Monday, 16 October 2017

A week in Pictures, Middle East and Africa, October 15, 2017

It appears to the rest of the world that Kenya is struggling as the two main political parties wrestle for power in the lead-up to a second election after the first was declared void. Baz Ratner’s pictures of a plus size fashion show was a visual antidote to the daily diet of bloody street clashes. There is sheer joy on the faces of the women as they walk the catwalk in the latest Kenya fashions. I love how the light of the show changes from a cool blue on the right to hot reds on the left and you can almost hear the booming music.

Models pose on the catwalk during a plus size fashion show in Nairobi, Kenya October 7, 2017.   REUTERS/Baz Ratner

If ever a picture needed the health and safety warning “don’t try this at home”, it must surely be Mohamed Abd El Ghany’s picture of Egyptian fans celebrating their team qualifying for the 2018 Word Cup Finals. You can image the conversation moments before ‘I’ve got an idea, let’s all spray flammable gases into the air in a crowd and set fire to it’. A bad idea resulting in a great picture. 

Egyptians celebrate their soccer team’s victory against Congo that qualifies Egypt for the 2018 World Cup, in Cairo, Egypt October 7, 2017.    REUTERS/ Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Libya-based photographer Hani Amara’s picture of migrants sent a chill down my spine. At first, all we see is dozens of people sitting in perfect rows in a fenced-off area. Then we notice that more people are joining their ranks on the right, peeling off in strict order. What we can’t see is how many more will join, but I get the sense that this line of human tragedy is endless.  

Migrants sit at a detention centre in Gharyan, Libya, October 12, 2017.

Even though Abdullah Dhiaa Al-deen’s picture was taken last August it was only published this week and so it qualifies to be included in pictures of the week (I set the rules anyway and they are there to be bent.) Abdullah worked on this in-depth story for weeks, and from the whole series I like this image the most. To me the calm and beauty of the scene seems as timeless as the turban is long. The delicate material held by the men draws you slowly into the picture towards the graceful arches, the eye pausing to take in the complexity of the floor’s design. The whole picture story, published on the Wider Image that can be seen here

A Shi’ite cleric holds a turban at al-sayed al-Yazdo school run by al-Hawza al-Ilmiyya in Najaf, Iraq August 12, 2017. For more than 1000 years the al-Hawza al-Ilmiyya in southern Baghdad has been giving religious instructions to thousands of Shi’ite Muslims to help them become clerics.   REUTERS/ Abdullah Dhiaa Al-deen

Most of the time I believe that a picture has a natural crop, which might be captured by the camera in the purist Cartier Bresson sense or might need to be cropped by an editor with an eye to bringing out the best. On rare occasions some pictures just need to be seen in two different ways. Baz Ratner’s image is one of these. You immediately ask yourself ‘what is going on here?’ Cropped wide you see a man in a car consumed by white gas, the colour of which matches the paintwork. The car, the man’s face and arms and the eerie shadow on the side all add to the bizarre nature of the image. But then you want to see the man’s face, with his eyes seeming to pop out of his head as he tries to escape the smoke, his hands flailing about. You choose which you prefer.  You can read the back story to Baz’s picture here.

An opposition politician of the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition, reacts after a gas canister fired by police hits his car during a protest along a street in Nairobi, Kenya October 13, 2017.  REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Often the strongest pictures are made when objects are seen out of their usual context; a boat balanced on a building after a storm, a Rolls Royce in a swimming pool (it’s only Rock and Roll) and in this case Ange Aboa’s picture of a plane in the sea. What makes this picture even stronger is that the rescue is still going on. The man on the right of the picture desperately seems to call the viewer into the image to help with the rescue. The waves batter the stricken plane and crash in left to right, hampering the rescue. The wind so strong you can almost taste the salt water mixed with the spilled fuel of the plane.

