Saturday 23 December 2017

A Week in Pictures Middle East & Africa December 22, 2017

A few days before Christmas and protesters are wearing Santa Claus outfits to hurl stones at the Israeli military. Mohammad Torokman’s surreal, balletic image catches not only the stone in mid flight but the weird sheen of the red costume as the light catches the synthetic material. The soldiers in the background don’t look too worried. See more here

A Palestinian demonstrator dressed as Santa Claus hurls stones towards Israeli troops during clashes at a protest against U.S President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, near the West bank city of Ramallah December 19, 2107.   REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

As a follow on to Mohammad’s picture it’s worth mentioning that at all security advice training courses one is taught to ‘blend in, don’t stand out’ and be the ‘grey man’. It seems that this advice should have been better heeded or maybe it’s being ignored to make a point. Looking at pictures from previous years here it seems the latter is true.

A wounded Palestinian demonstrator dressed as Santa Claus is evacuated during clashes with Israeli troops, at a protest as Palestinians called for a ‘A Day of Rage’ in response to U.S President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, near the border with Israel in the southern Gaza Strip December 22, 2017.   REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

As a nod to my love of commodity stories Ange Aboa’s picture really caught my eye. The strong left to right flow of the picture as the worker pulls the heavy sack of beans off the ground aided by the low angle of the bare footed man walking away, his toes echoing the tone, colour and shape of the scattered beans on the ground. I also like the warm sepia feel of this picture, which is wonderful as it’s about the raw materials that go to make up chocolate.

Workers transport sacks of cocoa beans in Ntui village, Cameroon, December 17, 2017.   REUTERS/Ange Aboa

A moment perfectly captured by Ibraheem Abu Mustafa as each militant figure forms the unmistakable shape of a combatant. What I really like about this picture is that each figure is clearly isolated in their own space, no part of any of them invading the space of another. Bizarrely, I am put in mind of classic images of soldiers used in illustrations or even action figures. 

Palestinian militants of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) demonstrate their skills during a military exercise in front of the media, on a beach in the southern Gaza Strip December 22, 2017.    REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Silhouettes and sunsets are easy, low hanging fruit for nice pictures but rarely do they catch my eye or make me pause for thought. Ahmed Jadallah’s picture in Dubai is an exception to this and for many of the same reasons that I selected Ibraheem’s picture above. Just about every silhouetted figure is isolated in their own space. What is different is that a railing joins them all, but for me this only adds to the layered feel of the image. Distinct bands of shadow and highlight lead you to the background of the picture where the setting sun is sufficiently obscured that we see a yellow glow and not an over exposed white.

People watch the sunset in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, December 21, 2017.  REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

This picture by Muhammad Hamed selects itself, not only is it a picture of a VW Beetle (why is it that everyone seems to love this car?) but it is shot as an ‘environmental portrait’ with wonderful details that makes you want to look and look. First is the advert for ‘the smallest hotel’ which I think is a dreadful painting of the castle in the background, a promise of a wonderful view from the ‘hotel’. Then you quickly notice the car is balanced on rocks that hold it off the ground. Next you see the footwear of the occupants left outside, no doubt to ensure the interior is not made dirty and then finally the decoration to disguise the fact that this is, in reality, a broken down car. You might even be able to see the small Santa Claus figure on the roof, I assume an attempt to drum up seasonal trade. Having slept in cars on many occasions I will not be booking this up but I am sure many others will.

A Volkswagen Beetle, the ‘World’s smallest hotel’ as its owner Mohammed Al-Malahim claims, is seen in Shoubak, Jordan December 20, 2017.  REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

In very much the same way people like VWs, I can’t help being drawn to the long suffering beast of burden, the donkey. Not quite sure why, as animals come a far second to people, but I’m adding these pictures by Alaa Al-Marjani (although shot in November it was only published this week) as personal favourites. First it really struck me just how primitive the nature of the brick works are, but it also slightly gladdened my heart that now we are getting images of construction and not destruction from Iraq.  I really like the mirror image feel of Alaa’s picture as the donkeys face each other. Very powerful visually for me too is the smoke from the chimneys drifting into the blue skies, the blackened stack almost the focal point of the image. I can’t help feeling a sense of hope as the industry of rebuilding starts to take shape. 

