with Germany beating the hosts 7-1 in a crushing defeat.
All told, we will bring the memories of the 2014 World Cup with us. As for the the photographs, there is a certain joy to the feeling that we have taken part in recording history using the photographs we took during the games.

#selfie at FIFA World Cup: Shawn Thew, Robert Ghement, Peter Powell, Dennis M. Sabangan before the FIFA World Cup semi final Brazil vs Germany  in Belo Horizonte. epa / Dennis M. Sabangan

#selfie at FIFA World Cup: Shawn Thew, Robert Ghement, Peter Powell, Dennis M. Sabangan before the FIFA World Cup semi final Brazil vs Germany in Belo Horizonte. epa / Dennis M. Sabangan

Perhaps we can’t avoid the nightmares that come, when thinking of the possibility of losing our own equipment during such an important coverage. That feeling of paranoia has been healed in part by the happy experiences working together. Even better than memories, I am thankful for the opportunity to learn even more as a sports photojournalist.

Ah, the football. The beautiful game.

Brazil's coach Luiz Felipe Scolari (C) celebrates with Neymar (R) after winning  the penalty shootout during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Brazil and Chile at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 28 June 2014. epa / Dennis M. Sabangan

Brazil’s coach Luiz Felipe Scolari (C) celebrates with Neymar (R) after winning the penalty shootout during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Brazil and Chile at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 28 June 2014. epa / Dennis M. Sabangan

As the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda said,

“You can say anything you want, yes sir, but it’s the goals that sing, they soar and descend. I bow to them. I love them, I cling to them, I run them down, I bite into them, I melt them down. I love words so much. The unexpected ones. The ones I wait for greedily or stalk until, suddenly, they drop. Vowels I love…They swallowed up everything, religion, pyramids, tribes, idolatries just like the ones they brought along in their huge sacks. Wherever they went, they razed the land. But goals fell like pebbles out of the boots of the barbarians, out of their beards, their helmets, their horseshoes, luminous words that were left glittering here. Our language. We came up losers. We came up winners. They carried off the gold and left us the gold. They carried everything off and left us everything. They left us the goals.”

Dennis M. Sabangan pictured from the media tribune covering Argentina team training during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group F preliminary round match between Argentina and Iran at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 20 June 2014. epa / Peter Powell

Dennis M. Sabangan pictured from the media tribune covering Argentina team training during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group F preliminary round match between Argentina and Iran at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 20 June 2014. epa / Peter Powell

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Smashing shots from the Wimbledon Championships 2014

By Sara Houlison

Wimbledon. Arguably the biggest tennis tournament of the year. And my very first editing assignment for epa. Being British and having watched the Wimbledon Championships on the television every year, I was ecstatic to have been offered the opportunity to head back over to home turf for two weeks as one of epa’s two picture editors for such an exciting sports event.

Spectators follow second round action during the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, in London, Britain, 25 June 2014. epa / Valdrin Xhemaj

Spectators follow second round action during the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, in London, Britain, 25 June 2014. epa / Valdrin Xhemaj

At this point I am primarily a news editor on the picturedesk in Frankfurt and have spent the past two years working on news stories playing out across the globe. From time to time I am also tasked with editing sports and arts, culture and entertainment material too. But I knew the job of a photo editor in the context of the Wimbledon Championships would be an entirely different ball game, pun intended. This realisation came when my job title changed from ‘picture editor’ to ‘media support’ on my grounds pass, which left much room for interpretation as well as a few jokes from our four-strong team of photographers.

A view of the grounds from the Wimbledon Championships press restaurant. epa / Sara Houlison

A view of the grounds from the Wimbledon Championships press restaurant. epa / Sara Houlison

My initiation into the world of assignments involved getting a 400mm lens over from Germany as part of my hand luggage. This type of lens is huge and weighs close to 4kg. In fact, it needs a special case of its own that is the size of a small suitcase. As it was x-rayed at the airport, one of the security personnel dragged it off the conveyor belt and gestured for me to go over. ‘It’s a lens!’ I protested. ‘I know’, she said, ‘but it has to be checked more thoroughly’. I fished around for the little key that opened the lens case and opened it up in a room away from the main security area. A man conducted the thorough check, which seemed to consist of him scanning it with some sort of paper, before telling me I was free to go with my lens. Logistics are important for any assignment and my lens-carrying abilities played only a minor part in the operation of getting all of the kit that we needed over to the Wimbledon Championships.