People pull the wreckage of a propeller-engine cargo plane after it crashed into the sea near the international airport in Abidjan, Ivory Coast October 14, 2017.    REUTERS/Ange Aboa

Photographing a deadly bomb attack in Mogadishu is never easy. The constant danger of a secondary device targeting rescue workers and the fear that there may be a follow-up gunman attack means that you always have to be super careful. You also have to be mindful that you don’t produce pictures of such horror and gore that they are just un-publishable. Feisal Omar not only portrays the devastation of the scene -- fire, smoke, burning vehicles, wreckage and men carrying weapons -- but he also captures the human element of rescue and survival as the armed men carry the injured to safety. A very powerful news image.

Somali Armed Forces evacuate their injured colleague from the scene of an explosion in KM4 Street in the Hodan district of Mogadishu, Somalia, October 14, 2017.   REUTERS/Feisal Omar

The simple oval composition to Thierry Gouegnon’s picture, aided by a pointing hand, draws you into the writing in the sand.  Immediately you are intrigued; what is going on and what is causing such intense scrutiny? A game of chance? A plan for some event? Nope, the Liberia election results as they are announced on the radio. A fantastic picture that to me sums up the struggles and hopes of one of the world’s poorest nations as they go to the polls. 

Supporters of George Weah, former soccer player and presidential candidate of Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), note on the ground presidential election results announced on the radio, in Monrovia, Liberia October 15, 2017.    REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon

Monday, 9 October 2017

Week in Pictures, Middle East and Africa, October 8, 2017

Balanced on a pile of cushions, a gunman aims his rifle through a hole in a wall. Half shut your eyes and Erik de Castro’s image looks like a landscape, a watery sun setting to the left of a mountain, the moon just beginning to appear on the right. Open them again and you see the gunman precariously balanced as he prepares to kill. 

A fighter of Syrian Democratic Forces takes up a position inside a house in Raqqa, Syria, October 1, 2017.    REUTERS/Erik de Castro

We often read reports of troops massing prior to a battle but rarely do we get to see a great picture to match them. Armoured vehicles with brightly coloured flags fluttering in bright sunshine give the initial feel of a vintage car rally, a feeling that quickly dissipates as the compositional line between the smoke and the sky, mirrored by the line of telegraph poles on the left, race us to the vanishing point on the horizon where smoke rises from the battle.     

Shi’ite Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and Iraqi army members gather on the outskirts of Hawija Iraq, October 4, 2017.

The clash of El Nabout canes, traditional clothing, strong shadows and an inconvenient lamp post combine to make a picture that intrigues. Mohamed Abd El Gheny’s affectionate picture of men taking part in an ancient martial art that is now a dance form provided one of the visual surprises of the week. The slight tilt to the image and the shadows leading to the lamp post enables its warm brown colour and harsh line to contribute to the shape of the picture instead of destroying it.

Abdu El Kholy and Hamdey El Hamed dance with their El Nabout canes as they perform Tahteeb, an ancient form of martial arts and dance, in the evening light in Sohag, Egypt, September 19, 2017.   REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

A picture’s beauty can be doubled when someone is smiling. When that person is Archbishop Desmond Tutu, I think the effect is fourfold. Mike Hutchings captures Tutu celebrating his birthday in one of the warmest and most affectionate pictures I have seen in weeks. The laugher is infectious, as the figure behind Tutu seems to have a wide grin too.   

Archbishop Demond Tutu laughs as crowds gather to celebrate his birthday by unveiling  an arch built in his honour outside St Georges's Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa, October 7, 2017.   REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

A slightly bizarre image by Erik de Castro who is covering the fighting in Raqqa, Syria, caught my eye. Why anyone would carefully lay out the uniform of an ISIS fighter on a stairwell is slightly beyond me, especially when a single boot is added to the bottom step? It’s almost as if a political comment is being made, the body and air has been squeezed out of ISIS as the SDF advance on their last strong holds in Raqqa. More pictures here.