Iraqi labourers work at a brick factory in Najaf, Iraq November 28, 2017.  REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

Iraqi labourers carry brick on a cart pulled by a donkey at a brick factory in Najaf, Iraq November 28, 2017.  REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

Never far from my mind is the conflict in Yemen, maybe it’s because I am often looking at images that rarely make their way into publication. Abduljabbar Zeyad’s distressing picture of tiny Nadia cries out to me in all senses. The obvious fear and feeble cries of the child is captured with the open mouth and wide-open eyes, a spot catches light in the centre of the dark eye. This frightening scene frozen in a harsh direct light is framed by a riot of clashing cheerful colours, pinks, reds blues and greens, a medical tube snaking across the whole scene, maybe offering a glimmer of hope for survival.

Sixty-day-old Nadia Ahmad Sabri, who suffers from severe malnutrition, lies in bed at a malnutrition treatment centre in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, Yemen December 20, 2017.   REUTERS/Abduljabber Zeyad

Finally for 2017 I am very proud that Zohra Bensemra, staff photographer for Reuters who is based in Algeria and has travelled throughout the Middle East and Africa in 2017, has won the Guardian award for Agency Photographer of the Year. You can see some of her work here.

Friday 15 December 2017

A Week in Pictures Middle East & Africa December 15 2017

Okay okay it’s from last week, but it’s good enough for a mention this week as I bend the rules to include Ronen Zvulun’s picture. Wham! You are drawn in to the white shirt and face on the pavement make up a tiny fraction of the picture. As your eye draws out from the centre, the more intrigued and maybe confused you are. Shadows of people push you back in, where you are met with a surreal combination of hooves, boots, shoes and stirrups that I think Salvador Dali would have admired.  

A Palestinian man lays on the ground beneath police horses as he is detained by Israeli police during scuffles at Damascus Gate after Friday prayers in Jerusalem’s Old City, as Palestinians call for a ‘Day of Rage’ in response to U.S President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel December 8, 2017.   REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

A crisscross composition of blacks, reds, whites and the silhouette of an outstretched hand that demands you look at the weeping woman makes for a powerful picture of grief. Everything leads to the open mouth and closed eyes of the woman who sobs for her dead relative. The sadness of this picture is burned into my mind forever.   

A relative of a Palestinian man, who was shot dead during clashes with Israeli troops on Friday, mourns during his funeral in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza strip December 9, 2017.   REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

To say that Thaier Al-Sudani’s picture is a little messy is an understatement - a blue gash right to left across the centre of the picture, ugly lines in the buildings in the background, a power cable top right, not to mention two balloons, one red, one pink, in the bottom left. So why did this catch my eye? The answer is in the detail: this is a moment of sheer joy. A man is dancing and waving a flag, and in fact he is so happy he has thrown his crutches aside and is dancing on the roof of a kiosk on his one good leg.  

A man holds an Iraqi flag as he celebrates the final victory over Islamic State at Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq, December 10, 2017.  REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani 

Sometimes a picture raises many questions. Satish Kumar’s picture of a camel hanging upside down is one such image – what is going on? At first glance I thought of food, game hanging from the ceiling or even a giant turkey, maybe because it was near lunchtime and I was hungry. Who are the people on the right? They are actually vets and this is the Dubai Camel Hospital, a warm picture that will certainly bring a smile to most – click here to know more. 

A camel is seen hanging upside down as he is brought in for foot surgery at the Dubai Camel hospital in Dubai, UAE December 11, 2017.  REUTERS/Satish Kumar

I bet Baz Ratner could not believe his luck when a tiny figure dressed all in black stopped at the exact point on a wall where the sunlight ended and the shadows began, climbed onto a railing and leaned over to try to catch a glimpse of the burial of Rabbi Shteinman. This gives a focal point to what would otherwise have been a very busy picture with a strong diagonal composition and no focus. 