Petra Kvitova of Czech Republic in action against Eugenie Bouchard of Canada during their women's singles final of the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, in London, Britain, 05 July 2014. epa / Tatyana Zenkovic

Petra Kvitova of Czech Republic in action against Eugenie Bouchard of Canada during their women’s singles final of the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, in London, Britain, 05 July 2014. epa / Tatyana Zenkovic

The first day of editing was an intense one, as a couple of full-time sports editors had warned. We were covering between 20-30 matches per day to begin with, shared out between our photographers, and were looking for a tight selection of solid action pictures to illustrate each match. Unlike at the desk in Frankfurt, I would see every photograph that was taken, hundreds of files at a time, either after downloading them straight from a card or having them wired directly from the courts by our photographers. I soon realised the trick to coping with the enormous volume of pictures was to sift through everything as quickly as possible, keeping an eye out for the key moments and action that stood out, dragging them into my ‘to edit’ folder. Once satisfied with an initial selection of photographs for a match, each picture would be polished as part of our post-production work, captioned and immediately sent out onto the wire. If a photographer was still filing from a match, their folder would have to be reviewed again. And with a high number of matches going on simultaneously, special care had to be given to make sure players were correctly identified.

As the tournament progressed and players were knocked out, we covered matches in greater detail, sending out more pictures as we moved onto the quarter and semi-finals. Reactions from the players and their coaches became increasingly important as emotions ran high and the finals were in sight. We were looking for clean action, complete with unimaginable facial expressions, falls, tennis balls hovering in unusual spots, as well as ‘cellies’.

Novak Djokovic of Serbia (top) and Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria both take a fall in their semi final match during the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, in London, Britain, 04 July 2014. epa / Tatyana Zenkovic

Novak Djokovic of Serbia (top) and Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria both take a fall in their semi final match during the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, in London, Britain, 04 July 2014. epa / Tatyana Zenkovic

I’d like to point out here some new terminology I learned during my time at Wimbledon. I’m sure all of the following terms apply to other assignments where editors and photographers are in close working quarters too:

Celly (n. sing.), cellies (pl.) – a celebratory shot. Ultimately, everything that happened during the tournament led up to infinite cellies of Petra Kvitova and Novak Djokovic lifting their winners’ trophies at the end of their respective finals. Mid-match cellies typically show players celebrating a point or winning a set.

Novak Djokovic of Serbia kisses the trophey after winning against Roger Federer of Switzerland in the men's final match of the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, in London, Britain, 06 July 2014. epa / Facundo Arrizabalaga

Novak Djokovic of Serbia kisses the trophey after winning against Roger Federer of Switzerland in the men’s final match of the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, in London, Britain, 06 July 2014. epa / Facundo Arrizabalaga

To hose it down (vb.) – an instruction for a photographer, meaning to exhaust every possible angle multiple times to ensure that nothing is missed. Even a seasoned tennis editor would struggle to find a missing angle if a match had been truly hosed down.

Tight spot (n.) – the small space allocated to a photographer and his/her equipment in the pit by the side of a court. Otherwise, a tricky situation requiring a creative solution.

Of course, it’s wasn’t all about the cellies or hosing down the tennis action from a tight spot. The atmosphere at the Wimbledon Championships is special and calls out to be photographed. Strawberries, Pimms, Henman Hill, or ‘Murray Mound’ as it is hopefully being referred to nowadays, court covers being pulled on and off during rainy spells… The list of opportunities for features goes on and makes Wimbledon such a unique event, attracting a sizeable crowd of VIPs and celebrities. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge attended, as did footballer David Beckham and his wife, fashion designer and ex-Spice Girl Victoria Beckham, Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, 2013 Wimbledon Championships winner Marion Bartoli, actors Bradley Cooper and Colin Firth, to name but a few of the famous faces who followed the action from the Royal Box on Centre Court over the course of the tournament.

A visitor dressed as a flower as play is postponed on Center Court due to rain during the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, in London, Britain, 30 June 2014. epa / Andy Rain

A visitor dressed as a flower as play is postponed on Center Court due to rain during the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, in London, Britain, 30 June 2014. epa / Andy Rain

After Djokovic finally finished off Roger Federer in their five-set bout and all the cellies had been sent out, he threw signed tennis balls into a crowd of adoring fans. It was time to pack our small office of laptops and monitors into a tight spot, or rather a compact box to be shipped back over to Frankfurt. Wimbledon was all over for another year. As far as first assignments go, this one was special, leaving me with some unforgettable memories from behind-the-scenes and allowing me to work with some of the finest photographers around. In classic Wimbledon style, I raise a plastic cup of Pimms to all of them.

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Traditional Holi Festival – Color photography redefined

In this blog post epa Chief Photographer for the Indian Subcontinent Harish Tyagi tells the story of covering this year’s traditional Holi festival in India.

Barsana village in Mathura, India is famed for its unique and colorful display of the traditional Holi festival. As I left my home on the 9th of March in the early morning hours to catch this festival, my imagination was already busy weaving colorful imagery of the festivities I was to encounter. There was anticipation in the air as I pulled through the four-hour rough drive on Uttar Pradesh roads post, with another hours/1/2 hour walk finally bringing me to my destination. My cameras and gear had been well packed though I was to realize later that this was probably a good protection from rain but certainly not from the onslaught of water and color that was to greet me that day.