A uniform of a member of Islamic State militants is pictures as it was displayed by the Syrian Democratic Forces at their positions inside a building at the frontline in Raqqa, Syria, October 6, 2017.   REUTERS/Erik de Castro

When it ‘rains on your parade’ the day is often spoiled, but quite the opposite happened here for Thierry Gouegnon, who turned a downpour at a campaign rally to his advantage. First, keeping dry, Thierry has used his shelter and those people close to him to frame his picture of women dancing in the torrential rain. What I also like is that I am unsure if it’s taken at night with strong stage lights illuminating the scene, or the light has been created by the sun bursting through the storm clouds. 

Supporters of Joseph Nyuma Boakai, Liberia Vice President and the candidate of Unity Party’s (UP), attend their party’s presidential campaign rally in Monrovia, Liberia, October 7, 2017.    REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon

How could I resist highlighting this sweeping landscape, where the zigzag of hundreds of marching people seem to morph into the distant mountain ranges and then beyond to the  clouds. Photographer Ronen Zvulun makes an epic action picture that I am sure Western film director John Ford would have admired.

Palestinian and Israeli women march, as part of an event organised by ‘Women Wage Peace’ group calling for an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, near the Jordan River, in the occupied West Bank October 8, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun 

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Week in Pictures Middle East and Africa October 1, 2017

After a short break (I have been travelling in the region) here is my weekly selection of images from the region that have caught my eye. I chose them for a variety of reasons - a captured moment, something that made me pause for thought, great design, great light or even something that simply made me smile.  These are not necessarily the top news pictures of the week but may have slipped by largely unnoticed in the tsunami of news from the region.

A quiet and timeless moment from Erbil in Iraq as Kurds vote in a referendum on independence. The muted colours of the men’s traditional dress give the feeling of a bygone age, the soft, long shadows leading you into the picture. Ahmed Jadallah caught the moment perfectly as the shadow of the man’s profile is cast exactly to where the other man is looking, trying to find a name on the voters’ list.  More pictures of the referendum here.

People look at their names on a list at a polling station during the Kurdish independence referendum in Erbil, Iraq September 25, 2017.   REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

I found it hard to choose which picture from Dubai I like the most so I have decided to leave that to you. I am very drawn to the abstract feel of Satish Kumar’s first picture. The dark bands in the foreground seem to float up like blurry space saucers, bringing with them a ghostly train of white that leads the eye to the strange flying object. We are not given any sense of scale. Confused, we finally ask: “Is this a space-age toy?”

Men look up into the sky at the flying taxi in Dubai, United Arab Emirates September 25, 2017.   REUTERS/Satish Kumar.

The second of Satish’s images is less abstract, but has a wonderful futuristic sense to it. The cool tones and white and blue colours feel clinical, warmed only by the light on the face of the man on the left. The viewer tries to look past the men to understand the strong graphic shape of the object behind them that spins you around and around, a space-age mixture of drone and helicopter.

Dubai Crown prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (2nd R) stands infront of the flying taxi in Dubai, United Arab Emirates September 25, 2017. Satish Kumar

Bullet holes and shattered glass create a mosaic over Ammar Awad’s aftermath picture of an attack that left four dead. A slight tilt to the image ensures we know we are looking through a window. Its strong black vertical lines, for me, hint at death as the soldiers walk slowly past.

Israeli soldiers are seen through the window of a security booth damaged during a shooting attack in which a Palestinian gunman killed three Israeli guards and wounded a fourth in a Jewish settlement in the occupied West bank before he was shot dead police said, September 26, 2017.         REUTERS/Ammar Awad

I am never really a fan of military training exercises as we get so much actual conflict in the Middle East and Africa. But Suhaib’s picture of Hamas police caught my eye. A great action-packed picture, well composed in shape, tone and colour. The sheer determination on the man’s face perfectly captured as he lugs a concrete block while crawling, which I imagine is not easy. As the fires and black smoke in the background blot out the final glimmers of blue sky, the anonymous group of figures give additional menace to the picture and ultimately, to me, a film poster feel. This brings me back to my initial point and maybe this is why I personally don’t really like training pictures. Of course many others do and this is a very strong image.