An Ultra-Orthodox Jewish man tries to see the burial of prominent spiritual leader Rabbi Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman, who died at the age of 104, during his funeral ceremony in Bnei Brak near Tel Aviv, Israel, December 12, 2017.   REUTERS/Baz Ratner

On Wednesday I was interviewed by Monocle about Reuters’ pictures of the year and was asked what makes a picture of the year. The answer is easy: a powerful, beautifully composed image that captures a key moment in a top news story. Mohamad Torokman’s picture of an undercover policeman making an arrest is made extraordinary when the policeman points his pistol at Torokman, delivering a very clear message – keep back. Torokman’s presence of mind has to be admired. In one minute everyone around him is shouting anti-Israel slogans, and in the next, as the undercover security reveal their identity, protesters are grabbed and detained. To continue to take pictures when a gun is being pointed at you at close range in a riot situation is for me truly remarkable. Could you remain calm enough to grasp what had happened, react, keep safe and get the picture sharp? The full back-story can be read here

Undercover Israeli security personnel detain a Palestinian demonstrator during clashes at a protest against U.S President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, near the West Bank city of Ramallah December 13, 2107.   REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

I think it’s worth showing a few more pictures shot by Mohamad Torokman this week to demonstrate that his fantastic picture of the undercover policeman was not a one-off but part of a very strong body of work. It’s also worth mentioning that he works as part of a team, but this week the luck was with him.

A Palestinian lawyer hurls stones towards Israeli troops during clashes toprotest against U.S President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, near the West Bank city of Ramallah December 13, 2017.   REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

An Israeli border policeman reacts as he fires towards Palestinian protesters during clashes as Palestinians call for a ‘Day of Rage’ in response to U.S President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, near the West Bank city of Ramallah December 8, 2017.   REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

A Palestinian demonstrator hurls stones towards Israeli troops during clashes to protest against U.S President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, near the West Bank city of Ramallah December 11, 2017.   REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

A Palestinian kicks a burning tire during clashes with Israeli troops at a protest against U.S President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, near the West Bank city of Ramallah December 12, 2017.   REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

The slowly turning wheels of the political story in Zimbabwe have overtaken the frenzied elation in the streets in Harare of last month. It’s much harder to photograph politics than street demonstrations, but it’s equally important and when it’s done well, it’s very rewarding. I think that Philimon Bulawayo’s quiet photograph of a picture being hung, half out of the spotlight, prior to a political meeting speaks volumes. To me this picture asks the question will President Mnangagwa bring  Zimbabwe out of the shadows and back into the international community? Only time will tell, but either way, it’s a great picture.

An official puts up a portrait of Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa ahead of a meeting of the ZANU-PF central committee in downtown Harare, Zimbabwe, December 14, 2017.   REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Sometimes when events unfold and there is a great single picture there is also the sequence around that single image. A question often asked is can video be replacement for a series of stills? Personally, and especially in this case, I don't think so as each picture can be carefully studied frame by brutal frame as the event unfolds. Video would have been more about the motion but you just would not be able to see the detail a high resolution picture provides. Have a look at Goran Tomaesvic's picture and then the combo we produced and decide for yourself. You can read the full story here too.

Israel border police stand away after shooting a Palestinian man with a knife and what looks like an explosive belt near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, December 15, 2107.   REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

Saturday 9 December 2017

A week in Pictures Middle East & Africa December 8, 2017

Clashes erupted in the region after US President Donald Trump’s announcement to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Mohamed Torokman’s picture is as much about the US flag being in tatters as it’s about clashes, for me symbolising the almost global condemnation of this decision. The figure reaching down, their hand creates a moment’s tension between dark shapes and the skies that leads us down into the flames of the picture with what I feel is a growing sense of unease. Click here to see a gallery of images for the clashes. 

A Palestinian protester prepares to burn a U.S flag during clashes with Israeli tropps at a protest against U.S President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, near the West bank city of Ramallah, December 7, 2017.   REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

It would be quite easy to scroll quickly past images of a funeral from the West Bank, they are, after all, not rare; but I never do. I take time to look at them all. I study the faces of the dead and the faces of those mourning. Sometimes I am captured by a picture’s moment and transported to the funeral. For me Abed Omar Qusini’s picture is one such example. The harsh light picks out the face of the pallbearer, the angst on his face obvious, the hand then points you back to the dead from the shadows. You are led back along the red, white and green of the flag into the shadows of the crowd of mourners, who are slowly shuffling from right to left. Then, caught in the light on the far left, a surprise, a new life. 