Traditional Holi Festival: Indian women beat men with wooden sticks as they shield themselves during the annual Lathmar Holi festival in Barsana village, Mathura, India, 09 March 2014. epa / Harish Tyagi

Traditional Holi Festival: Indian women beat men with wooden sticks as they shield themselves during the annual Lathmar Holi festival in Barsana village, Mathura, India, 09 March 2014. epa / Harish Tyagi

Narrow lanes finally led me to the square of the village proper where the traditional Holi festival is celebrated in an altogether different way. The connotations and symbolism of the unique ‘Lathmar Holi’ celebrated in Lord Krishna’s and his consort Radha’s home, is altogether different from the Holi celebrated anywhere else in India. ‘Lathmar’ literally means beating someone with sticks which is what the feisty women of Barsana (known as the birthplace of Lord Krishna’s beloved Radha) do when the men of the neighboring village, Nandgaon, believed to be Lord Krishna’s village, come calling to put color on them.

Traditional Holi Festival: Indian widow load their pump guns with colored water and spray at each other while participating in the Holi festival in Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh, India, 14 March 2014. epa / Harish Tyagi

Traditional Holi Festival: Indian widow load their pump guns with colored water and spray at each other while participating in the Holi festival in Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh, India, 14 March 2014. epa / Harish Tyagi

In fact this festival of plastering people with color and water stems from Lord Krishna’s antics from centuries past which are well embedded into Indian mythology and lore. Known as a mischievous and flirtatious god he is given the credit for being the first to put color on a woman, Radha, his beloved in this case. He and his friends would come to Barsana and as a symbol of protecting themselves from the Lord and his mischievous friends the women charged at them with large bamboo sticks. Though it sounds playful the festival is anything but that.

Just as I entered the village a bunch of local men came towards me and with little regard for my expensive gear smeared me with color and water from their pichkaris (little hand worked water canons). Their chants of Radhe, Radhe rang through the air and after a satisfied appraisal of my now coloured and wet clothes they proceeded to ask which TV channel I worked for. In rural India, people still believe electronic media to be quicker than print and assume anyone with a somewhat big camera is from television. Now that I very much looked a part of the celebration I was left to myself to proceed with my work, which was just as well.

Traditional Holi Festival: Two Indian widows sit surrounded by petals while participating in the Holi festival in Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh, India, 14 March 2014. epa / Harish Tyagi

Traditional Holi Festival: Two Indian widows sit surrounded by petals while participating in the Holi festival in Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh, India, 14 March 2014. epa / Harish Tyagi

I spent a good six hours in the midst of a packed crowd, often squeezed for space, often inching up very close to people who were so immersed in the gaiety they scarcely noticed my presence. This kind of an event is challenging and draining as hyper activity rings through the air and continuously one is being shuffled around. I kept myself well hydrated with the local drink Lassi, a cool soothing drink made with sweetened curd, which kept my energy levels also in check. The festival only slowed down by evening by which time everyone including me was fairly drained and exhausted. However the rainbow of colors that had dotted the air and the water canons rung thru the village even after all went home.

Traditional Holi Festival: Indian men shield themselves from women beating with wooden sticks during the annual Lathmar Holi festival in Barsana village, Mathura, India, 09 March 2014. epa / Harish Tyagi

Traditional Holi Festival: Indian men shield themselves from women beating with wooden sticks during the annual Lathmar Holi festival in Barsana village, Mathura, India, 09 March 2014. epa / Harish Tyagi

My next experience of covering the festival of Holi was even more memorable. On 14th of March 2014, I proceeded to cover a unique event in Vrindavan, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, which is 180 kilometers from Delhi and is also infamously known as the city of widows. The tradition of widows seeking refuge in this town harks back to centuries ago when they were more or less ostracized by society and left to lead a life of penance far removed from the joys of daily life. A second lease in terms of re-marriage was unthinkable then and even now this tradition carries on in many ways. So upon hearing that the widows, who were not allowed to earlier partake in religious festivities, would now be playing Holi I wondered what really lay in store for the day.

epa photographer Harish Tyagi covering the traditional Holi Festival in India

epa photographer Harish Tyagi covering the traditional Holi Festival in India

On reaching the place I was pleasantly surprised to see the widows laughing, joking and brimming with joy at having given this rare chance to partake in a festival. I heard many of them remarking that they had not held a water gun in their hand in years. The beautiful site of these women playing with color (they are normally banished to white clothing only) and water was a rare privilege. Though some still fought shy of participating they told me they would definitely take part next time. I was very over joyed to see an unnecessary and harsh tradition of India loosening its shackles around women destined to an otherwise grim and sorrowful fate. For me this was the ray of hope or should I say ray of color in the celebrations of Holi that marked this year.