Palestinian Hamas policeman takes part in a military training exercise at Hamas-run police academy in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza strip September 27, 2017.   REUTERS/Suhaib Salem   

What catches my eye more often than not is a picture that confuses me visually.  I just have to look again and again to sort it out in my mind. Ronen Zvulun does this successfully with his ‘headless’ man holding a chicken. My experience in the news business tells me that surely it should be a headless chicken, in the same vein as ‘man bites dog’. The picture looks like the man has entered a fairground hall of mirrors that distorts reflections. The feet and legs look normal, the hand seems overly large, leading the viewpoint to the chicken that is trying, in vain, to escape his clutches. As you look further into the picture you get a shock, where is the man’s head? The reds, yellows and greens in the background throw in splashes of colour to give the picture a festival warm and affectionate feel-good factor.

An Ultra-Orthodox Jewish man holds a chicken as he performs the Kaparot ritual, where white chickens are slaughtered as a symbolic gesture of atonement, ahead of Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of Atonement, in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim neighbourhood September 27, 2017.   REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

The Ugandan parliament is debating a motion to end a constitutional limit on the President’s age.  James Akena had an overview as the debate turned into a brawl between security staff and lawmakers. A great compositional oval of green surrounds the reds and whites, drawing you in towards the face of the woman in the struggle as others join the fray. Five people were hospitalised and one quote from the hospital nearly as good as the picture: “These guys grabbed me from behind and one twisted my arm. I started to scream and another squeezed my balls.”  To see the full sequence of the punch-up click here.

Ugandan opposition lawmakers fight with plain-clothed security personnel in the parliament while protesting a proposed age limit amendment bill debate to change the constitution for the extension of the President's rule, in Kampala, Uganda, September 27, 2017.  REUTERS/James Akena

Eye contact with the photographer can often destroy the moment in a picture. In Thomas Mukoya’s picture of a student being arrested it only adds to it. The policeman has grabbed student, who is shielding himself as the baton appears to swing towards him. I think this captured moment of ‘eye to lens’ contact gives the reader a glimpse into the policeman’s mind.  What is his intent? 

Riot policemen arrest a University of Nairobi student after protests against the detention of an opposition legislator in Nairobi, Kenya September 28, 2017.   REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya  

A symmetrical composition of leading lines of the red lights and the fanned shape of the instruments held by the pilgrims in addition to the strong complimentary colours (the red and the green) build to this striking picture by Abdullah Dhiaa Al-Deen. The boy doesn't so much as look at the camera but over and through it to a distant point on the horizon. Beauty and order before the blood letting of Ashura begins. 

Shi'ite pilgrims gather ahead of Ashura, the holiest day of the Shi'ite Muslim calendar, in Kerbala, Iraq September 30, 2017.   REUTERS/Abdullah Dhiaa Al-Deen

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Week in Pictures Middle East and Africa August 27, 2017

A personal selection of what has caught my eye and why from the file this week

A new front opened up in Iraq as government troops supported by Shi’ite Popular Mobilization forces started to try to retake Tal Afar from Islamic State. I really like the strong composition of this picture. The eye is led from the flags in the foreground through the picture by a strong reversed S shape as armoured vehicles make their way through the dust to the distant battle front.

 Shi’ite Popular Mobilization forces (PMF) gather with the Iraqi army on the outskirts of Tal Afar, Iraq, August 22, 2017.  REUTERS

Very much on the theme of strong composition driving an image, I am drawn to this stark, grey picture from an oil refinery in Bahrain. It works well for me because the lines of the picture lead you to people who are so small in the frame that without this visual aid they’d be almost invisible. The notion of people going for an evening stroll among the refinery pipelines lifts this picture from something that would be quite inanimate to something much more intriguing.