Mourners carry the body of Palestinian man Mahmoud Odah during his funeral in the West bank village of Qusrah December 2, 2017.   REUTERS/Abed Omar Qusini

Walking slowly through the dust created by a shelling a boy rubs his face in a picture almost entirely drained of colour. I could have chosen images of the dead being dug out of rubble or the injured being carried but this picture by Bassam Khabieh, for me, portrays a feeling of exhaustion, loneliness and isolation, for me a visual interpretation of the rebel held enclave of Ghouta.

A boy is seen during shelling in the town of Hamoria, eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Syria, December 3, 2017. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

A striking portrait of a man accused of being an ISIS bomber is seen through a complex web of vertical and horizontal black lines and shadows created by the cell bars. What for me really makes Muhammad Hamed’s image very intriguing are the dark and shadowy figures that surround the man who stands in strong side light looking directly at you. Is this the face of a member of an organisation that has created so much fear, destruction and terror or is he innocent and wrongly accused? The alleged crime; setting off a car bomb that killed six people and injured many others in a refugee camp on the Jordan Syria border.

Five Syrians, accused of facilitating the Rukban bombings in June 2016, react during their trial at the state Security Court in Amman, Jordan, December 4, 2017.  REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

In a scene that looks like something created in Hollywood Thaier al-Sudani captures a wonderful business as key members of the Iraqi government meet with Russian oil magnates. All suited and booted they walk as if in carnival parade, their matching white helmets and red lanyards making them appear like soldiers, a troupe of dancers or victorious members of a football team leaving the field of play. A question I have; is the man on the left very tall or is his size an optical illusion? If he is in the foreground why does the man on the right appear smaller than him? If you look at the man on the right his feet he is nearer to the photographer and therefore should appear bigger? I let you think about that.

Iraqi Oil Minister Jaber al-Luaibi and Russian Energy Minister Alexander Dyukov, head of the Russian oil producer Gazprom Neft walk during a tour of the Badra oilfield in Kut province, Iraq December 6, 2017.   REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani

In Amr Abdallah Dalsh’s football picture I think we all know what is being thought by the sportsmen in the picture; Emilano thinking ‘Please no! Please! Please no! And the referee Malang is thinking ‘No chance son, I’m not interested, move along here’. The picture is perfectly timed, the praying hands, the one eye wide open staring past the hand that lifts the whistle that’s just about to touch the referee’s lips. Wonderful and no doubt a microsecond later the shrill sound of the whistle and the moment, that Amr has frozen in time, broken.

Auckland City’s Emilano Tade appeals a decision by referee Malang Diedhiou durng their Cup World Cup match against Al Jazira in Al Ain City in United Arab Emirates December 6, 2017.   REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

 Something that never fails to intrigue me is how a small part of a picture can change the feel of an image as a whole. In Mohammed Al-Sayaghis picture of fighters attending a funeral we first look at a scene of men brandishing their weapons and shouting, what we can assume, are slogans of retribution and oaths of undying revenge for their fallen comrade in front of a mosque, an angry and aggressive picture. What softens the mood is the man on the right doing a selfie. It seems to me that he is not capturing the funeral for prosperity, historical documentary or potential propaganda; he is capturing himself, for himself. 

Houthi fighters attend the funeral of their comrades who were killed during the recent clashes in Sanaa, Yemen December 7, 2017.   REUTERS/Mohammed Al-Sayaghi

Although taken last March but only published this week as part of a special report is would be hard for me not to include Luc Gnago's picture of what appears to be two men on a white cloud looking at darken clouds in the skies. Personally I might have been tempted to crop it to remove the brown earth at the bottom of the frame, but the dark tone does help to balance the composition against the dark skies. Either way a fun and gentle image. Click here to see the rest of Luc's pictures and the special report about Monsanto. 

Farmers work in a cotton market in Soungalodaga village near Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso March 8, 2017.   REUTERS/Luc Gnago