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Boston Marathon bombings – BOSTON STRONG

epa photographer CJ Gunther tells the story of the Boston marathon bombings in 2013 and the events following in the aftermath:

My assignment was another routine Patriot’s Day, covering the Boston Marathon. For the past 21 years, I’ve photographed all aspects of the prestigious race including the Start, the Men’s and Women’s elite runner packs, and the Finish Line from overhead. Since 2007, I’ve been part of the Finish Line tight pool, right there at ground level where the runners complete mile 26.2 just in front of me.

Since “Marathon Monday” is also the first day of my kids’ spring vacation, they asked if I’d make it home in time for the planned afternoon park activities. I assured them I would, since the Marathon was run like a fine-tuned machine with standard protocols and procedures that made it an annual event I enjoyed covering.

From left to right: CJ Gunther (epa), Jessica Rinaldi (Reuters), and Elise Amendola (AP). Picture was taken on 15 April 2013, at the finish line about an hour before the start of the marathon. Photo courtesy of Stu Cahill / Boston Herald

From left to right: CJ Gunther (epa), Jessica Rinaldi (Reuters), and Elise Amendola (AP). Picture was taken on 15 April 2013, at the finish line about an hour before the start of the marathon. Photo courtesy of Stu Cahill / Boston Herald

The meeting for the tight pool photographers began at 9:45 a.m. Tommy, the photo wrangler with the Boston Athletic Association, reviewed how the day would unfold, and took time to explain a few slight tweaks from the previous year. After the meeting, we took our positions and awaited the wheelchair athletes who cross the finish first, followed by the elite men’s and women’s runners. Once the winners regrouped, we then moved into position to capture the jubilation of the trophy and wreath presentation.

The last photo I shot showed both the men’s and women’s winners, arms outstretched in a pose together, smiling with joy. I then rushed to the filing center at the hotel in nearby Copley Square. I pushed my photos to the desk, checked to confirm receipt with the desk, packed my gear, and drove out of the city.

It was 1:45 p.m.

At 2:49 p.m., my routine day tumbled into chaos.

I had just met my wife and daughter at the park when a good friend from the Boston Fire Department called me. “Are you ok?” he asked. “Yea, I’m finally over my late winter cold and feeling better,” I replied. “NO! Two bombs went off at the finish line! You need to get there now!” he shouted in his unmistakable Boston accent. For a moment I paused, only to think about the gear I needed, and the best driving route back into the city. I ran to the car, and without breaking stride told my wife I’d call her shortly, trying not to show panic in my face or voice.

The next 102 hours were unforgettable. As I rushed to the scene, driving way too fast, all that was routine about Marathon Day had changed. I had no idea what to expect when I returned to the spot where I had just photographed some of the most joyous moments of the day.

I parked as close as I could, ran three blocks with my gear, and made my way to within a block of the Finish Line. I ran through scores of people who were confused, fearful, and terrified – the complete opposite of the scene I had left 90 minute earlier. I photographed shocked family members, crying children and adults, exhausted and confused runners, and abandoned belongings. I made my way to the medical tent, normally reserved to treat routine post-marathon ailments. It had been quickly converted to a triage center, where bloodied victims were wheeled in, treated, and then brought out to waiting ambulances.

Our chief photographer, Matt Campbell, was traveling back from The Masters golf tournament. When I phoned him, he answered from his seat on the plane. “BOMBS?” he repeated loudly; I reminded him that he was on a plane so he wouldn’t cause any panic. We agreed to connect as soon as he landed in Boston.

The scene for blocks was chaotic. Emergency personnel were everywhere: police, firemen, bomb technicians, Special OPS, and National Guardsmen. I wondered where they all came from so quickly. A colleague took a photo of me being shoved from the street by a Boston Police officer as we tried to make our way to the scene. There were no rules; bombs just don’t go off in the United States. Again, it was complete chaos.

I had pictures to file, which was my main concern. I went to a nearby parking garage where I could still see some of the scene, but away from the police officers who were establishing a tightly-secured area. My phone wouldn’t connect because I was receiving calls from friends and family who had seen an earlier Facebook post of me with two colleagues at the Finish Line. They know the Marathon is one of my annual assignments, and they wanted to make sure I was all right. Finally I moved my first pictures from the tragic scene, then took a moment to post on Facebook: “I’m OK. Safe.” That simple message alleviated concern from friends and family, and freed my phone for the work ahead.

Somehow in the chaos, I was able pull together a pretty good team to expand our coverage. Freelancer Dominic Chavez was nearby, at the Boston Common. Matt Campbell arrived at the airport and came directly downtown to edit, even though he had been away from home for over a week. Staffer Justin Lane drove in from New York and former staff photographer Matthew Cavanaugh drove in from Western Massachusetts. I thought of how fortunate I am to work with such a talented crew of photographers. The whole area was locked down, so we covered the basics, which included news conference updates from local, state and federal authorities, and scene setters of the chaos that still had its hold on the city.