Residents are seen taking an evening walk near the petroleum pipelines of fuel storage tanks of State-owned Bahrain Petroleum Co (Bapco) refinery in Ma’ameer village south of Manama, Bahrain, August 22, 2017.   REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

 Dust consumes the whole of Omar Sanadiki’s picture, flattening it to a monochromatic relief after a Hezbollah tank fires, giving the landscape a space-like appearance. I can’t help thinking about the storm scene in the film The Martian, the figures battling against the dust cloud. What adds to this impression for me is the almost clumsy slow motion steps of the soldiers and the lumbering alien look and feel of the armoured vehicle; we can’t quite make out the classic ‘tank’ shape through the dust and backlight, but we know it’s there.

Hezbollah fighters walks near a military tank in the western Qalamoun, Syria, August 23, 2017.      REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

I think detail pictures are often some of the most revealing images from a sequenced picture story. A close-up of an item can explain so much when we can see every detail. Akintunde Akinleye’s well-observed picture of a money changer’s tools of the trade is one such case. To me this picture speaks of poverty but a determination to create wealth through trade. Old and well thumbed notes are displayed on a very grubby plastic table top. The coins that look like they may have been cast in a previous millennium are  scattered about or piled neatly, no doubt according to their value. Lastly, the digital calculator, which is probably used to haggle and squeeze the exchange rates, is left on a pot of items that make no sense to me at all. The padlock is unlocked and  the money box open and ready for business. Just from these small details I feel I can almost see the face of the money trader – can you?

Old Nigerian currency is seen on a ‘carpet’ in a local exchange shop in the old district of Nigeria’s northern city of Kano, August 24, 2017.   REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

It would be wrong to avoid including images from Yemen of victims being dug out of a housing complex after an air raid. Again we have to struggle with the topic of showing the effects of war on civilians, especially children. The pictures shot by Khaled Abdullah are as powerful as they are distressing and as a professional news photographer working in a conflict zone he is careful to photograph all he sees to tell the story fairly and honestly. He presents the most brutal images of dead children, their faces crushed, their broken bodies covered in dust, being carried away by rescue workers, alongside pictures of a general view of mechanical earth movers operating around the destroyed building. Editors must be given all this content so they can choose what to publish, telling the news but treating their readers with understanding. My view is that these images of death in conflict should be published, but in an honest, factual and non-sensationalist way, and with no hiding from what is going on. At the same time they should never be gratuitous and should always display humanity. I believe that it’s the first glimpsed moment of a picture that is burned into the mind forever. Publishers, and anyone who uses social media -- Twitter, Instagram or Facebook -- is now a publisher and should shoulder this responsibility. For myself, I added a notice of graphic content to this post giving the reader the choice to see or not to see, to know or not to know. I have also left on the graphic content warning on the caption that our clients see too. You may disagree, believing that all should be seen, thrown into the reader’s face, those images burned into the mind forever, and I have failed to show the real brutality what is happening. In the picture I have chosen the child is alive but injured, the rescuers’ body language offering hope. Others may feel that what I have posted is itself gratuitous, after all who wants to see pictures of injured children? Khaled followed up on this girl's story and it can been seen here - GRAPHIC CONTENT.

A man carries an injured girl, rescued from the site of a Saudi-led air strike in Sanaa, Yemen August 25, 2017.     REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

People search under rubble of a house destroyed by an air strike in Sanaa, Yemen August 25, 2017. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah 

Often it's timing that makes a simple picture a little bit special. Luc Gnago's picture of of a sick man waiting to attend church is one of these. The three figures are joined by a moment in time. You look up from the sick man's head along the covered leg of the man in the rear, his hand reaching forward to connect to the woman in the foreground, his orange scarf only just touching the blue of the woman's robe . Your eye is led back down the picture  through her hand and back ti the sick mans head, the cycle complete. And all this in a picture that on the surface looks like two people just walking past someone who is lying sick on the ground.  