We documented a normally peaceful city that was thrown swiftly and brutally into shock, but not inaction. Boston Strong was born.

I spent the next two days covering reaction to the tragedy, especially once the names of the three people who lost their lives were released. The little boy who was killed, Martin Richard, hit close to home for me since he was just a few years older than my daughter, and a few years younger than my son.

In the days following, I was touched by the outpouring of support, caring and compassion shown throughout the city. I photographed many of the impromptu memorials that cropped up all over the city, including outside the homes of the grieving families.

On Thursday, a memorial service was held and attended by President Barack Obama. Although we were working on only two or three hours of sleep each night, we covered every angle. Concerned about our well-being, Matt scheduled us on shifts us so we could rest. We had no idea how long we would be covering this story, and each day had blended into the next.

Boston marathon bombings: Police SWAT teams make house to house searches in Watertown, Massachusetts, USA, 19 April 2013. epa / CJ Gunther

Boston marathon bombings: Police SWAT teams make house to house searches in Watertown, Massachusetts, USA, 19 April 2013. epa / CJ Gunther

Another freelancer, Dominic Reuter, stepped in and I headed home to my family, just hours before the next series of fateful events gripped the city.

I received a phone call from Dominic later in the evening on Thursday. He lives on the edge of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) campus, and heard reports of a gunned-down MIT police officer. Dominic ran to the scene on campus, even though at the time, we didn’t know if the shooting of Officer Sean Collier was related to the Boston Marathon bombings. I edited his first photos, and then fell into bed, exhausted.

At 3:00 a.m., my wife woke to my phone buzzing. She immediately shook me awake. I was up, dressed, and answering the call in nearly one motion. Matt had been calling for almost two hours, needing me in Watertown, a neighboring city of Boston. There was a connection between the Boston Marathon bombings suspects and the shooting of Officer Collier, which had led to a shootout in Watertown between the suspect and local police. Just like four days earlier, I raced in my car to a scene well outside the norm of our usual Boston coverage.

I parked within a block of the shootout and joined a growing group of journalists covering the house-to-house search for the remaining suspect. This search continued the entire day while Watertown, Boston and several other local communities were on lockdown after Governor Deval Patrick issued a “stay in shelter” order.

Time moved slowly throughout the tense day, with occasional activity as law enforcement personnel moved from place to place. At 6:45 p.m. just before sunset, gunfire erupted and I made my way to a yard two blocks from the shots.

I stayed hidden in this yard along with four other photographers. We put our cameras on quiet mode so we wouldn’t be rousted by the police, who were only a meter or two away, separated from us only by a white picket fence. Through the fence in the growing darkness of early evening, we made images of the police at the ready; the robot used to pull the tarp off the boat that revealed suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev; and the celebratory gestures by the special operations squads leaving the scene after Tsarnaev surrendered.

Finally, it was over. Boston Mayor Menino’s voice came over the police scanner, thanking everyone involved.

When I turned, my colleagues (who were also my competition), had left to file their photos. I stayed, however, because I knew there was one more shot I needed to make: the ambulance that had arrived only moments earlier which surely was called to carry away Tsarnaev.

There were so many strobes from the police vehicles flashing that it was hard to see. In the dark, it was tough to determine if the image was in focus. I kicked open the gate in the fence, and slowly squeezed off a number of frames as the ambulance turned away. I saw Tsarnaev through the window, his head bloodied. Now it was really over and I filed my final photos.

Boston marathon bombings: An ambulance carries Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev from the scene after he was apprehended in Watertown, Massachusetts, USA, 19 April 2013. epa / CJ Gunther

Boston marathon bombings: An ambulance carries Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev from the scene after he was apprehended in Watertown, Massachusetts, USA, 19 April 2013. epa / CJ Gunther

The events of that week resulted in the loss of life for four people, and forever changed the lives of many more who sustained life-altering injuries. Thankfully, horrific events such as these are not common in the United States, but we’re reminded too often of the unfortunate reality that innocent lives are lost and affected around the world every day. In fact, just yesterday [14 April 2014] in Nigeria more than 70 people were killed in a bomb blast at a bus station, while more than 125 others were injured.

I am thankful that this type of coverage is not the norm for me. This year, I hope we have another routine Marathon Day – or as routine as it can be the year following the tragic events that forever altered our city. Matt and Justin will return and freelancer Herb Swanson will join the coverage team. Security will be tight, and police presence will be at a high level, but the determination of the runners and the spectators to enjoy the day will Boston Strong.

epa photographer CJ Gunther covering the Boston Marathon 2014. epa / Matt Campbell

epa photographer CJ Gunther covering the Boston Marathon 2014. epa / Matt Campbell

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Curling Pictures – Covering a Visually Underestimated Sport

by Tanya Zenkovich
It started in July 2013 when I got to know that I’ll be a part of the epa team for the Sochi Olympic Winter Games 2014. It was to be my most serious assignment ever.