Members of the Celestial Church of Christ walk next to a sick man before worship at the church in Abidjan, Ivory Coats, August 25, 2017.    REUTERS/Luc Gnago

Monday, 21 August 2017

Middle East and Africa A Week in Pictures 20 August 2017

A quiet moment in a city under siege in Bassam Khabieh’s picture from Douma in Syria. The body language of the boy is as sad and somber as the grays of the wall behind him, the bricks on the ground left and right of the image keeping the rhythm of the composition that is built up by the position of the figures and the pillars in the wall. The only warm colour in the picture is the headdress of the man looking down at his grandson, the affection and warmth on his face slowly coming to the fore of the image.

A child sits next to his grandfather in Douma, near Damascus, Syria, August 14, 2017.    REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

The Egyptian Cup Final between Al Masry and Al Ahly in Alexandria, was a quiet affair, not that the sport was not competitive, the winner scored in extra time, but because no fans were allowed to attended due to violence at previous fixtures. You can almost hear the ref’s whistle pierce the near silence in Amr Dalsh’s eerie picture of the floodlit pitch surrounded by empty seats.   

A general view of match action during the Egyptian Cup Final between Al Masry and Al Ahly in Alexandria, Egypt August 15, 2017.    REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

I am not a great fan of sunset pictures or silhouettes but Zohra Bensemra's perfectly timed picture of a boy diving into a canal caught my eye this week. The body of the boy appearing to make a horizontal bridge across the canal, his fingers seem to reach out to disturb the calm of the waters before the splash we all know is going to happen. What is most intriguing for me is that this peaceful captured moment is close to the city of Raqqa where a battle rages on.  

A boy cools off in an irrigation canal on the outskirts of Raqqa, Syria, August 16, 2017.    REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

With reports of hundreds being buried in a landslide in Sierra Leone Nigeria based photographer Afolabi Sotunde was at the scene within 24 hours. Rescue workers looking for survivors and recovering bodies. Afolabi's picture of fresh graves being dig for the victims stretch from the foreground of the picture to the horizon giving the viewer a real sense of the large numbers involved in this tragedy. The longer you look at the picture the more graves you see with grim faced workers going about their solemn business, a sad and poignant picture. 

Workers are seen digging graves at Paloko cemetery in Waterloo, Sierra Leone August 17, 2017.   REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

From a very large series of pictures based on recycling this week I could not resist picking out Thierry Gouegnon’s image of a woman carrying utensils made from recycled metal. The brutal vertical line of the corner of the building, almost cutting the picture in half, gives it a mirror image feeling. I love it that the woman’s foot almost touches this imaginary line; and if it did it would break the mirror-like spell. Looking at the position of the people in the frame, especially the person on the right, what also springs to mind, is a still taken on 360 VR where you can see front and back at the same time. 

A woman walks with kitchen tools made of recycled sheet metal in a recycling area in Anoumambo, Abidjan, Ivory Coast August 17, 2017.    REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon

A simple detail picture by Afolabi Sotunde demonstrates the force with which flood waters and mud swept through homes in Pentagon, near Freetown, Sierra Leone.  As you take in the sharp contrast between the white exterior wall and debris crammed against the bars of the window, it dawns on you what little chance of survival the occupants had.

Debris is seen inside the window of a house along the valley after a flash flood at Pentagon, Regent Town, Sierra Leone August 18, 2017.   REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

A captured expression, no matter how old the subject, can reveal innermost thinking, which is the essence of great portrait photography.  There is little doubt in my mind what this baby is thinking in Amr Abdullah Dalsh’s picture during baby swimming lessons. This involves dunking the babe’s under the water, counter intuitive to me, but apparently it teaches them to hold their breath, enables them to sleep better and improves their flexibility.  Intrigued? If so read on here.

An Egyptian baby boy his held by his father before taking part in swimming lessons, the first of its kind, in Cairo, Egypt August 15, 2017.   REUTERS/Amr Abdulalh Dalsh