A man stands near the Olympic cauldron in the Olympic Park in Sochi, Russia, 01 February 2014. The Sochi 2014 Olympic Games run from 07 to 23 February 2014. epa/ Tanya Zenkovich

A man stands near the Olympic cauldron in the Olympic Park in Sochi, Russia, 01 February 2014. The Sochi 2014 Olympic Games run from 07 to 23 February 2014. epa/ Tanya Zenkovich —- find out more

Sochi met me with palms and a very pleasant weather contrast: while in Minsk it was –18 Celsius, in Sochi it also felt like being 18 degrees, but now above zero. At the very beginning I couldn’t escape troubles though. A wrong accreditation pass was given to me at the airport. Anyway, I thought that standing in a line at the accreditation center to get a correct card, wasn’t the worst thing to happen.

Dancers perform during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games at the Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi, Russia, 07 February 2014. epa/Tatyana Zenkovich

Dancers perform during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games at the Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi, Russia, 07 February 2014. epa/Tatyana Zenkovich—- find out more

The first challenging task for me was to cover the opening ceremony of the Games. I got a really awesome position at the stadium: it was very central and high to make good panoramic shots. After the necessary preparations (briefing, plugging a cable into the camera, sending test pictures, defining settings in the camera set, and, of course, learning the ceremony schedule by heart), I couldn’t wait for the ceremony to commence. There’s one peculiar thing about events in Sochi: when they start there’s no stopping. Therefore, to get a nice shot one has to stay focused, be creative, be prepared, do everything fast and predict what’s going to happen the next moment. Time is so fast here! So it’s very important also to have some snacks with you at your working place so as not to be out of energy, when the crucial moments come. :)

Curling Pictures and Pajamas

Most of the time I spent taking curling pictures. At first I hardly knew what it was about. Some colleagues told me this sport is boring and that it’s hard to come up with interesting angles for curling pictures; still others assured me that it’s really nuts, great and an expressive competition to cover (and some of these “optimists” even sent me Youtube lessons how to play curling). Besides, I always asked my new acquaintances among the photographers who worked in Sochi whether they had had a chance to shoot curling pictures before and (if yes) what their experience had been.

Christoffer Svae of Norway delivers a stone during the tie-breaker match between Norway and Great Britain in the Curling competition in the Ice Cube Curling Center at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, Sochi, Russia, 18 February 2014. epa/ Tanya Zenkovich

Christoffer Svae of Norway delivers a stone during the tie-breaker match between Norway and Great Britain in the Curling competition in the Ice Cube Curling Center at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, Sochi, Russia, 18 February 2014. epa/ Tanya Zenkovich —- find out more

Indeed, curling turned out to be an exciting “playground” for experimenting! Multiple exposures, panning, slow shutter speed, zooming and twisting, game of shadows, different angles and an opportunity to move from one position to another during matches. My favorite team was from Norway. Because of the Norwegian team’s everyday-new funny uniform and curling slippers it seemed sometimes that the players wore trendy pajamas – a real stroke of luck for a photographer!

Jennifer Jones of Canada in action during the Women's Gold medal match between Sweden and Canada in the Curling competition in the Ice Cube Curling Center at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, Sochi, Russia, 20 February 2014. epa/Tanya Zenkovich

Jennifer Jones of Canada in action during the Women’s Gold medal match between Sweden and Canada in the Curling competition in the Ice Cube Curling Center at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, Sochi, Russia, 20 February 2014. epa/Tanya Zenkovich —- find out more

When I understood how a typical match develops and also found an effective algorithm of my actions for a match, life at the venue became much easier for me.

When the Games started I saw how many preparations the epa team had done in advance and how many people were involved in the process so that everything was running smoothly. I also realized that my work was only a small contribution to the huge working mechanism. And I’m pretty sure that what I could see is only the tip of the iceberg. So my task as a photographer was quite easy – just wait for a good moment and press the button.

It was a great experience for me to work with such a professional and cool team, to learn from them, and I’m very grateful to my colleagues whom I got to know there!

Tanya Zenkovich from Belarus, our photographer for curling pictures, jubilates under the olympic rings in front of the Olympic stadium in Sochi, Russia, 07 February 2014. epa/ Tanya Zenkovich

Tanya Zenkovich from Belarus, our photographer for curling pictures, jubilates under the olympic rings in front of the Olympic stadium in Sochi, Russia, 07 February 2014. epa/ Tanya Zenkovich – —- see her portfolio

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Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games – Challenges of a Picture Editor

By Karl Sexton
Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Russia – my first ‘big’ assignment as an editor with epa. I had had some prior experience in editing in the field, having worked at a European Council Summit in Brussels in 2013. Whilst that experience gave me an insight into what was expected of me in Sochi, the weeks I spent in Russia have taught me so much more about the job we do at epa.

At the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, coming to work at the Main Media Centre in the mornings is always a pleasure. epa/Nic Bothma

At the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, coming to work at the Main Media Centre in the mornings is always a pleasure.
epa/Nic Bothma

After nearly four years at the desk in Frankfurt, I am familiar with handling a large volume and variety of images from all parts of the world, having to stay on top of the news, and responding to clients or member agency requests, as well as to breaking news stories. However, our shooters usually submit photographs that are pre-edited. Most of the time, the photos are technically ready to be transmitted to the wire, leaving the editor to focus on caption quality, picture selection, and making sure all the angles of a particular story are covered.

The role of an editor at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic games or other such events is very different. Here, photographers send their images often straight from the camera, only a matter of seconds after the event or incident they are covering has occurred.

Dancers perform during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games at the Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi, Russia, 07 February 2014. epa/Tatyana Zenkovich

Dancers perform during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games at the Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi, Russia, 07 February 2014. epa/Tatyana Zenkovich

The shooters can transmit hundreds of raw, unedited images in only a few short minutes, and it is up to the editors in the media centre to sort through the myriad of different angles from various photographers, choose the best pictures and begin the post-production work, such as balancing colour levels and cropping, as well as captioning the photos. All of this has to be done at speed, in order to deliver a high-quality product to our clients in the timeliest fashion possible. We watch television monitors with live feeds of the events we are covering to stay on top of the action, and we use online information services to keep track of details such as results, scores, and spellings of athletes names, to name but a few.

epa editors at work during the during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Picture on the right: Gernot Hensel keeping a steady hand on the helm of the ship / On the left Stephan Mueller and Karl Sexton loving their Figure Skating editing. epa/Nic Bothma

epa editors at work during the during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Picture on the right: Gernot Hensel keeping a steady hand on the helm of the ship / On the left Stephan Mueller and Karl Sexton loving their Figure Skating editing. epa/Nic Bothma

These aspects of truly participating in the production of the image and feeling real proximity to the action are some which I have found hugely interesting, not to mention satisfying. Seeing an image in play that you have edited from a raw file to a finished product is a real source of professional pride, even if it is the photographer who (deservedly!) takes most of the glory.

Endo Sho of Japan in action during the Qualification 1 of the Freestyle Skiing Men's Moguls competition at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, 10 February 2014. epa/Sergey ilnitsky

Endo Sho of Japan in action during the Qualification 1 of the Freestyle Skiing Men’s Moguls competition at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, 10 February 2014. epa/Sergey ilnitsky

Having spent the best part of a month at these Games, I have also had the immense pleasure of meeting and getting to know the people whose work I have the privilege of editing back at the desk in Frankfurt. It has been a massive learning experience and fantastic opportunity to exchange views and ideas on the job or on life, and to hear stories from colleagues and friends from every corner of the globe.

A multiple exposure image of South Korean figure skater Kim Yuna, the reigning Olympic champion in the women's single event, during an open practice session at the Iceberg Palace during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games. epa/Barbara Walton

A multiple exposure image of South Korean figure skater Kim Yuna, the reigning Olympic champion in the women’s single event, during an open practice session at the Iceberg Palace during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games. epa/Barbara Walton

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The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Russia – The IT Perspective

Ole Bratz, Head of IT at epa, takes us with him on a trip to Sochi. After you’ve seen the Olympics from all kinds of angles, this is a unique experience, you probably haven’t heard of yet.

The coverage of Olympic Games is challenging. The planning and preparations for the photo coverage of this major sports event started already 28 months ago, and included several visits to Sochi.
In addition to a dedicated team of professional photographers and editors, huge efforts have been made by administrative and IT teams for organizing transportation, accommodation and last but not least the technical set up. The real operation started when the freight consisting of several flight cases had been picked up in the first week of January to make its way to Sochi. That date marked the point of no return. Anything that’s missing, configured wrongly or not properly tested – too late. Luckily, the transport by truck from Frankfurt through several countries, borders and customs went well, and when epa’s IT colleagues Joerg Reuter and Helmut Emelius arrived in Sochi on January 17, all servers, computers, network equipment and several kilometers of network cable arrived in good shape and were taken into epa’s private office space in the Main Press Center. Now the advance party started organizing accommodation for the team, in this case it meant visiting construction sites, at least in the mountain area in Krasnaya Polyna, but conditions were not much better in the media accommodation at the coastal cluster in Sochi Adler. Quite on the contrary, they were terrible and only got better a few days before the opening of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Joerg Reuter, who is heading epa’s IT operations at all major sports events, successfully met all major challenges for the benefit of the entire epa team.

One important lesson taught by the Russians: Everything is ready, no problem! (Regardless the facts)

In the week before Carsten Riedel and I arrived in Sochi, Joerg and Helmut had already set up the whole temporary editorial office with workstations, servers and network. And they cabled many photo positions in the Sochi Olympic Park such as the Iceberg Skating Place, the Adler Arena, the Bolshoy Ice Dome, the Shayba Arena, the Ice Cube Curling Center and the Medals Plaza.

Helmut on the catwalk in the Bolshoy arena at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games

Helmut fixing network cables for remote cameras on the catwalk in the Bolshoy arena. epa / Joerg Reuter

6000 meters of yellow CAT5 cable

The task was to connect every single of the 150 photo positions to the VLAN network which takes the photographers’ images with 100 Mbit/s speed from his or her camera to the editorial desk in the main Press Center. During the second week, after editors Gernot Hensel and Herbert Maier had also arrived, the mission headed towards accomplishment by pulling epa’s yellow network cables to all photo positions in the mountain cluster in the Laura Cross-Country Ski and the Biathlon Center, the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center, the Russki Gorki Jumping Center, the Sanki Sliding Center and the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. This became the real challenge: In addition to the actual cabling of approximately 6000 meters of yellow CAT5 cable, some in closed stadiums but mostly in the snow at downhill tracks, halfpipe, moguls, ski jump, biathlon and sliding, other obstacles like climbing or massive cable lengths of 100 meters came into play.

Joerg and Carsten pulling network cables at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games

Joerg and Carsten pulling network cables for direct image transmission from the photo cameras. epa / Matt Campbell

Carsten, Joerg, Gernot and Herbert at the  Laura Cross-Country, Ski and Biathlon center at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games

Carsten, Joerg, Gernot and Herbert at the Laura Cross-Country, Ski and Biathlon center at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games. epa / Helmut Emelius

The Russian authorities prohibited all kind of encryption and VPN

Luckily, the timing and scheduling with photo and venue managers and our fellow agencies went rather smoothly due to the fact that we had already established a very friendly relationship with them. Security regulations were the main time consuming issue. By the way, so was our IT security. The Russian authorities prohibited all kind of encryption and VPN. Whenever we had to bring a vehicle with tools and technical equipment into an Olympic venue we were stopped at a vehicle checkpoint, although each technician had a special sticker showing a screwdriver on his accreditation pass, allowing him to carry tools, even knives. All passengers  had to step out and walk through a separate mag and bag check, the car and its contents were diligently searched by police or military personnel. The Russians – smart as they are – had them all dressed in friendly looking purple Sochi 2014 uniforms. Then back in the car, after all windows, doors and hoods had been sealed with stickers, off to the next checkpoint where all seals were checked to make sure we did not open a window or anything. Those procedures felt like they took forever. When we finally reached the venue the only problems to overcome were iced cable paths, frozen pipes, snowbound network cabinets and everything else related to IT hardware and people having to cope with the snow and the cold.

Snowbound cabinet at Extreme Park in Rosa Khutor at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games

Technicians wiring network cables to a snowbound network cabinet at Extreme Park in Rosa Khutor. epa/ Ole Bratz

The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games kick off

6 days before the Opening Ceremony, the main photo and editorial team from all over the world arrived. Now everything became really busy because as a technician you are the single point of contact for everyone. But these few days of gathering with our friends and lovely colleagues before the real show started were the most enjoyable. They were the magic and epic moments that make the european pressphoto agency family very special.
Before the official start of the games, last modifications in the picture workflow were done, lines checked, configurations tested, remote support from the colleagues at home installed and connectivity fine-tuned. Now we were ready for the show to begin…
The master mind behind all epa sports coverage is Gernot Hensel, Deputy Editor-in-Chief and Head of the Sports Desk, editing wizard, all-round sports expert and well experienced leader of those operations. He is truly in his element when it’s show time and the going gets tough. The same can be said about all colleagues whether behind lenses or in front of computer screens, producing thousands of exciting images from the competitions, even special pictures by request for our partners and clients. Some colleagues standing in the cold next to an alpine track for a whole day and others rushing from one event to the next, from early to late, all without a break or a day off. The epa team is a real dream team, producing an excellent photo coverage for its customers all over the world.
What is left for the IT is the daily duty, some support, some fixing or replacement of a cut or frozen network cable. No more challenge until the show ends with the Closing Ceremony. Then everybody will be off back home, only the rear guard will roll back the operation and bring everything back home.
And an important Russian word: “Poyekhali”, as Yuri Gagarin said on his trip into the orbit. It is used when you raise the vodka glass as well.

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